It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that our world revolves around various forms of media, ranging from traditional sources such as newspapers and television broadcasts to streaming services and social media platforms.
The frameworks of our reality are inextricably linked with the structures of modern media, curating subjective experiences for each of us based on carefully designed algorithms.
While many scholars have identified this phenomenon as the “post-truth” era, many artists have been warning us about the exploitation of information dispensation mechanisms for years now. Yes, these abuses have been amplified and accelerated by contemporary platforms such as Facebook but the concerns aren’t new at all.
Cinema has also been used as a very effective medium for propaganda but there are some masterpieces that have also warned against this inevitable corruption of information.
For the purposes of this list, we take a look at some of the greatest classics and modern masterpieces that have conducted incisive examinations of the dark side of journalism, the television industry, the internet and mainstream media.
Check out the list below.
The 10 greatest films about the dark side of the media:
10. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
Nightcrawler is probably one of the most famous modern examples of the subject at hand. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopath who is the physical manifestation of society’s overwhelming desire to consume content based on true crime featuring visceral violence.
Eager to achieve success by exploiting consumer habits, he embarks on a dark journey as a true crime journalist who tries to boost a station’s rating by capturing disturbing footage in unethical ways. In many ways, Nightcrawler shows what the illusion of the “American Dream” has morphed into today.
9. All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001)
A fantastic coming-of-age gem by the director who has been referred to as the Quentin Tarantino of Japan, All About Lily Chou-Chou tackles a strikingly important phenomenon that continues to gain traction in today’s society at incredibly scary speeds.
The film revolves around an eighth grader who retreats from the reality of his existence by immersing himself in the fandom of a music icon. Soon, he only finds comfort in the anonymity of the internet which has become a huge problem for many disaffected youth today.
8. They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)
They Live is definitely among John Carpenter’s most underrated works. It is a film that gained a cult following in subsequent years. A sci-fi critique of the indoctrinating messaging of mainstream media, the film presents us with a unique vision of what reality is.
The narrative follows a drifter who finds a pair of sunglasses but has his whole world disrupted when he discovers that the sunglasses are extraordinary. They show him that the world is actually controlled by an alien ruling class who use the media apparatuses to maintain consumerist culture.
7. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
Over the years, Citizen Kane has been cited as the greatest film of all time for multiple reasons. While some have been mesmerised by the technical innovations of the film such as Gregg Toland’s sublime cinematography, others have been deeply impacted by its sociopolitical commentary.
The story of newspaper publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane is timeless because he is an enduring symbol of capitalist decadence. As the ruler of a world where power structures can be controlled through lies and capital, Kane is proof that modern empires are almost always built on deceit.
6. The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)
Peter Weir’s 1998 psychological tragicomedy is still scary to watch, especially due to the self-propagating popularity of reality TV. However, The Truman Show provides a powerful cinematic experience to this day because it takes the concept of reality TV to its logical conclusion.
The film stars Jim Carrey in one of his finest roles as Truman Burbank – an unwanted baby who became the star of a reality TV show that broadcasts to the world 24/7. The Truman Show is a scathing indictment of the power of mass media which shapes our subjective realities without us realising it.
5. A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)
One of Elia Kazan’s greatest achievements, A Face in the Crowd tells the story of a drifter who is discovered by a radio producer and is transformed into a star. However, he is inevitably corrupted by the fame and success which soon turns him into a monster.
The film’s subtextual elements are simply fantastic, launching an attack against the omnipresent influence of corporate advertisements. This remains a huge part of the current discourse since many popular political personalities are often funded by corporate interests.
4. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
A pioneering body horror film by one of the masters of the genre, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is much more than just a horror flick. It is the translation of serious philosophical conversations and questions to the highly engaging genre frameworks beloved by everyone.
In order to boost the ratings, the head of a television station decides to provide a platform for a mysterious snuff show that glorifies torture and other forms of sexual violence. However, he ends up being consumed by human depravity while trying to understand its origins.
3. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
A masterpiece of considerable power by Sidney Lumet, Network is one of the most effective satirical takes on the pernicious machinations of television broadcasting. Sadly, Network’s satire has become the reality of the world that we have inherited.
The film chronicles a newscaster’s descent into insanity as he emerges as the prophet of outrage, a subversive threat to the traditional structures of power. However, we soon find out that even this so-called threat is manufactured, maintained and exploited by those in control of the system.
2. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
A brilliant gem from the film noir era, Sweet Smell of Success exposes the morally bankrupt world of gossip columnists and publishing heads who have long forgotten the principles of journalism. Presented through the magical cinematography by James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is an essential film for all noir fans.
The film stars Burt Lancaster as a powerful figure in the media industry who controls an influential gossip column. In order to exert patriarchal control over his sister’s sexual politics, he assigns a press agent to engage in horrible activities which end up destroying lives.
1. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
One of the crowning gems of Billy Wilder’s endlessly fascinating filmography, Ace in the Hole is the cinematic apotheosis of Wilder’s overwhelming cynicism. Probably the most definitive film ever made on the subject of journalism, it is a cautionary tale for many ambitious youngsters in the field.
Ace in the Hole features Kirk Douglas in the career-defining role of Chuck Tatum – a washed-up reporter who joins a small newspaper in Albuquerque while dreaming of going back to The New Yorker. In order to achieve his dreams, he carefully manipulates an accident and keeps the victim trapped inside a cliff dwelling while generating publicity about the worsening case that he is responsible for.