15 of the Best Movies About Huge Liars

Screenshot:  Miramax / Paramount Pictures / Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Miramax / Paramount Pictures / Amazon Prime Video

In an age of fake news and casual disinformation, it’s reassuring, in a sense, to know that we can still be surprised and/or amused by falsehoods. Enter freshman Congressman George Santos, a Long Island Republican who, it turns out, isn’t capable of being honest about even a single thing.

It seems Santos has lied about (or at least, thus far, been unwilling or unable to verify information about) his education, his Jewish background (including a family flight from the Holocaust), his finances, his relationships with multiple Pulse nightclub victims, his involvement with several jobs and charities, his marital status, and his mother’s death during the events of 9/11 (deeply confusing, since she also appears to have died in 2016). It’s good news that we’re still able to express collective outrage about this sort of thing; less good that there have yet to be any consequences other than some very public snickering. He certainly wouldn’t be the first American politician to get away with telling wild and easily disproven lies.

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Still, this particular politician stands unmasked, at least for the moment, and that’s worth a brief moment of celebration—possibly by watching some movies that deal with compulsive liars who ply their lying trades for fun and profit.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)


The talented mr. Ripley - best scene - Key to the basement.

While Patricia Highsmith’s novel offered up a more gleeful sociopath, Anthony Minghella’s movie adaptation offers room for a bit of pathos without letting Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley off the hook. Here, he’s a man who becomes buried in his own lies: Initially mistaken for a Princeton grad thanks to a borrowed jacket, he’s taken by the father of the shiftless Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to pursue the son to Italy, all expenses paid. Who could say no? Ripley, through his natural talent for prevarication and his growing obsession with Dickie (he simultaneously wants him and wants to be him), slowly becomes buried under the weight of his lies, one compounding another, until murder seems like his only way out.

Where to stream: Showtime, Fubo

Frost/Nixon (2008)


Frost/Nixon (7/9) Movie CLIP - When the President Does It, It’s Not Illegal (2008) HD

The patron saint of political prevaricators, Richard Nixon has often been a subject of fictional movies and docudramas, but is as slippery in death as he was in life. Director Ron Howard takes a stab by coming from another angle: the 1977 televised interviews with Nixon (Frank Langella) by David Frost (Michael Sheen). With Frost seen as a lightweight, Nixon and company assumed they could use him to massage the narrative surrounding the Watergate cover-up and the former President’s subsequent resignation; instead, Nixon’s burning desire to confess leads him to put the final nail in the coffin of his legacy. His arrogance made him believe his cleverness would prevail, and his burning desire for confession laid everything bare.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Dick (1999)


Dick (1999) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD 1080p]

Sticking with Nixon for a moment, Dick plays the Watergate era as a teen-pal farce, Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as best pals who stumble into the Watergate break-in while having no idea what they’ve become involved with. Winding up in the orbit of the president (a perfectly cast Dan Hedaya), the two first see him as a gruff but genial father figure before slowly coming to accept that he’s not all he seems to be. It’s a bit of a metaphor for the country’s (often overstated) coming-of-age in the era, though the movie posits that the scrupulous honesty (to the point of extreme naïveté) of Betsy and Arlene would be more than a match for Nixon’s greed and corruption.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Catch Me if You Can (2002)


Catch Me If You Can: I’m a doctor (HD CLIP)

Now for the fun, jet-setting side of compulsive lying: Steven Spielberg’s film tells the true-ish story of Frank Abagnale, who claimed to have gone from being a simple confidence trickster into posing as a Pan Am pilot (and also a doctor, among other faked professions) and forging payroll checks to the tune of millions of dollars (it’s not entirely clear if the real Abagnale was exaggerating in his memoir, an ambiguity which plays well into the story). Though pursued by a plucky FBI agent played by Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Abagnale is mostly having fun with his borrowed jet-set lifestyle.

Where to stream: Digital rental

The Great Imposter (1961)


The Great Imposter Trailer 1960

As you can tell from the trailer, Tony Curtis plays a fictional version of the real-life con-man and imposter Ferdinand Waldo Demara (though, unlike many professional tricksters, Demara seems to have been into lying just for the fun of it). His impersonations included (among many other jobs) a surgeon, a sheriff’s deputy, an assistant prison warden at a prison, a psychologist, a hospital orderly, a lawyer, Benedictin and Trappist monks, a cancer researcher, and a teacher—Curtis plays just some of those beats, but does so with a real comic verve. This isn’t really a movie about comeuppance, and there’s a sly twist ending that makes clear that lying for fun is better than lying for profit.

Where to stream: The Roku Channel

The Lady Eve (1941)


The Lady Eve (1/10) Movie CLIP - She Knows His Type (1941) HD

It’s pretty tough to hate Barbara Stanwyck’s Jean Harrington (aka Lady Eve Sidwich), even though she begins the movie as a confidence trickster in league with her card shark father, looking to scam Henry Fonda’s impossible dorky snake-expert, Hopsie Pike. In screwball comedy fashion, she even contrives a doppelgänger and a marriage before falling in actual love with Pike. Should she be in jail? Almost certainly...but she’s surprisingly easy to forgive.

Where to stream: The Criterion Channel

Double Indemnity (1944)


How Fast Was I Going, Officer? - Double Indemnity (2/9) Movie CLIP (1944) HD

I’m allowing two very different Barbara Stanwyck performances to stand in here for the entirety of the classic-era femme fatale film. Where she played a far lighter and sillier version of a con woman in The Lady Eve, here she plays Phyllis Dietrichson, who lures the ostensibly straight-laced insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into a plot to murder her husband for the insurance money...which is far too straightforward for a movie of this caliber. Dietrichson is running more than one double-cross at once, and is so good at it that, even at the end, it’s impossible to say with certainty what was true in her relationship with Neff and what were lies.

Where to stream: Digital rental

What’s Up, Doc (1972)


What’s Up, Doc? (1972) - Dangerously Unbalanced Woman Scene (3/10) | Movieclips

There’s a sense in which Barbra Streisand’s memorable neo-screwball heroine Judy Maxwell is a compulsive liar, but only in that she’s an agent of utter chaos. She uses absolute truth (and her thorough, but unconventional, education) and wild falsehoods nearly interchangeably, in ways that ensure the maximum trickster energy in every scene. One of the movie’s key bits has her impersonating the fiancee of Ryan O’Neal’s Howard Bannister such that not only is she fully convincing, she’s far more convincing than the actual Eunice (Madeline Kahn), and leaves Howard wondering if he’s even made the right romantic choice. Unlike many of these other selections, Peter Bogdanovich’s film posits that lying can be a lot more fun than telling the truth. Do with that message what you will.

Where to stream: Digital rental

The Usual Suspects (1995)


The Usual Suspects (7/10) Movie CLIP - Keyser Soze (1995) HD

Nearly the entirety of The Usual Suspects is framed as one big flashback, as narrated to U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) by small-time (seemingly) crook ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey, who, along with the film’s director Bryan Singer, might know something about lying). The movie’s ending calls into question everything we’ve just witnessed; it’s unclear if Kint was lying compulsively or just to cover his own actions, but it’s clear that he’s very good at it.

Where to stream: Showtime, Fubo

Shattered Glass (2003)


Shattered Glass (2003) Official Trailer #1 - Hayden Christensen Movie HD

Hayden Christensen plays Stephen Glass, a real-life journalist with the New Republic whose career crashed spectacularly when it was determined that most of his stories either contained fictions or were outright fabrications. The movie charts Glass’s downfall, with Christensen giving an impressively harried performance as someone furiously scrambling to cover up his lies with more lies.

Where to stream: Tubi, Hoopla

Thank You for Smoking (2005)


Thank You for Smoking (1/5) Movie CLIP - The Joan Show (2005) HD

Aaron Eckhart is brilliantly smarmy as a big tobacco lobbyist who leads a double life: spinning, and often outright fabricating, the truth about cigarettes on behalf of the big suppliers, while also trying to maintain his status as a role model for his son. It’s all done in over-the-top satirical style, but not all that far removed from the type of corporate spin that we see on the regular in our real world. The family angle isn’t here to soften Eckhart’s character or make him more likable, instead serving to remind us of the type of duplicity of which he’s capable.

Where to stream: Starz

The Departed (2006)


The Departed (3/5) Movie CLIP - Costello Smells a Rat (2006) HD

Pretty much everyone’s lying in The Departed (based on the equally great Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong), all the time. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a south Boston cop who goes undercover in a criminal organization only to discover that a criminal (he doesn’t know that it’s Matt Damon’s Colin Sullivan) has infiltrated the police department. Each is hip-deep in lies related to their false jobs (with Costigan engaging in real criminal activity as part of his cover), and each is aware that he has an opposite who needs to be rooted out.

Where to stream: TNT, TBS, truTV

Barry Lyndon (1975)


Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (New Trailer 2016) - In cinemas 29 July | BFI release

Stanley Kubrick’s drama, smartly, doesn’t judge Ryan O’Neal’s Barry Lyndon...it doesn’t have to. He’s largely a character without any defining morality, and one to whom events occur that he doesn’t take much hand in shaping. He’s not the gleeful, compulsive liar featured in many of these other movies...just someone with a deeply slippery grasp of the truth. When it suits him to tell the truth (as when he confesses a plot to entrap a spy to the spy almost immediately after accepting the job), he does so, but he’s perfectly content to lie if it’s the easiest route to what he wants. He’s a more believable, relatable liar, perhaps, then the outsized con-artists or George Santoses of the world, and no less fascinating for it.

Where to stream: Digital rental

The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012)


The Story Of A Fake 9/11 Survivor | The Woman Who Wasn’t There | Documentary Central

This documentary’s director, Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr. was in the middle of a collaboration with Tania Head for a documentary about survivors from the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Head’s harrowing tale had made her a spokesperson for others for years after those events...except that, as it turns out, she was never there at all (the doc’s title being a giveaway). So the priority of the film shifted and became, instead, a portrait of a compulsive liar and a woman who placed herself at the center of one of the nation’s key moments.

Where to stream: Prime Video, Tubi, Vudu, Pluto, Plex

The Unknown Known (2013)


The Unknown Known Official Trailer #1 (2014) - Donald Rumsfeld Documentary HD

Errol Morris’ documentary on two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld winds up being a fascinating portrait of one of the most significant political figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and one with absolutely no capability for self-reflection whatsoever, and a complete willingness to dismiss even the most egregious contradictions in his career with a smirk. It’s deeply frustrating in that regard, and so ultimately doesn’t succeed as some of Morris’ other docs do, but still essential: It never feels like Rumsfeld is lying, particularly when talking about the falsehoods that lead to the Iraq War, but that he’s convinced himself of some alternate truths, or convinced himself not to care. Contradictions are dismissed in a whirlwind of meaningless words and catchphrases. There’s no catharsis here, but it’s an essential insight into the type of personality that would lie for a living, for decades, and do so gleefully.

Where to stream: Digital rental

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