Tyrannical Tyrants & Unruly Rulers

by Alexander Miller

Created 01/08/14

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Kings, Emperors, Tsars, Presidents, and Dictators !
A list of films that center on powerful people. Whether they're based on fact, or fact based, powerful people usually lead to powerful films.

  • A very well crafted film chronicling the life of Puyi China's (as the title implies) last emperor. Artfully mixing politics and theatrical storytelling, Bertolucci's sweeping epic is a unique journey.

  • An epic that works both as conventional epic, and Stalinist allegory. Although Eisenstein's talking pictures lack the technical innovation of his earlier works, both parts 1 and 2 of the Ivan films are still rich with innovation and style.

  • Some may disagree, but Part II is just as compelling as it's predecessor. Loaded with inventive set's and symbolism this entry reflects a filmmaker whose equally fascinated with the art of movie making and the politics of his country.

  • Extravagant visuals, and an absorbing performance from Marlene Dietrich are the two key components that make The Scarlet Empress stand out. Noted for being one of the last films to slide past the Hays code upon it's release.

  • The relationship between Georges Danton and Maximillen Robespierre was a key element in the French Revolution and the end of the Reign of Terror. Gerard Depardieu does an incredible job bringing Danton to life with a very lively, physical performance. It may seem odd that such a realized film about the French Revolution was made by a known Polish director, as a way to draw parallels to his native countries modern political climate, or maybe that's what makes this film so special?

  • I was curious about this film when I first heard of it. Rossellini, known as a key player in the Italian Neo-Realist movement turns to a period drama about the famed "Sun King" of France. The results are fascinating, both the historical notes, and the methods employed by Rossellini modifies the genre of historical biography by humanising the deified king.

  • I sometimes feel like this film should be in the horror section. The title basically sums up the content of the film. An important documentary for all the material that Barbet Schroeder captured. However the film really speaks for itself and needs to be seen.

  • It may seem Altman is at his best with large casts, overlapping dialogue and freewheeling narratives. And that may be true. But Secret Honor is a rare piece of filmmaking. Whether it's an "Altman film" isn't the point when discussing film. It's the material, and the bravura performance by Philip Baker Hall.

  • The working relationships John Ford had with his actors made for some great films. And Young Mr. Lincoln is one of the best examples of what that can yield. Henry Fonda's performance is delicate, strong, and evenly realized. Very good material, acting and directing bring Abraham Lincoln to life through the imagination of one of America's greatest filmmakers.

  • The story of an aging Sicilian prince coming to terms with the changing political and social climate of 19th century Italy may seem unrelatable. But Visconti tells this tale with such delicate balance it draws you into the story, and various personalities. Widely renowned for it's visual assets, The Leopard is also an interesting in it's ability to tell a story about aristocratic figures who aren't warped by power or greed.

  • When I hear "Olivier" I automatically think Shakespeare. And of all of his adaptations, Richard III might be his best rendition of a maniacal tyrant's quest for power. And Olivier's performance of the sinister king and his rise and fall is a classic.

  • A unique examination of power and identity. Here we don't see the corrosive nature of authority thorough the actions of a powerful warlord. Kagemusha centers on a petty thief who is spared because of his uncanny resemblance to the emperor. Living his life as a impersonating emperor we see a person who has to live a secretive double life, and we sympathize with him every step of the way.

  • The only director whose Shakespeare inspired work I prefer to the original Shakespeare is Kurosawa. And Ran is the film that brought me to that conclusion. Kurosawa's King Lear is the frame work for some of the most elaborate battle sequences, and set pieces ever filmed. All of this revolving around a family imploding on itself as they destroy each other over the throne of their aging father.

  • Another excellent Olivier Shakespeare adaptation. Olivier even got a special academy award for acting, producing and directing this epic.

  • Lively, colorful, wonderfully paced and fun every step of the way. Great special effects and story telling make the Thief of Bagdad a treasure of epic cinema. And Jafar is the embodiment of an evil dude.

  • It's almost impossible to argue that there isn't some connective tissue tying Charles Chaplin to almost every other comedic film. And The Great Dictator is him at the top of his game. And no other filmmaker could pull off a feat such as this, and do it with the perfected balance of humor and drama that Chaplin achieves. It takes a special type of talent to spoof one of the worlds most horrifying figures.

  • Pythons story of a mistaken messiah is equally hilarious and a telling depiction of faith and the actions of those who may have too much of it.

  • Dreyers hugely influential and haunting chronicle of Joan of Arc. Her trial, and execution are realized with all the spiritual cross examination that make Dreyer a genius. Although this would be Falconetti's only starring role her performance perfectly embodies that of someone whose beliefs are persecuted by those corrupted by power.

  • Burt Lancaster delivers an unforgettable performance as the menacing J.J. Hunsecker, a ruthless columnist who is not only warped by power and authority of the press. (including his influence over his snarky press agent played with equal greatness by Curtis) Hunseckers Hearst like control is only heightened to a new level of creepiness by his skin crawling infatuation with his younger sister. Creepy,scary weird, and that's only one character in this vivid, gritty, perfectly written piece of New York drama.

  • It's almost impossible to say anything about this film without mentioning the hail of arrows at the end. So just to get that out of the's awesome! One of the best finales ever! I don't think Mifune is really acting at that point either, real archers sent those things whizzing by, I'd be screaming too. This, in my opinion might be Kurosawa's best Shakespeare adaptation. Well paced, creepy witch, evil coming to power story, it all works. And, a killer finale!


  • By Eric Levy
    January 13, 2014
    05:42 AM

    Terrific list Alexander! And very thoroughly researched. One possible addition: Apparently Shakespeare's MACBETH is loosely based on a real Scottish king, so can THRONE OF BLOOD count?
  • By Alexander Miller
    January 13, 2014
    01:06 PM

    Yeah, Throne of Blood is on it's way. I started this list the other day and before I finished writing it up I saw it was already on the wall! So it's still under construction, I also want to add Alexander Nevsky, Hamlet, and perhaps If..
  • By Alexander Miller
    April 18, 2014
    10:52 AM

    I can't see why not, he was pretty unruly.