Political thriller

A political thriller is a thriller that is set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They usually involve various extra-legal plots, designed to give political power to someone, while his opponents try to stop him. They can involve national or international political scenarios. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes. Political thrillers can be based on true facts such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the Watergate Scandal. There is a strong overlap with the conspiracy thriller.

When reviewing the film The Interpreter, Erik Lundegaard attempted a definition:

The basic plot is an ordinary man pulling an innocent thread which leads to a mess of corruption. The corruption should be political or governmental in nature.[1]


Before 1950, there were spy novels with political elements.

Some earlier examples, however, can be found in the historical novels of Alexandre Dumas (particularly his Three Musketeers novels, which often involve political conspiracies), as well as such literary works as Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent.

The actual political thriller came to life in the early days of the Cold War. Graham Greene's The Quiet American (1955) tells about the American involvement in Vietnam during the First Indochina War. Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is set in the aftermath of the Korean War and the days of McCarthyism. In Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, an assault on Charles de Gaulle has to be prevented.

Other authors of political thrillers include Jeffrey Archer and Daniel Silva. In Bengali literature, Samaresh Majumdar's Aat Kuthuri Noy Dorja (বাংলা : আট কুঠুরি নয় দরজা, meaning: eight rooms and nine doors) is one example.


Several Alfred Hitchcock films already contain elements of the political thriller. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, a political assault has to be prevented. In 1962, John Frankenheimer made a film adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate. All the President's Men is based on the Watergate Scandal. Other examples of political thrillers are Z, Three Days of the Condor, V For Vendetta, Romero, City Hall, Air Force One, Snowden and The Post. Several post-9/11 political thriller films refer to the September 11 attacks or terrorism in general.


Shonda Rhimes' television series, Scandal, contains many elements of a political thriller in a chronological format.

The 1990 British drama serial, House of Cards, later adapted for Netflix in 2013, is a political thriller set after the end of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The subsequent Netflix adaptation is set in the United States.

The former ABC and now Netflix series, Designated Survivor, depicts the political power struggle that follows as a result of a terrorist attack that destroys the United States Capitol during the State of the Union, assassinating the President and all but one of his line of succession.

2015's Okkupert (English: Occupied) quickly became Norway's most expensively produced TV series, depicting Russia and the European Union cooperating to get Norway to restore its gas and oil production. The series had a budget of over 90 million Norwegian Krona (3.8 Million GBP). It was first broadcast on TV2 in Norway, and then broadcast on Sky Arts in the United Kingdom. It was later added to Netflix worldwide.

The 2017 ABS-CBN's Revenge Crime-Political Suspense Epic Wildflower tells of a woman named Ivy Aguas/Lily Cruz (Maja Salvador) plots her vengeance for the loss of her family and is willing to determine to dethrone the exploitative and oppressive Ardiente Political Dynasty. Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, or simply Jack Ryan, is an American action political thriller web television series, based on characters from the fictional "Ryanverse" created by Tom Clancy, that premiered on August 31, 2018 on Amazon Video.

In 2018, British political thriller, Bodyguard, quickly achieved popularity throughout the UK, achieving the BBC's highest viewing figures since 2008. The series depicts PC David Budd, a British Army war veteran suffering from PTSD. He is working for the Metropolitan Police within their Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch. He is assigned to protect the ambitious Home Secretary, Julia Montague, whose politics stand for everything he despises. It was released on Netflix worldwide on 24 October 2018.


A playwright who has embraced the genre is Gary Mitchell, who in the 2000s became "one of the most talked about voices in European theatre ... whose political thrillers have arguably made him Northern Ireland's greatest playwright".[2]


  1. ^ Lundegaard, Erik (1 August 2006). "The Manchurian movie - Who took the politics out of the political thriller?". MSNBC Movie Options. Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  2. ^ Loyalist paramilitaries drive playwright from his homeThe Guardian news article, 21 December 2005.
Absolute Power (film)

Absolute Power is a 1997 American political thriller film produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood as a master jewel thief who witnesses the killing of a woman by Secret Service agents. The screenplay by William Goldman is based on the 1996 novel Absolute Power by David Baldacci. Screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, the film also stars Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Judy Davis, Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert. It was also the last screen appearance of E. G. Marshall.

All the President's Men (film)

All the President's Men is a 1976 American political thriller film about the Watergate scandal, which brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Directed by Alan J. Pakula with a screenplay by William Goldman, it is based on the 1974 non-fiction book of the same name by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two journalists investigating the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post. The film stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, respectively; it was produced by Walter Coblenz for Redford's Wildwood Enterprises.

The film was nominated in multiple Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA categories, and, in 2010, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Attack (2016 film)

Attack is a 2016 Telugu political thriller film written, and directed by Ram Gopal Varma and produced by C. Kalyan. It features Manchu Manoj, Surbhi in the lead roles Jagapati Babu, Prakash Raj in supporting roles and music composed by Ravi Shankar. The film was released worldwide on 1 April 2016.


Deshdrohi (English: Treasonist) is a 2008 Bollywood political thriller film directed by Jagdish A. Sharma. It was scripted and produced by Kamaal Rashid Khan who also appeared in the lead role with Manoj Tiwari, Hrishitaa Bhatt, Gracy Singh and Zulfi Syed.

A sequel titled Deshdrohi 2 was released on Youtube as a short film. The sequel was based on the conviction of Abdul Karim Tunda.


Gaayam (English: The Wound) is a 1993 Telugu political thriller film, based on the 1980s Vijayawada Gang Warfare. Directed by Ram Gopal Varma, and story co-written by himself and Mani Ratnam, it stars Jagapathi Babu, Revathi,Urmila Matondkar in the lead roles and music composed by Sri. Upon its release, the film received positive reviews, with six state Nandi Awards, and recorded as Super Hit at the box office.

Hidden Agenda (1990 film)

Hidden Agenda (1990), directed by Ken Loach, is a political thriller about British state terrorism during the Northern Irish Troubles that depicts the fictional assassination of an American civil rights lawyer.

Maanagara Kaaval

Maanagara Kaaval (English: City Police) is a 1991 Tamil action thriller film directed by M. Thiyagarajan. The film stars Vijayakanth and Suman Ranganathan in the lead roles. This is 150th film of AVM Productions. It is loosely based on the Mammootty-starrer 1 August. The movie was a blockbuster. It was dubbed in Telugu as City Police.

NGK (film)

NGK: Nandha Gopalan Kumaran is an upcoming 2019 Indian Tamil political action thriller film written and directed by Selvaraghavan. Suriya, Rakul Preet Singh, and Sai Pallavi play the lead roles while Devaraj plays a pivotal role. Yuvan Shankar Raja composes the music and Sivakumar Vijayan is the cinematographer. The film is being produced by S. R. Prakashbabu and S. R. Prabhu of Dream Warrior Pictures. Pre-production and principal photography commenced in January 2018. The film is slated to release on 31 May 2019.

Spy Game

Spy Game is a 2001 American spy film directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The film grossed $62 million in the United States and $143 million worldwide and received mostly positive reviews from film critics.

The Big Brass Ring

The Big Brass Ring is a 1999 drama film, starring William Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Irene Jacob, Jefferson Mays and Miranda Richardson (who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance). The film's script was heavily rewritten by George Hickenlooper and F. X. Feeney from a previous screenplay written by Orson Welles and Oja Kodar in the early 1980s; Hickenlooper also directed the film.

The Constant Gardener (film)

The Constant Gardener is a 2005 political thriller film directed by Fernando Meirelles. The screenplay by Jeffrey Caine is based on the novel of the same name (2001) by John le Carré. The story follows Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat in Kenya, as he tries to solve the murder of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz), an Amnesty activist, alternating with many flashbacks telling the story of their love.

The film was filmed on location in Loiyangalani and the slums of Kibera, a section of Nairobi, Kenya. Circumstances in the area affected the cast and crew to the extent that they set up the Constant Gardener Trust in order to provide basic education for these villages. The plot was vaguely based on a real-life case in Kano, Nigeria. The DVD versions were released in the United States on 1 January 2006 and in the United Kingdom on 13 March 2006. Justin's gentle but diligent attention to his plants is a recurring background theme, from which image the film's title is derived. Hubert Koundé, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite and Donald Sumpter co-star. The film was a modest critical and box office success and earned four Academy Award nominations, winning Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Weisz.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a 1956 American suspense thriller film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart and Doris Day. The film is Hitchcock's second film using this title following his own 1934 film of the same name featuring a significantly different plot and script.

In the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), in response to fellow filmmaker François Truffaut's assertion that aspects of the remake were by far superior, Hitchcock replied "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", sung by Doris Day. It premiered at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival on April 29.

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate is a novel by Richard Condon, first published in 1959. It is a political thriller about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy.

The novel has been adapted twice into a feature film of the same title, in 1962 and again in 2004. The 1962 film is faithful to the book; the 2004 remake updates the action and alters characters.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004 film)

The Manchurian Candidate is a 2004 American political

thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme. The film, based on Richard Condon's 1959 novel of the same name and a re-working of the previous 1962 film, stars Denzel Washington as Bennett Marco, a tenacious, virtuous soldier; Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, a U.S. Representative from New York, manipulated into becoming a vice-presidential candidate; Jon Voight as U.S. Senator Tom Jordan, a challenger for vice president; and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, also a U.S. Senator and the manipulative, ruthless mother of Raymond Shaw.

The Peacemaker (1997 film)

The Peacemaker is a 1997 American action-political thriller film starring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Aleksandr Baluev and directed by Mimi Leder. It was the first DreamWorks film ever released. While the story takes place all over the world, it was shot primarily in the Republic of Macedonia and Russia, with some sequences filmed in New York City, Philadelphia, and Bratislava.

The Pelican Brief (film)

The Pelican Brief is a 1993 American legal political thriller based on the eponymous novel by John Grisham. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film stars Julia Roberts in the role of young law student Darby Shaw and Denzel Washington as Washington Herald reporter Gray Grantham. The film, which features music composed by James Horner, was the last film that featured Pakula as both writer and director before his death.

The President Is Missing (novel)

The President Is Missing is a political thriller novel by former US President Bill Clinton and novelist James Patterson published in June 2018. It is Clinton's first novel. A television adaptation is being developed by Showtime.

The Quiet American (2002 film)

The Quiet American is a 2002 film adaptation of Graham Greene's bestselling novel set in Vietnam, The Quiet American. It was directed by Phillip Noyce and starred Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Do Thi Hai Yen.

The 2002 version of The Quiet American, in contrast to the earlier 1958 film version, depicted Greene's original ending and treatment of the principal American character, Pyle. Like the novel, the film illustrates Pyle's moral culpability in arranging terrorist actions aimed at the French colonial government and the Viet Minh. Going beyond Greene's original work, the film used a montage ending with superimposed images of American soldiers from the intervening decades of the Vietnam War.

Miramax paid $5.5 million for the rights to distribute the film in North America and some other territories, but it shelved the film for a year due to the September 11 attacks and the film's "unpatriotic" message. The film finally received an Oscar qualification release in November 2002 and went on to gross US$12.9 million in limited theatrical release in the United States. The film received positive reviews from critics and Michael Caine was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Z (1969 film)

Z is a 1969 Algerian-French epic political thriller film directed by Costa-Gavras, with a screenplay by Gavras and Jorge Semprún, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos. The film presents a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. With its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark sense of humor, and its downbeat ending, the film captures the outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time of its making.

The film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as the investigating magistrate (an analogue of Christos Sartzetakis who later served as president of Greece from 1985 to 1990). International stars Yves Montand and Irene Papas also appear, but despite their star billing have very little screen time. Jacques Perrin, who co-produced, plays a key role as a photojournalist. The film's title refers to a popular Greek protest slogan (Greek: Ζει, IPA: [ˈzi]) meaning "he lives," in reference to Lambrakis.

The film had a total of 3,952,913 admissions in France and was the 4th highest grossing film of the year. It was also the 12th highest grossing film of 1969 in the U.S. Z is also the first film—and one of only a handful—to be nominated for both the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film. It won the latter, as well as the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film; at the 27th Golden Globe Awards, the producers of Z refused the award to protest against the film's exclusion from the Best Motion Picture - Drama category.

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