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12 Essential PR Movies Every Spin Doctor Should Watch

Our profession is worthy of a little drama, right?

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

In the mood for some PR movies?

Well, let’s face it. 

There’s not exactly an abund­ance of PR movies. Still, there are a few; who­ever said that our industry isn’t worthy of a little drama? 

Keep Calm - I'm a Spin Doctor
I’ve got this.

Please note that I haven’t included any “PR movies” about sports agents (“Show me the money!”), okay?

Here we go:

Wag the Dog (1997)

Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, and Woody Harrelson. This com­edy is dark and witty about how a spin doc­tor helps start an ima­gin­ary war. This is simply the one movie you must watch while work­ing in the pub­lic rela­tions industry.

Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean: “You watched the Gulf War, what do you see day after day? The one smart bomb fall­ing down the chim­ney. The truth? I was in the build­ing when we shot that shot — we shot in a stu­dio, Falls Church, Virginia. One-tenth scale mod­el of a build­ing.“
Stanley Motts: “Is that true?“
Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean: “How the fuck do we know? You take my point?”

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

A dark satire about the spin doc­tor Nick Naylor who hustles for Big Tobacco while try­ing to be a role mod­el for his son. There are so many epic one-liners, and the comed­ic tim­ing makes the under­ly­ing dark­ness bearable.

Kid #3: “My Mommy says smoking kills.“
Nick Naylor: “Oh, is your Mommy a doc­tor?“
Kid #3: “No.“
Nick Naylor: “A sci­entif­ic research­er of some kind?“
Kid #3: “No.“
Nick Naylor: “Well, then she’s hardly a cred­ible expert, is she?”

Phone Booth (2002)

Colin Farrell plays a slimy pub­li­cist who gets ter­ror­ised by an angry man (Kiefer Sutherland) via tele­phone. It’s a weird plot, but it’s strangely enjoy­able to see Colin Farrell try to weasel his way out of the situation.

The Caller: “You’re in this pos­i­tion because you’re not telling the truth.“
Stu: “No, I’m in this fuck­ing pos­i­tion because YOU HAVE A GUN!”

Primary Colors (1998)

If you like John Travolta and Emma Thompson, this could be a movie for you. It cov­ers the plays behind the scenes of a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. The movie is said to have been inspired by President Bill Clinton’s campaign.

Richard Jemmons: “The media giv­eth, and go fuck yourself.”

The Candidate (1972)

Robert Redford plays a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate who gets his ideals taken for a spin.

Lucas: “You’re the Democratic nom­in­ee!“
Bill McKay: “You make it sound like a death sentence.”

Jersey Girl (2004)

I’m not a fan of Ben Affleck, but Liv Tyler is a great act­ress in this rela­tion­ship drama about a spin doc­tor who must re-eval­u­ate his career focus.

Ollie: “Convincing a town to approve some­thing that’s already in their best interest, that’s just delayed com­mon sense!”

The Social Network (2010)

Mark Zuckerberg is the ori­gin­al online spin doc­tor as he gets his social net­work off the ground.

Sean Parker: “You’re twenty minutes late. You’re gonna walk in there and say you over­slept and did­n’t have time to get dressed. They’re gonna pitch you. Case Equity is gonna pitch you. They’re gonna beg you to take their money. You’re gonna nod, you’re gonna nod, you’re gonna nod, and then you’re gonna say, ‘Which one of you is Roth?’ No, not Roth. Manningham. ‘Which one of you is Mitchell Manningham?’ And he’ll say, ‘I am.’ And then you say, ‘Sean Parker says, Fuck you.’ Walk out.”

The Insider (1999)

Crisis com­mu­nic­a­tions, whis­tleblowers, and Big Tobacco. Add Al Pacino and Russel Crowe, and it’s a per­fect storm of a thriller.

Lowell Bergman: “We’ve got a guy who wants to talk, but he’s con­strained. What if he were com­pelled?“
Mike Wallace: “Oh, tor­ture. Great ratings.”

People I Know (2002)

Yet anoth­er slimy pub­li­cist gets in over his head. Al Pacino is fant­ast­ic, though, as per usual.

Eli Wurman: “I’ve got a star­let in here with more drugs than I’ve ever seen. We could start a cartel.”

The Ides of March (2012)

Ryan Gosling is a polit­ic­al staffer who gets a crash course in dirty cam­paign­ing. Yet anoth­er pres­id­en­tial cam­paign movie.

Stephen Meyers: “If you want to be pres­id­ent, you can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bank­rupt the coun­try, but you can­’t fuck the interns. They’ll get you for that.”

In the Loop (2009)

A group of British spin doc­tors goes to America to pre­vent a war.

Malcolm Tucker: “ ‘Climbing the moun­tain of con­flict?’ You soun­ded like a Nazi Julie Andrews!”

Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

Sandra Bullock plays a spin doc­tor sent to re-elect a con­tro­ver­sial pres­id­ent in Bolivia.

Jane: “That’s the world, that’s polit­ics. That’s how it works. It starts out with big prom­ises and ends up with jack­shit hap­pen­ing. But like the man said: ‘If vot­ing changed any­thing, they’d make it illegal.’ ”

Wag the Dog - What is public relations
Conrad Breen (Robert De Niro) and Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) in Wag the Dog (1997).
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Fictitious PR pro­fes­sion­als have made a few not­able appear­ances in pop­u­lar culture:

  • Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) in Wag the Dog is a spin doc­tor called in to help the US pres­id­ent man­age — and, when pos­sible, also avoid — a series of crises.
  • Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) in The West Wing is an intro­ver­ted com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or who writes press releases in his head.
  • Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) in Sex and the City is a media rela­tions spe­cial­ist, but her job isn’t exactly the series’ focus.
  • Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) in Thank You for Smoking is a lob­by­ist. His job? To lobby for Big Tobacco.
  • CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) in The West Wing is a press sec­ret­ary to the US President. 
  • Eli Wurman (Al Pacino) in People I Know is a press agent who knows everyone.
  • Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Sliding Doors is a hard-work­ing PR pro­fes­sion­al with two narratives.
  • Shauna Roberts (Debi Mazar) in Entourage is a pub­li­cist for Hollywood movie stars.
  • Stuart “Stu” Shepard (Colin Farrell) in Phone Booth is a lying pub­li­cist trapped in a phone booth.

Learn more: 12 PR Movies Every Spin Doctor Should Watch

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

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