Top 10 Movies To Watch Before Seeing Ghost in the Shell

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

GHOST IN THE SHELL hits theaters today and audiences are likely divided into two camps: those familiar with the original manga and anime series and those who have no clue why a body suit clad Scarlett Johansson is kicking robot ass. Well, we are here to help with a list of the ten films and television series you should watch before heading to the theater for Rupert Sanders’ bug budget science fiction film. Here are our ten picks ranging from films that inspired or were inspired by GHOST IN THE SHELL. If you think we missed one or have a recommendation of your own, let us know in the talk backs below.


When most people think of anime, the first movie that comes to mind is usually AKIRA. A dense and somewhat confusing science fiction film set in a dystopian future city, AKIRA is a core inspiratio for GHOST IN THE SHELL and virtually every science fiction film that followed it. Much like the development hell that took decades to result in the live action GHOST IN THE SHELL, AKIRA has been on Hollywood’s radar for a long time. Hopefully GHOST IN THE SHELL can pave the way for AKIRA to be realized in live action.


The Wachowskis have gone on record as saying GHOST IN THE SHELL was a main inspiration for their seminal scifi film. From the screens of code to the way Neo and crew hack into The Matrix are inspired by similar designs in GHOST IN THE SHELL. Even the nodes on the necks of characters in the new film look reminiscent of THE MATRIX. The Wachowskis even producced an anime anthology called THE ANIMATRIX that further connects to the Japanese roots of their film.


In a future where robots are disguised as humans, it is virtually impossible to tell without experts like Rick Deckard. Few films are as iconic visually or musically as BLADE RUNNER which is why this year’s sequel is so highly anticipated. GHOST IN THE SHELL shares a lot in common with Ridley Scott’s masterpiece and Rupert Wyatt has taken those homages to a new level in his film. The design of the character clothes and the landscape of the city are vintage BLADE RUNNER.


James Cameron’s record breaking film may seem like an odd choice for this list but think about it: both films involve characters who have to upload their consciousness into a virtual body that they then use to navigate the world around them. AVATAR looks and feels more like something akin to STAR WARS or TARZAN but it shares roots in the theme of personality and human rights that GHOST IN THE SHELL takes a darker look at.


More of a hard scifi film than the action-oriented GHOST IN THE SHELL, Alex Garland’s meditative thriller on the dangers of artificial intelligence brought sex appeal in the form of Alicia Vikander as Ava. There are a lot of similarities in how Ava looks in relation to the design of the Major in GHOST IN THE SHELL but what you cannot deny is the sex appeal exuded by both leading actresses which also lends an air of danger when their true natures are revealed.


Luc Besson’s 2014 film is batshit crazy and totally over the top, but it also proved that Scarlett Johansson could kick ass even when she isn’t playing Black Widow. LUCY focuses on an everyday woman getting superhuman abilities that allow her to interface with technology on an incredible level. So, if you are looking to prepare your synapses for crazy action and Scarlett hacking your mind, LUCY is a good starting point.


This one is a no-brainer: both stories center on law enforcement who are unvoluntarily changed into something not quite wholly human. ROBOCOP is a clear influence on the original manga version of GHOST IN THE SHELL but changing the protagonist to a female and making her robotic nature under the skin instead of visible armor definitely provides a lot more to play with thematically.


Steven Spielberg’s film based on a project developed by Stanley Kubrick is a film that divided audiences when it was released in 2001. It is a somber take on the PINOCCHIO story about a young android searching for a way to become a real boy. While GHOST IN THE SHELL is something of a reverse take on the story, both center on characters who come to learn that they are not human but question what being alive actually means.


The hit television series revolves around the question of whether machines can become human and where that line blurs. Thematically, the series shares a lot in common with GHOST IN THE SHELL even if they are in very different visual genres. I do think that the HBO series has some pacing issues but if you haven’t watched it yet I implore you to check it out.


Obviously, if you are planning to see the new live action film, you should check out the source material. With multiple sequels and television series to it’s name, GHOST IN THE SHELL is a very popular franchise in Japan and has been a cult classic in North America since it was first released in 1995. While anime is not always everyone’s cup of tea, this is one of the best examples of the genre to introduce yourself into Japanese animation.


About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.