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Outlander Is the Crazy, Sci-Fi Alien Beowulf Movie You Didn’t Know You Needed
Predator, Game of Thrones, and Ron Perlman collide in a monster genre movie mash-up that time (almost) forgot.
An alien predator arrives on Earth and starts picking off the locals, evoking their culture’s tales of mythic glory in the process. One guy — a guy who might mean more to the natives than they know — stands up to find a weakness and fight back. Sound familiar?
Nope, we’re not talking about the actual Predator… though 2008’s Outlander (streaming now on Peacock!), written and directed by Howard McCain (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), will probably having you thinking of Ah-nold’s epic first encounter with a creature well-equipped to win the humans-versus-aliens arms race.
Outlander’s story origins are much older, in fact, tapping age-old heroic epic Beowulf as the loose source material to inspire the movie's fantasy conquest, all set against a backdrop of medieval Vikings (with just a smidge of sci-fi backstory). The film flew way, way under the audience radar when it nose-dove at the early 2009 box office, netting just $7 million against an estimated $50 million production budget.
That paltry ticket haul is kind of a shame. Outlander’s location shooting and lavish sets ground the film in Game of Thrones levels of authenticity, while the capable cast — led by a solemn Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) as a fellow out-of-place Earth visitor with a major alien monster grudge — makes the movie a fun watch even today… so long, that is, as you don’t mind a one-track survival story where the side characters almost steal the show.
Outlander: Swords, sci-fi, and... Ron Perlman?!
Caviezel plays an alien ship-crash survivor name Kainan, left to fend for himself in Scandanavia’s swords-and-shields era after both he and his monstrous baggage — a bioluminescent behemoth known as the Moorwen — end up angering the local Vikings (for very different reasons, of course). Kainan’s not big on personality, playing his technologically-advanced origins close to the vest after being found and hauled away to a nearby village, where he’s quickly mistaken for the perpetrator of a recent bloody killing spree that’s actually the Moorwen’s violent handiwork.
Kainan might be the silent type (understandable when your captors want to torture and kill you) — but his human accusers definitely aren’t. Outlander’s best scenes revolve around its supporting cast, featuring Viking village leader Rothgar (John Hurt), his heir apparent Wulfric (Jack Huston), a local lass named Freya (Sophia Myles), and a rival village antagonist name Gunnar (played with rocket-fueled menace by an almost-unrecognizable Ron Perlman).
Together with the big-hearted warrior and village drunk Boromir (Cliff Saunders), the motley gang of Nords throws their full weight into doing Nordic things. By day, they fight like lions and revel in tales of glory, then retreat back behind the village walls by night for the kind of epically orgiastic party binges that only Vikings can shake off without a hangover.
It might’ve cost more to stage Outlander’s centerpiece shindig scenes than it did to bring the fearsome four-legged Moorwen to CGI life, and if so, it was money well spent. Nearly every word exchanged to make you care about these characters takes place inside the village (reportedly erected over three painstaking months of set construction), and for all of Outlander’s many over-the-top monster moments out in the field — moments that veer into genuine horror territory — it’s here where the movie’s historical fantasy vibe beats at its most genuine.
Kainan eventually earns the Vikings’ trust, just in time to share a toned-down version of the truth about his (and the Moorwen’s) extraterrestrial origins. It’s the key piece of intel the villagers need to take down the ravenous creature, alongside some next-level space metal Kainan stealthily retrieves on a solo mission back to his ruined and sea-submerged spacecraft. Equipped with Kainan’s strategy and an armory of swords and spears newly imbued with Vibranium levels of invincibility, it’s enough to kill the monster, get the girl, and forge a new chapter in the Nords’ proud mythology, one that winkingly sidesteps for posterity the whole “it came from outer space” side of the monster-slaying story.
It’s not quite Predator, and it’s not exactly Beowulf either, but Outlander is definitely original and thoroughly distinct from any recent genre-mixing movie you’ve seen. Like The Chronicles of Riddick films, it’s the kind of sci-fi idea that’s increasingly rare in a world of bankable names and guaranteed franchise blockbusters, daring to hatch a new IP in a story-verse built from the ground up to establish and flesh out its monster-movie lore. Stream it on Peacock now, but definitely enter the fray prepared; like Beowulf’s iconic Grendel, the Moorwen is on the prowl for its pound of flesh.