You’ve read the book, you’re anxiously awaiting the show’s arrival in Australia, and you’ve spent the past week repeating “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches!” Hulu’s excellent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is equal parts invigorating and infuriating — and its themes couldn’t be more eerily timely. Here’s 10 works that capture that same feeling.
1) Born in Flames
Director Lizzie Borden’s 1983 sci-fi cult classic is set in a post-revolutionary New York City where radical feminist groups run underground radio stations and join forces to fight the widespread and increasingly menacing oppression of women. Styled like a documentary, it was made on a shoestring budget and the production values aren’t great, but its message is still as powerful as ever. Kathryn Bigelow — then a budding director, decades before she’d become the first (and so far, only) woman to win a Best Director Oscar — has a small role as a journalist.
2) Children of Men
If you didn’t already revisit Children of Men after watching Logan, now is the perfect time. Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film takes place in a dystopia that resembles a grimier, way less pious, way more disorganised parallel universe to The Handmaid’s Tale. They share, of course, the idea that widespread infertility will re-shape society as we know it — and that the (male) leaders of the future will deal with the crisis in different but still deeply crappy ways.
3) The Stepford Wives
The 1972 book, which Ira Levin wrote a few years after Rosemary’s Baby, hit the big screen in 1975, but Bryan Forbes’ film version didn’t achieve its cult status until years later. (The less said about the 2004 remake — which felt the need to wrap up the story’s unsettling satire with a happy ending — the better.) The tale is of a progressive woman who moves to a suburb where the wives seem to serve their husbands hand and foot while sporting an eerie robotic grin. The Stepford Wives has transcended the page and screen to become a shorthand way to describe a certain type of evil conformity. Though there’s a sci-fi element that The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t share, the creepily invasive subjugation of women is still front and centre.
4) Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 sci-fi thriller imagines an alien who comes to Earth, assumes the form of a beautiful woman who strongly resembles Scarlett Johansson, and proceeds to stalk and consume random men. But Under the Skin isn’t merely the tale of an interstellar succubus. The creature soon realises that while its feminine disguise gives it power over its prey, it also makes it a target. This vulnerability turns into a problem when, despite its extraterrestrial abilities, it becomes curious about what it’s like to actually be human. There’s not much in the plot that resembles The Handmaid’s Tale, but there’s a shared examination of the tension surrounding traditional male and female roles — and how they’re interpreted depending on who’s in charge.
5) Bitch Planet
If that cover (for issue #2) alone doesn’t reel you into writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro’s grindhouse/sci-fi series, just feast your eyes on this awesomely succinct description from Image Comics: “Margaret Atwood meets Inglourious Basterds.” You need Bitch Planet in your life. Hell, we all do.
6) The Girl Who Was Plugged In
This sci-fi novella won a Hugo in 1974 for author James Tiptree, Jr. In 1977, it was revealed that Tiptree was actually Alice Sheldon, who wrote under a male pen name so that her work would be judged first and foremost on its own merits, not by the gender of its author. The fact that Girl was actually written by a woman in a time when sci-fi was a heavily male pursuit is still notable, as is its remarkably prescient story. It imagines a world where beautiful (but otherwise ordinary) people become celebrities controlled by corporations, who use them to push their products on the less-beautiful (but also ordinary) rest of the population. The title character suffers from a disorder that makes her physically hideous, but her winning personality lands her a gig remotely operating an artificial human who’s been specifically engineered to be one of those gorgeous shills for the masses. Things get extremely complicated once “the girl” achieves widespread fame and adoration, and Tiptree’s exploration of how women’s bodies are valued and perceived remains incredibly potent.
7) The Female Man
Four different women, living in four different worlds, who eventually cross paths and share their four different views on gender roles, form the basis of Joanna Russ’ feminist sci-fi book, which was first published in 1975. The worlds include; an alternate-history version in which the Great Depression has lasted for decades; an all-female world where the patriarchy has been completely forgotten, and woman have evolved to be able to procreate with each other; and a world where women and men have been at literal war for 40 years. It’s still an influential work and, as it happens, won a retrospective award named for James Tiptree Jr. in 1995.
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel is the oldest work on this list (it was first published in 1924), but there’s a good reason it’s remained so popular. Its setting in a futuristic world ruled by “the One State”, where perfection is paramount, offers “a great warning against the dangers of a world where people can be judged for thought crimes and non-conformist behaviour”. (The book is said to have influenced 1984, among other works.) Though the main character is male, the women in the book are intriguing in their own right, and the circumstances they face speak to their depressing place in the dystopia. For instance, only women who are deemed physically worthy are allowed to have children — and if they disobey, the consequences are severe.
9) The Bionic Woman
The original series starring Lindsay Wagner ran from 1976-1978, concurrent with the Wonder Woman TV series, in a time when the women’s liberation movement was becoming more and more mainstream. Tennis pro Jaime Sommers transforms into a futuristic science experiment after a skydiving mishap with former beau Steve Austin, AKA the similarly enhanced Six Million Dollar Man. Though she gained superhuman abilities thanks to her robotic implants — another instance of a woman not having total control over her body, though at least nobody was forcing her to pop out babies — an awful lot of Bionic Woman episodes revolved around Jaime being kidnapped and/or incapacitated. Fortunately, that plot device was usually just a set-up so she could unleash the badarse moves that made her one of TV’s first sci-fi heroines.
10) Orphan Black
Possible redundancy alert, since there’s probably already a huge crossover between fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and this intense, innovative thriller about a group of female clones who, despite being wildly different, band together to take back control of their lives. It begins its fifth and final season in June, but if you’re not caught up, that’s still four seasons of formidable Tatiana Maslany performances to binge-watch while you’re waiting to see what Offred will do (or wryly, angrily observe in voice-over while affecting her best placid facial expression, as a carefully-chosen pop song swells in the background).