Alita: Battle Angel was one of the stronger sci-fi entries of 2019 and even spans and incorporates multiple film genres. From dystopia, cyberpunk, action, and of course, science fiction, Alita: Battle Angel is quite a handful. This is all thanks to the strong source material with a manga series and a groundbreaking anime movie preceding the Hollywood adaptation.
If there was one glaring critique with Alita it’s that it was a little too faithful, that it even copied the ending of the anime film to a certain extent, meaning it was rather unsatisfactory as happy endings go. For that matter, the movie does leave you wanting to scratch more of that android dystopian sci-fi itch. Thankfully, there are a respectable number of masterpieces similar to Alita; these films might just fill in the void that Alita left while you wait for a potential Hollywood sequel.
Updated on July 18th, 2020 by Derek Draven: As mentioned in our updated intro, we’ve added 5 more fantastic sci-fi flicks to our list for a total of 15 choices that any Alita fan should enjoy. All the entries on this list showcase the influence they’ve had on later properties, including Alita: Battle Angel. For that reason, they deserve a top spot on anyone’s must-watch list.
15 Black Magic M66
Masamune Shirow’s lesser-known manga hit Black Magic M66 spawned an anime film in 1987, long before Ghost In The Shell ever took the scene by storm. The plot revolves around two killer androids on the loose with the daughter of their inventor their primary target.
It was the first demonstration of Shirow’s future-imperfect vision, which would be fleshed out in his later work. Fans of Alita: Battle Angel will love the non-stop action, suspense, and gritty sci-fi visuals.
14 Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
One needs to have completed the Final Fantasy VII video game to truly appreciate what Advent Children has to offer, but that’s really the only barrier to entry. The film is a technical masterpiece that blends the original game’s dystopian fantasy vision with the colorful cast of characters, creating a worthy follow-up to the original story.
The first half of the film is comprised mostly of exposition and dramatic elements, while the second half is a tour de force of insane, high-octane action sequences, including a freeway motorcycle battle that must be seen to be believed. Over the top in every, Advent Children is perfect for those who love that kind of storytelling.
Neill Blomkamp’s distinct vision of a gutted, wasteful future has made his films instant classics for sci-fi aficionados, and Chappie is one of his strongest. The film centers around a robot named Chappie who develops self-awareness and sentience, putting him in the crosshairs of a nefarious company man with an ax to grind.
The super-realistic digital portrayal of Chappie by actor Sharlto Copley is fabulous from start to finish, bringing the character to life within Blomkamp’s believable alt-future world. It’s also loaded with spectacular action sequences, especially in the final act.
Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in this early sci-fi sleeper hit as Gibson Rickenbacker, a mercenary with a bone to pick against a gang of pirates that killed his lover. Gibson agrees to escort a cyborg named Pearl to New York City to uncover a cure for a lethal plague that has decimated society.
In addition to a great story, Cyborg is loaded with all the energy of a 1980s sci-fi movie, with some classic martial arts fights thrown in to round out the package. It’s a lesser-known Van Damme flick, but one that still deserves a watch.
11 Total Recall
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic action hit Total Recall incorporated all the best elements of director Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop trimmings, including hilarious satire, larger-than-life spectacle, and buckets of comic book gore for the strong-stomached. The timeless tale of Douglas Quaid’s trip to Mars in a “did he dream it or didn’t he” scenario continues to fuel debates, to this day.
Total Recall is a film that never gets old, even after repeated viewings. It’s loaded with sizzling energy, wonderful over-acting, and ingenious visuals that would help inspire future generations of dystopian sci-fi flicks.
10 Blade Runner 2049
Obviously, the Blade Runner franchise is bound to be on this list. The first film is one of the most notable granddaddies of the cyberpunk genre and many dystopian sci-fi films owe a lot to Blade Runner. The franchise paints a bleak future where androids are being hunted down for acting like human beings.
If you want a more modern touch, then the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 puts a shinier spin on the franchise and continues the story. For full immersion, however, we recommend watching both films. If Alita: Battle Angel left you a bit wanting on the emotional or intellectual aspect of movies, then Blade Runner certainly won’t.
9 Ghost In The Shell
Like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell is a catalyst of the cyberpunk and sci-fi genre in film. It has made the birth of many other cyberpunk movie franchises possible, particularly The Matrix whose creators coin Ghost in the Shell as the main inspiration. For better viewing pleasure, we do recommend watching the 1995 original anime movie instead of the 2017 Hollywood remake featuring Scarlett Johansson.
Ghost in the Shell is first and foremost, an international crime story involving cyber-terrorists who use machines for their transgressions. In the thick of it all is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a female police officer whose brain and consciousness is transferred to a new cyborg body, leading to thoughts that she was just synthetic in the first place and was never a human, to begin with. You don’t want to miss this one.
You’re probably tired of seeing Akira over and over again in many sci-fi or anime movie lists. It can’t be helped, Akira is just a cyberpunk masterpiece both from a visual and narrative standpoint. The fluid hand-drawn animations and the attention to detail is something unmatched by many anime today and to a certain extent, the anime film for Alita is quite similar.
That means you’ll have no problem liking Akira; it’s one of the closest movies in terms of atmosphere when compared to the original Alita anime film. Akira follows the story of Kanada and his friend Tetsuo as the latter becomes unfortunate enough to be a government experiment guinea pig. By trying to stop the rampaging Tetsuo, Kanada is also battling the corrupt and greedy government as well as the status quo.
7 Neo Tokyo
Can’t get enough of cyberpunk anime movies? Then Neo Tokyo is something you’ll want to watch once you’ve exhaustively seen Ghost in the Shell, Alita (the anime movie), and Akira. Neo Tokyo is a sci-fi anthology film featuring different cyberpunk and dystopian future stories.
There are only three separate stories in Neo Tokyo but all of them are philosophical, mind-boggling, and surreal. Neo Tokyo is a hidden gem in that regard and definitely one of the must-watch anime in this list as it explores many themes not just limited to dystopian futures and cybernetic anarchy.
Forget about the 2014 remake, the original Robocop from 1987 is still virtually unmatched in terms of story, presentation, and atmosphere. The way it handles cyberpunk was ahead of its time and serves as a provoking message that dabbles in corrupt corporations and the inhumanity of humans.
Don’t expect it to be as deep or as dramatic as Blade Runner, of course; Robocop is still first and foremost, an action-thriller film about a human cop who then gets transformed into a cyborg who manages to be more human and more decent than the people who created him.
Not many Hollywood or Western movies capture the same portrayal of futuristic dystopia as Alita did, which is why Elysium by Neill Blomkamp is a breath of fresh air. He’s also the director of political sci-fi masterpieces such as District 9, and Elysium follows the same format of a battered and near-disabled hero who manages to upset the balance between the rich and the poor.
You’ll find familiar imagery and concepts in Elysium if you’re watching it fresh from Alita, most especially the “tower in the sky” structure (in this case, outer space) which separates the elite from the downtrodden. The ending might be a bit sloppy or rushed, but you’re probably used to that if you’re coming from Alita.
4 Ex Machina
Android girls with murderous tendencies? Check. That’s about where Alita‘s similarities with Ex Machina begins and ends but that is quite a significant factor. Think of Ex Machina as a more “realistic” and down-to-Earth story of how human beings will actually use androids for and how these androids might react if they were taught to think like humans.
Ex Machina chronicles the exploits of a programmer who got lucky enough to be a part of a cybernetics experiment where he can interact with and assess the very first female robot. Ex Machina is a modern retelling of the Frankenstein story but with men and the machines they make, as well as the dangers and the hubris involved in the notion.
3 Tron/Legacy (Both)
For all its sci-fi backdrop, Alita never really delved that deeply into its lore aspect; its action set pieces took the forefront more dominantly and if you find that you like more of that better or if you’ve had your fill of existential and nihilistic headaches from films like Ex Machina or Blade Runner, then Tron could offer an action-packed breather for you.
Think of Tron as the death race sequences of Alita, except three times as long and basically it’s what the whole movie is about. There’s no doubt that Tron, whether the 1982 original or the Legacy remake of 2010, is a visual treat and worth watching for that alone.
Alita is quite the package as it successfully combines gory violence with many other sci-fi themes. If you want even more of that dystopian violence and less racing, then Dredd is the unrelenting cyberpunk action movie that will sate your cravings.
It showcases a civilization where all the less financially fortunate people are crammed into Megacities and dense high-rise condominiums rife with crimes and gangs because of poverty and a recent apocalypse. At the heart of it all are Judges, cops, juries, and prosecutors rolled into one, meaning it’s a bloodbath for anyone who disobeys the law. It’s a harsh world, not unlike today.
1 Ready Player One
One of the closest films in this list to the Hollywood adaptation of Alita would be Ready Player One. It’s a relatively lighthearted dystopian cyberpunk movie where video games take the place of cybernetics. There are races, video-gamey avatars and characters, and heaps of pop culture references and revolution and uprising iconography.
It’s also a similar template to Alita when it comes to plot where the hero is a nobody who rises to the top enough to challenge “the man” at the apogee of society. Of course, the ending is a lot happier than Alita: Battle Angel‘s, and makes Ready Player One a good film to wash off the cliffhanger you suffered from Alita‘s ending.