Secrets and Lies: Top 10 Movies About Conspiracies
Nothing takes a thriller to the next level like a good conspiracy. We may dismiss wild theories in real life, but in movie-land every loose thread might start unraveling a web of lies. The really creepy part? Some of these stories are true. Put on your tin foil hat and check out our list of the ten best conspiracy flicks ever made!
1. All the President’s Men
We’re starting off with the retelling of American politics’ most famous conspiracy. Based on the non-fiction exposé by journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward detailing their investigation into the Watergate scandal, the production was marked by tense creative partnerships. Stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford (who was also the producer) had issues with the real-life Bernstein, who also didn’t get along with screenwriter William Goldman and director Alan J. Pakula, but the result is a tight, compelling, largely accurate dramatization of one of the White House’s darkest hours.
Generally considered Oliver Stone’s greatest work and often hailed as the greatest conspiracy movie of all time, JFK takes an approach to historical intrigue that couldn’t be further from the studious reenactment of All the President’s Men. A wild-eyed meditation on the many theories about the Kennedy assassination swirling out there in the cultural ether with a huge, star-studded cast, this is the pick of the litter for those who love conspiracy theories for their creativity.
At a tight 128 minutes, Syriana eclipses even the three-hour odyssey that is JFK with labyrinthine twists and parallel plot-lines. Matt Damon’s compromised energy analyst and George Clooney’s CIA officer wander into a Middle Eastern quagmire of unknowable proportions. The epic thriller also serves as a trenchant commentary on the worldwide influence of the oil industry.
4. The Bourne Identity
With its fast pace, gritty tone, and dizzyingly kinetic cinematography, The Bourne Identity arrived on the scene in 2002 as the quintessential spy film for the 21st century. Matt Damon stars as an amnesiac supersoldier who must fight to uncover the mystery of his identity amidst a bloodsoaked, quickly unraveling CIA conspiracy.
5. The Constant Gardener
Based on the book by unchallenged master of the spy novel John le Carré, The Constant Gardener stars Ralph Fiennes as a British diplomat living in Kenya who runs up against a shady corporation while investigating the murder of his wife (Rachel Weisz).
6. The Conversation
Francis Ford Coppola’s most underrated classic stars Gene Hackman, playing against type as the quiet surveillance expert Harry Caul. Caul is forced to make tough ethical decisions when he overhears what sounds like a murder plot while recording audio for a client. With its tight focus, contemplative pace and moody, jazz-infused score, The Conversation takes viewers on a gentle ride straight to hell.
7. The Parallax View
The first of the great paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, The Parallax View kicked off a whole generation of conspiracy films reacting to the shocking Watergate scandal and the Nixon administration’s corruption. Applying its deep disillusionment with authority to the great political mystery of the previous era, the film centers on the corporately-funded assassination of a popular, Kennedy-like senator and the resulting coverup, which sends witnesses and reporters running for their lives.
8. The Spanish Prisoner
This suspense film, written and directed by David Mamet, stars Campbell Scott as a corporate engineer whose mysterious, immensely valuable invention makes him a target of wily predators on both sides of the law. Steve Martin plays it straight in a brilliant turn as wealthy playboy Jimmy Dell, with Ben Gazzara, Felicity Huffman, Ricky Jay and Ed O’Neill rounding out the conniving cast.
9. V for Vendetta
This adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel follows an anonymous British anarchist in a Guy Fawkes mask through his attempts to foment revolution against an oppressive near-future dictatorship. The movie that spawned a million cheap costumes for protesters tells the story of a conspiracy against the government for a change!
10. Wag the Dog
Far and away the lightest entry on our list, this black comedy is penned by David Mamet. A spin doctor (Robert De Niro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) are tasked with constructing a fake war against Albania to distract the press from a presidential sex scandal. This cynical satire stretches the limits of realism…but just a little.
Want more intrigue? Tune to THE HONORABLE WOMAN, airing Thursdays at 10/9c on SundanceTV.