Googling the subject will yield you many relevant and irrelevant lists. Fact of the matter is though that most lists out there are meek or sub-par lists. Even Foreign Policy‘s Thomas E. Ricks, while doing the best job I have found so far, misses a few key terrorism flicks that could have changed the world had the average citizen paid attention. For sometime I wanted to make my own list and post it, but I wanted to conduct my research with due diligence. Also, before we examine or compose such list I must identify a working definition for the term Terrorism.
The State Department confirms that there is currently no internationally agreed upon definition of terrorism. Former U.S. ambassador Anthony Quainton and former Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Deputy Inspector General, pointed out that the task of defining terrorism has been an international challenge for American diplomats for decades. Instead, US [and world] diplomats have successfully sought to define certain limited actions as acts of terrorism.
Dr. Dorle Hellmuth states that the division regarding a definition is not just an international problem, but a domestic one as well, for example the various agencies directly dealing with terrorism hold different working variations of defining terrorism.
For the purposes of this work, I will use the working definition used by Dr. Bard O’Neill & Dr. Dorle Hellmuth. Terrorism will be defined as “premeditated threat or use of physical coercion against non-combatants or civilians to create fear in order to achieve various long and short-term political objectives.” By implication, the use of the word terrorist(s) will be used in reference to individuals associated with the aforementioned definition of terrorism.
As for the cinematographic depiction of terrorist and terrorism, many actors, directors and screen writers have attempted to portray the psyche, the complex agendas and goals of such manic individuals, yet most failed. Movies like Paradise Now and Syriana did not make the cut. Movies like The Rock and The Jackal did not make the cut because of their excessive, unrealistic action scenes and the fact that that terrorism is the backdrop to some action-packed plot.
Continuing, Orwellian flicks like Brazil or V for Vendetta would never make my cut because, simply . . . well, Orwell is not my cup of tea. Flicks like The Guns of Navarone, Inglorious Bastards or better yet, Flame & Citron did not make the list because even though both Flame and Citron terrorized the Nazi sympathizers, they were still fighting Nazis. That is my bias, and I do not consider that terrorism, I consider it good will via gunpowder.
Other notable terrorism movies have not been included for poor execution and finishing, such as United 93 & Traitor. Others, such as The Sum of All Fears, were not included because the story lines are way too silly, yeah Nazis are behind the nuclear Holocaust . . . sure, moving on. Finally, I screened World Trade Center, after all how could I not consider the one movie that focused on the ONE terror event that shook the entire world. However, here is why this flick fails: 1. The movie focuses on the fire fighters, while their sacrifices are immeasurable, lets face it, a hero was needed and they were made one, the creation of heroes for public gratification always concerns me. Idolizing firefighters was a low move. 2. This is an Oliver Stone movie, and once again, Stone is most definitely not my cup of tea, and apparently I am not the only one who “dislike” Oliver Stone.
Now that I am done ranting, introducing my list and watching every single flick again, without further ado here is The Top Ten Terrorism Movies List:
X: Team America: World Police
No. This list is NOT a joke. If it wasn’t for this movie, True Lies would have made the cut.
Even though I am starting this list with the best terrorism satire ever, this movie must be given the respect it deserves. The creators of South Park where behind this epic masterpiece and unlike any other terror flick, no side is spared the mockery. Starting with Michigan-guilty-white-man Michale Moore double fisting hotdogs and suicide bombing America’s home base, to Kim Jong Il’s confrontation with the UN representative, Team America rips the hole-less wide & loose holes.
When all else fails, just remember that freedom ain’t free. Freedom costs a buck o’five! Also, that Cairo is, in fact, in Egypt. If you watched the movie you would understand, you additionally would have witnessed the best full-feature sex scene of all time.
The only two reasons that Team America lands in the number ten slot and not any higher is, the fact that it is a puppet show, and that it is a comedy. Had they brought in the real Matt Damon to make fun of Matt Damon, this might have been Oscar worthy!
Team America nails the social critique regarding the effects of neo-terrorism pertaining to societal changes in the United States and the world. Watch it if you haven’t, you will be a better person because of it!
IX: The Dark Knight
Breaking news: not all terrorists are bearded and scream “Durka Durka, Ali Jihad” before blowing themselves up (even though those are the ones who concern me).
Some, even though not all, terrorists are manic, narcissistic lunatics, hell bent on reshaping the world. Granted this superb flick is still a comic flick, but Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker gave chills to most viewers. Contrary to previous Joker performances, where the previous Jokers (real, animated and comic) have been concerned with destroying Batman while gaining wealth and power, this Joker had an agenda; chaos and anarchy. Additionally, he utilized the basic tools of terror to advance his goals, promoting him from a notable comic villain to Gotham’s most notorious terrorist.
We also see how “frustration” and defeat lead some to switching sides and employing strong-arming methods. The birth of Two-Face out of Gotham’s White knight, Harvey Dent. If you liked the Dark Knight, rewatch it with the terrorism critique lens, you will see it in such a different light!
VIII: The Peacemaker
Watching this movie for the first time might leave you thinking ”ok here is another movie where George Clooney plays himself”, Hollywood’s best act-less-actor. The movie itself is a solid B in execution, the attention to details is not all that, and the acting is bland, considering Clooney’s attempts to be a renegade colonel who will stop at nothing to feed the audience bad acting.
In this flick, two trains crash somewhere in Russia, one carrying nuclear warheads. One of the war heads get lost/stolen and, guess what, they start using the term Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) so liberally, like it is going out of style. Gosh, I miss those days when WMD was NOT a dirty word!
This movie made the list because the general plot is more than plausible, in fact such scenario keeps terrorism experts awake at night. Lets all pray (or what ever else you do) that this does not happen! Sadly though, with folks like A.Q. Khan, the former USSR’s loose nukes, and the determination of bearded loonies, WMDs represent a grave danger to us, the people who value what ever those villians deem blasphemous.
After Black September‘s assassination of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir okays an ultra-top secret operation to hunt down and kill all involved. A team of five gathers in Switzerland led by Avner, a low-level Mossad officer, son of an Israeli war hero. It’s an expendable team, but relying on paid informants, they track and kill several in Europe and Lebanon.
The execution of this flick is superior, after all it is a Spielberg movie. This movie is great because it shows us two important aspects about modern terrorism: 1. Terrorism, unfortunately works, or worked to some extent. 2. Terrorism, decades prior to 9/11/2001, was a “touchy” issue to deal with. 3. There are many ways to deal with terrorism, the way portrayed in this movie is savage, vengeful and leaves everyone involved hollow on the inside.
The question though, isn’t this the best way to deal with it?! Definitely worth watching a couple of times, specially for the last scene. It slaps me across the face every time I watch it.
VI: Fight Club
Beware of any man who sells soap! The genius of this movie was recognized by many critics and movie viewers alike, it is a cult classic, a box office hit and a masterpiece of its time. The recognition however came for its originality and the fact that most of us can relate to the frustrations of the main character(s). It is rarely praised for the fact that it portrays the journey of an average man towards eminent terrorism to advance his social/political goals.
The movie might not show much of the terrorism activity that we, the viewers, are inclined to assume continues after the final scene, but the movie surly shows the world the workings of the generic radicalization process.
The inner voice that tells you what you will do with mass-destruction is justified, is needed and is inevitable. Some find it in the fine lines of scripture, others in the bad-ass Brad Pitt.
V: Patriot Games
How could such list be complete without a movie about the IRA and the Irish struggle? Many movies were made about the Irish struggle for independence, unfortunately, in my opinion, not one of them has completely conveyed the struggle.
Perhaps Michael Collins has, but then I couldn’t consider it for this list, the reason being is the fine line between the struggle for independence using violent methods and the application of terror tactics, Michael Collins was an Irish leader, I personally cannot dub him a terrorist. Many terrorism experts refrain from labeling him one as well.
Enough about Collins. Patriot Games captures Irish terrorism with a Tom Clancy touch. It helps that Hans Solo is at the helm with the man behind Darth Vader‘s voice lining the background of this flick. Perhaps unrealistic and more focused on the twists and turns in the plot, but Patriot Games offers an original and cool outlook on terror.
IV: Double Feature — Body of Lies & The Kingdom
This double feature of excellent attempts to explain the US and Arab World intelligence agencies’ relations, though it might have failed at delivering the intricacies of such relations to the common viewer, it has certainly captured the attention of the knowledgeable one.
Body of Lies might have many unrealistic moments, just remember, these are “movies” after all. The movie however earns its spot in the top ten for its strong attempt to explain the relationship between the US & Jordanian (Arab representation) intelligence. Also, the movie portrays many counter-terrorism generic personalities. Hani Pasha clearly stands out, and if you know anything about intelligence figures in the Middle East, you will see a little bit of Hani Pasha in many of those folks in the sandbox.
The Kingdom, in my opinion is a bit more realistic. The movie takes place mostly in Saudi Arabia, following a joint US (FBI) – Saudi (Police) team that is investigating an explosio in an ex-pat compound in Saudi Arabia. The movie was great in showing some of the Saudi internal dealings with such issues, the problems between the different security branches of the Saudi government, and the cultural/working relations issues between Americans and Saudis.
Saudi Colonel Ghazy stands out in the crowd, he definitely portrays another type of Arab defender of freedom, a very unique one. Worth the watch if you have not yet.
Come to think of it, I would give The Kingdom the fourth rank, and Body of Lies would get 4.5.
III: The Baader Meinhof Complex
Why? Because it depicts such a unique type of modern terrorism, and the trailer says it all. It is also one of the few movies that portray real historical scenes as factually as possible, see for your self, the pictures from the real trials of Baader & Ensslin and the dramatized silver screen adaptation.
If The Weathermen Underground was not a documentary, it would have probably replaced this one in the ranking. What an interesting, short lived phase in the history of terrorism, Red Army and anarchist movements were spurting out all over the globe. The Baader Meinhof Complex portrays that era well.
It only could have been better if it was less German. That is all I have to say about this flick. It is so interesting and many will find it educational, because this part of history has been buried so deep because no one wants to remember it.
II: The Battle of Algiers
This movie could have been easily in the number one spot. Even though it is in French and about Algeria, the movie is so damn good that I have to give it this ranking. It is only second to the first, which you will read about shortly, because this one accounts history, while the other does not, it foretells the future! No rush we’ll get to that shortly.
The Battle of Algiers tells of the gruesome struggle between the French and the Algerians. To the movie’s credit, it does not utilize a single shot of documentary/news footage, the crowd/extra control and management is phenomenal. The movie was banned in France in 1965 (that fact bumped its ranking up one point). It was screened by the Pentagon in 2003 in the midst of the efforts of planning for Stabilization & Reconstruction (S&R) in Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations, and rightfully so. The movie gives a detailed account of Algerian terrorism, and the failed French response.
I: The Siege
The movie that eloquently predicted the events of September 11, 2001 and got erased from the history of cinema. It was the first DVD I ever bought, in fact I bought it on DVD before I owned a DVD player, this was in September of 1999, creepy I know! Even though I had no prior knowledge of the movie, the trailer caught my attention and boy was it worth every cent I paid for it!
This movie gets the crown for so many reasons, and even though I love seeing NYC under martial law and thrown off its arrogant-beat by the federal government, this is not one of the reasons why this movie is great. As you have probably already concluded from the previous nine reviews, I am judging the movies based on their realism, creativity, acting, setting, etc.
The Siege gets full marks for the depiction of the terrorist cells that were the model in conducting the horrific events of September 11. This flick depicts America pre and post a huge terrorism plot in the big apple, I sincerely consider it a warning shot for our conscience, at least those of us who saw it before we saw the real tragedy happen. Thank God the government did not go as far as the government in the movie did. It could have happened though.
Great plot, and great execution. The best thing about this movie is how it portrays the development of fear as the attacks escalate. The relations between cell informants and agents who are way too deep in the Intel community is also notable in this flick. Watch it if you have not yet, and when you are watching, remember that it was made over two years prior to 9/11/2001.