If you’ve been thinking only about Netflix’s Squid Game for the last few days, you are not alone. The newly released K-drama has become one of the streamer’s most popular releases in days, but while Squid Game might just now be blowing up in popularity, it’s been a long time coming. In a behind-the-scenes featurette published by Netflix, director Hwang Dong-hyuk revealed he has been working on the project since around 2008, and his script went through multiple changes until it became the 9-episode drama that’s taking over the world. Squid Game was first intended to be a feature film, but somewhere along the line, Netflix bought the rights and it got turned into a series. (Fun fact: Netflix first announced the series, originally called "Round Six," in 2019.)
Much like Parasite, another South Korean production that reached mass appeal overseas, Squid Game also tackles complex social paradigms as they relate to class and wealth, but the two films' approach is vastly different. “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life,” Hwang told Variety about the project. “As a survival game, it is entertainment and human drama. The games portrayed are extremely simple and easy to understand. That allows viewers to focus on the characters, rather than being distracted by trying to interpret the rules.”
While most people are already anticipating a second season, Hwang himself recently revealed that’s not in the books — yet. So, in the meantime, if you are looking for something similar to Squid Game to satisfy your craving, why not check out the movies and shows below? (Content warning: Gore and fictional violence abound in Squid Game and these similar programs, and ratings vary.)
1. Alice in Borderland
The obvious recommendation if you enjoyed Squid Game is another Netflix original series: Alice in Borderland. Released in late 2020, the series is based on the manga of the same name by Haro Aso and like, Squid Game, it also centers around survival-style games — though with the added element of dystopia.
Although it flew under the radar, Netflix actually announced Alice in Borderland had been renewed for a second season just two weeks after its premiere with a small teaser so, if you enjoy season 1, there’s something to look forward to! If you are a fan of anime, there is also a three-episode OVA, but it’s quite tricky to track down.
2. Battle Royale
The debut and only novel of Japanese author Koushun Takami, Battle Royale is perhaps the reference when it comes to survival games stories. It was published in 1999 and has since been made into a seinen manga series (also penned by Takami) and a feature film directed by Kinji Fukasaku.
Under the totalitarian government of the Republic of Greater East Asia, a class of high schoolers is transported to an island where they are tasked with surviving three consecutive days. After the three days pass, if more than one person survives, everyone will be killed. Basically, that means that, like in Squid Game, there can only be one winner. It’s every man for themselves — and it doesn’t take long for the students to realize that.
Though not free from controversy, and despite its highly violent nature, Battle Royale’s influence is undeniable — just think of your favorite Fortnite mode. In fact, Squid Game’s writer and director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, admitted to drawing inspiration from Takami’s work when he started working on the project. “I freely admit that I’ve had great inspiration from Japanese comics and animation over the years,” Hwang recently told Variety. “When I started, I was in financial straits myself and spent much time in cafes reading comics including ‘Battle Royale’ and ‘Liar Game.’ I came to wonder how I’d feel if I took part in the games myself. But I found the games too complex, and for my own work focused instead on using kids’ games.”
3. As the Gods Will
In As the Gods Will, innocent games also get a lethal makeover. Based on the manga series of the same name by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and directed by Takashi Miike, it actually one-ups Squid Game on the gore factor. (Just beware that the special effects are… truly something.)
The film follows Shun Takahata, a high schooler with a penchant for violent video games. One day at school, Shun and his classmates find themselves playing a deadly game of Red Light, Green Light (known in Japan as Daruma-san ga koronda, which roughly translates to "Daruma Fell Over.") As expected, this isn’t the only Japanese children's game the film turns into a battle royale. But it’s not just this school that’s playing the games. Soon you find out all students from around the world are being forced to partake in similar competitions, and the winners (aka survivors) are all transported to a floating Cube, where the games continue.
4. Escape Room
Much like Squid Game, 2019’s Escape Room also involves mysterious card invitations, a chance to change your life, and lethal games. The film follows six strangers, each dealing with their own conundrums, who receive an invitation to Minos Escape Room Facility. Once they arrive, they are told they can win a cash prize of one million dollars.
If you are not a fan of gore and splatter fests, this psychological thriller might be the film for you. The puzzle rooms the players go through are intriguing, often leaving viewers on the edge of their seats but enjoying the ride. However, it is not perfect, so do expect some plot holes and changes of pace here and there, especially towards the end of the movie. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Now, Escape Room undoubtedly draws inspiration from this 1997 Canadian movie. (There are two more movies in the saga, but don’t even bother watching those unless you want a good laugh.) Cube has gained a cult following over the years for its concept. A group of strangers wake up in a mysterious cube, filled with death traps and tricks. To escape, they must work together to solve the cube — think of it like a giant, mind-bending Rubik’s cube… that could also kill you, of course.
If the analog 1997 special effects are not your thing, there’s also a Japanese remake coming out this month, which, judging by the trailer, looks pretty faithful to the original. (Though it’s worth noting that, for now, it only has a Japanese theatrical release.)
3% is not literally a game of life and death, but it is… figuratively. “In a future where the elite inhabit an island paradise far from the crowded slums, you get one chance to join the 3% saved from squalor,” the series’s synopsis reads. If you’ve seen Gattaca, the premise and social commentary might sound familiar, but the characters' motives and actions are very similar to those in Squid Game. The Brazilian production has four seasons in total, so there’s plenty to watch.
From the get-go let me say that this is not a masterpiece, but it is entertaining enough for a Sunday evening and available on Netflix. Circle combines elements from classic science fiction, thrillers, and psychological horror.
Circle follows a group of 50 strangers that somehow wake up in a dark room, where each of them has their designated space to stand. They can’t move and they can’t run away. Who put them there? That’s for us to find out while watching. However, things aren’t as simple. Every two minutes, the lights go out and one stranger is killed. Soon, the group realizes they can vote out other players and decide the order in which they go, until only one remains. Morals and ideals clash in the Circle, which makes for a tense but amusing hour and a half.
8. The Hunger Games
I’m pretty sure you’re already familiar with Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games saga and its film franchise, but it can’t be left out when discussing oeuvres that feature people in poverty taking part in a game of life or death (battle royale style) for rich people's entertainment. In the Hunger Games’ dystopian reality, the games are compulsory and televised rather than ran by an underground, secret organization but, other than that, pretty similar concept!
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue