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Watch the 7 movies that inspired Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop

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The new showrunner went back to some of anime creator Shinichirō Watanabe’s favorites, and so should you

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Graphic grid featuring stills from various movies and the show Cowboy Beebop Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

When it comes to crafting the look and approach to his 2021 reimagining of the beloved sci-fi western anime Cowboy Bebop, showrunner André Nemec was intent on creating a series that would not ape the original, but instead live in the spirit of it.

That meant looking back on the live-action movies which first inspired director Shinichirō Watanabe back when the Cowboy Bebop was produced back in 1998, reverse-engineering those inspirations to catalyze new scenarios and perspectives in the new Cowboy Bebop series. “We put a pretty extensive and expansive list together, and we spent a lot of time really looking at the inspirations,” Nemec told Polygon earlier this year.

What made the list? Here’s a deeper dive into the seven films that Nemec gave says influenced Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop, and where to watch them.


The Big Sleep

Humphrey Bogart and Laruen Bacall in The Big Sleep. Image: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Based on Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, Howard Hawks’ 1946 film noir classic The Big Sleep stars Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private investigator hired to settle the gambling debts of the youngest daughter of the wealthy General Sternwood. What begins as a routine case quickly escalates into an high-stakes investigation involving murder, blackmail, and conspiracy. Working alongside Vivian (Lauren Bacall), Sternwood’s eldest daughter, Marlowe must ensnare the true culprit behind the blackmail scheme if he has any hope of freeing Sternwood’s family — and himself — from this deadly mystery. The joy of the movie, and what may serve as inspiration for both Nemec and Watanabe, is the prickly script, which is at once convoluted and sharp. Screenwriters Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, William Faulkner (yes, that William Faulkner) find the humor in Chandler’s writing even when things take a turn or the grave.

The Big Sleep is available to rent for $2.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Image: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Sergio Leone’s 1966 epic The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is an indelible classic in the canon of spaghetti Westerns. Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as a trio of bounty hunters, outlaws, and cold-hard killers vying for $200,000 gold treasure buried in a commentary. Unfolding across several explosive gunfights, frantic chases, and tense showdowns across the plains of a mythic desert, all framed with Leone’s signature use of long shot cinematography and elevated by Ennio Morricone’s evocative score, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is an enduring cinematic touchstone of Westerns, and a good movie for any storyteller to watch before staging a standoff. (See the “Cowboy” in Cowboy Bebop.)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available to stream on HBO Max.

Bonnie and Clyde

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Image: Warner Home Video

Arthur Penn’s biographical crime drama Bonnie and Clyde was a countercultural phenomenon when it premiered in theaters in 1967, reviled and renowned for its unabashed depiction of sex, violence, and criminal abandon. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty star as real-life outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as they lead their gang across Depression-era United States on a campaign of vicious robberies and bank heists. Relentlessly pursued by the law and skirting disaster at every turn, Dunaway and Beatty are utterly electrifying in their performances. The movie sets a high bar for the new Cowboy Bebop cast, and what trailers suggest is a wild-but-often-violent tone for the new series.

Bonnie and Clyde is available to stream on HBO Max.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001 a space odyssey: dave in close up in his space helmet Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

2001: A Space Odyssey is an unassailable classic of science-fiction cinema, a work of stunning visual achievement and operatic scale whose legacy looms as far and wide over the expanse of film history as the shadow of one of its iconic monoliths. Co-written by science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 1968 film follows the epic voyage of the Discovery One from Earth to Jupiter following the discovery of a mysterious artifact on the surface of the Moon. As humanity attempts to grasp after an understanding of an inscrutable alien intelligence far older and vast than their own, the journey is complicated when the onboard AI in charge of Discovery One gains sentience and attempts to imperil the lives of its crew. From the film’s opening flashback to the dawn of human evolution to its dazzling and iconic “star gate” sequence, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an absolute must-watch for any serious sci-fi fan. Also, great spaceships. And Nemec has promised great spaceships.

2001: A Space Odyssey is available to stream on HBO Max.

Dirty Harry

Clint Eastwood as Harry in Dirty Harry Image: Warner Home Video

Clint Eastwood stars in Don Siegel’s 1971 action-thriller Dirty Harry as “Dirty” Harry Callahan, a San Francisco Police Inspector with a reputation for unorthodox methods and a mercenary attitude towards killers and criminals. When a serial sniper calling themselves “the Scorpio killer” begins to terrorize the city, Callahan is assigned to apprehend the killer and bring them to just — by any and all means necessary. With thrilling gun fights, chases, and Eastwood’s terrific performance, Dirty Harry set the blueprint for police action thrillers. Spike Spiegel might be the polar opposite of a cop, but he does live by a moral code while swinging his pistol around.

Dirty Harry is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

Lethal Weapon

Detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson, right) with LAPD veteran Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover, left) in the 1987 movie “Lethal Weapon.”  Image: Warner Home Video

Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in Richard Donner’s original 1987 buddy cop action drama Lethal Weapon as Roger Murtaugh (Glover), a veteran LAPD detective just a few short years away from retirement and Martin Riggs (Gibson), an unhinged cop distraught over the death of his wife. When the two are partnered together, they’ll have to set aside their remarkable differences to take down a formidable drug and prostitution ring run by General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan). Lethal Weapon saw Gibson and Glover at the height of their popularity, spawning a franchise of sequels and a 2016 television series starring Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford. However, between Glover’s “too old for this shit” straight man personality and Gibson’s wild-eyed ferocity, the original Lethal Weapon arguably remains the best entry in the series. You can easily see why someone like Nemec would look back to Donner’s movie to strike the done for an IRL Spike and Jet Black.

Lethal Weapon is available to stream on HBO Max and Peacock.

The Crow

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven in “The Crow” Image: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Based on James O’Barr’s dark fantasy comic series, Dark City director Alex Proyas’ 1994 superhero film The Crow stars the late Brandon Lee as Eric Draven, a poetic up-and-coming rock musician who is brutally murdered by the henchmen of a powerful crime lord along with his fiancée Shelly. Resurrected by mysterious crow on Halloween Eve, a year after his murder, Eric returns as an avenging angel with supernatural powers to exact vengeance on the criminals who stole his life from him. Made infamous for the death of its star Brandon Lee, who was shot and fatally wounded during production, The Crow is a stunning visual spectacle and an enthralling revenge thriller. As many have noted over the years, Watanabe seems to have lifted quite directly from the film for “Ballad Of Fallen Angels,” which the Netflix series is likely to interpret in its own way.

The Crow is available to stream on Paramount Plus.