The 10 Greatest Performances in Political Thrillers

7. George Clooney in Syriana (2005)

Clooney's Oscar-nabbing role as CIA vet Robert Barnes in the complex, but fascinating Syriana is masterful, and it also mirrors the audience's viewing experience: We're just as disoriented as he is in the film's mind-boggling world of distrust.

6. Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone (1983)

The film adaptation of Stephen King's supernatural political thriller (a rare genre!) features a superb performance by Walken, who, as Kathy Griffin once pointed out to Movieline, wasn't "crazy" yet in '83. As a schoolteacher who gains a sixth sense and finds himself intercepting a dastardly U.S. Senatorial Candidate's (Martin Sheen) plot to ignite nuclear war, he fills his clairvoyant moments with fear and a jarring graveness.

5. Henry Fonda in Fail-Safe (1964)

An electrical malfunction almost starts a nuclear war, and Jane's dad, our president, has to stop it! Tom Joad is as stonily courageous as ever in this stark thriller, and you can't take your eyes off him during his phone call with Buck, the president's translator (played by an august young Larry Hagman).

Pages: 1 2 3


  • NP says:

    Not as iconic as these, but I love Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang in _The Ghost Writer_.

  • Capote99 says:

    Thanks for the "Notorious" love, Louis, but I think Claude Rains is the terrific performance in that movie. He reins (ha!) in his hamminess and is quite moving, especially in the final walk down the staircase, to the car and ultimately to his doom.
    P.S. The late Ulrich Mühe gave a wonderful performance in "The Lives of Others."

  • ES says:

    Ditto on Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer.

  • Emily says:

    This is a great list! I loved James Stewart in 'The Man Who Knew too Much' and Ryan Gosling is brilliant in 'Ides of March.' I'm glad that such a great political movie has come out n the past year. I love to read political novels, right now I'm reading "Operation Downfall" by Daniel McNeet (, but sometimes I do like to sit in front of a screen and watch rather than read.