7 Best Political Thrillers Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
A slow-burning US political drama, The Ides of March is a character-driven film with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney (who is also the director and in part the writer) among many others. Taking place during the last days of the primaries, Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is an aspiring campaign staffer who uncovers a dirty truth about his candidate (Clooney). When Meyers confronts his boss (Hoffman), moral issues arise that collide with the political profession but which are not only limited to it. A smart film, The Ides of March is less of a political thriller and more of a really well made drama that delivers.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amy Keys, Charlie Rose, Chris Matthews, Danny Mooney, David McConnell, Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney, Gregory Itzin, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, Loretta Higgins, Lori Perry, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Maya Sayre, Michael Ellison, Michael Mantell, Neal Anthony Rubin, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel Maddow, Robert Mervak, Rohn Thomas, Ryan Gosling, Tiffany Sander McKenzie, Yuriy Sardarov

Director: George Clooney

Rating: R

In Ken Loach’s conspiracy thriller, an American human rights activist (Frances McDormand) and a no-nonsense UK police officer (Brian Cox) work tirelessly to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death — but this is no rousing triumph of good over evil, only a bitter pill about corruption and complicity. Human rights lawyer Paul (Brad Dourif) and girlfriend Ingrid (McDormand) are in Troubles-era Belfast wrapping up their report into the UK government’s shoot-to-kill policy when Paul is shot dead by mysterious assailants while on his way to speak to an informant. Police investigator Kerrigan (Cox) is flown in from England to look into the death; Cox plays him as a stickler for the rules and fierce agent of justice, inspired by a real-life official who was abruptly suspended from the police before he could deliver his findings into the UK government’s alleged death squad in Northern Ireland.

But the network of high-level corruption that Kerrigan and Ingrid uncover poses a direct challenge to those values, ultimately forcing him to choose between revealing the conspiracy — and risk destroying his life — or concealing the truth and betraying his ethics. A fascinating look at the slippery slope to complicity, this is a gripping, unabashedly ideological conspiracy thriller blending Hollywood polish with gritty reality.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bernard Archard, Brad Dourif, Brian Cox, Des McAleer, Frances McDormand, Ian McElhinney, Jim Norton, Mai Zetterling, Maurice Roëves, Michelle Fairley, Oliver Maguire, Paul Moriarty

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: R

When he’s accepted into the prestigious Islamic university Al-Azhar, fisherman’s son Adam (Tawfeek Barhom) gets an eye-opening education — but not the kind he expected. A place associated with notions of purity is imagined as a hotbed of hypocrisy and corruption here, as naive young Adam finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a state plot to seize control of Al-Azhar (because, as one government official puts it, “We can’t accept having two pharaohs in the land”). Cairo Conspiracy's intricate plot confronts monsters in government and strips away religious leaders’ veneer of divinity as a reminder that they’re merely fallible men. What's more, the film grapples with the knotty mess of politics raging inside the institution’s walls in such a way that even its palatial courtyard feels claustrophobic. Rife with paranoia and subterfuge, Cairo Conspiracy feels utterly unique thanks to this skillful transposing of the shadowy machinations of courtly intrigue dramas and '70s paranoid thrillers into a very contemporary Egyptian setting.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Fares Fares, Jalal Altawil, Makram J. Khoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Mohammad Bakri, Sherwan Haji, Tawfeek Barhom

Director: Tarik Saleh

Ashkal takes an audaciously hybrid approach to genre: it’s part-noir, part-supernatural thriller, and full political allegory. The investigation at the center of this slow-burn Tunisian police procedural is a gripping one, as burnt naked bodies keep turning up in abandoned construction sites in Tunis with no trace of a struggle or even a combustible on them. In post-revolution Tunisia, the deaths are an uncomfortable reminder of recent history: it was a young Tunisian man’s self-immolation that sparked the Arab Spring, after all.

The revolution’s complicated legacy looms over the film, as we watch the country’s Truth and Dignity Commission begin its work of uncovering the former government’s corruption and abuses. Ashkal’s two protagonists — the young Fatma (Fatma Oussaifi) and her more seasoned police partner Batal (Mohamed Grayaa) — find themselves on opposite sides of that political divide, he having been implicated in the abuses of power that are now being investigated by Fatma’s father. There are fascinating elements at play here, and the results of Ashkal’s ambitious genre experiment are mostly inspired. Much of the film’s energies are spent on building a paranoid atmosphere — efforts that can, at times, frustratingly slacken the tension — but its fantastical touches tauten things up enough to make it a haunting political commentary in the end.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Director: Youssef Chebbi

Jessica Chastain plays a driven Washington lobbyist called Elizabeth Sloane in this high-speed political thriller. After being pitched to work for the gun lobby, she decides to work for the opposition: an NGO trying to pass a background check bill. It's a long movie, and even if everything happens fast, it still lags. 

The events do wrap up by the end to explain the complex plot. Not to mention, Chastain's performance something to behold and is reason enough to watch. Her character's hidden motive and questionable methods make her an anti-hero, but Chastain always keeps a lure of hope that her character will redeem herself. That delicate balance might be the most thrilling aspect of Miss Sloan.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Hale, Al Mukaddam, Alexandra Castillo, Alison Pill, Anand Rajaram, Andrew Moodie, Angela Vint, Austin Strugnell, Christine Baranski, Chuck Shamata, Courtenay J. Stevens, Craig Eldridge, David Wilson Barnes, Doug Murray, Douglas Smith, Dylan Baker, Ennis Esmer, Grace Lynn Kung, Greta Onieogou, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gurdeep Ahluwalia, Helen Johns, Jack Murray, Jake Lacy, Jessica Chastain, Joe Pingue, John Lithgow, Kevin Jubinville, Kyle Mac, Lucy Owen, Mark Strong, Meghann Fahy, Michael Cram, Michael Stuhlbarg, Murray Furrow, Noah Robbins, Ola Sturik, Raoul Bhaneja, Sam Waterston, Sergio Di Zio, Zach Smadu

Director: John Madden

Rating: R

The late German actor Ulrich Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, a merciless Stasi officer who has doubts about the loyalty of a famous playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his wife Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) to the communist party. To say he spies on the artist couple is an understatement: in true Stasi fashion, he watches them day and night, listens in on their conservations, reads their mail, and watches them have sex. However, it turns out this was a tad too close, because Wiesler becomes increasingly absorbed in them and is forced to question his obedience as a Stasi officer. In his feature film debut, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck delivers a quietly chilling melodrama on a topic that still affects the lives of many East Germans and was deserving of more attention. It is also a telling piece on the inhumane nature of totalitarianism and the humanity of individuals that are forced to live with it. A special film that will stay with you for a long time.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anabelle D. Munro, Bastian Trost, Charly Hubner, Fabian von Klitzing, Gabi Fleming, Gitta Schweighöfer, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Harald Polzin, Herbert Knaup, Hildegard Schroedter, Hinnerk Schönemann, Hubertus Hartmann, Inga Birkenfeld, Jens Wassermann, Kai Ivo Baulitz, Klaus Münster, Ludwig Blochberger, Marie Gruber, Martin Brambach, Martina Gedeck, Matthias Brenner, Michael Gerber, Paul Faßnacht, Paul Maximilian Schüller, Sebastian Koch, Sheri Hagen, Susanna Kraus, Thomas Arnold, Thomas Thieme, Ulrich Mühe, Ulrich Tukur, Volker Michalowski, Volkmar Kleinert, Werner Daehn

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rating: R