Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas Industry

Providing energy must arguably involve one of the world’s most complex supply chains, affecting governments, corporations and all the proverbial middle men alike. Mark Fraser looks at 10 cinematic instances when the oil and gas industries influence the lives of those who are directly – or somehow indirectly – touched by them.

10. Hellfighters (Andrew V McLaglen, 1968)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas IndustrySurely this must be somewhat prototypical – a movie depicting corporate oil producers and the Third World (read Venezuelan) military where there’s not a corrupt person in sight. Furthermore, the only baddies in this part of the world are some naughty insurgent rebel fighter pilots intent on undermining American business interests. Possibly one of the most wholesome depictions of the US energy sector ever committed to celluloid. Also, a peculiar quirk occurs in the middle of the film when professional oil well fire fighter Chance Buckman (John Wayne) meets his ex-wife Madelyn (Vera Miles) for dinner while Charlie Parker’s “I’ll Remember April” plays briefly as background music. Almost 10 years later William Friedkin used the original version of this tune in Sorcerer (see below). One can now only wonder if Friedkin was paying some kind of gimmicky homage to this splashy and sometimes cheesy nonsense when he chose the music or if its inclusion in his existential opus was just one of those bizarre coincidences.

9. The Formula (John G Alvidsen, 1980)

“The Formula” No Recipe For Spin - Top 10 FilmsGeorge C Scott plays a LA detective who is trying to discover the secret behind the titular formula, which has the potential to seriously undermine the balance sheets of the global oil cartels. Unfortunately he comes up against a waffling Marlon Brando, who does for fossil fuels what his Colonel Kurtz did for the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now. Aside from a half reasonable opening (in which – during the final European moments of World War II – Berlin is being bombed by the advancing Russians while escaped zoo elephants roam the streets), this not-so-exciting and convoluted detective thriller ends up being way more talk than action.
Discover More: “The Formula” No Recipe For Spin

8. Oklahoma Crude (Stanley Kramer, 1973)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas IndustryAn old fashioned tale about how determined individualism can take on corporate greed as defiant oil driller/land owner Lena Doyle (Faye Dunaway) – along with a hired gun man (George C. Scott) and her father (John Mills) – stands up to the big guys (led by Jack Palance) who are trying to take over her well. Not surprisingly, an unlikely romance briefly ensues between the strong willed woman and her not-so-hot enforcer. Being a Stanley Kramer movie, it’s obvious whose side the audience should take. Arguably the director’s last enjoyable movie.

7. Giant (George Stevens, 1956)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas IndustryWho could forget the moment when Jett Rink (James Dean) first discovers oil, particularly as the rest of this sprawling melodrama – even with its climatic punch-up – is quite dull? Another sweeping piece of George Stevens’ Americana, this time focusing on the rich Texan family of Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson) and Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) and what it endures between the 1920s and the second half of the 1940s. Despite moments of tedium, it’s still interesting to watch now because of the cast – aside from the above-mentioned leads, it also stars a young Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker and hunky Australian Rod Taylor. The fact it was Dean’s last movie also adds some historical allure.

6. (TIE) Jarhead (Sam Mendes, 2005)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas Industry“The Earth is bleeding,” US Marine Corp sniper Tony “Swoff” Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) observes as he and his unit come across the burning oil fields of Kuwait during 1990’s Operation Desert Storm, when the tiny Arab country was briefly invaded by Iraq after the Kuwaitis started stealing Iraqi oil via horizontal drilling beneath the two nations’ adjoining border. Director Sam Mendes adds a truly surreal touch when an oil-covered horse emerges from – and disappears back into – the desert darkness as it tries to escape the black rain. It’s a moment Werner Herzog might have liked (see below).

6. (TIE) Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1996)

Bruce Willis in ArmageddonIt takes an oil driller (Bruce Willis) and his motley crew to save the Earth, and thus greater humankind, from being destroyed by an approaching giant asteroid. This begs the question: Could the renewable energies sector produce a hero of this calibre?

5. Lessons of Darkness AKA Lektionen in Finsternis (Werner Herzog, 1992)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas IndustryOnly someone with the balls of Herzog – who is arguably one of the world’s greatest living film makers – could have made this Apocalyptic documentary about the aftermath of the 1990 Gulf War, when Western contractors were given the task of putting out the burning oil wells that were ignited by Saddam Hussein’s retreating army. Spectacular, horrifying and at times hallucinogenic, this truly does reveal a world gone mad.

4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

There Will Be Blood, Top 10 FilmsAfter trying his hand as a silver miner, prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) discovers oil in southern California during the early 1900s, after which he becomes one of modern American cinema’s most self-centred, mean spirited bastards. In some ways this is kind of like Giant in an emotionally desolate parallel universe.
Discover More: Top 50 Films of the 2000s

3. Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas IndustryAs giant US energy producer Connex merges with shonky junior company Killen Oil so it can expand into Central Asia to counter its waning influence in the Persian Gulf, the CIA plots to kill the son of an Emirates’ Emir (Alexander Siddig) – who has undermined US interests in the region by granting natural gas drilling rights to China Inc – after stumbling across an illegal arms deal involving Iran and Egypt. Meanwhile, a young Pakistani immigrant employed by Connex (Mazhar Munir) becomes radicalised by Islamic fundamentalists when he and his father (Shashid Ahmed) are stood down by the Americans due to the Chinese contract. In the end the sibling terrorist helps target a giant liquefied natural gas tanker owned by Connex-Killen using munitions stolen from the Iranians. On top of all this, a disgruntled CIA agent (George Clooney) tries to scuttle the Emir’s assassination. This movie is just about as complicated as the energy sector’s shadowy geopolitical shenanigans.

2. The Wages of Fear AKA Le Salaire de la peur (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)

Top 10 Films Which Will Change The Way You Look At The Oil & Gas IndustryFour European men down on their luck in a southern Mexican village agree to drive two trucks carrying nitro-glycerine across some mountainous desert terrain to put out a burning American-owned oil well some 300 miles away. A strong anti-US sentiment was more apparent in the extended version of this film, which was released in the early 1990s and featured an expanded role for William Tubbs who, as Southern Oil Company manager Bill O’Brien, isn’t particularly sympathetic when a number of his employees are killed following the on-site explosion. Easily one of the tensest (and most hair raising) road movies ever made.

1. Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977)

Sorcerer, Top 10 Films, Roy Scheider,In this colour variation of The Wages of Fear (both it and the above-mentioned black and white French classic are based on the same book by Georges Arnaud), four international criminals hiding out in a poverty-stricken Latin American shanty town are hired by a ruthless oil producer to drive four crates of shaky nitro-glycerine in two just as-dodgy reconstituted trucks through 218 miles of unfriendly jungle to put out a blazing oil well that has been sabotaged by terrorists. The multinational company, which is in bed with the country’s dictator president, doesn’t come out looking too good, while its downtrodden employees – including an American gangster, a French embezzler and a Palestinian terrorist – are riddled with existential desperation and utter despair. While the movie’s title refers to the name of one of the trucks (which, as it turns out, blows up late in the perilous journey), it probably would have made more sense if Friedkin and his screenwriter Walon Green had given it to the burning drilling derrick as its influence over the characters more accurately represents the director’s claim that “a sorcerer is an evil wizard, and the evil wizard is fate”.
Discover More: William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” Is A Curiously Mistreated Masterpiece

Written and compiled by Mark Fraser

Over to you: what is your top 10?

If you enjoyed this Top 10 Films article check out Mark Fraser’s other articles on Top 10 Films including the Best of Nicolas Cage and Films where Submarines take Centre Stage, as well as the Top 10 Films that share an Apocalyptic View of New York City & the Top 10 Movie Bus Rides to Avoid

About the Author
Mark is a film journalist, screenwriter and former production assistant from Western Australia.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Fascinating article. I sadly have only seen 3 of these and even more sadly haven’t even heard of many of the others .

    • Avatar
      Aby Reply

      Oil and Gas Industry has always been in limelight of the world, including the film industry. Several movies have depicted the life, politics, accidents and incidents of the industry like Deepwater Horizon, Armageddon, etc.
      But before of these popular movies, there is a film that You will be surprised to know, The Superman movie that had released in 1951, Superman and the Mole Men, pictured an oil drilling well in its story line.

  2. Avatar
    Callum Reply

    Syriana is a very good choice for this list – I enjoyed that one. Jarhead is another good one – haunting images.

    Looks like I need to catch up with a few of the others, particularly the older ones.

  3. Avatar
    Fourfoot Reply

    What, no Local Hero??!

  4. Dan
    Dan Reply

    I think Paul Anderson did a terrific job with There Will Be Blood. One of the best films of that year (perhaps even the decade). Paul Dano is incredible in that one. It has that existence of man vibe about it that 2001 had, albeit in relation to our need to acquire oil and those lucky enough to be put a price on their stock.

    Of course, this topic gives you the chance to parade Armageddon out to the masses once again. It has a funny – perhaps ironic – habit of making many of your top 10 lists Mark! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Gordon Grantham Reply

    Nice to see Friedkin’s great Sorcerer get a mention.

  6. Avatar
    Mark Fraser Reply

    That’s because Armageddon works on so many levels, Dan (tee hee).

    @Dan and Callum – thank you for the feedback and reading this.

    @Fourfoot – Good point … I must admit I’d completely forgotten about Local Hero, probably because the townsfolk ended up with an observatory rather than an oil refinery.

  7. Avatar
    Callum Reply

    Trying to think of a possible addition and struggling but how about The Abyss? Shows the perils of deep-sea excavation/research with a nice alien invasion twist!

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    Jason Reply

    How about the following documentary’s, excellent viewing about the oil nd gas business.

    1. Big Men
    2. Gasland Part 1 and 2
    3. H2Oil
    4. The Age of Stupid – More about climate change but a lot of fossil fuel burning issues

    Here’s a few tenuous ones on the periphery of Oil and Gas (industry I work in). 🙂

    1. The Grey – Oil workers flying out over Alaskan expanse crash……there is a lot of flying in helicopters in Oil and Gas business and it can put you right off!!
    2. Pioneer – Set in Norwegian oil boom years about pipeline diving, good thriller (Norwegian Movie)
    3. Captain Philips – An advert if ever there was one not to work on oil tankers!!
    4. A Hijacking (Danish Movie) – See point 3!!
    5. Promised Land – Never believe anyone knocking on your door saying you are sitting on a gas field, wanna sell it!!

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    CineGirl Reply

    Great piece of writing Mark. I love the inclusion of both Wages of Fear and Sorcerer. I’ve added Lessons of Darkness to my list of films I must see. And despite your brilliant piece on The Formula a while back, I still haven’t seen that one either.

  10. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    The Naked Gun sequel drifted into my mind when thinking about this last night. Of course, it links with the title (which I must admit wasn’t Mark’s original) but suddenly the scene in which the oil spilling from a well as metaphor for Frank Drebin and Jane’s bedtime fun sprang full frontal into view!

    I also gave some consideration to the ending of Beverly Hills Cop II at Dent’s oil fields. If only for the scene in which Rosewood unwittingly unleashes a handheld missile into one of the antagonist’s escaping trucks… “Pull pin… extend… pull open… and… WOW…”

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