Widely considered to be a 21st-century masterpiece, ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007), directed by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, is a compelling portrayal of the contest for unrivaled power in America during the turn-of-the-century petroleum boom in California. Its two claimants are: the burgeoning culture of capitalism, exemplified by silver miner turned oil prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), and the waning cultural institution of religion, symbolized by fraudulent minister Eli Sunday (Paul Dano).
This power struggle is inscribed in the epic scale of the film, which spans themes of deception, social transformation, betrayal, love, and greed for power and wealth. It tests Eli’s faith and Daniel’s humanity (the core of which lies in his son H.W.) and resurrects the early years of the business establishment by oil tycoons in the American West. If, after the end credits have rolled out, you are left wanting to explore further a similar thematic landscape characterized by intense ambition and moral ambiguity, possibly couched in a Southern setting, we recommend the following films! You can watch most of these films similar to ‘There Will Be Blood’ on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
7. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Set in the 1920s and adapted from B.Traven’s eponymous novel, this adventure film follows two poverty-stricken American drifters, Dobbs and Curtin, who join forces with an old prospector, Howard, to hunt for gold reserves in the remote Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico. While they succeed in discovering the treasure, they also find themselves confronted with evils like dangerous bandits looking to steal their wealth and the three’s own growing distrust and paranoia regarding each other’s intentions. Post its release, the film was described as “a story of psychological disintegration under the crushers of greed and gold” in a 1948 review in Variety and won in several categories at the Academy Awards in the following year.
6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Based on the novel by Ron Hansen, this film builds on the lore surrounding the James-Younger gang (a real-life 19th-century gang of American outlaws in the post-Civil War West) and its leader, Jesse James (Brad Pitt). In the story, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck‘s Bob – initially, an ardent admirer of Jesse) and Charley Ford are the gang’s recent recruits who soon grow resentful of Jesse, leading to him being shot dead by Bob. Contrary to his expectations, however, Bob finds himself being regarded as a coward and Jesse as a legend.
5. Citizen Kane (1941)
A news reporter is on a quest to decipher the meaning behind “rosebud” – the last word spoken by a recently deceased press baron, Charles Foster Kane. He discovers that the late media mogul – who is a symbol for America in the film – spent an alienated life in superficial splendor as he increasingly let go of his youthful idealism for amassing wealth and power, which ultimately proved inadequate in “buying” happiness. ‘Citizen Kane,’ which was nominated at the Oscars in 9 categories and won an award for Best Original Screenplay, is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
4. Erin Brockovich (2000)
A biographical legal drama based on environment activist Erin Brockovich’s life, this Julia Roberts-starrer (for which she won awards at the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild, among others) tells the story of an unemployed and divorced mother of three who coerces a lawyer to hire her as an assistant at his firm. There she unravels a cover-up involving the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which has been quietly releasing deadly waste into the local water supply, causing dangerous harm to their residents. Not only is the movie set in California, but it also indicts corporations for their capitalist greed for profit at the cost of social wellbeing.
3. Wall Street (1987)
Another potent critique of the capitalist trading world, Oliver Stone’s film follows Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), an ambitious stockbroker, seeking the tutelage of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the role), a seasoned Wall Street speculator, whose philosophy is “Greed is Good” and the secret to success is insider trading. Fox increasingly becomes morally bankrupt to facilitate Gekko’s shady deals until his mentor’s actions begin impacting a loved one, forcing him to re-evaluate the ethics of this business.
2. No Country for Old Men (2007)
‘No Country for Old Men‘, a highly critically acclaimed modern-day western (it received four Oscars!), is a nerve-wracking story about Llewelyn Moss, a welder, who discovers 2 million dollars when a drug deal goes wrong and decides to pocket it rather than reporting. This prompts silent murderer Chigurh to go on a killing spree to retrieve the money. Investigating the case is Sheriff Bell, who gradually begins to see the picture of horror that rural Texas has become.
1. Giant (1956)
Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson and directed by George Stevens (who won an Oscar for it), this sprawling epic depicts the mounting conflict between old aristocratic elegance and nouveau-riche flamboyance at a key moment in modern American history. It spans two decades in early 20th-century Texas, where the discovery of oil instantly makes poor ranch hands, like Jett, billionaires, and causes a rivalry between them and their former employers, like Bick, as both struggle to be the bigger “giant.” Ultimately, it is good moral values that will take precedence over bottomless wealth.