It’s remarkable how many people can hold in their heads the contrary views that the government can’t do anything right, but the government can also engineer complex conspiracies.
In the movies, government conspiracies and secret projects abound, usually in massive underground lairs with shiny surfaces and walls bristling with high-tech equipment.
Such a government lab is the setting for Guillermo del Toro’s sea-monster movie “The Shape of Water,” which opens this Friday. Here are seven other movies about secret government projects.
1. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Chinese Communists devise a fiendish plot to take down American democracy, brainwashing a U.S. Army officer (Laurence Harvey) to assassinate a presidential candidate so his running mate (James Gregory) — the dim-bulb right-wing husband of the officer’s scheming mother (Angela Lansbury) — can unwittingly stage a coup. Director John Frankenheimer’s intense thriller also boasts Frank Sinatra as the Army officer who uncovers the plot and Janet Leigh as his sympathetic love interest.
2. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Computer expert Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) invents a supercomputer capable of controlling all the nuclear weapons of the United States and its allies. But Forbin doesn’t predict that the Soviets have their own computer and that the two computers will team up to subjugate all humankind to enforce peace. It’s a bit campy now, but it’s still an effective parable about the dangers of putting machines in charge of life-and-death decisions.
3. The Andromeda Strain (1971)
When a returning satellite unleashes a deadly contagion on a small Arizona town, five scientists are called to a top-secret government lab buried under the Nevada desert to investigate and find a cure. Robert Wise directed this smart, sleek adaptation of Michael Crichton’s first novel, which may not be as exciting as “Jurassic Park,” but the science is more authentic.
4. The Parallax View (1974)
Warren Beatty plays a reporter who’s looking into the assassination of a senator (atop the Space Needle in Seattle, of all places). He winds up uncovering a conspiracy where one corporation is manipulating every major world event in director Alan J. Pakula’s riveting paranoid thriller.
5. Capricorn One (1977)
Astronauts are about to launch on the first manned mission to Mars when they’re instead taken to a remote soundstage to fake the whole thing. Elliott Gould plays the reporter who tries to blow the lid on the conspiracy in writer-director Peter Hyams’ slick thriller. (This movie doesn’t get shown much anymore, ever since the actor who played one of the astronauts, O.J. Simpson, was accused of murdering his wife.)
6. Men In Black (1997)
Interstellar threats to the Earth apparently happen all the time, but they’re quietly handled by an elite squad of agents who clean up the mess and erase the memories of the witnesses. That’s the premise of director Barry Sonnenfeld’s charming action comedy, which got considerable mileage out of the unlikely pairing of mega-cool Will Smith and straight-arrow Tommy Lee Jones.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The Marvel universe gets into paranoid-thriller mode as Cap (Chris Evans) discovers that his do-gooder agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is secretly controlled by the evil Hydra. The coup for directors Joe and Anthony Russo was enlisting Robert Redford, star of such paranoid thrillers as “Three Days of the Condor” and “All the President’s Men,” as the main baddie.