3 Movies Like What About Bob? (1991)

Staff & contributors

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Cornelia Ryan, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, David Stepkin, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Katherine Borowitz, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Reno, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

Plenty of films have been made about the grueling climb to rock-and-roll fame, but few carry the effortless charm that That Thing You Do! has. Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the film is as cookie-cutter as it gets, dodging the dark depths that typically haunt rock biopics. But that isn’t to say That Thing You Do! is boring—just the opposite, its simplicity and nostalgia make it wholly enjoyable. It’s a confection of a film that goes down easy, and it will have you smiling and bopping your head from start to end.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Alex Rocco, Barry Sobel, Benjamin John Parrillo, Bill Cobbs, Brittney Powell, Bryan Cranston, Charlize Theron, Chris Ellis, Chris Isaak, Claudia Stedelin, Clint Howard, Clive Rosengren, Colin Hanks, Dawn Maxey, Elizabeth Hanks, Ethan Embry, Gedde Watanabe, Gina Aponte, Giovanni Ribisi, Heather Hewitt, Holmes Osborne, Johnathon Schaech, Jonathan Demme, Kathleen Kinmont, Kevin Pollak, Lee Everett, Liv Tyler, Marc McClure, Mars Callahan, Michael P. Byrne, Obba Babatundé, Paul Feig, Peter Scolari, Renée Lippin, Rita Wilson, Robert Ridgely, Robert Torti, Robert Wisdom, Sarah Koskoff, Sean Whalen, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Hanks, Tracy Reiner, Warren Berlinger

Director: Tom Hanks

Rating: PG

When David and his sister Jennifer fight over the TV remote, they are suddenly transported to David’s favorite sitcom, Pleasantville. They’re told by a spirit guide that their best bet at getting out is fitting in, but their modern sensibilities prove to be too much for the genteel ‘50s town. Soon, the residents learn about sex, art, criticism, and politics, and it’s up to the twins to control the ensuing mayhem and guide them to the right path. 

In hindsight, Pleasantville seems ahead of its time, preceding Marvel’s WandaVision as the ultimate, deconstructed homage to 20th-century television. But unlike the series, Pleasantville dives deep into personal and social politics, all while maintaining an impressive balance of wisdom and humor. Equally notable is the film’s transformation from black and white to Technicolor, which, aside from being a symbolic and technical feat, is also a piece of pure, mesmerizing cinema.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Baker, Charles C. Stevenson Jr., Danny Strong, David Tom, Dawn Cody, Denise Dowse, Don Knotts, Erik MacArthur, Gerald Emerick, Giuseppe Andrews, J. Patrick Lawlor, J.T. Walsh, James Keane, Jane Kaczmarek, Jason Behr, Jason Maves, Jeanine Jackson, Jeff Daniels, Jenny Lewis, Jim Antonio, Joan Allen, John Ganun, Johnny Moran, Justin Nimmo, Kai Lennox, Kevin Connors, Kristin Rudrüd, Laura Carney, Lela Ivey, Maggie Lawson, Marc Blucas, Marissa Ribisi, Marley Shelton, McNally Sagal, Nancy Lenehan, Natalie Ramsey, Patrick Thomas O'Brien, Paul Morgan Stetler, Paul Walker, Reese Witherspoon, Robin Bissell, Stanton Rutledge, Tobey Maguire, Weston Blakesley, William H. Macy

Director: Gary Ross

Rating: PG-13