YOU COULD JUST stroll into Louis Leterrier's reimagined Clash of the Titans this weekend all culturally ignorant, and just enjoy it for the post-processed 3D, candy-coated abs-fest it promises to be. Or you could use this opportunity to assail your Netflix account and figure out how we got to this dubious point in cinematic history.
First stop: The original Clash of the Titans (1981), a laughably terrible farce whose reputation has been propped up solely by nostalgic fanboys genuflecting at the altar of stop-motion deity Ray Harryhausen. Clash is responsible for introducing "Release the kraken!" into the lexicon, a phrase most amusingly deployed upon the victorious release of recycled fourthmeal into your porcelain throne. It's a fitting tribute to the film.
If you want raw, uncut Harryhausen, go directly to Jason and the Argonauts (1963), a better film with better stop-motion, responsible for inspiring legends like Stan Winston, Rick Baker, and Sam Raimi (who wisely stole the sword-slinging skeletons and paired them with a vintage Bruce Campbell in 1992's Army of Darkness, a movie that somehow never gets old, ever).
Liam Neeson, who worked with Raimi in the underrated and oft-forgotten superhero flick Darkman, got his first big break as Sir Gawain in the ballsy but stunted epic Excalibur (1981), John Boorman's retelling of the Arthurian legend, made out of the leftovers of a failed attempt at a Lord of the Rings movie. (Maybe this helps explain why Neeson wears the odd Michelin Man armor he's sporting in the new Clash so well.)
Excalibur is a fun, eminently rewatchable film, as is its brother in the fantasy-film renaissance of the early '80s, Dragonslayer (1981). The film is chockfull of ridiculous visuals, not the least of which is Ally McBeal's Peter MacNicol as a Shrinky Dinks version of Luke Skywalker, trying to be taken seriously while fighting a stop-motion dragon puppet named—no shit—Vermithrax Pejorative.
Make it through all that alive and you should have calibrated your expectations sufficiently to enjoy the plate full of sweaty treats Louis Leterrier is about to dump in your lap.