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UPDATE: Top 10 Greatest Conspiracy Films Of All Time

At long last, we revive our ever-so-popular Top 10 Films lists.  Being a film maker and well-versed in film history (and real history for that matter), we can't resist the opportunity to list the biggest conspiracy flicks ever committed to acetate (celluloid went out decades ago silly), and that we really like too.

Some of these selections are completely fictitious, yet they bear an uncanny resemblance to real history that happened subsequent to the film's release.  Some are fictionalized versions of real conspiracies that folks are afraid to talk about in real life.  And some are just plain true and have been well known for centuries, if not millennia.

We note that the word 'conspiracy' comes from the Latin con spirare, which simply means "to breathe together'.  Thus, anytime two or more people come together for a single purpose, it is a conspiracy.  'Theory' just means that it's an educated guess based on the facts at hand, but that has yet to be proved.  When you dissect the term 'conspiracy theory', you find that a lot of people and organizations put forth conspiracy theories, including governments, and as you watch these great flicks, you'll notice that government figures prominently in many (if not all) the great conspiracies of history.

So strap yourself in, get out your tin foil hat, and warm up the Netflix.  Here comes 20 hours of pure conspiracy that will leave you so paranoid that Edward Snowden won't even get you up any more.

Yes, Virginia, there really are conspiracies.  After all, if there weren't, why would criminal conspiracy be against the law in most civilized nations?


Conspiracy Theory (1997)- We lead off with the conspiracy film to end all conspiracy films, and the one that answers the question, "What in the hell happened to Mel?"  Richard Donner plays god to Mel Gibson in the story of a man driven to madness by the certain knowledge that government is creeping into every corner of our lives.  And guess what?  He's right - not only in the film, but everything the character spews breathlessly trying to get people to see has become common knowledge now.  It's one of the things we love about conspiracy theories - they are usually true in most respects - but no one remembers that it was loonies like Mel that told us about it.

Body Double (1984)- This is a quirky and really fun flick, if for no other reason than to see Melanie Griffith nude!  Brian de Palma, that wizard of weird, brings us a convoluted tale with dozens of plot twists that keep your brain spinning as you try to keep up with who is the bad guy and who's the good.  Even at the end, it's not really clear in the cloud of moral ambiguity.  And did we mention Melanie naked?

Executive Action (1974)- Before Oliver Stone had even graduated film school, there was a definitive film exploring who killed JFK.  Master tale-teller Dalton Trumbo (Papillon) explores the complex conspiracy behind one of the most shocking events in modern history.  A complex consortium of business, military and social interests come together to rid themselves of one of the most radical presidents since Lincoln.  Burt Lancaster and Will Geer head up a fine cast of cold, calculating individuals who order the death of presidents for breakfast.

The China Syndrome (1979)- Before Fukushima, everyone thought that run-away meltdowns would go from west to east.  We've since found out that this should have been called the New York syndrome.  James Bridges inhabits the God chair and bullies Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon into some fine performances as they race to make the world aware of the coming catastrophe.  When we watch this one, we wonder why reporters like these don't really exist.  You'da thunk when this movie came true three years ago, someone would tell us.  It's a conspiracy, I tell ya!

The Stuntman (1980)- This is one of those rare films that shouldn't be good, but it is.  Richard Rush is the deity on the set and Peter O'Toole is the deity on screen, turning in a masterful and nuanced performance that is frequently overlooked.  The story is a complex web of overlapping conspiracies that leave the audience breathless at the end and wondering if anything really got resolved.  After all, in Hollywood, nothing is what it appears to be.

All the President's Men (1976)- This was the defining conspiracy of the 1970s, and it brought down an American president and his entire administration.  It also launched the career of Hilary Rodham Clinton, who's a walking conspiracy in and of herself.  Allen J. Pakula plays God to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, who are playing ace reporters Woodward and Bernstein, and who haven't done a damn thing since Watergate, which is yet another conspiracy.  It's a great story and the style of this film is obviously the inspiration for JFK, complete with shadowy "Deep Throat" feeding all the right information at all the right times - a conspiracy that has yet to be unveiled.

Capricorn One (1974)- If you believe the Moon landings were faked, this movie will thrill you.  If you don't believe it, then this film may change your mind.  Peter Hyams writes and lords it over the set, with Eliot Gould playing (yet another) intrepid reporter who's on to the big story, but it's so BIG and there are so many folks trying to kill him that he's having a bit of trouble getting the word out.  Granted, this flick is about a Mars trip, but one look at the spacecraft, suits, etc., tell you this is a thinly veiled tale about Kubrick, Disney, NASA, and the trip to the Moon.

Z (1969)- Americans tend to think they invented conspiracy theories, and that all the mayhem in the 60s was their exclusive domain.  Costa-Gavras mounts the God chair to tell us differently.  This based-on-a-true-story is a French telling of events in Greece in the 60s, with political assassinations, cover-ups, plots, and intrigue.  Most Americans don't know this film, which is fine.  Keeps copies in stock for us film afficionados.  However, for those brave souls who know that films are made in the rest of the world, too, this makes a fine double feature with JFK, so you get a little broader picture of how the world was back then.

The Third Man (1949)- It's a toss-up as to whether this film should be #1.  This is a great film in every way.  Story by Graham Greene, Carol Reed in the God chair, Orson Wells and Joseph Cotton chasing around on set, some great lines, and a soundtrack that sparked a craze for zither music back when, how can you miss?!  This is film noir at it's moody best, with conspiracies run amok in post-war Vienna, and three victorious governments all competing for who gets to take credit for crime busting.  In fact, the bureaucratic mess that runs through the whole story is a whole conspiracy in itself, before we toss black markets and war profiteering into the fire.  A great film on any list, but right at the top of this one.

Julius Caesar (1953)- Let's see: greatest conspiracy in Western history, written by William Shakespeare, lorded over by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Geilgud, Greer Garson, and enough quality acting to fill four films - and you wonder why this tops the list?  Imagine the Senate getting together to plot the death of not only a president, but a living god, by thrusting knives into his all too human flesh, which spawns one of the most famous questions in all history, gives us the name for an entire month and makes the Ides of March a cultural singularity.  This is the definitive film version, which is why Olivier, Brannaugh and Gibson never attempted to tackle it again.  This is the conspiracy that gave birth to a thousand conspiracies!

Honorable Mention: With so many good conspiracies out there, it's hard to make a list of just 10.  We have to throw Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much somewhere in this list.  Both versions (Hitch liked it so much he made the film twice).  The first one has Peter Lorre at his nasally best, while the second has Jimmy Steward sputtering and Doris Day chirping.  If you want a fun triple-header for a lazy Saturday afternoon, Netflix these two with Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn in the comedic send-up, called Foul Play.

So there you have it.  If we added something you don't like, or forgot something you think should have been here, just remember how much you paid for this list.  These are the flicks that have entertained us for decades, and stay fresh even after dozens of viewings.  Like good books, you wear out copy after copy over the years.  Thank God for MPEG4!

Happy Viewing and hope to catch you lurking around this site again some time soon.

Sampai jumpa!
Reading our list inspired long-time LFS fan Robert to pipe up with his own list.  Of course, we couldn't agree more with his choices, with the exception of Minority Report, just because we hate Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise - double whammy.  Have a look:

Hello Bernard:
When you talk about media I stop still and listen carefully. As a media observer myself, your post on conspiracy movies inspired some thought, so I check my collection of DVDs. For the most part your list of best conspiracy films corresponds to mine with a few exception and additions.

1.) "Seven Days in May." Military coup d'etat frighteningly prescient for Obammy times since he has fired over two hundreds command level officers in some kind of unexplained purge.

2.) "Conspiracy Theory." Loved that movie. I was a victim of microwave experiments in the Army in 1958.

3.) "Manchurian Candidate." Both new and  old versions are good. Both Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury's character as Mrs. Shaw was extraordinary. The mind controlled operative, Raymond Shaw, used to take down a government makes me think of all the drug-induced mass shootings these days that invoke more and more social controls.

4.) "The Island." An updated clone of "The Clonus Horror" (1979) where it's the politicians that want immortality via a top-secret cloning conspiracy to harvest body parts for themselves.

6.) "Executive Action." In my mind the JFK assassination is the first coup d'tat. Baby Bush's selection the 2nd, and the results of 9/11 the final.

7.) "Enemy of the State." A real foreshadowing of the NSA, DHS, and NDAA goons out of control takeover.

8.) "Three Days of the Condor." A secret CIA within the CIA manipulating sovereign countries around the world for exploitation.

9.) "Minority Report." Pre-crime, facial and cornea recognition, robotic transportation systems, drones of all sorts are getting truer all the time. This is about using scape goats in a future society to support a corrupt system. Nothing new here. I sure like Max von Sydow a lot more in the old Bergman films.

10.) "The Matrix." A great metaphor for waking up.

11.) "The Third Man." Wartime black-marketer Harry Lime (Orson Wells)  amid footage of bombed out post war Vienna. It begins at a funeral and ends at a second funeral for the same person. Full circle.

There are more as genres criss-cross, but, for me, these films are my favorite ones with messages about conspiracy.