The 12 Best Movies With a Solar Eclipse


Eclipse fever is upon us…or at least, those of us in, near, or traveling into the path of totality for the April 8 celestial event. Total solar eclipses aren’t nearly as rare as you might thing, occurring about once every 18 months from the Earth’s perspective. The trick is to be in a position to see it happen.

This month’s eclipse is a big deal precisely because its visible path extends across major population centers in North America, with Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Montreal among the major cities in the path of totality, and partial views for thousands of miles in either direction. Because of the relative rarity of being in the right place at the right time, eclipses are almost always highly symbolic events in films; they never just happen.

While we’re all gearing up to see something beautiful here in the real world, in the movies, eclipses are almost always disturbing, if not downright ominous. There’s a sense that once the sun starts to fade, the normal rules no longer apply. Revelation is on the table, as is transformation. Eclipses can suggest the triumph of the weak over the powerful, or conversely, the triumph of darkness over light.

Unlike the eclipse, which you absolutely must not look at without very good eye protection, you can look at these 12 movies straight on.

The Eclipse, or the Courtship of the Sun and Moon (۱۹۰۷)

You’re doubtless familiar with the work of French cinematic pioneer Georges Méliès via his most famous film, 1902’s A Trip to the Moon. That wasn’t his only cinematic trip into the heavens, though, and he has just as much fun with this later project. It starts as a stuffy science lesson in a room full of stuffy old professors (including Méliès himself) before turning into a highly sexualized encounter between the sun and the moon in the night sky (to any viewer with even the slightest hint of imagination, it’s positively filthy).

It’s been argued for decades whether or not this represents an entirely straight encounter, as the devilishly masculine-presenting sun takes the ambiguously gendered moon from behind. Either way, Méliès clearly understood that a few minutes of darkness during the daytime, when other eyes are distracted, might represent an opportunity of sorts. If you know what I mean.

Where to stream: YouTube

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (۱۹۴۹)

Mark Twain’s seminal satirical novel made light of the traditional images of Medieval life and chivalry then popular in other Brit-lit. It was also a solid takedown of both the monarchy and unfettered capitalism. The 1949 movie version ditches much of that interesting subtext (and bite) while maintaining a spirit of good ol’ American can-do, personified by Bing Crosby. It’s all in good fun, and reaches its climax when Crosby’s time-displaced Hank accurately predicts a total solar eclipse at the moment he’s about to be executed (good timing). Fortunately, he’d travelled with a book noting the times and dates of such things, reminding us to think carefully about what to pack along on a trip through time.

A sticking point: There was no recorded eclipse in the movie’s June 528, but Twain might have based the novel’s similar events on real history: Christopher Columbus, notably bad at everything he ever set out to do, earned a last-minute reprieve on one of his final voyages thanks to a little foreknowledge. Having beached his no-longer seaworthy ships off the coast of Jamaica, his crew had taken to abusing the locals who soon lost interest in providing the food that was keeping the starving sailors alive. Columbus used his foreknowledge of the coming eclipse to convince local leaders that his God was going to punish them. They relented, and Columbus lived to catch a rescue ship and spend the rest of his life being mocked by contemporaries as an abject failure (and his afterlife being honored with an American holiday). As for the movie’s premise, early medieval scientists would have known about eclipses and their causes (one of the proto-sources for King Arthur is the monk Bede, who wrote fairly accurately about how eclipses work), but it’s not unreasonable to think that normal people would be freaked out if Bing Crosby showed up and seemed to command the sun to go dark.

Where to stream: Tubi

Barabbas (۱۹۶۱)

This one is less well remembered than other big biblical epics of the 1960s, but contains lavish set-pieces, and a great (if slightly nonsensical) classic Hollywood casts, including Anthony Quinn, Anthony Kennedy, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Palance, and Sharon Tate. Quinn plays the title character, the thief freed by Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus. A particular innovation in film comes during the scene during which Barabbas returns to witness the death of Jesus: Taking the New Testament at its word about darkness falling, the sequence was filmed during an actual total eclipse on Feb. 15, 1961, when that event was visible in full over Italy, where filming took place. I’d imagine there were no second takes.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Bloody Birthday (۱۹۸۱)

This underrated slasher follows a group of three kids born on the same day in the middle of a not-terribly convincing solar eclipse. The circumstances of their birth quite naturally cause them to turn murderously evil on their 10th birthdays. (You can’t argue with basic science.) The kids start stalking horny teenagers and the movie quickly comes to feel like a crossover between The Bad Seed and Friday the 13th. Susan Strasberg and José Ferrer lend a bit of credibility to the drama, and help drive home the moral (“Don’t give birth during an eclipse! What were you thinking!”).

Where to stream: Tubi

Ladyhawke (۱۹۸۵)

Richard Donner’s unfairly forgotten medieval fantasy finds young thief Phillipe Gaston (Matthew Broderick) befriending Capt. Navarre (Rutger Hauer), a man under a curse. Navarre and his lover Lady Isabeau d’Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer) are never able to be together—he becomes a wolf at night, while she turns into a hawk by day. An eclipse is the narrative’s answer to their prayers: during this time of neither fully night nor fully day, the two are able take on their true human forms at the same time, and giving them a real shot at defeating the jealous wizard who screwed them over.

Where to stream: Tubi

Little Shop of Horrors (۱۹۸۶)

The origins of the flesh-eating, plump-lipped Audrey II aren’t entirely clear, but what we know is this: At the shop of an old Chinese plant seller (displaying unfortunate hints of outdated exotic orientalism), the plant appeared from nowhere smack in the middle of a solar eclipse. A self-identified mean green mother from outer space, Audrey II clearly came from the stars, but could seemingly only do so under very specific conditions. So eclipse day might not be the best for plant shopping.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Dolores Claiborne (۱۹۹۵)

Stephen King has never been shy about linking his novels, but frequently does so in subtle ways—sometimes by dropping little Easter eggs here and there. The novels Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, both released in 1992, go a step further, and were at one point intended to be a single novel. Each deals with women suffering from the presence of belittling, controlling men in their lives, and each involves major narrative events punctuated by a real-life total solar eclipse that occurred on July 20, 1963 (though the film fudges that date into the 1970s). Here, Kathy Bates’ titular Dolores kills her abusive husband (David Strathairn) during a flashback dramatically framed by the disappearance of the sun; the novel adds the detail of an eclipse party that’s drawing the attention of most of the residents of the island on which they live. In either case, it’s a good time to be mindful of all that might be going on around you while you’re attention is drawn toward the waning sun.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Pitch Black (۲۰۰۰)

Eclipses are matters of perspective, but they’re also universal. All you need is a sun, an orbital body to block it, and someone standing in the right place to notice. Humanity has even seen a hint of this already: a partial solar eclipse filmed by the Perseverance Rover on Mars. Sci-fi romp Pitch Black takes us to a far more distant world, and to the crash of a prison ship carrying Vin Diesel’s Richard B. Riddick, among others. The survivors learn that, while the planet’s three suns keep it in near-perpetual daylight, periods of eclipse do occur—at which point the world’s vicious underground monsters come to the surface to snack. Naturally, an eclipse is coming. Luckily, light-sensitive Riddick is even tougher and scarier in the dark.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Sunshine (۲۰۰۷)

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, written by Alex Garland, doesn’t involve an actual eclipse (at least not one viewed from Earth), but it works as well thematically as any other movie on this list. Blending science and psychology in the style of Solaris or ۲۰۰۱, the film follows an eight-person team trying to reignite our dying sun in the near-future of 2057. The imagery of the gradual waning of our star evokes the fearful, primordial thrill that a real-life eclipse provides. No matter how much we understand the process scientifically, it’s hard not to feel ill at ease as the sun fades from the sky in the middle of the day.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Gerald’s Game (۲۰۱۷)

As noted, in the Stephen King novel at least, the eclipse that features here is the same one that saw Dolores Claiborne fatally confront her husband’s abuse and violence. The moment connects Dolores, spiritually and psychically, to a young Jessie, facing horrifying sexual abuse by her father. The movie version jettisons that connection, but retains the significance of the sexual violence that linked the two women. Here, Jessie (Carla Gugino) is trapped in an isolated cabin following the death of her husband. In addition to some horrifically tangible threats, Jessie’s isolation forces her to contemplate the sexual trauma of her youth, which is punctuated by that eclipse, and the ways it has followed her through her life.

Where to stream: Netflix

Verónica (۲۰۱۷)

You’re meant to feel sorry for 15-year-old Verónica and her friends, plagued by paranormal occurrences. But honestly, conducting a séance using a Ouija board during an eclipse, even after you’ve already been told that eclipse magic is used to summon dark spirits, well, that feels like asking for trouble. It’s a solidly spooky demonic possession movie loosely based on a true (well, “true”) story, though the eclipse was added for the movie version. Still, even non-superstitious types are probably well advised to avoid trying to conjure a spirit during totality.

Where to stream: Netflix

Avatar: The Way of Water (۲۰۲۲)

James Cameron’s Pandora isn’t a planet, but a moon of the (fictional, perhaps) gas giant Polyphemus, which itself orbits the (real) star Alpha Centauri A, part of the triple-star Alpha Centauri system. The point of all that being: complicated orbital dynamics mean that Pandora itself doesn’t see much darkness, even at night. It does, however, experience periodic moments when Polyphemus eclipses Pandora’s sun entirely, leading, in the movie, to particularly cool visuals involving bioluminescence. One such eclipse occurs during The Way of Water‘s concluding battle. It portends, in one way, how the seemingly weaker Metkayina clan might triumph over the colonial RDA forces, but also signals a significant change is coming.

Where to stream: Max, Disney+

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