CATEGORIES FeaturesTo make a great thriller, you need to set up a truly suspenseful struggle between good vs. evil. But short of traveling to Middle-earth, where can you find such a battle? In politics, of course. As long as they've been making films, directors have turned to the world of powerful public officials to give us mystery, intrigue, mudslinging, and the occasional assassination. Now that's entertainment!
Unlike real-life politics, however, the movies manage to get closer to resolving the world's troubles before the credits roll. Whether they're ultra serious or deliciously satirical, these are a baker's dozen that get our vote. To make a great thriller, you need to set up a truly suspenseful struggle between good vs. evil. But short of traveling to Middle-earth, where can you find such a battle? In politics, of course. As long as they've been making films, directors have turned to the world of powerful public officials to give us mystery, intrigue, mudslinging, and the occasional assassination. Now that's entertainment!
Unlike real-life politics, however, the movies manage to get closer to resolving the world's troubles before the credits roll. Whether they're ultra serious or deliciously satirical, these are a baker's dozen that get our vote.
13. 'Syriana' (2005)
This spy thriller based on the real-life experiences of a CIA operative in the Middle East shows just how confusing that region's complex relationships can be when oil and terror are the main currency. You never quite know whom to trust, and what's worse, Bob Barnes (George
Clooney) doesn't either. Which manages to leave you constantly wondering not only how the plot's going to turn, but also why.
12. 'Three Days of the Condor' (1975)
Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a CIA researcher-okay, a really good-looking CIA researcher-steps out for lunch only to return to an office full of murdered coworkers. When he calls CIA headquarters for help, they send an assassin after him, and the chase is on. From there on, it's a vintage Spy vs. Spy suspense yarn (who happens to pick up Faye Dunaway along the way).
11. 'The Dead Zone' (1983)
Maybe you're thinking, "What's this cheeseball Stephen King yarn doing here?" Twisting your mind, of course. Christopher Walken is deliciously frazzled as the man who can see into a person's future simply by physical contact. When he discovers that Martin Sheen's glad-handing candidate is destined to destroy the world if elected president, he starts stalking the pol, making this the best assassin's-eye view of politics ever.
10. 'The Day of the Jackal' (1973)
Ripped from the history books. In early '60s France, disgruntled members of the French Foreign Legion hired an assassin nicknamed "The Jackal" to kill President Charles de Gaulle. He never got his man, of course, but just because we know that doesn't make this Fred Zinnemann classic any less spine-tingling.
9. 'Z' (1969)
Costa-Gavras' 1969 nail-biter tells the story of a military overthrow in Greece after the murder of a leftist politician, and the police department's ensuing cover-up. This mystery/thriller is as thoroughly engrossing as 'Jackal' because what you see is pretty much what really happened.
8. 'The Parallax View' (1974)
Warren Beatty stars as Joe Frady, an investigative reporter who begins to notice that the reporters who witnessed the killing of a senator are mysteriously dying off themselves. When he goes undercover to check out the shady corporation behind it, he finds out that the conspiracy might be even worse than the theorists thought. This one begs the question, are you still paranoid if everybody really is after you?
7. 'Wag the Dog' (1997)
To head off a presidential sex scandal, a Beltway spin doctor (Robert De Niro) hires a slick producer (Dustin Hoffman) to create a diversionary war in Albania that's staged entirely in the studio. Barry Levinson's broad farce of Washington and Hollywood is a fast romp that leaves you shaking your head at its own absurdity, and convinced that politics and entertainment have become one and the same.
6. 'All the King's Men' (1949)
Broderick Crawford won an Oscar for playing the hayseed-turned-politician Willie Stark, loosely based on Louisiana governor Huey P. Long. The template for 'A Face in the Crowd' and every subsequent movie where the little man get dirty by climbing to the top of the political heap.
5. 'The Manchurian Candidate' (1962)
Was there ever a better depiction of right-wing paranoia than John Frankenheimer's tale of international espionage? Laurence Harvey is a Korean War hero who's been brainwashed by Communist forces and sent back to infiltrate Washington, while Frank Sinatra is hell-bent on revealing the plot. And if you only know the cheery 'Murder, She Wrote'
/ 'Beauty and the Beast' Angela Lansbury, her turn as the brainwashed candidate's devious mom is a glorious visit to the dark side.
4. 'Fail-Safe' (1964)
Sidney Lumet's nuclear doomsday tale is a stark and unsentimental film that realizes our worst Cold War fears and shows how impotent politicians ultimately are. Even President Henry Fonda can't save us this time.
3. 'Dr. Strangelove' (1964)
Same scenario, but this time with laughs. Stanley Kubrick's black comedy about the nuclear arms race started out as a drama-until he realized how wacked-out the real-life American and Soviet military brass actually were. Even with Peter Sellers in three of his most memorable roles ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here-this is the war room!"), Slim Pickens steals the show by riding a nuke to its final destination.
2. 'Frost/Nixon' (2008)
Not so much about the actual political process, Ron Howard's recreation of David Frost's 1977 interviews with the disgraced Tricky Dick shows us the intricate ballet between the press and the politicians who try to control it. It's fascinating to watch Frost (Michael Sheen) reaching his peak of fame just as Nixon (Frank Langella) is slipping from his own.
1. 'All the President's Men' (1976)
Alan J. Pakula's mesmerizing blow-by-blow of the Watergate scandal is not only a seat-gripping whodunit, but also a stylish recap how Woodward and Bernstein brought down the House of Nixon. 'President's Men' is a great combination of shadowy detective work and dirty politics. Not only that, but it inspired a generation of journalists to dig deep to get their facts straight... Okay, so that last bit didn't quite work out.
Tell us what you think. Did we miss one?