Here at The Watercooler, we define “watercooler TV” as the kind of shows and movies that leave you wanting to talk about them afterwards. By that criteria, Squid Game—currently the number one show in 90 countries and on track to become Netflix’s most-streamed series ever—sure fits the bill. It’s been a while since so many people were watching and talking about the same show at the same time. Memes and references to the global hit out of South Korea have been popping up all over social media, and everyone’s got their own take on it. That’s pretty amazing when you think about how hard it is for anything to break through in this crowded media landscape.
If you happen to be one of the many, many viewers who have already burned through all nine episodes on Netflix you’re probably going through a lot of feelings right now. If one of them is indecision over what to watch next, we can help with that. What could possibly compare? Do you want to keep riding that emotional roller coaster, or get off and try something a little more mellow? Whatever your mood, we’re here for you with some recommendations for what to watch next. So read on and see if you can’t find something to fill that Squid Game-shaped hole inside you.
The Hunger Games
It’s an obvious choice, but we’d be remiss not to include the most popular one. Like Squid Game, The Hunger Games franchise was a massive hit thanks to its use of allegory to comment on the current state of the world. Based on the bestselling book series by Suzanne Collins (at least the three that had been published at the time of production), the films are set in a dystopian future that, on the surface, looks very different from our society, but feels so familiar.
As in Squid Game, poor and desperate citizens are exploited for the entertainment of the idle rich, and the twisted overlords who design the challenges promote the fiction that the games are fair and equal. Both also explore the deeper psychological truth that sociopathic tendencies necessarily go hand in hand with success in a capitalist system. By subjecting those stuck at the bottom of the social hierarchy to extreme violence, these stories force us to acknowledge their humanity and the tough choices they face, not just in the games but every day of their lives.
Alternatively, if you’d rather lighten the mood after all that mental trauma (the marbles game messed us up too) try one of these Hunger Games parodies for some laughs.
Where to watch it: Hulu
Before Squid Game and The Hunger Games there was Battle Royale (and before that there was the novel it’s based on). This Japanese film from 2000 became an instant cult hit due to its potent mix of over-the-top brutality, absurd humor, and keen observations of heightened teen angst. The setup is strikingly similar to The Hunger Games: A group of students are kidnapped and forced to fight each other to the death on a remote island, until only one victor remains. The film has had such a lasting impact on pop culture that the term “battle royale” has become synonymous with this type of lone-survivor combat scenario in any medium. It’s gory and violent, there’s no getting around that, but not as dark in tone as Squid Game. As far as carrying over personal grudges into a life-or-death context, they definitely have that in common. It was also one of the first Japanese action films to enjoy massive crossover success worldwide with audiences and critics alike, and continues to be revered as each generation rediscovers it.
Where to watch it: Prime Video
Alice in Borderland
Released on Netflix in 2020, this adaptation of a popular Japanese manga series is just as compelling and deserving of the viewership that Squid Game is currently getting. Perhaps its success will lead more to discover the wildly imaginative Alice in Borderland, which also features a select group of strangers thrown together and forced by some mysterious entity to play elaborate and deadly games.
The first episode draws you in with a spectacular and eerie sequence that finds a young man (Arisu, the Japanese form of the name “Alice”) and his two best friends suddenly alone in the middle of Tokyo’s busiest intersection, Shibuya Crossing. They soon realize that most of the city has somehow been emptied out, and only a few scattered people remain. Those who are left must compete in games or be killed instantly. Some of the games involve strategy, others physical strength, others pure luck, and each has different level of difficulty signified by a playing card. Those who survive earn time on their “visa” before they have to play another game. The more difficult the game, the more time they earn. If their time runs out they die.
Considering the body count in Squid Game, it’s saying something that this series might have an even higher overall death rate. It gets pretty graphic, especially in the later episodes, but the mystery of how and why the games exist, and the creative designs of the games themselves, is fascinating enough to keep you watching until the very end. It’s not wrapped up quite as neatly as Squid Game, but Netflix has already ordered a second season, so you can look forward to more revelations to come.
Where to watch it: Netflix
Such a simple idea, yet so deviously executed, Cube has many of the same elements that have drawn people to Squid Game. Think of it as the ultimate science-fiction, horror, death-game mash-up. It was produced on a shoestring budget and released in 1998, earning praise from critics and a cult following which has only grown since then (and inspired two subsequent films). Its impact has been so lasting, in fact, that a Japanese remake is due in theaters later this month (which is sure to benefit from Squid Game‘s worldwide popularity).
The film, from visionary director Vincenzo Natali, features a small cast of seven strangers trapped inside a maze made up of seemingly identical cube-shaped rooms (which are, in fact, the same set lit and dressed in different ways). Some of the rooms are harmless, while others contain lethal traps. Their only hope of escape is figuring out how to safely navigate their way from room to room, if they don’t kill each other first. Once it establishes the rules of its contained world, Cube becomes more of a character study, examining psychology, philosophy, and interpersonal connection. If you enjoy drama, striking visuals and puzzles with high stakes, this film doesn’t disappoint.
Where to watch it: Shudder
Dispatches from Elsewhere
For something lighter, a little more whimsical, and way less deadly, but with the same sense of mystery and wonder, look no further than Dispatches from Elsewhere. This intriguing series debuted without much fanfare in March of 2020 (hmm, what else could have been going on at that time?) but quietly built a world of enchantment beneath the layer of normal, everyday existence.
Jason Segal (How I Met Your Mother) created the series, directed the pilot, and wrote several key episodes. He also leads the stellar cast, which also includes André Benjamin, Eve Lindley, Richard E. Grant, and Sally Field. The story follows Segal’s character, who seeks an escape from his mundane life and becomes involved in a real-world scavenger hunt centered on the search for a girl named Clara. He is partnered with three other “players” (Benjamin, Lindley, and Field) who must work together as a team to solve a series of clues that take them all over the city of Philadelphia. Is it a prank? A game? An actual conspiracy? And who’s behind it all? There are rival secret societies, a touch of magical realism, and plenty of theorizing. Dispatches from Elsewhere doesn’t give answers quickly or easily, but its stylish visuals and well-drawn characters will make you happy to go along for the ride.
Where to watch: AMC+, on demand through your cable/satellite provider, or for purchase or rent on various platforms including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play
The Floor is Lava
In the Squid Game version of this reality game show the floor would actually be lava, but don’t worry, it’s only made to look like it here. If you want to see more people competing in a children’s game for money without anyone actually dying, try a few episodes of Netflix’s The Floor is Lava. Not only is it fun to watch, it’s a great distraction from the tensions of the real world. Teams of two or three are challenged to make their their way across a crazy obstacle course made of oversized furniture and other oddities in themed domestic rooms (a kitchen, a bedroom, a study, etc.). The pieces spin, wobble, shift, and sink unexpectedly, adding a little extra thrill to the race. The most serious conflicts between the contests are over which route to take, and the only consequences of not making it are tumbling end over end into the pool of fake lava below. It’s supremely silly, but after watching Squid Game we could all use a little silly in our lives.
Where to watch: Netflix