As each day passes, the attempts to stop the gushing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico seem more and more preposterous. They've set the oil on fire. They've lowered a giant cement box over the leak. Who knows? Next, they might suck the Mississippi River into a Super Soaker to flush all the goo away from the shore. It's almost as if someone's been turning to sci-fi for ideas. After all, the fateful drilling rig was named "Deepwater Horizon." What—did Sam Neill design it?
Usually, it's the other way around: For more than half a century, writers and filmmakers have drawn inspiration from oil, creating monsters that hunger for it and monsters that are made from it. Here are 15 sci-fi movies, TV shows and propaganda cartoons about the perils of petroleum.
Oil slick creature, Creepshow 2
As four students learn in George Romero and Stephen King's Creepshow 2, staring stupidly is not an effective way to escape or rescue your friends when they're being dissolved by a carnivorous oil sheen. If you make it to shore, wait until you're off the beach before you congratulate yourself: It'll crash down on you like a tar tsunami.
The Incredible Crude Oil Monster, Superfriends
If you spill oil off the coast of Alaska , make sure the "experimental device" you use to clean it up is properly secured to your supertanker. If it falls into the sea, it will turn the oil into a giant monster so powerful that it can sink Aquaman with a grip and knock Hawkman and Hawkgirl out of the air by shooting jets of itself. The good news—at least according to the 1980 "The Incredible Crude Oil Monster" episode of Superfriends—is that you can still break it down with a few armfuls of simple household laundry detergent. (Unfortunately, we can't embed this clip, so head here to check it out.)
The Damned Thing, Masters of Horror
When you're drilling in Texas, remember that there's oil and then there's a thing that looks like oil but is really a creature that will terrorize you, your family and your town in two distinct ways: A) It will drive your townsfolk murderously mad and the newspaper will run stories about how you butchered each other in the streets, and B) It will become the Incredible Crude Oil Monster's land-based cousin and eat you. There's no detergent solution in "The Damned Thing," the first episode of the second season of Showtime's Master of Horror series: Everyone dies.
Oil pirates, Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest
In the 40th century, the Planet Boukon is one big sand-covered oil field where giant six-legged rigs siphon oil like Daniel Day-Lewis sucks yoooooour milkshake. If you happen to land on a pirate ship manned by skeletons in space suits—as the Doctor and Martha Jones did in the 12-part animated Doctor Who serial The Infinite Quest—be prepared to die in a firefight with the rigs. If you survive that, you can look forward to execution on suspicion of being an oil company spy.
The Oily Maniac, You Gui Zi
There's a Chinese magic spell for just about everything, including those times when you need to transform into an invincible monster made of oil in order to defend a coconut-oil farm from thugs and corrupt lawyers. But, as Danny Lee learns in the Shaw Brothers' You Gui Zi ("The Oily Maniac"): As with the Gulf spill, once you've let the fury flow, it ain't exactly easy to turn off.
Arctic methane release, The Last Winter
The Last Winter centers on the Artic National Wildlife Refuge—the "here" in Sarah Palin's "Drill here, drill now." The permafrost is melting and in the process, the ground is releasing all kinds of evil stuff: ghosts, monsters, psychosis-inducing methane gas. Of course, that could just be Mother Nature's defense system, triggered by Ron Perlman's crew of environmental scientists as they sign the paperwork allowing the oil companies to start exploring.
One should never, ever trust a creature played by Tim Curry—not clowns, not transvestites, not animated oil creatures, no matter how well they can carry a tune. In FernGully, the Hexxus is the spirit of pollution, long imprisoned in a tree by the fairies of the Australian rainforest. Once released, the beast can turn into puddle and gas form, as well as a giant oil skeleton, which can only be defeated by feeding it a magic bean.
Armus, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Technically, the Armus in the Star Trek episode "Skin of Evil" has nothing to do with oil, except that an away team could easily mistake the black pool for petroleum. The malevolent pool of goo was born when an alien race surgically removed all the evil from its species and dumped it, like so much toxic waste, on Vagra II. It can take humanoid form and control the direction of its ooze; it's also immune to phaser beams and can fire off its own psychic blast—which is what killed Lt. Tasha Yar, one of the rare yellowshirts to die on a planet.
Mole Men, Superman and the Mole Men
The premise of the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men is that if you drill 32,000 feet deep into the earth, you'll hit open space and tap right into the habitat of the Mole Men. (To give you some perspective, the maximum depth of the Deepwater Horizon is 30,000 feet, but BP has dug one 35,000 feet deep elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.) The bald, bushy-eyebrowed, glow-producing creatures that will climb out of your well are actually quite harmless. The only thing their non-lethal weapon (a stun gun shaped like an oxygen tank) will ignite is xenophobia, and that's really what will get you in the end: fear. Oil country is also gun country, and loose rifles are extremely dangerous when an angry, careless mob is on the march.
Lord Humungus, Road Warrior
One of the dangers of refining oil, particularly in an oil-starved post-apocalyptic Australian Outback, is the type of attention you attract. In the sequel to Mad Max, a small community of gasoline producers is besieged by a punk biker bang led by Lord Humongus, a hockey-masked barbarian. Don't be tricked by his eloquent rhetoric: He'll have his men rape you in plain sight and tie your limp body to the front of his coach just to get you to give up your gasoline.
The Oil Gobblers, Ropáci
Jan Sverák's Ropáci is a short, fictional 1988 television documentary about a team of Polish scientists on the hunt for the "oil gobbler." The elusive creatures (basically beagle-sized hippopotamuses with lizard skin) flourish and frolick wherever spills and pollution are found, and the danger for a zoologist is just getting close enough to the fumes to observe them in the wild. But once you do, the itty-bitty baby ones will kill you with cuteness.
Triffids, The Day of the Triffids
Remade over and over again (most recently in 2009), John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids explores the dangers of new technologies in energy production—specifically the problems that arise when you harvest oil from genetically manipulated beanstalks. The triffids are walking, talking (well, more like clicking), carnivorous, semi-intelligent veg-creatures who will slap your eyes out—and the last thing you want to be is fighting a triffid blindly.
Mad scientist, The Curse of the Swamp Creature
Oil can be found in the wildest of places, including the swamplands. You know what else you can find there? A mad scientist with big, geeky glasses who has no qualms about capturing oil surveyors and turning them into swamp creatures. Oh yeah, and at least according to Larry Buchanan's classic 1966 B film, The Curse of the Swamp Creature, he keeps alligators, too, so he can get rid of the evidence.
Little Yellow Men From Mars, Destination Earth
In 1956, the American Petroleum Institute released Destination Earth, a propaganda cartoon arguing for increased competition in oil drilling. Ogg the Exalted, the dictator of Mars, dispatches Colonel Cosmic to Earth to learn about oil production. Though the little yellow explorer can turn himself invisible, the only thing you really need to worry about is your library books: Cosmic steals books on petroleum and capitalism in order to solve Mars' energy crisis.
Renard the Anarchist, The World Is Not Enough
Renard the Anarchist is an ex-KGB assassin and Bond villain played by the Scottish sci-fi legend Robert Carlyle. In The World Is Not Enough, Renard plans to go nuclear on a Turkish pipeline in an effort to raise crude oil prices, which would benefit his employer, a super-hot oil heiress. Renard—who looks like Max Schreck's neo-Nazi nephew—has a bullet lodged in his brain, which eliminates his ability to feel pain.
"Black oil," The X-Files
In the X-Files canon, the "black oil" (also called "Purity") is an alien virus that has laid dormant in petroleum deposits for several millenia. Symptoms of infection include black fluid flowing out your eyes and ears and nose and a sudden loss of control of autonomous functions. Also known as "Chris Carter's magic plot-prolonging juice."