The House of Cards Effect:
11 Frank Underwoods on Film
As the Netflix original series “House of Cards” continues, and we’re exposed to fresh ways its central protagonist crushes his opponents, we thought it might be fun to look at a few memorable characters from film that share the traits of that fictional politician we all love to hate, President Frank Underwood.
The megalomaniac is a mainstay of film, offering screenwriters deeply juicy character flaws to play with. These characters always think big, and most often, they over-reach. This is catnip to audiences leading (thankfully) more mundane lives. We all love to see comeuppances, and for the most part, with movie megalomaniacs, it’s just a matter of time.
Here, we round up a few suspects whose ruthless, scheming, conniving, lying, murderous, remorseless ways show that there’s a little bit of Frank in many screen villains.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Megalomaniac: Tyrannical English ship commander, Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton).
Frank Underwood Moves: Rules with unfair iron fist, metes out harsh punishments, brutalizes subordinates, does not know when to stop, and foments mutiny. Do not get on a boat with this man.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Megalomaniac: The Wicked Witch Of The West (Margaret Hamilton).
Frank Underwood Moves: Wants “wicked” to prevail over “good” in the merry old land of Oz. Terrorizes dogs and young girls to amass power. Is as ugly inside as out.
All the King's Men (1949)
Megalomaniac: Corrupt Southern politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford).
Frank Underwood Moves: Buys off supporters, blackens names, fosters criminal zealotry in underlings. Starts out idealistic and noble, is quickly corrupted- absolutely.
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Megalomaniac: Drifter-turned-national media sensation, Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith).
Frank Underwood Moves: Berates staff, betrays love interest, builds career on amorality, fosters hypocrisy, manipulates the public, becomes hooked on adulation, self-destructs. And not a tear gets shed.
Megalomaniacs: Infamous child killers Leopold and Loeb, fictionalized here as Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie Strauss (Bradford Dillman).
Frank Underwood Moves: Commit murder solely to pull off the perfect crime and boost their delusional sense of superiority. Exhibit textbook traits of empathy-free sociopaths. In short, two real stinkers.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Megalomaniac: Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury).
Frank Underwood Moves: Uses men like chess pieces for the advancement of her own power. Tries to sacrifice her own son to get herself into the Oval office. Cold as the Arctic.
Megalomaniac: General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden).
Frank Underwood Moves: Fancies himself the last true Patriot. Appoints himself God, with the power to destroy the planet. Tries to exercise that power. Obsesses over precious bodily fluids.
Megalomaniac: TV Programming Veep (Faye Dunaway).
Frank Underwood Moves: Desperate to break through glass ceiling. To advance her cause, lives only for ratings. Quality and integrity be damned. Has sex in under 15 seconds.
Megalomaniac: Psychotic Cuban immigrant and drug kingpin Tony Montana (Al Pacino).
Frank Underwood Moves: Cocaine-fueled paranoia (usually justified), naked aggression, power-hungry, treats women like chattel, leaves a high body count.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Megalomaniac: Autocratic Guantanamo base commander, Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson).
Frank Underwood Moves: Rules through fear, gives and conceals orders with grave legal consequences, explosive grandstanding, unintended exposure of self-incriminating truth.
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Megalomaniac: Savage Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker).
Frank Underwood Move: Leads a coup, murders challengers, excels at remorselessness, grabs absolute power and exerts imperial authority. Awash in delusions of grandeur.