This column wouldn’t be the first to suggest that “Logan” is something special. Critics across the board have been hailing it as a game changer, a masterstroke, and a brilliant departure from its predecessors, both within its franchise and the genre as a whole.
Director James Mangold, who previously directed “The Wolverine,” and star Hugh Jackman have both repeatedly stressed their desire to set their final X-Men film apart from the pack. They did so by deliberately avoiding the language of contemporary comic book cinema, and have made no secret of the many classic films they turned to instead for inspiration. “Logan” is a striking and utterly cinematic work whose roots are vast and varied. Below are 15 films whose influence burn brightly in this incendiary final chapter of the Wolverine saga.
SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for “Logan.”
15. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)
Director Alfonso Cuaron, who would later win an Oscar for his work on the film “Gravity,” first tackled the science fiction genre in “Children of Men.” This dystopian thriller is set in a world whose entire populace is infertile, and the fate of the entire species rests on the shoulders of Clive Owen, tasked with transporting a young pregnant girl across the border amidst a refugee crisis.
Though some have attributed the look of Logan’s world to the more recent “Mad Max: Fury Road,” 2029 is less a wasteland than a decaying metropolis, much like the United Kingdom traversed by the characters in “Children of Men.” From its ominous border wall and armed guards to the dilapidated buildings that seem to rattle at every rumble of passing cars, “Logan” borrows heavily from “Children of Men,” both worlds not dead, but just beginning to die. Like Logan himself, these worlds are finally showing outwardly the poison devouring them from within.
14. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
Director James Mangold has repeatedly expressed his frustration with contemporary cinema’s use of, in his words, “150 cuts to keep track of what’s going on with every element.” For “Logan,” Mangold said he fashioned his framing after German expressionist filmmaking from the early part of the century. Of course, that influence shines through most heavily at the Munson’s farmhouse, when Logan casts off its Western atmosphere in favor of a horror film tone.
Particularly, the landmark “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” seems to have heavily shaped the scene. The influence can be seen from the dynamic of a mindless killing machine under the control of a mad doctor to the deliberately shadowy lighting, and the choice of scene setting, whose doorways, staircases and slanted ceilings craft an eerily similar angular backdrop to those in the silent horror classic. Like the troubling and tense scenes in “Caligari,” the brutal and haunting massacre in Oklahoma City eschews the modern fast-paced action scene in favor of a lumbering, slow-burn sense of dread, drawing the audience in so powerfully that they can’t look away for the inevitable exquisite carnage.
13. THE SEARCHERS (1956)
The very character of Logan owes good deal of debt to the disgruntled cowboy played by John Wayne in the iconic John Ford film “The Searchers.” The film casts Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a broken and despicable former soldier from both the Civil and Mexican Revolutionary wars, and quite possibly a former mercenary, who lives as a perpetual outsider due to his disdain for authority and the burden of his past sins.
Both films involve a weary former soldier in need of redemption on a mission to rescue a young girl in danger. Mangold plays with the symbolic nature of doorways deliberately in his film, a visual most famously employed to frame Edwards at the end of “Searchers.” When Logan rescues Laura from the men who’d initially kidnapped and reprogrammed her, he carries her the precise way Edwards does his young niece when he finally “rescues” her from the Comanche tribe she had become a part of. Since its release, scholars have debated whether Ethan is the girl’s real father, and if the film as a whole is about a father’s love for a daughter he could never be there for. “Logan” echoes that same idea, albeit with, in its own way, a happier ending.
12. THE LAST AMERICAN HERO (1973)
So how does an obscure biopic about a racer influence “Logan?” Well, they do share a similar skeleton, with Jeff Bridges’ Junior Jackson a former outlaw, persuaded by his father figure to actually make something of himself, looking out for others and tussling with good ol’ boys while never losing his edge. Like Logan, Jackson for all his achievements cannot shake his criminal past, which manifests itself both in the jeers of his naysayers and in his own internal temptations. Yet it’s the film’s powerful title which Mangold cleverly invoked in an in-joke for those viewers with IMDB-like brains.
In an early scene, Logan, who like Jackson now makes his living as a driver, stops off at a gas station, ultimately resulting in a confrontation between Laura and the shopkeep that he breaks up. Playing through the speakers of the rest stop is the Jim Croce song “I’ve Got A Name,” the theme song to “The Last American Hero.” Originally “The Last American Hero” was simply the title of a Tom Wolfe article, but here Mangold evokes it to suggest that in a world without mutants, made of dilapidated buildings and decadent walls, this broken and bearded former X-Man is indeed the last American hero.
11. FREAKS (1932)
Indeed, this unique and unsettling pre-Code horror film likely influenced the original “X-Men” creators themselves, as it tells a story wherein the “freaks” are in fact the virtuous heroes, and the “monsters” are the normal people who shun and abuse them for being different. “Freaks” tells the story of a beautiful and evil trapeze artist who sets out to seduce, marry and murder the circus’ midget in order to inherit his vast fortune. When her nefarious plot is uncovered, she suffers a vicious and brutal justice at the hands of the other “freaks.”
Tod Browning’s film suggests that those marginalized people will band together in order to protect their own and form a makeshift family. The same dynamic is seen in “Logan” amongst the children in Eden, who have crafted a paradise in their basecamp where mutants both deformed and powered live in harmony. When Donald Pierce and his Reavers arrive to disrupt that tranquility, the children band together to enact their vengeance. The final moments where Donald is surrounded by the approaching young mutants echoes the final moments of “Freaks,” in which the freaks slowly crawl from beneath the overturned trucks, silhouetted by flames, surrounding their prey.
10. LEON THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)
When Mangold and Jackman decided to pair Logan with Laura, they surely turned to Luc Besson’s cult classic. The film is the definitive statement on “weary old killer takes young girl under his wing,” and Natalie Portman’s child assassin Mathilda has had an influence on every killer kid from Hit Girl to Hanna. “Leon” tells the story of Jean Reno’s Leon, an Italian hitman who ends up caring for and training Matilda after her family is killed by corrupt cop Norman Stansfield, playing with devilish eccentricity by Gary Oldman. Indeed, while there is the obvious connection between the two films’ father/daughter dynamics, its Oldman’s Stansfield to which “Logan” most obviously tips its hat.
After almost two decades of relying on Magneto, “Logan” manages to rend an utterly captivating antagonist out of the lesser-known Donald Pierce. Though the Southern drawl and assorted tattoos originate with Boyd Holbrook, much of the look and mannerism of Pierce seems directly taken from Stansfield. From the costuming to the identical haircut and facial hair to the almost reptilian way both moved their heads and limbs in moments of confrontation, the two are crafted from the same menacing mold.
9. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006)
Before this raises some serious eyebrows, it should be made clear that James Mangold has explicitly stated this Oscar-winning indie comedy was a big influence on “Logan.” He claimed he wanted to “make ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ with Logan, X-23 and Xavier,” and ultimately succeeded. While of course “Logan” has fewer laughs and far more bloodshed than Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris’ family road trip, the interpersonal dynamic in both films is remarkably similar, particularly between the eldest and youngest members of the makeshift clans.
Alan Arkin actually won an Oscar for his role as a dying grandfather who both comforts and encourages his young outcast of a granddaughter, Olive. While tensions with everyone else in the car run high, he and Olive’s affection for one another never wavers. We’ve seen Xavier be a nurturing teacher before in other X-Men films, but never with the kind of paternal warmth he exhibits towards Laura, whether its expounding about the nature of female lions or donning a silly hat and reminiscing about old movie houses. While of course the tragic end of both elder passengers is also similar, it is that deep, loving bond between old and young that provides such a strong bridge between two otherwise very different films.
8. NEBRASKA (2013)
Would you believe us if we said “Little Miss Sunshine” wasn’t the only quirky indie comedy that this brutal action film borrowed a relationship dynamic from? If Xavier and Laura are Edwin and Olive Hoover, then he and Logan are Woody and David Grant from Alexander Payne’s black and white father/son comedy.
“Nebraska” tells the story of David, a put upon son who both cares for and is perpetually frustrated with his dementia-afflicted father, who eventually drags him on a road trip in order achieve a goal David doesn’t even believe is real. Along the way, the two get combative, with David desperate to snap Woody back to reality without hurting him, holding back secrets that might cause his father to lose the last strains of hope and sanity he has left. Both Woody and Charles seem to have no issue telling their defacto caretaker how disappointed in them they are, both are quick to lash out in frustration at their loss of autonomy at the hands of their “sons,” and both see this quest they drag them on as one last chance to matter, to make a difference and maybe atone for past mistakes.
7. “HURT” (2003)
The Man in Black’s influence over Logan is undeniable. The apocalyptic “The Man Comes Around” plays over the film’s credits, and this powerful Nine Inch Nails cover was used in the film’s first trailer, forewarning us early on that this film would indeed make us hurt. Yet its not merely Cash’s music itself, but also the evocative, landmark music video by director Mark Romanek that influenced “Logan.”
A powerful and profound music video shot just months before its subjects died, no greater statement on mortality and man’s futile quest for meaning has ever been made in four minutes. Of course, one could attribute “Logan’s” whole color scheme to the bleak, almost Caravaggisti texture of Romanek’s film, but how the music video tackles the subject of legacy is what truly reverberates in Logan. By exploring the dilapidating House of Cash museum and using clips from Cash’s brief film career, Romanek juxtaposes the mythology of the Man in Black with the haggard singer before us, asking us to observe his “empire of dirt.” So too does Logan stand, a frail reflection of a fictional legacy, thrown back at him in the form of withered comic books and “fans” like Pierce or Gabriella.
6. THE WRESTLER (2008)
“The Wrestler” has been on Hugh Jackman’s radar ever since he donned the titular character’s elbow pads while belting out “I’m Wolverine!” while hosting the 81st Academy Awards. Directed by Jackman’s friend, and the original director for “The Wolverine,” Darren Aaronofsky, Jackman reportedly had such an affinity for the film that it was one of the two he explicitly mentioned to Mangold when he pitched wrapping up his Wolverine tenure.
“The Wrestler” tells the story of Randy the Ram, a professional wrestler now living in a trailer park, attempting to relive his glory days, who was told that if he exerts himself in the ring again, he’ll die. Much like Logan, he too attempts to connect with a daughter he was never there for, only to find that much as he may try to change, the violent “hero” he once was is all he will ever be. While the final moments where Logan injects himself with the serum and launches into a final berseker rage have a more hopeful tone than those of Randy the Ram as he ascends the top of the ropes, they both choose to go out on their terms, silencing their demons by embracing them in one final leap.
5. THE COWBOYS (1972)
If one were tasked to compare “Logan” to a John Wayne film, they’d likely go with Wayne’s final film, “The Shootist,” in which he plays a gunman dying of cancer. However, James Mangold cited a different Wayne film on multiple occasions as an inspiration for “Logan:” the rarely mentioned “The Cowboys.”
In “The Cowboys,” Wayne plays an aging rancher forced to take on a team of young schoolboys to help him drive cattle. He bonds with the boys, teaches them how to ride, how to herd and how to stick up for themselves. The third act of “Logan,” wherein he arrives at Eden, draws heavily from “The Cowboys,” from the way the children are both playful towards and frightened of Logan to their sense of camaraderie. Ultimately, however, “Logan” is most indebted to “The Cowboys” in the form of Richter, whose character is clearly lifted from “The Cowboys'” Cimarron, both of whom prove to be confident if somewhat defiant leaders of their groups, jaded against authority but with a begrudging respect for the grizzled elder in their midst. Much like “Logan,” “The Cowboys” has its iconic hero fall to protect the next generation, and neither one leaves a dry eye in the house.
4. PAPER MOON (1973)
Historic for containing the youngest Oscar winning performer in history, Peter Bogdonavich’s Depression-era comedy seems an unlikely candidate for “films that inspired Logan,” yet “Paper Moon” is perhaps the film most referenced by James Mangold on the promotional circuit. The story of a Bible-selling conman forced to drive a 10-year-old girl (who is very likely his daughter) across the country, “Paper Moon” is built around the antagonistic relationship between Ryan O’Neal’s fast-talking Moze and real-life daughter Tatum’s spunky Addie. Moze brushes off Addie until he realizes she too has a similar skill set, then they team up to run a racket while they travel in order to raise the money she claims he owes her.
Though far more vulgar, it’s impossible to watch Logan and Laura’s bilingual spat in the car and not think of the equally tense argument in the diner between Moze and Addie over his owing her $200. Much like “Paper Moon,” Logan lives and dies on the power of its child performer, laying a heavy emotional burden on such small shoulders. And much like Tatum O’Neal’s award-winning role, Dafne Keen rises to the occasion giving the film its heft and heart.
3. UNFORGIVEN (1992)
“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” Will Munny, the former hired killer dragged out of retirement in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” bears in his soul the same anguish and angst that plagues Logan. The film Jackman cites as the first one to cross his mind when deciding how to end his tenure as the Wolverine, “Unforgiven” shares Logan’s same sentiment that an R-rating doesn’t mean the violence should be more titillating, but rather more gruelling, more slow, forcing the audience to grapple with the cruelty of killing.
Much like the regret in Logan’s face as he slowly pushes his claws through a paralyzed gunman’s skull, Munny agonizes as a young man he just gutshot begs for water with his final breaths. What Mangold does for the myth of the superhero, Eastwood does for the myth of the cowboy, with Gene Hackman’s Little Bill ripping into the falsehoods in the published adventures of English Bob with the same indignant passion Logan does towards Laura’s comic books. Both films contemplate the consequences of killing, wax philosophic about whether men can truly change, and provide both a landmark and a eulogy for their respective genres.
2. LONE WOLF AND CUB (1972-1974)
Actually a series of six films based on the hugely popular manga, “Lone Wolf and Cub” tells the story of a Shogun executioner, disgraced in a smear campaign which leads to his wife’s death, wandering Edo Japan with his young child in tow, taking on the role of an assassin and vowing revenge. If you were looking for a missing link between Mangold and Jackman’s samurai-themed “The Wolverine” and the paternal penitence of “Logan,” here it is.
Looking particularly at the first three instalments, directed by Kenji Misumi, the films walk a fine line by making their violence shockingly graphic without ever quite dipping into Tarantino-esque comic-violence. Like “Logan,” the blood is shed with an animalistic rage, a militaristic precision, but always with a twinge of regret, particularly that such brutality must be witnessed by his child. In the first film, “Sword of Vengeance,” Ogami lays out both a sword and a ball before his son, telling him to “let the blood in your veins choose your path.” When the child reaches for the sword, there is an internal struggle of pain and pride in Ogami’s eyes that is echoed in Logan’s when he sees his daughter holding a smoking gun.
1. SHANE (1953)
While Logan was content to pay slight homage to some other films, the iconic Western “Shane” is so thoroughly entrenched in the story’s DNA that it was not only watched by Xavier and Laura in their hotel room, but also Alan Ladd’s powerful final lines were spoken as the eulogy for Logan in last lines of the entire film.
“Shane” is the story of a gunfighter who rolls into town to try and start a new life among settlers who are being harassed by cattle baron Rufus Ryker. The presence of young Joey changes Shane, who at first teaches the boy how to shoot before the boy’s mother demands he stop, declaring that the valley would be better off if there were no guns in it at all. Shane tries to fit in, but eventually is pushed to the brink, and for the sake of the town, kills Ryker. It is then that Shane departs, speaking the lines used in Logan, telling Joey to tell his mother that there “aren’t any more guns in the valley.” He may have saved the valley then, but it couldn’t truly be safe until the real weapons, the old relics of a bygone era like him, were gone.
Now that you’ve seen “Logan,” do you intend on watching the movies that inspired it? Tell us in the comments which ones you enjoy!
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