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Blinded By The Light: The 7 Best Movies Featuring Solar Eclipses

1 week ago 20

Solar eclipses are, in addition to occasions of human fascination with the cosmos, deeply cinematic. So it’s no wonder they’ve been repeatedly used as inciting moments or climactic happenings in a variety of films – but it is a little bit funny how often movie-world eclipses happen either as a conduit for supernatural ritual (as in horror movies like Bloody Birthday and Darkness) or as a dramatic turning point in a final, fantastical battle/mystical unlocking (as in Avatar: The Way of Water, Dragonslayer, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider). That’s all well and good, but plenty of movies have been able to make somewhat more inventive use of this celestial phenomenon. Here are seven eclipse-centric movies to get you in the mood for the upcoming solar eclipse happening on April 8, 2024 – and no, none of them are from the Twilight Saga.

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

     A SPACE ODYSSEY, 1968 Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection

    Let’s start at the very beginning. 2001 isn’t the first movie to feature a solar eclipse, of course, and it doesn’t figure into the movie’s main story. But the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece start out in the total blackness that eventually reveals itself as the effect of a solar eclipse, as the sun emerges to cast light upon the Earth (also in shadow from a simultaneously lunar eclipse). The phenomenon is evoked in the opening scenes that follow, the famous “Dawn of Man” sequence, as one particular shot of the emerged monolith has it partially obscuring the light of the sun. Like much of Kubrick’s film, the use of eclipse imagery in 2001 defies narrative clichés, instead focusing on a sense of awe and mystery over the natural yet unknowable world(s).  

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  2. Pitch Black (2000)

    Vin Diesel in Pitch Black Photo: Universal Pictures

    Vin Diesel will never eclipse Dominic Toretto as his most famous character, but how about a little love for Richard B. Riddick, the fearsome antihero at the center of the delightful Aliens knockoff Pitch Black? He’s never been featured in a movie that’s grossed more than The Chronicles of Riddick (a high-profile sci-fi flop that spun off from the more modest Pitch Black), but he’s a cool, Diesel-suited character in his own right, and makes terrific use of a solar eclipse as a plot point in his first outing. Characters transporting violent prisoner Riddick find themselves marooned on a planet kept in daylight by three suns – until an eclipse brings out marauding beasts that thrive in the darkness, leaving Riddick (who basically has built-in night-vision) a crucial component of their possible survival. Unlike most eclipse movies, this one takes up a significant chunk of screen time, and director David Twohy knows his way around a scrappy, entertaining B-picture. Turn off the lights and enjoy.

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  3. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

     Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, Tisha Campbell, 1986, © Warner Br Photo: Everett Collection

    As mentioned, plenty of horror movies use a solar eclipse as a gimmick, so it makes sense that the genre mash-up Little Shop of Horrors would goof around with such a hoary device as the means for a man-eating alien plant to descend upon our poor, stupid planet. But what makes Little Shop of Horrors a particularly good representative of the eclipse-as-conduit-of-mysterious-evil trope is the way it immortalizes the event in song: This is a musical adaptation of the Roger Cormman horror-comedy cheapie, which means a girl-group trio backs up the sung-spoken flashback number “Da-Doo” with particularly memorable, emphatic vocals about a “to-tal e-clipse of the sun!” It’s hard not to think of that line during every subsequent real-world eclipse – but the brain-branding is worth it for one of the best big-screen musicals of all time.

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  4. Barabbas (1961)

    Barabbas Photo: Columbia Pictures

    Sometimes a relic from a different era of filmmaking can also serve as an odd kind of historical record. Barabbas is an Italian-shot, English-language religious film about the life of the title character – a prisoner chosen over Jesus Christ to be pardoned for Passover, while Jesus is sent to the cross – that arrived during the biblical-epic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, and not one that’s as rewatched and discussed as some of its brethren now that the genre has fallen by the wayside. But in addition to the widescreen mega-production and an eclectic cast that includes Anthony Quinn, Jack Palance, and Ernest Borgnine (plus, as an uncredited extra, Sharon Tate!), the film is notable for shooting its crucifixion scene during an actual total eclipse of the sun on February 15, 1961. The humbling and chilling effect of the sky actually going black when Jesus dies is hard to match, and sets Barabbas (Quinn) on his path for the remainder of the film.

    Where to Stream Barabbas
  5. Apocalypto (2006)

    APOCALYPTO, Rudy Youngblood, Morris Bird, 2006. ©Walt Disney Co./courtesy Everett Collection Photo: ©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

    Jumping further ahead in history, Mel Gibson’s 2006 epic follows tribesmen in Yucatán during the sixteenth century as they’re besieged by Mayan forces. The story hinges on a solar eclipse, which here the Mayan civilization takes as a sign that the gods are satisfied with their sacrifices, sparing the lives of key characters – making the event both pivotal and appropriately coincidental in a way that never feels like a story cheat. As with 2001, there’s a sense of wonder attached to the eclipse; even if modern audiences understand what’s happening on a scientific level, Apocalypto – easily Gibson’s best as a director, though it was dinged for some historical inaccuracies – is so immersive and immediate that it temporary restores some mystery to the proceedings, with the capriciousness of fate standing in for the since-solved mysteries of planetary alignment.

    Where to Stream Apocalypto
  6. Dolores Claiborne (1995) and Gerald’s Game (2017)


    It isn’t pure coincidence or writerly repetition that explains fellow Stephen King books Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game each using the real-life solar eclipse of July 20, 1963 – the projects were initially planned as a single eclipse-centric novel, which King split apart and repurposed as separate books, released six months apart. In their film versions, an eclipse remains in both, though Dolores Claiborne (released back in 1995) makes no reference to Gerald’s Game, while the latter does refer to a vision of the former in dialogue. In any event, King takes a supernatural trope and keeps it horrific while rooting it in the evil that men do: In Claiborne, the title character confronts her abusive husband during an eclipse, while in Gerald’s Game, a character experiences abuse during the same event.

    WHere to stream gerald’s game Where to Stream Dolores Claiborne
  7. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949)

    Barabbas Photo: Paramount
    Where to Stream A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

    In many film versions of the Mark Twain novel, the modern man (from 1912 in the popular 1949 edition) somehow whisked back to Arthurian times uses his knowledge of an imminent eclipse to scare captors into freeing him. (Apparently, Twain’s story device might well have been inspired by a story about Christopher Columbus using his knowledge of an upcoming eclipse in a similar manner.) The Bing Crosby-starring 1949 version is probably the best-loved of the bunch, and is a more family-friendly use of this plot device than other movies on this list. (However, the even more kid-friendly version, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, doesn’t bother with the eclipse business.)

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