105 Cultural Artifacts That Influenced Black Mirror Creator Charlie Brooker

The Black Mirror formula.

Charlie Brooker may have a basic formula for each unsettling episode of Black Mirror, the television anthology series of darkly speculative, near-future scenarios that he created, but that formula — introduce a tech-based plot device loosely modeled on something that already exists, then let the characters ensnare themselves in it — allows for plenty of narrative and tonal experimentation. Watching Black Mirror can be a dizzying experience, but it’s not without its forebears, and Brooker is keen to share them. Here’s his annotated list of the show’s 105 most important cultural influences. 

10 Rillington Place (1971) Movies
A London serial killer poses as a doctor in order to ensnare unsuspecting women.

28 Days Later (2002) Movies
Survivors navigate a post-epidemic, zombie-ridden London.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Movies
Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic space-epic.

A Clockwork Orange
(1971) Movies
Stanley Kubrick’s most disturbing film.  

Airplane! (1980) Movies
The best of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker’s slapstick oeuvre. “It’s a critique of disaster movies and the absurdity of cinema and storytelling, full stop. And anything that breaks the fourth wall I’m a fan of.”

Paul Thomas Anderson (1970) Movies
The filmmaker of his generation who’d be aesthetically most at home in the Raging Bulls and Easy Riders ‘70s.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) Movies
John Landis’s update of an old horror trope.

“Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” (1968) Music
A haunting song of romantic rejection by Irma Thomas, the queen of New Orleans R&B.

Being John Malkovich (1999) Movies
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s magical-realist mind-bender. “In Black Mirror, the technology often functions as a plot device that allows something bizarre to happen. Being John Malkovich does around that by having the main character find a magic door. That’s it. And it’s irresistible.”

The Beyond (1981) Movies
More Italian horror: A young woman inherits a hotel that turns out to be a gateway to hell.

Boy A (2007) Movies
Andrew Garfield plays a child killer who, after being released from a juvenile-detention center, attempts to build a normal life.

Breaking Bad (2008–2013) TV
Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston’s prestige-TV triumph. “It was a show that was not afraid to turn the screw and really make you uncomfortable.”

British Public Information Films (1960s–2011) TV
Like unintentionally twisted versions of those “The More You Know” TV spots. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, you’re living with the threat of nuclear war, and you’ve got these little mini horror movies showing you that you could die if you fly a kite into a power line or if you climb into an old fridge and the door shuts.”

Broen (2011–present) TV
Scandinavian crime series about a murder victim found on a bridge connecting two cities.

Catch-22 (1961) Books
Joseph Heller’s mighty, absurdist satire/protest novel about a World War II bombardier stuck in varying degrees of hell.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) Movies
The Ruggero Deodato–directed Italian horror film in which a documentary crew is terrorized by cannibals.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) Books
George Saunders’s first story collection. The title effort is set in the future, narrated by an employee at a mid-19th-century-themed amusement park.

Adam Curtis (1955–) TV
English documentarian whose films focus on, in his words, “power and how it works in society.” The Power of Nightmares is a good place to start.

Cutter and Bone (1976) Books
Newton Thornburg’s cult-favorite crime-noir novel about a Vietnam veteran, Cutter, pushing his friend Bone to the brink of insanity.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) Movies
A British psychological thriller in which a returning soldier seeks revenge on the bullies who tormented his brother.

Dead of Night (1945) Movies
A multi-story horror film framed by a man’s nervous breakdown.

Doctor Who (1963–present) TV
The undying British sci-fi show.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Movies
Sidney Lumet and Al Pacino’s neurotic urban-crime dramedy.

Doom (1993) Video Games
Pioneering first-person shooter.

Duel (1971) Movies
A motorist is stalked by a tanker truck in Steven Spielberg’s full-length debut, originally shown on TV.

Elephant (1989) TV
A British short film set during the Troubles, featuring almost no dialogue.

Elite (1984) Video Games
An early hit of open-ended gaming.

Engrenages (2005–present) TV
French legal drama about the lawyers and judges who work at Paris’s Palais du Justice.

Evil Dead 2 (1987) Movies
The best of Sam Raimi’s self-aware low-budget splatterfests. “It’s a mad dream, rendered onto film. There’s a scene where [the hero], Ash, is losing his mind, and the stag’s head on the wall starts laughing at him, and you feel like you’ve taken acid.”

Fallout 4 (2015) Video Games
A role-playing video game set 210 years in the future, after a devastating war. “Sometimes I’ll put a timer on: As long as I write for that time, I can play video games for that same amount of time. So sometimes I’ll be writing a script and then I’ll be playing Fallout 4.”

Fantastic Voyage (1966) Movies
A scientist invents super-shrinking technology, used to help a team enter his body to fix a blood clot.

Fawlty Towers (1975–1979) TV
John Cleese stars as Basil in a post-Python sitcom about a hotel manager. “Often in our episodes, someone is trapped at the center of a dilemma they never get out of, and that describes every episode of Fawlty Towers.”

Festen (1998) Movies
A Dogme 95 look at intrafamily venom.

Fishtank (2009) Movies
A mother and her teenage daughter fight for the affection of Michael Fassbender.

Game of Thrones (2011–present) TV
Winter’s almost here.

Grand Theft Auto (1997–present) Video Games
The controversial and morally dubious video-game series. “It pops up a couple of times in this forthcoming season, but in ways I can’t say without spoilers.”

Harold and Maude (1971) Movies
Hal Ashby’s oddball cinematic romance between a weird young man and vivacious (much) older woman. “It’s quite outrageous, but it’s also quite touching.”

Hammer House of Horror (1980) TV
A British anthology series from the long-running B-level production house.

Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) Movies
Cinema’s genius of the uncanny.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978) Books
Douglas Adams’s eternal sci-comedy BBC radio series and subsequent novel. “There’s lots of brilliant ideas that are realized in such an amusing way. And it’s very British — which is how we think of Black Mirror.

Armando Iannucci (1953–) and Chris Morris (1962–) TV
The duo’s satirical U.K. work (e.g., The Day Today, Jam) still stings.

Inception (2010) Movies
Christopher Nolan’s dreams-within-dreams head-scratcher.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Movies
A better-than-the-original remake of the 1956 film.

It Follows (2014) Movies
A horror movie in which an evil spirit is passed along via sexual intercourse. “You don’t know quite when it’s set, because it’s got an ’80s feel, but there are moments where someone is using a Kindle-style device. It’s deliberately dreamlike, which is something we often do.”

Jaws (1975) Movies
Steven Spielberg’s Ur–summer blockbuster.

Duncan Jones (1971–) Movies
The director of Moon and Source Code, both of which offer bleak but cleverly rendered futurism.

The Killing (2007–2012) TV
Soul-crushing Danish police procedural set in Copenhagen.

Stephen King (1947–) Books
The undisputed kingpin of horror fiction.

The Kingdom (1994) Movies
Lars von Trier’s mini-series for Danish TV, about a hospital dealing with some very bad mojo.

Nigel Kneale (1922–2006) TV
The English screenwriter and creator of the venerable Professor Bernard Quatermass character.

La cabina (1972) Movies
A claustrophobic Spanish TV movie about a guy trapped inside a phone booth.

Little Computer People (1985) Video Games
A precursor to The Sims, this video game was among the first without set goals for users to achieve.

Mad Men (2007–2015) TV
A hyperdetailed elegy for a milieu (white, male, upper-middle-class ad executives) that never knew how good they had it.

Manhunt (2004) Video Games
Graphically violent and panic inducing. “It’s got these masked people coming to hunt you. When I was giving references to the design team [for Black Mirror’s] “White Bear” episode, I sent them images from Manhunt.

The Matrix (1999) Movies
Keanu Reeves takes the red pill.

Minority Report (2002) Movies
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise adapt a Philip K. Dick novel about predictive policing.

Miracle Mile (1988) Movies
A young couple try to escape L.A. — in real time — before the onset of nuclear war.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–1974) TV
The beloved British series that shaped the future of comedy.

Mulholland Drive (2001) Movies
David Lynch’s bonkers magnum opus of identity confusion.  

N++ soundtrack (2015) Music
Fast-paced, synth-heavy soundtrack to the popular video game.

Network (1976) Movies
Sidney Lumet’s prescient media satire.

“The National Anthem” (2000) Music
A free-jazz-indebted track from Radiohead’s Kid A.
“We’re quite a Radiohead show. They grew up near where I did — I don’t know any of the band members, but they seem to be similarly paranoid.”

Night Gallery (1969–1973) TV
Rod Serling’s other anthology gave preference to the supernatural.

On Filmmaking (2005) Movies
British directing great Alexander Mackendrick’s book teaches, precisely, how to make a film.

On Killing (1996) Books
Israeli David Grossman explores the psychological effect of killing in law enforcement and the military.

Outrun (1987) Video Games
An arcade racing game that popularized the moving console cabinet.

Peeping Tom (1960) Movies
Michael Powell’s directing career was nearly ended by this story of a serial killer who films his victims.

Portal (2007) Video Games
An addictive puzzle-based video game.
“It’s almost impossible to explain what’s happening in that game. I found it fascinating from that perspective.”

Planet of the Apes (1968) Movies
It was Earth all along!

QED: A Guide to Armageddon (1982) TV
A pop-science BBC documentary series.

Quartermass and the Pit (1967) Movies
Sci-fi horror in which an ancient alien spacecraft is unearthed in London’s Underground.

Resident Evil (1996–present) Video Games
The zombie-fighting video game later turned into a surprisingly long-lasting film series.

Ring (1998) Movies
A Japanese psychological-horror film about a cursed video tape.

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969–1973) TV
Serling’s other anthology gave preference to the supernatural.

Sapphire & Steel (1979–1982) TV
This British show follows the titular time-travelers as they investigate strange events throughout history.

Scenes From a Marriage (1973) TV
And they’re mostly grim, in Ingmar Bergman’s mini-series.

The Sentinel (1986) Video Games
A puzzle-based video game where users play as a robot, navigating through thousands of levels.

Se7en (1995) Movies
Kevin Spacey forces Brad Pitt to ask “What’s in the box?” in David Fincher’s serial-killer thriller. “It creates such a tone — enjoyable despair. And there are scenes where you don’t see anything that are still awful.”

Silent Running (1972) Movies
After all botanical life on Earth has died, an ecologist fights to maintain the verdure in his space station.

The Singing Detective (1986) TV
Michael Gambon as a mystery writer recovering from chronic disease, mirroring creator Dennis Potter’s real-life struggle.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Movies
Peak M. Night Shyamalan, with an insta-classic twist.

Sleeper (1973) Movies
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in love in an Orwellian future.

Sombrero Fallout (1976) Books
An unsung work from Richard Brautigan, the hippie-favorite writer of Trout Fishing in America.

The Sophtware Slump (2000) Music
California indie-rock band Grandaddy’s concept album about modern alienation. “It’s about the melancholy of decaying technology. I don’t know why it wasn’t bigger.”

Space Invaders (1978) Video Games
Gamers battle a never-ending onslaught of pixelated aliens.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Movies
Armed criminals hijack a New York subway train.

Tales of the Unexpected (1979–1988) TV
Created by Roald Dahl, this British series features unconnected episodes that all end on a twist.

Quentin Tarantino (1963–) Movies
The high priest of cinema-as-homage.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) Movies
Leatherface’s how-de-do.

The Thing (1982) Movies
John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror film with a shape-shifting parasite for a villain.

Threads (1984) TV
A British TV movie about the aftermath of nuclear war. “The most disturbing thing I have ever seen in my life. It made The Day After look like a fucking Pixar movie.”

THX-1138 (1971) Movies
Orwellian, dystopian sci-fi from George Lucas. “[The Black Mirror episode] ‘15 Million Merits’ definitely has the sort of sterile feel of THX-1138 — the detached weirdness of that world.”

Triangle (2009) Movies
After their boat is damaged on a day trip, a single mother and her friends board a mysterious ocean liner.

The Truman Show (1998) Movies
Jim Carrey plays a man who discovers that his entire life is a reality-TV show. “It’s a paranoid fantasy based on a thought everyone’s had: How would I know if I’m the only real person in the world? A lot of Black Mirror episodes are really to do with authenticity. The Truman Show is the ultimate expression of that.”

They Live (1988) Movies
John Carpenter’s satire about a man who discovers that the ruling class are aliens.

The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) TV
Rod Serling’s impossibly influential television anthology, where each unconnected episode features different characters and story and contains elements of the supernatural.

Twin Peaks (1990–1991) TV
Mark Frost and David Lynch’s deeply strange murder mystery that was, for a brief time, one of TV’s most popular shows.

Ultimate Force (2002–08) TV
A British military action series of the kind Americans usually make. “The way the script was written was a revelation. This sounds blindingly obvious, but I didn’t realize stage directions are as important as the dialogue. It was a very basic piece of information slotting into place that had not occurred to me before.”

United 93 (2006) Movies
Paul Greengrass’s rendition of what happened aboard 9/11’s United Flight 93.

The Up documentaries (1964–present) Movies
Michael Apted’s films check in with the same group of British citizens every seven years.

The Vanishing (1988) Movies
This Dutch-French thriller about a man’s obsessive search for his disappeared girlfriend.

Paul Verhoeven (1938–) Movies
The Dutch provocateur and director of, among others, Total Recall and this year’s rape-revenge thriller Elle.

The Wicker Man (1973) Movies 
A detective arrives on a remote Scottish island looking for a missing girl. Pagan horror ensues.

Wall-E (2008) Movies
One of Pixar’s bleakest.

The X-Files (1993–2002) TV
The truth, as it turned out, was out there for Mulder and Scully. Sort of. 

*A version of this article appears in the October 17, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.