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?
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.'”
Bonus: PR in Popular Culture
PR Examples in Popular Culture
Fictitious PR professionals have made a few notable appearances in popular culture:
Stuart “Stu” Shepard (Colin Farrell) in Phone Booth is a lying publicist trapped in a phone booth.
Eli Wurman (Al Pacino) in People I Know is a press agent who knows everyone.
CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) in The West Wing works as a press secretary to the US President.
Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Sliding Doors is a hard-working PR professional with two different narratives.
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.
Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) in Thank You for Smoking is a lobbyist. His job? To lobby for Big Tobacco.
Shauna Roberts (Debi Mazar) in Entourage is a publicist for Hollywood movie stars.