In early April, the single biggest data leak in human history was unleashed. More than two-and-a-half terabytes of information were released, detailing an extensive network of shadowy finances that were connected to everyone from public figures (like Jackie Chan) to political officials (like UK Prime Minister David Cameron). It’s a big win for truth, so it’s only natural that you’d want to celebrate. Thankfully, Hollywood has you covered. Top level corruption and crusaders for truth are nothing new in movies. There’s a long history of conspiracy and corruption films to enjoy while you pretend you actually read the Panama Papers. Here are fifteen good ones you should see.
1. The Manchurian Candidate
You can go with the 1962 version starring a chilling Angela Lansbury (seriously, chilling) or you can move into the modern era with Denzel Washington’s cracked take on the lead role in 2004’s competent adaptation. Either way, you’re in for some riveting, brainwashing fun in this suspenseful Cold War political thriller.
2. Clear and Present Danger
The second in Harrison Ford’s dynamite Jack Ryan series, Clear and Present Danger follows the everyman hero as he navigates a nebulous web of government overreach in the war on drugs in Colombia. Great action scenes, a smart script, and a suitably vile bureaucratic bad guy make for a solid two hours of fun.
3. Johnny Mnemonic
Yes, it’s cheesy (really cheesy), but Keanu Reeve’s techno punk romp remains a great guilty pleasure. Even if the special effects haven’t aged all that well, you get a great turn from Ice-T as the leader of a resistance fighting to discover the truth behind a world-changing plague.
The Citizen Kane of conspiracy movies (and easily Oliver Stone’s best film), Kevin Costner heads an all-star cast as a curious lawyer who’s determined to get the bottom of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A nebulous plot and an inconclusive ending only heighten the intrigue surrounding the most famous murder in US history.
5. Conspiracy Theory
Just try and divorce yourself from your notions of Mel Gibson the public figure and try to remember that — at one point — this guy was the most endearing actor in Hollywood. His lovable sad sack routine is in full effect as the target of a government agency (led by Patrick Stewart) that’s intent on keeping him quiet … now, if only he could remember what secret they were after.
6. All the President’s Men
The true(ish) story of the two men who helped bring down an American President, All the President’s Men follows Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as real life journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two men who uncovered the Watergate scandal. To this day, the political thriller stands as one of the most lauded films in history.
7. The Insider
In 1996, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand battled big tobacco as they fought to make the public aware of a shocking truth: smoking is bad for you. Okay, so that’s not exactly a shocking discovery, but this film from Michael Mann (Heat) is still a heart-racing procedural that will leave you emotionally wrecked.
The roots of even the most vast conspiracies spring from the most basic of human desires. Chinatown is filmed proof of that fact, that the things that really motivate us are dark things like greed and lust. As Jack Nicholson navigates a seedy underworld, the audience is lead down the rabbit hole into a world that’s never what you’d expect.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Taking a tonal page from the great conspiracy films of the past (like hiring Robert Redford), the Marvel romp is a fantastic bit of escapism that sees Redford attempt to float a trio of ships that will give his evil organization complete control of the world. Sure, there may be a costumed hero at the center, but this is political intrigue at its finest.
10. Air Force One
Double agents, high level intrigue, and a truly kick ass president are just the starting point of Harrison Ford’s not-Jack-Ryan-Jack-Ryan movie. Gary Oldman kills it as the Russian loyalist bad guy, and a variety of supporting roles from talents like Glenn Close and William H. Macy make this action film something truly special.
11. Inside Man
No matter how old your sins, you should always be held accountable. That’s the theme of Spike Lee’s bank robbery thriller, though you’d be forgiven if you missed it. The twisty, turn-y narrative sees Denzel Washington going toe-to-toe with a bank robber (Clive Owen) who knows way more than he lets on.
12. The Good Shepherd
A fictional retelling of the birth of the CIA, Matt Damon’s turn as Edward Wilson, a good man who’s gotten more than he bargained for as the intrigue of the Cold War heats up, is truly electric. While it’s a slow burn, this film directed by Robert de Niro features an incredible supporting cast that makes the trip worthwhile.
13. Three Days of the Condor
One of the great spy thrillers in the history of film finds Robert Redford (once again) as a bookish researcher working for the CIA. Unfortunately, his work unveils a conspiracy hidden deep within the Agency that sends him all over New York in a frantic attempt to keep himself alive and uncover the truth.
14. The Firm
Not all corruption comes from the White House, as Tom Cruise learns in The Firm, the story of an idealistic young lawyer recruited by a Memphis law firm that’s actually operating a massive money laundering and tax fraud scheme for the mob. A paper trail plot line is accented with some excellent chase scenes in this thriller from Sydney Pollack.
15. White House Down
When a group of domestic terrorists take over the White House, aspiring Secret Service agent Channing Tatum and President Jamie Foxx band together to save the day and unearth the mole hiding at the highest levels of government. Okay, it’s basically Die Hard in the White House, but that doesn’t make the film any less fun.
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