Long-Weekend Viewing: Films About Manipulative Political Masterminds for ‘House of Cards’ Fans

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If you’ve already binge-watched all of Netflix’s addictive new original series, House of Cards, it’s understandable that you’d be thirsting for more. After all, an antihero like House of Cards‘ Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) — who has every right to be furious about not being handed the position of Secretary of State after all his years backing the newly elected president — is insanely fun to watch as he dismantles the US political system, one sly move at a time. If you prefer a calculating politician to your average superhero, here is a selection of films (and one miniseries) you have to see.

The original House of Cards

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. This four-part 1990 series from the BBC is what started it all. Ian Richardson earned international fame for his role as Francis Urquhart, who decides to take matters into his own hands and claw his way into the role of prime minister. Like Frank Underwood, who is able to hide his sinister nature behind stereotypes that Southern men are “slow with their words, but quick on their feet,” Francis, at first glance, seems like a polite, kindhearted old man, making his deceptions all the more fascinating to watch.

Richard III (1995)

Meant to clearly parallel Nazi Germany, this Shakespeare adaptation feels more politically relatable than the period-appropriate versions that feature an actual king. The brilliance of Sir Ian McKellen’s portrayal defies words; just watch the clip above of Richard trying to seduce Lady Anne and see for yourself how complex this famed antagonist is.

Throne of Blood

Shakespeare was a master of manipulative characters — even House of Cards credits Macbeth and Richard III for plot inspiration. So, when cinematic master Kurosawa decided to make his own version of Macbeth, how could it possibly be anything less than genius? Set in feudal Japan, Throne of Blood was dubbed “the most successful film version of Macbeth” by Harold Bloom.

Downfall

Don’t let the meme this movie spawned keep you from taking it seriously. Downfall provides one of the freshest angles on WWII, as it chronicles Hitler’s last moments as he slowly realizes that he is losing. Fatally. Bruno Ganz obviously did his research — he adds appropriate hand tremors and movements depicting what may have been Hitler’s early-stage Parkinson’s, and that’s just the beginning. Considering his catastrophic impact on world history, watching one of history’s greatest manipulators fall apart is both tragic and satisfying.

Becket

Set after the Norman Conquest of England, this 1964 classic tells the story of the doomed friendship between King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and Thomas Becket (Richard Burton). After making Becket Archbishop of Canterbury against his will in an attempt to control both church and state, Henry faces some serious obstacles when — whoops — Becket actually finds spiritual enlightenment and proves to be a real opponent.

The Lion in Winter

Peter O’Toole must have loved playing King Henry II — and that’s a good thing, because the plays written about him are rich in drama and deceit. In The Lion in Winter, Henry must pick one of his three sons to become heir to the throne, but his wife has a different opinion on the matter, and, eventually, the whole family (sons included) is involved in a dysfunctional plot to produce a future king.

Wag the Dog

In this often-overlooked black comedy, the US president is caught in a Clinton-like sex scandal that must be covered up. Enter Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) and Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), who work together to construct a fake war in Albania to distract the public. It’s a wild premise, and great satire about the role of media in America.

Election

Don’t judge a mastermind by her age; high schooler Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon at her funniest) is basically Frank Underwood in adolescent girl form. She is fixated on winning her election, and refuses to accept anything that is unfair with grace. Adding to the fun is civics teacher Mr. MacAllister (Matthew Broderick), who recognizes Tracy’s ruthless and, frankly, terrifying behavior, and will do everything he can to oppose her.