7 Movies That Set The Stage For HBO’s Westworld

Knowing that HBO’s Westworld was co-created by Christopher Nolan’s brother might not be enough to instil confidence—until you realize that he co-wrote The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar. So yes, Jonathan Nolan knows exactly what he’s doing, as does his co-creator (and wife) Lisa Joy (Burn Notice, Pushing Daisies). Their ambitious adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi western Westworld is coming to HBO Canada on Sunday for the first of 10 episodes about a role-playing world occupied by remarkably life-like cyborgs and their human guests.

With the help of some high-profile executive producers (including J.J. Abrams) and a stellar cast (that includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright), Nolan and Joy take this concept far further than Crichton could in 1973. According to Nolan, their creative thinking revolved around a provocative question: “If you could be completely immersed in a fantasy, one in which you could do whatever you wanted, would you discover things about yourself that you didn’t want to know?

By all indications, Nolan and Joy also took inspiration from the similarly provocative questions in other sci-fi staples. With that in mind, here are seven movies that set the stage for Westworld.

1. Blade Runner


For years, Christopher Nolan has made it clear that Blade Runner is one of his greatest sources of inspiration, and it appears that his brother shares that enthusiasm. This is apparent right from the outset, as Westworld begins with an interrogation much like the opening scene in this sci-fi landmark from 1982.

2. Ex Machina


Westworld was probably in the works before Alex Garland’s Ex Machina arrived on the scene last year. Nonetheless, both confront the same unsettling possibility: oppressed artificial intelligence with a dangerous hunger for freedom.

3. Never Let Me Go


Five years before Ex Machina, Garland wrote the screen adaptation Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Dealing with clones instead of cyborgs, that film is set in a world where some individuals exist only to serve the needs of others, mirroring the timely concerns of Westworld.

4. The Village


It’s not until very late in The Village that we learn its period concerns are actually playing out in the modern world. Westworld revolves around a similar conceit, but the big reveal comes far earlier.

5. The Truman Show


In the fictional Seahaven, Florida, Truman Burbank exists in an unknowing state of enslavement, providing entertainment to members of the outside world. The cyborgs in Westworld’s fictional western town perform a similarly stifling function, making reckless violence inevitable.

6. The Matrix


When The Matrix was released, many complained that the film’s incessant shoot-outs and fight sequences were too generic (bullet time notwithstanding) for this otherwise sophisticated sci-fi vehicle. Of course, when you remember that they’re playing out in a simulated world, they take on far greater complexity. The same is true of Westworld’s complicating twist on familiar western scenarios.

7. Westworld

It goes without saying that Westworld owes a massive debt to the 1973 film of the same name (and, to a lesser extent, its 1976 sequel Futureworld). But for those who see no need for a reboot, it’s worth noting that Michael Crichton’s inventive directorial debut was made for a measly $1.25 million, leaving countless possibilities unexplored.

If you’re ready to enter the world of this epic new series, tune in on Sunday night at 9pm ET when Westworld premieres on HBO Canada. But before you take the trip, be sure to learn more about your destination in the featurette below.