What are the Best Political Action Thrillers?


Olympus Has Fallen trailer
The White House goes kablooey in Olympus Has Falln
Photo: FilmDistrict

Last night I was trying to come up with some ideas on something I could do in conjunction with the release of Olympus Has Fallen and one idea was to come up with a list of the best political action thrillers. The problem is that word “action” really limits the number of films… at least when it came to the titles my fiancée could come up with last night.

The word “action”, in this case, almost seems to remove all meaning from the word “political”. Sure, Olympus Has Fallen is based on a terrorist takeover at the White House, but just how political will it really be? White House Down and G.I. Joe: Retaliation are working with similar themes as trailers have already shown us, are they too political films? Certainly there is a nugget of politics in there, it’s something that gives the narrative added weight over simply being about guns, bullets and mountainside ninjas in the case of Joe.

ford-ryanSo the definition of a political action thriller, I guess, could have a wide range of examples, it just depends on your interpretation. For me it seems the genre I’m trying to describe is relatively new and may have actually started in 1990 with the adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, followed by Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger and then escalated from there.

To my eyes, those films are the modern day equivalence of films such as The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, Z and Missing, which, in this case, didn’t seem to fit the description of the genre I was thinking of.

Another borderline example was The Constant Gardener from director Fernando Meirelles and based on the John le Carre novel. I don’t think this fits the bill even though it does have some measure of action, but I’d argue the dramatic elements of the piece far outweigh the action.

I guess, for me, a good political action thriller would need to be something that’s certainly thought-provoking, but also carries an emphasis on creating an explosive (more-or-less literally), over-the-top visceral experience. For me, I’d say the Clancy films just barely qualify, but I’d argue the other films I mentioned above are a little too straight-forward and serious, though the line is definitely blurred.

I thought of both Independence Day and The Rock, but are they political? I didn’t think Valkyrie was all that great and I guess Executive Decision counts, but would you call it good?

If I were to make a list of favorites, working under the criteria set above (if there is a discernible criteria), it would include the following:

  1. Air Force One
  2. V for Vendetta
  3. The Hunt for Red October
  4. Patriot Games
  5. Clear and Present Danger
  6. Enemy of the State
  7. Spy Game
  8. In the Line of Fire
  9. Body of Lies

If I was to make a top ten I would probably cheat and remove Air Force One and Body of Lies and add The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor and maybe The Day of the Jackal would sneak in over Clear and Present Danger if I wanted to cheat even further.

I don’t like making top tens without going through and watching the movies again, but off the top of my head this is what I came up with. Now how about you? I’m sure there are several I’ve missed and more to consider. What else is there?