Conspiracy thriller

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(Redirected from Paranoid thriller)

The conspiracy thriller (or paranoid thriller) is a subgenre of the thriller which flourished in the 1970s in the US (and was echoed in other parts of the world) in the wake of a number of high-profile scandals and controversies (most notably Vietnam, the assassination of President Kennedy, Chappaquiddick and Watergate), and which exposed what many people regarded as the clandestine machinations and conspiracies beneath the orderly fabric of political life.

The protagonists of conspiracy thrillers are often journalists or amateur investigators who find themselves (often inadvertently) pulling on a small thread which unravels a vast conspiracy that ultimately goes "all the way to the top".


Film and TV

One of the earliest exercises in cinematic paranoia was John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Its story of brainwashing and political assassination holds the distinction of not merely reflecting contemporary fears and anxieties, but anticipating future conspiracies and scandals by some years.

Other films in the "paranoiac" or "conspiracy" vein include Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974), Capricorn One (1978), directed by Peter Hyams, and Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981).

The screenplays for two of the best-known conspiracy thrillers were written by the same writer, Lorenzo Semple Jr.: The Parallax View, directed by Alan J. Pakula, came out in 1974, while Sydney Pollack's Three Days Of The Condor came out the following year. Pakula's movie is considered to be the second installment of a "paranoia trilogy" that began with Klute in 1971 and ended with All The President's Men in 1976.

Modern analogues include Conspiracy Theory (1997), directed by Richard Donner, Tony Scott's Enemy of the State (1998), and Mark Pellington's 1999 thriller Arlington Road.

One of the most celebrated contributions to the genre in the UK was the BAFTA award-winning television drama Edge of Darkness (1985), written by Troy Kennedy Martin.

David Drury's Defence Of The Realm (1985) offered another British take on the conspiracy topos.


A number of novelists have made repeated contributions to the conspiracy thriller genre. Indeed, many of the most acclaimed conspiracy films have been adapted from novels.

One of the early pioneers of the genre was Graham Greene, whose 1943 novel The Ministry of Fear (brought to the big screen by Fritz Lang in 1944) combines all the ingredients of paranoia and conspiracy familiar to aficionados of the 70s thrillers, with additional urgency and depth added by its wartime backdrop. Greene himself credited Michael Innes as the inspiration for his "entertainment" [1] (

The American novelist Richard Condon wrote a number of conspiracy thrillers, including the seminal The Manchurian Candidate, and Winter Kills, which was made into a film by William Richert in 1979.

There are also a number of novelists who have devoted themselves to expounding and exploring not only conspiracies, but conspiracy theories. Popular examples include The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, and the novels of Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon.

See also

External links


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