By definition, conspiracies must be hidden from sight, usually in the minds of paranoid theorists with only the iffiest of facts to ground them. (For the record: The New World Order is not real; the moon landing is… or at least we think so.) Here are the ten conspiracy movies that have sunk their claws deepest into our psyches. Careful, spoilers ahead.
10. Capricorn One (1978)
Capitalizing on the offbeat suspicion that the moon landings never happened, Capricorn One goes one step further. Here, the first mission to Mars is faked by NASA to redeem the government that bankrolled such an expensive project. Attempting to escape from forced imprisonment, the astronauts learn that in space nobody can hear you scream… and on earth, nobody can hear you tell the truth.
9. Chinatown (1974)
Los Angeles’ water supply during the Great Depression might not be the most obvious source material for a thriller, but Robert Towne and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown packages one complicated struggle for the control of the city’s reservoirs in neo-noir gift wrapping. Murder and corruption are par for the course, but Chinatown takes it one step further by mixing in incest, nose slicing and a killer conclusion.
8. They Live (1988)
The aliens are in charge in this satire from John Carpenter, but only “Rowdy” Roddy Piper knows it. Thanks to a special pair of spectacles, Piper discovers that the upper crust is actually extra terrestrial and controls the population via subliminal messages on billboards (“Obey” and “Marry and Reproduce”). In this black comedy, Piper spouts dialogue like “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum”. Time to chew up the scenery.
7. Blow Out (1981)
Inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Brian de Palma’s pulpy Blow Out
melds Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick scandal with the surveillance
paranoia of the post-Watergate era. At the wrong place at the wrong time, John
Travolta’s movie sound technician inadvertantly learns that the car accident he has witnessed is really a political assassination. His
investigation is meant to serve as his redemption but at the end, in front of a giant American flag, Travolta comes up empty handed.
6. JFK (1991)
With JFK, Oliver Stone
single-handedly rewrote history by suggesting New Orleans DA Jim Garrison (Kevin
Costner) was a hero for bringing to trial a cracked theory that President Kennedy had been killed by rogue government elements. Despite playing fast and loose with the facts, the movie leaves nagging
questions about an event that’s never sat well with the public. So powerful was its impact, that the outcry surrounding it led to the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board as well as a Congressional act to have all records cataloged.
5. All the President’s Men (1976)
Sometimes the conspiracies turn out to be real. So it was in All the President’s Men, which spotlighted real-life Washington Post
reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin
Hoffman) on Richard Nixon’s trail after the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. With the help of Deep Throat, the pair
topples the presidency and rocks the nation. Coming only two years
after Nixon’s resignation, the movie buzzes with the electricity of a reality still almost impossible to believe.
4. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Both up-to-the-minute and foreboding, Three Days of the Condor
expresses doubts about the CIA’s mandate while also theorizing about the government’s involvement in the Middle
East decades before Fahrenheit 9/11. But it’s first and
foremost a thriller, with Robert Redford’s naïve open source
intelligence officer must find out the hard way that it’s never to good
to know more than you’re meant to in a world of closely-guarded
3. The Conversation (1974)
Like Blow Out, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece was inspired by Blow-Up. Nestled between the first two Godfather films, The Conversation
is more paranoid and
pessimistic than any other Coppola flick. This time the disillusioned hero is Gene Hackman, as a
wire-tapping expert who hesitates to turn in tapes that might result in murder. That decision, of course, will be the one that destroys his own life; when engulfed by suspicion, Hackman tears up his own apartment in search of new bugs. Who’s spying on who?
2. The Parallax View (1974)
The ’70s were the golden age of the conspiracy movie. With The Parallax View, conspiracy master Alan Pakula (All the President’s Men) combines The Manchurian Candidate‘s
brainwashed assassin with a weary resignation to formidable,
unstoppable powers — this time a corporation, and not the government. Warren Beatty starts off as crusading reporter in search of answers about twelve mysterious deaths, but ends up played like everyone else.
1. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Arriving in theaters at the height of the Cold War, John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate hit all the right nerves playing up the notion that “Patriotism is the
last refuge of a scoundrel.” War vet Frank Sinatra uncovers a plot of
North Korean abduction, brainwashing and assassination, not to mention
a plan to install Communism under the guise of pro-American
conservatism. It’s a spooky fusion of the far-fetched with the too real
that’s haunted the annals of pop culture for decades.
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