Great Conspiracy Movies?
June 25, 2005 5:42 AM   Subscribe

After finding some good answers on a previous "scary movie" question, I'd like some recommendations for great Conspiracy movies.

They do not have to based on real events, like JFK. And so far, my favourites are The Parallax View, Winter Kills and Capricorn One... more please!
posted by gsb to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Three Days of the Condor is good, but it may not meet your definition of Conspiracy Movie though.
posted by beowulf573 at 5:47 AM on June 25, 2005

The original Manchurian Candidate.
posted by teg at 5:54 AM on June 25, 2005

Three Days of the Condor, Seven Days in May, and The Conversation are among my favorites. More recently, Enemy of the State, The Spanish Prisoner, and Spartan all fall into this category, to greater or lesser degree.
posted by mokujin at 6:11 AM on June 25, 2005

I second the original Manchurian Candidate.

Angela Lansbury plays a good villian (performance-wise).
posted by Colloquial Collision at 6:23 AM on June 25, 2005

No Way Out; Z; Presumed Innocent (stupid maguffin, but otherwise good); L.A. Confidential; The Verdict; China Town; Usual Suspects.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:12 AM on June 25, 2005

Many of David Mamet's movies, while not featuring conspiracies in the large sense, do have conspitratorial elements and are fun movies to boot. Check out House of Games, Homicide, and The Spanish Prisoner.

They Live is a hilarious conspiracy sci-fi movie by John Carpenter, starring Rowdy Roddy Piper as our hero.

And, of course, there's always Hitchcock.

Other movies with conspiratorial twists:
Wag the Dog
Capricorn One
posted by googly at 7:21 AM on June 25, 2005

China Syndrome is pretty good. All The President's Men. Somewhere around there's a great piece on the top conspiracy movies of the '70s... (Rosemary's Baby is kinda a conspiracy...)
posted by klangklangston at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2005

The original Machurian Candidate, in my mind, it the best conspiracy movie ever. Hands down.
posted by cyphill at 7:51 AM on June 25, 2005

I second/third Chinatown and The Conversation, both great movies as well as great conspiracy movies. (But then I find real/plausible conspiracies more interesting than hoked-up science-fictional ones.) Also, the French movie La Sentinelle—it's long and has a few sequences that grossed out my wife, but boy is it effective. (Warning: not everything is neatly tied up at the end.) And Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt By the Sun, while not technically a conspiracy movie, gives a chilling sense of the can't-trust-anybody air of Stalin's Russia.

Amazon list here; another list here.
posted by languagehat at 8:06 AM on June 25, 2005

Not questioning the primacy of the original Manchurian Candidate, but Palika's The Parallax View has to be rated high on this list. It and Who'll Stop the Rain are also essential if you want to understand the zeitgeist of the early '70s. Lord, but what a wretched time. But I digress. Oh, and Rosemary's Baby? Sure.
posted by mojohand at 8:11 AM on June 25, 2005

Pakula, dammit.
posted by mojohand at 8:15 AM on June 25, 2005

John Carpenter's They Live which features Rowdy Roddy Piper as the protagonist in a world where one man figures out that aliens have been living amongst us for a long time. It's also the source of the memorable quote "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum. "

Oh, and perhaps The Game, although it's more of a conspiracy against one man (but then again, aren't they all).
posted by furtive at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2005

China Syndrome isn't really a large premeditated conspiracy. Erin Brokovich had more corporate conspiracy. Fahrenheit 9-11 is an attempt at showing conspiracy. The game was quite good. Usual suspects is a must.
posted by uni verse at 8:59 AM on June 25, 2005

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Phil Kaufman's remake is better than the original. Darker ending! And don't get the '93 re-remake, which blows).
Also, echoing They Live, but John Carpenter's remake of The Thing is a great mixture of horror, claustrophobia and alien takeover.
Speaking of alien takeover, The Puppet Masters is junky and throwaway but fun.
The remake of 1984 with John Hurt and Richard Burton has a conspiratorial tone throughout it on a number of levels. But you know how it ends, so perhaps skip it.
posted by nj_subgenius at 9:13 AM on June 25, 2005

{Doy!} Marathon Man.
Scanners (dated though).
posted by nj_subgenius at 9:19 AM on June 25, 2005

The Wicker Man has a police investigator going to an isolated island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Heh. Wonderful film overall.

The Pelican Brief was mostly ho-hum in my opinion, but there was one brilliantly effective scene. Maybe watch it if it's on cable, but I wouldn't go looking for it.

Conspiracy Theory started off well and then turned to crap about halfway through.

L.A. Confidential, mentioned above, started off well and then just kept getting better. Wicked, wicked film. Same with Chinatown. Also seconding Marathon Man.

If you want to extend it to documentaries on criminal justice, I'd recommend The Thin Blue Line and Murder on a Sunday Morning. The police would obviously disagree, but I think the films present a compelling case. Of course it helps that Adams was later exonerated, and some of the police involved in the Jax case issued an apology afterwards. Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is worth a watch, too, though I have met the occasional person who thought the children were in fact guilty (if you believe that, there's something in the sequel documentary that might be worth knowing).
posted by Tuwa at 9:24 AM on June 25, 2005

Blow Up is the grandfather of all these films.
posted by glibhamdreck at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2005

Soylent Green
and what was that faked moon landing movie--Capricorn 1?
posted by amberglow at 10:13 AM on June 25, 2005

oops--missed it in the question. : >
posted by amberglow at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2005

All the President's Men.
Early James Bond movies (though a worldwide conspiracy is pretty de facto throughout the oeuvre).
Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
posted by rleamon at 12:25 PM on June 25, 2005

Oh, and how can we leave out Dr. Strangelove?
posted by rleamon at 12:26 PM on June 25, 2005

I love Dr. Strangelove, but it's not really a conspiracy movie, is it?
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on June 25, 2005

The President's Analyst is pretty dated but James Coburn is awesome and the ending is the best.
posted by octothorpe at 3:29 PM on June 25, 2005

Arlington Road. Very underrated. There's also The Big Clock, which is based on the same book as No Way Out, but was made decades earlier. And Rosemary's Baby.

Dr. Strangelove is not a conspiracy movie, and neither, really, is Marathon Man. Just because the main character doesn't know what's going on most of the time doesn't mean that there is a conspiracy.
posted by bingo at 4:01 PM on June 25, 2005

posted by warbaby at 4:02 PM on June 25, 2005

Oops, missed bingo on preview. Arlington Road is the scariest damn movie for the first 40 minutes. Brrrrrrrr.
So scary, I evidently repressed having seen it.
posted by warbaby at 4:04 PM on June 25, 2005

I love Dr. Strangelove, but it's not really a conspiracy movie, is it?

"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids... "

-Base Commander Ripper
posted by rleamon at 4:28 PM on June 25, 2005

Yeah, Ripper's a nut, but it's not a conspiracy movie.
posted by kenko at 4:40 PM on June 25, 2005

A lot of these aren't conspiracy movies, just ones involving complicated schemes.

You really can't beat the 70's for this stuff, though. In addition to the great ideas here, Chinatown has an element of that to it. Actually, along similar lines, so does Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Oh, and don't forget Jacob's Ladder (sort of).
posted by mkultra at 5:47 PM on June 25, 2005

I think the original D.O.A would count. It is about a man trying to solve his own murder.

You can download it at
posted by sciatica at 7:14 PM on June 25, 2005

Response by poster: Flabbergasted! D.O.A. @, that is pretty amazing. After a quick look over their list of feature films I think I'm going be occupied for a while, thanks.

And a big thanks to everyone for the answers. It's also interesting to see how people define a conspiracy movie, too.
posted by gsb at 10:44 PM on June 25, 2005

I have to echo octothorpe's recommendation of The President's Analyst. A conspiracy theorist's dream movie and the best comedic conspiracy movie I've ever seen (not that there are many competitors for that distinction). And I would label some of these movies (such as Arlington Road) paranoia movies rather than conspiracy movies. I don't consider anything to be a Conspiracy (as opposed to a conspiracy) unless it's perpetuated by people in positions of power and influence. On that note, Dark City might qualify, though it's borderline as to whether there's a Conspiracy in it.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 11:17 PM on June 25, 2005

That's a great link, growabrain. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2005

Really good link growabrain, I'm going to rent every movie he mentions that I have not seen (Except The Pelican Brief, duh)
posted by cyphill at 11:13 AM on June 26, 2005

Just chipping in with more compliments for the Conspiracy Thrillers link. Good commentary there.
posted by Tuwa at 1:12 PM on June 26, 2005

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