Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The cosmic ballet goes on: 15 of our favorite pop-culture eclipses

Photo: Jefta Images / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The Simpsons (1993)

The Simpsons has prominently featured a solar eclipse twice in its long run, but most memorably in the Season 20 episode “Gone Maggie Gone,” where Marge is stricken blind and Lisa goes undercover as a nun. Just kidding: Everyone actually remembers the eclipse from “Marge Vs. The Monorail,” in which the celestial event briefly saves the day by stopping—temporarily—the malfunctioning solar-powered train as it speeds around Springfield, all before the moon dances on its merry way. This moment is the reason that, much like the sun’s brief spell of darkness on Monday, all noise in the vicinity of The A.V. Club office will be blotted out by nerds saying, in unison, “THE COSMIC BALLET GOES ON.” [Sean O’Neal]

Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)

After the events witnessed in the off-Broadway hit Little Shop Of Horrors, a new breed of extraterrestrial, carnivorous, deeply voiced flytraps wraps its tendrils around Earth, launching a plot for world domination that was infamously excised (at tremendous cost) from the musical’s film adaptation. But well before that global catastrophe, there’s a relatively smaller astronomical event: a total eclipse of the sun, after which local nebbish and budding botanist Seymour Krelborn seals mankind’s fate for just $1.95. The eclipse is a cover for the first wave of the man-eating plants’ invasion, but it’s more MacGuffin than essential story element, a cheeky shoutout to the type of drive-in fare lampooned in Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s re-imagining of a Roger Corman cheapie. (And in the context of the expositional number “Da Doo,” it’s pre-“Total Eclipse Of The Heart” proof that “total eclipse” is an unexpectedly musical phrase.) The Little Shop eclipse also serves as a dire warning to us in the 21st century: Whatever you do when you’re standing in the umbra on August 21, don’t feed the plants. [Erik Adams]

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1999)

Among the many rites that Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s banally evil The Mayor must experience in order to transform into a giant snake demon—dark rituals, eating large spiders—a solar eclipse is actually the least complicated. Conveniently, the total blackout of the sun that occurs in “Graduation Day Part 2” and sparks Richard Wilkins’ final ascension also puts vampire-with-a-soul Angel “back in the game,” allowing him to help lead the charge that brings the newly snake-ified Mayor down for good. Given how much it opened up the playing field and narrative possibilities, it’s a wonder the Buffyverse didn’t exploit an eclipse as a plot device more often. In fact, it tastefully only employed it once again, when The Beast blots out the sun for string of episodes in Angel‘s fourth season. [Sean O’Neal]


Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow (2003)

One of the best entries in Konami’s long-running Castlevania series, the Game Boy Advance classic Aria Of Sorrow turned solar eclipses into some of the most important events in its in-game universe. Some 36 years before Aria begins, the game explains, the forces of good used a mystical technique to literally uproot Dracula’s castle and seal it inside an eclipse, cutting him off from his power and allowing Julius Belmont to kill him for good. The game then jumps ahead to September 2035—the same time when a real-life eclipse is predicted to happen over Japan. Our teenage hero, Soma Cruz, goes to watch the astronomical event and ends up teleported into the twisted, monster-filled castle inside of it. The entire game thus takes place within the solar eclipse, and it never lets you forget it. Anytime you go outdoors or catch a glimpse through the castle’s windows, a massive moon hangs ominously in the sky, turning blood red and eventually pitch black as the story’s twists unfold. [Matt Gerardi]


Ember Moon

Finishing moves in professional wrestling are, conceptually, an offensive maneuver so devastating your opponent is unable to continue the match. If you survey pro wrestling enthusiasts, most will reference Stone Cold Steve Austin’s Stunner as the best finisher of all: With your opponent’s chin locked on your clavicle, you snap their head down as you fall to a sit-down position, effectively delivering an uppercut to the jaw using gravity for extra power. (That’s the idea, anyway.) But recently, wrestler Ember Moon—part of the WWE developmental system called NXT—has been giving the Stone Cold Stunner some competition with her finishing move, the Eclipse. Moon delivers the Eclipse by jumping off the top turnbuckle, twisting her body as she falls, and somehow catching her opponent’s chin in the position mid-air. What’s most impressive about the Eclipse is how difficult it looks to execute—both Moon and her opponent need to time their positioning just so—and how often she nails it perfectly. It’s the best pro-wrestling finishing move in recent memory. [Kevin Pang]


Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Astronomical events are a great reason to gather with your loved ones, which is what the titular character of Dolores Claiborne has in mind in both Stephen King’s novel and its Kathy Bates-starring film adaptation. Dolores is an abused woman who’s recently learned that her drunkard husband has also been sexually abusing their daughter, which finally snaps her into action. Realizing that the solar eclipse will send all the Little Tall Islanders out to sea to get the best views, Dolores lays out her plan: She arranges for her husband’s “death by misadventure” by plying him with food and liquor, then picking a fight that leads the abusive piece of shit to fall to his death in an old well. (Though the eclipse ends up being a huge help, for other eclipse-watchers, we’d advise not looking directly at the corona the way Bates does.) Interestingly, King actually featured the same solar eclipse in Gerald’s Game, which King originally intended to publish together with Dolores as one work titled In The Path Of The Eclipse. [Danette Chavez]


The Strain (2014)


Along with occasionally playing out like everyone behind the scenes made the mistake of looking directly at a solar eclipse, then were told to go make a television series, FX’s wildly uneven adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain also includes an actual, on-screen eclipse. The vampires infesting New York are naturally required to hide indoors and underground, given their unfortunate tendency to burst into flames in direct exposure, so an eclipse offers a fun way to upend everything in the first season episode “Occultation.” It’s a cosmic event that promises a massive shake-up, forcing skeptical humans to confront vampires on the streets and finally admit that they’re real. [Alex McLevy]

Pitch Black (2000)

David Twohy’s sci-fi actioner Pitch Black. stars charismatic young meathead Vin Diesel as a a prisoner being brought in for reward aboard a small ship that lands on a seemingly abandoned planet, where three suns keep it in seemingly perpetual daylight. But soon, the crew learns, the planet hasn’t been abandoned: Everyone living there has been killed by the mysterious creatures that live underground—and that only come out at night. Cue a three-way solar eclipse, everyone screaming and running for their lives, and Diesel making his first foray toward becoming everyone’s favorite sentient pile of muscles (after The Rock) with his performance as Riddick, whose surgically modified eyes allow him to see in the dark and play hero as he gets the survivors to safety. The good, pulpy fun spawned two sequels,The Chronicles Of Riddick and Riddick—though the eclipse didn’t carry over. [Alex McLevy]


Mad Men (2009)

Screencap from Mad Men

A real-life eclipse—the one that took place on July 20, 1963—plays a pivotal role in “Seven Twenty Three,” from Mad Men’s third season. At the time, Betty and Don Draper are drifting apart, so their responses to it are almost completely opposite: Betty, leaving an intimate meeting with future husband Henry, nearly faints when looking at it, with Henry protectively shielding her eyes. But Don, making pinhole cameras in the park with Sally’s class, dares to look right at it (of course). That recklessness later leads to a bit of an eclipse of personality, as Don picks up a young couple hitchhiking and quickly stumbles into a bacchanal-filled evening of drink, drugs, and temptations of a threesome. When Don awakes the next morning, beaten and wallet-less, the darkness has passed—but only temporarily. [Gwen Ihnat]

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1889)

In Mark Twain’s 1889 comic novel, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, ordinary engineer Hank Morgan gets a thump on the head and magically wakes up in medieval England. Hank’s modern dress and way of speaking make him immediately suspect and he‘s soon sentenced to death. But fortunately, an almanac lets Hank know that there’s an eclipse scheduled for the year 528 (conveniently, the very same day) allowing him to take credit for blotting out the sun, terrifying the villagers and allowing him to attain a new position of power, colloquially known as “The Boss.” The story has been adapted many times over, and both the Bing Crosby and Looney Tunes versions keep the eclipse; Bugs Bunny even uses it to get himself a fire-breathing dragon. [Gwen Ihnat]


Bloody Birthday (1981)

Although it’s indeed unlikely that three children would be born at the exact same time during a total solar eclipse, all of them in the same hospital, all in the same small town of Meadowvale, California, nitpicking isn’t the way to enjoy a film like Bloody Birthday, a nasty, nudity-heavy little slasher movie released in 1981. You’ve just got to go along with the premise that these three babies—ostensibly born during the real-life eclipse of March 7, 1970—all grew up with the same unholy compulsion to kill, an urge that begins to manifest around the sociopathic tots’ 10th birthday. Luckily for them, Meadowvale is littered with sharp, long, and/or heavy objects that can double as impromptu murder weapons, teenagers who are too blinded by lust to prevent their own impending deaths, and oblivious adults who can’t bring themselves to believe such innocent-looking moppets could have been, quite literally, born under a dark star. [Katie Rife]


Avatar: The Last Airbender (2007)

Even in a world where the ability to generate giant jets of water and hurl big stone slabs is commonplace, it’s hard to beat an army of people who can shoot massive fireballs and lightning bolts out of their hands at will. Which is why the turning point of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s third “book,” Fire, arrives during “The Day Of Black Sun,” an eclipse that robs the people of the war-like Fire Nation of their pyrokinetic powers for a crucial eight-minute span. That time limit invests the two-parter centered on the eclipse—and its corresponding mass invasion of the Fire Nation—with an irresistible tension, producing some of the series’ best fight sequences. But if an eclipse-based deus ex machina sounds too easy, that’s because it is: The invasion ends in a shambles, as the sun returns with the evil Fire Lord still on his throne. Instead of an easy victory, kid hero Aang and his friends are forced to flee for their lives, in the series’ version of a classic Empire Strikes Back moment. [William Hughes]


Heroes (2006)

There are a few different eclipses hanging around the woefully complicated mythology of NBC’s once-pioneering superhero series Heroes, handing out powers, taking them away, and just generally doing whatever the show’s increasingly harried screenwriters needed them to do on a script-by-script basis. But the best eclipse is still the first, from the show’s mysterious, sadly beautiful pilot, “Genesis.” Before there were convoluted time-travel plots, planet-destroying carnies, or any of the other distractions that sent the show veering off the rails, there was just a group of very different, very gifted people—in New York, in Texas, in Tokyo—all connected by their awe at the same celestial event, as Rogue Wave’s “Eyes” ushered them into the next, extraordinary phase of their lives. [William Hughes]


Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (1983)

The announcement that Bonnie Tyler will be singing her most famous song alongside the August 21 eclipse was amusing, yet hardly surprising: “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” has got to be the most famous musical eclipse of all time. Tyler’s biggest song was written by frequent Meatloaf collaborator Jim Steinman, who brings a similarly epic scope to this lament from someone who’s been completely shut out of their beloved’s life. (We’re not sure what that has to do with the creepy, Village Of The Damned kids in the video, although the literal video is a hoot.) It’s a metaphor, yes, but those triumphant synth explosions are every bit as dramatic as an actual eclipse, making “Total Eclipse” the perfect soundtrack. [Gwen Ihnat]


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Of all the eclipses in pop culture, with apologies to Bonnie Tyler, none is more dramatic or awe-inspiring than the one that opens Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film’s opening image of the Earth, Sun, and moon in alignment, set to the strains of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” instantly establishes a sense of celestial wonder, particularly once it becomes clear that the viewer’s perspective is from somewhere in the stars—presumably, the point of view of the extraterrestrials who leave behind the black monolith, which Kubrick then frames to mirror that eclipse down on terra firma. It’s a dizzying, disorienting sight, and one that truly captures the humbling momentousness that comes from being briefly reminded that we are all just tiny objects, passing through space. [Sean O’Neal]


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