The Great American Eclipse arrives this morning as the moon's shadow sweeps across our continent, starting in Oregon at 10:16 a.m. PST and crossing the breadth of the USA in a diagonal path at speeds of 1,462 to 2,955 mph, exiting the states 93 minutes later in South Carolina at 2:49 p.m. EST.
If you're one of the millions bathing in the moon's advancing blackness this monumental Monday, sitting smack dab in the bully-eye, witnessing one of the most awe-inspiring celestial events you can see on our planet, take DC's noble Man of Steel's advice and remember to NOT LOOK AT THE SUN UNPROTECTED UNTIL THE TOTALITY PHASE.
In Hollywood geek flicks, total eclipses of the sun have been liberally used by star-gazing screenwriters as portents of evil omens, harbingers of glorious news and occasions for the arrival of unearthly horrors over the decades.
When the sun returns (and it will!) to its former brightness for those in the shadow zone, and for those who will only get a partial eclipse, let's examine some of our favorite genre films to see how "the day the sun rose twice" was used for dramatic effect and as a plot device. From Apocalypto, Dragonslayer, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to Barabbas, Ladyhawke, and King Solomon's Mines, it's an illuminating roundup of darkening cinematic delights.
Just make sure you remove your eclipse glasses before viewing any of these 10 eclipse-centric flicks!
Mel Gibson's graphic depiction of the Mayan culture, told in horrific detail, contains a total eclipse of the sun during a sacrificial ceremony meant to placate the gods after a season of poor crops and sickness. The Mayan priests presiding over the spectacle are fully aware of the impending eclipse and use the celestial showstopper as a means to inflict control and power over their ignorant subjects. Nothing like bringing back the sun to get people's attention!
Before Daenerys' trio of flying destroyers in HBO's Game of Thrones, this was my high water mark for an on-screen dragon and it still holds up after more than 35 years. Sorry Smaug! It does win the top spot for the coolest damn name for a reptilian firebreather as well: Vermithrax Pejorative. A solar eclipse is seen during the finale battle as Ralph Richardson's Ulrich the Wizard battles the dragon atop a mountaintop and gets eaten by the monster as Peter MacNicol's Galen crushes a mystical amulet and it explodes, causing the dragon to die as the eclipse passes.
Say it again: Vermithrax Pejorative.
I have a few issues with this movie, but I know fans adore it so it deserves a slot for its depiction of a solar eclipse viewed through a cathedral skylight during the finale church duel between Rutger Hauer's Navarre and Ken Hutchison's Marquet. I may have to rewatch Ladyhawke just because I totally love director Richard Donner (Superman, The Omen, The Goonies); I'll try not to think about Hauer's Brooklyn accent.
A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court (1949)
This is based on one of Mark Twain's best and funniest novels and Bing Crosby is perfect in this Hollywood classic from 1949, playing the hapless time-traveler Hank Martin ('Morgan' in the 1889 novel). To prove his magical abilities to the sixth century's King Arthur and save himself from execution, Hank threatens the arrival of a total eclipse (known via a modern almanac) to the astonishment of the unenlightened peasants and royalty. Even David Copperfield never attempted that feat!
Okay, technically not a geek flick BUT the fact that legendary director Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage) delayed the crew's shoot of the crucifixion scene in this Biblical epic to use an ACTUAL total solar eclipse as background is just too cool to pass up. The heavenly event happened while the movie was in production in Italy on February 15, 1961 and was captured on camera. Whoa, epic indeed!
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
A shimmering eclipse is the trigger for the strange happenings in Little Shop of Horrors as Rick Moranis' Seymour heralds the arrival of the monstrous, man-eating Venus fly-trap named Audrey II. A dazzling bolt of green light emanating from the fireworks overhead transforms an ordinary plant into a blood-drinking monster. Not a bad deal for just $1.95!
The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and the Moon (1907)
Georges Melies' (A Trip To The Moon) classic silent short depicts a total solar eclipse as a weird romantic entanglement between the sun and the moon. Make sure you gather the kiddies to watch this hilarious rendering of a cartoon-like union of heavenly bodies with human faces. Special effects have come a long way, baby! Has a nostalgic charm that will certainly cast a smile upon your face.
Pitch Black (2000)
An alignment of otherworldly proportions creates the ultimate total eclipse for Vin Diesel's vision-enhanced Riddick. Once the darkness falls, flocks of nasty bat-like creatures rush to their feast of the crash survivors in the midnight madness. My little 48 seconds of totality pales in comparison to this film's month-long darkathon. Technically, it's not our sun that's eclipsed here, but Pitch Black fits nicely into our round-up of Hollywood's obsession with eclipses.
King Solomon's Mines (1937)
Alan Quartermain uses the eclipse as a tool to help Umbopa, the rightful native king, to persude his African people that the evil witchdoctor Gagool's magic is inferior. The swashbuckling adventurer remembers a Derby Day bet he made for the solar eclipse and discovers the notes in his journal as to the exact time of the moon's snuffing out of the sun's warm light. It does the trick and an uprising occurs, making the guarded entrance to the fabled mines now free and clear for unbridled looting!
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Angelina Jolie steps into the tank top and boots of video game's intrepid treasure hunter Lara Croft and takes on the power-hungry followers of the Illuminati. A spectacular solar eclipse is featured in the plot as a once-in-5,000-year planetary alignment ends with a total blockage of our sunny yellow star. During the outage, access is granted to the legendary relic called the Triangle of Light, allowing the manipulation of time and space to its possessor. And those are the least convoluted points of the plotline!