7 death game TV shows and movies to watch after Squid Game
In the mood for anxiety-inducing, life-threatening playtime? You’ve come to the right place.
Still from Battle Royale
If you haven’t binge-watched Squid Game by now, have you even lived? The new, messed up dystopian South Korean TV show -- currently the world’s most-watched series on Netflix -- is all anyone is talking about. In it, debt-ridden members of the public are recruited to play twisted takes on childhood games in exchange for the chance to win shit loads of money. The catch? If you don’t win, well, you die. The deaths are savage and over the course of the series, viewers will find themselves becoming increasingly, concerningly numb to the routine machine gun exterminations, throat-slittings, and [spoiler alert] organ harvesting.
Squid Game might be pushing out the boat of brutality for Netflix, but it’s hardly a new concept for TV and film at large. The horror-thriller subgenre often known as “death games” has been entertaining and disturbing us for decades. Of course, probably the most famous of these is The Hunger Games trilogy, which rocketed Jennifer Lawrence to fame, introduced us to a young Amandla Stenberg, and killed off a whole lot children. There are plenty more where that came from though, and not all of them are limited by clinging on to a PG13 classification.
So once you’ve consumed the entirety of Squid Game and are left feeling messed up but sort of wanting more, here’s exactly where you should start.
Alice In Borderland, 2020
Set in the suddenly-empty streets of Tokyo, Netflix’s Alice In Borderland dropped at the end of 2020, depicting a deadly survival game nobody really wanted to play. The worst kind. Packed with plot twists, the manga-adaptation follows an obsessive gamer and his two friends as they’re forced to contend with fire, floods, samurai swords and tigers. It’s dark, sure, but there are hints of funny that lift it in exactly the right places. Further filming is underway and season two is due to be released in 2022.
Fans of social commentary-laden sci-fi walk this way. Brazil’s very first original series on Netflix centres on a segregated world where on turning 20, those from the poverty-stricken zone are able compete for a chance to live in a new world of supposed privilege. Those going through the selection process however, soon realise just how intense that process is, with only 3% making it. The fourth and final season aired last year, but fans will be pleased to hear that its creator, Pedro Aguilera, has already moved on to another dystopian Netflix show, Omniscient, which is out now.
As the Gods Will, 2014
If you watched Squid Game and thought, damn, this would've been so much better if actual school children were playing these death games, then this is for you. Takeshi Miike’s As The Gods Will takes place over the course of a school day, when the gods -- in doll form -- decide to surprise a class with a series of traditional Japanese playground games with life-threatening consequences. It’s tense and bloody but somehow maintains a sense of humour.
Battle Royale, 2000
A Japanese school trip turns deadly when the kids are gassed and taken to an uninhabited island where they’re shown an instructional video laying out their new class rules: they must hunt and fight each other to the death. With exploding neck collars, a hefty supply of weapons and one-time i-D coverstar Chiaki Kuriyama (who would rise to international fame as Gogo in Kill Bill just three years later), this is a cult classic for a reason. The author of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, once told the New York Times that she’d never heard of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale and that it certainly didn’t inspire her series, but we'll let you be the judge of that.
In this 90s thriller, seven strangers find themselves stuck in a maze of rooms, each presenting new challenges and traps. Like an OG Saw with less gore, maths theory is the evil Cube mastermind’s specialist subject, so naturally the group is thrilled when they discover that one of their own is a total nerd. Shot in just 20 days, this stressful movie got the sequel treatment in 2002, and then again just two years later. There’s also a Japanese remake coming on 22 October, just in time for a creepy, mathsy Halloween.
One of the biggest, most impossible questions in life is what happens after you die. Following in the footsteps of manga, anime, and video game incarnations, the 2010 Japanese live-action movie GANTZ answers that… sort of. When two friends are hit by a train while attempting to save the life of a man who fell on the tracks, in lieu of the afterlife they wake up beside a black orb that sets them the challenge of battling aliens in order to survive. Score enough ET-slaying points and you win the chance to self-resurrect. Is this real life though? Or just somebody’s twisted game?
This Spanish language film made the official selection at Cannes, Sundance and TIFF… so don’t judge it on the trailer. The premise is this: a casino worker with the ability to steal people's luck via touch attempts to track down the luckiest man in the world so that he can beat his concentration camp survivor boss (a very lucky man) at Russian Roulette. A series of deadly underground games of chance ensue in order to test out just how strong the luck flows.