It’s been 13 years since Tony Gilroy delivered his masterpiece, Michael Clayton, one of the best legal thrillers ever made. At a time when it feels as if films like this are becoming essentially extinct among Hollywood’s studio output, we bring you 6 other movies that will give you a full serving of the brilliance—and often jarring relevance to current day events—of the legal thriller genre.
The Top 6 movies like Michael Clayton:
1. Wag the Dog
First up on our list, we have legendary director Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog. Levinson followed up his legal drama Sleeper with this wildly hysterical, deeply topical dark satire about a spin doctor (Robert De Niro), who enlists the help of a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to conjure a fake war in the media cycle to detract from a sex scandal that breaks out for the president less than two weeks before an election.
Like Clayton, this is an incisive, no-holds-barred look at the length those in charge of shadowy corporations (in this case, the executive level of U.S. Government itself) will go in order to sway public opinion and maintain power.
2. The Insider
Speaking of the kind of movies studios don’t make anymore, next on our list is Michael Mann’s magnificent follow-up to his action-movie opus Heat, The Insider. Trading bank heists, guns, and swarming cops for a more intimate—yet somehow no less intense—tale of corporate scandal and its ensuing media exposé, The Insider is based on the true story of Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco scientist who exposed his employers for deliberately manufacturing cigarettes to be as addicting as possible on a segment of 60 minutes.
If you’re into movies like Clayton, which deal with the seemingly impossible task of taking down a major corporation trying to cover-up a nationwide public health scandal that would effectively ruin their image, while also serving as in-depth character studies of the main players taking on this daunting task, then look no further.
3. State of Play
Next on our list, we have Kevin MacDonald’s 2009 savvy, winding political thriller, State of Play. This film concerns a political conspiracy uncovered by a newspaper journalist (Russel Crowe) and his team investigating the death of a political researcher involved with a U.S. congressman (Ben Affleck), who is in the midst of his own investigation into a shady private defense company.
This one is for fans of high-stakes political thrillers that keep you on your toes and guessing at every turn. If the forces of corruption pulling strings behind the scenes in Clayton’s universe both terrified and intrigued you, then wait until you see what’s in store here.
4. The International
Tom Tykwer’s edgy, globe-trotting, action-packed thriller, The International, takes the next spot on our list. The plot centers on Interpol agent, Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), and Manhattan D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who are in the midst of an investigation into fictional mega-bank IBBC suspected of funnelling money into militias and other unsavoury activities worldwide.
Combining elements of the ‘70s paranoid thriller with a modern, post-recession look at the corrupting influence of highly-concentrated, unregulated power and wealth, this is a film that, similar to Clayton, is keen on showing the insidious effects of late-stage capitalism beginning to run its course.
5. The Ides of March
The Ides of March, George Clooney’s second outing as a director, is next on our list. This movie is an unflinching look at the personal and political ramifications of the pursuit of power. It follows Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a press secretary working for the governor of Ohio and presidential-hopeful Mike Morris (George Clooney) as he attempts to take the Democratic Primary vote.
For fans of political dramas who relish in the performances (the whole A-list cast is on point here) and are eager for a behind-the-scenes look at how people in politics all seem to have their own hidden agenda, always speaking one way while behaving another, then this is top of the line.
6. Margin Call
The last spot on our list goes to J. C. Chandor’s gripping, edge-of-your-seat financial thriller, Margin Call. Inspired by real events that took place the day before markets crashed in the 2008 recession, the story takes place over 24 hours as members of an unnamed midlevel investment firm uncover findings that suggest their firm—and perhaps the whole U.S. economy—is on thin ice.
Paced like a political thriller with compelling characters and dialogue that manages to inform without alienating viewers unfamiliar with technical financial jargon, this is a thoroughly engaging and depressing look at the sly, dishonorable wagers Wall Street investors were willing to take to make a profit. As with Clayton, and just about every movie on this list, it shares a deeply cynical view on corporate interests.