Stephen Arnell

The films beloved by Boris

The films beloved by Boris
Dodgeball (Shutterstock)
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The Prime Minister is known to be fond of dropping pop culture movie references into his speeches, so it came as no surprise when he threw in a few attempted zingers when addressing the Global Investment Summit on Tuesday morning.

Given the audience, it may have seemed impolitic for the Prime Minister to quote Trading Places (1983) and Wall Street (1987), two movies that deal with greed, corporate corruption, and financial fraud.

Peppa Pig, Adele, Coldplay, and Ed Sheeran also made appearances in his speech; the latter trio termed as a 'cyclotron of talent.'

As a man in his mid-fifties, many of Boris’s filmic allusions are from movies that he may have seen in his childhood, teens, and twenties, maybe in the local Windsor/Slough fleapit as a pupil at Eton College.

When laid low by COVID-19 last year, the former classical scholar turned to cinematic comfort food, taking in a selection of movies that he had not seen before, including Home Alone, Love Actually and Groundhog Day, as well as favourites Withnail & I (1987) and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03).

Here are ten other movies he loves to reference:

The Pink Panther (1963) MGM, Amazon Rent/Buy

In 2019 Boris Johnson was effusive in his praise of 1963’s The Pink Panther, saying of the film: 'I have to admit, I think is incredibly funny. It’s fantastically funny, I almost retch with laughter when watching the Pink Panther.' An odd turn of phrase, to say the least.

The first Pink Panther movie was originally a David Niven vehicle (as gentleman thief Sir Charles Lytton, the notorious ‘Phantom’), but Peter Sellers turn as the hapless Inspector Clouseau stole the picture from under his nose.

The Godfather (1972) Amazon Rent/Buy

Francis Ford Coppola was not best pleased by the news that the mass killings of the Corleone Family’s enemies at the end of The Godfather was Boris Johnson’s all-time favourite movie scene, saying: 'I feel badly that scenes in a gangster film might inspire any activity in the real world or [provide] encouragement to someone I see is about to bring the beloved United Kingdom to ruin.'

The revelation that former President Trump is also a fan of the film may have had Coppola reaching for the nearest calming medicament.

Jaws (1975) Netflix, Amazon Rent/Buy

Boris’s repeated advocacy of Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) as the real hero of Jaws struck some as a typically Johnsonian leg-pull, but as he has been saying it since at least 2006 the PM might genuinely believe it.

Back in 2012 he told business leaders: 'The real hero of Jaws is the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beach open. OK, in that instance, he was wrong but in principle we need more politicians like the mayor.'

The then London Mayor later wrote: 'There was one laudable thing about him, and that was his refusal to give way to hysteria. I loved his rationality. Of course, it turned out that he was wrong. But it remains that he was heroically right in principle.'

Although the first of the high-concept summer blockbusters, Jaws had surprising literary antecedents, according to co-writer Carl Gottlieb: 'Those of us working on the movie would say to friends, hoping they’d get the references: "It’s like ‘Moby-Dick" with "An Enemy of the People."'

The Muppet Movie (1979) Disney+, Amazon Buy Only

The first of the long-running movie spin-offs from the much-loved TV series may contain the seeds of the PM’s well-documented animus towards Kermit the Frog.

The famous amphibian inspired a surprising rumination on climate change from the Prime Minister on Tuesday: 'When Kermit the frog sang "It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green", I want you to know he was wrong.'

The movie itself is an origins story of the troupe. It's actually a fun watch, but rather heavy on the song front, which tends to slow the action down.

Apocalypse Now (1979) Amazon Rent/Buy

More aggravation for director Francis Ford Coppola occurred when the PM quoted Apocalypse Now’s surfing fanatic Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall). In his 2008 New Year Mayoral message, he said (of an economic downturn in the capital): 'Someday captain, this war is going to end.'

Hopefully, that is where the similarity ends, as Kilgore was borderline certifiable, with a somewhat cavalier attitude to human life. 

Trading Places (1983), Amazon Prime

Although in his address to the Global Investment Summit the PM was slightly confused about what Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Ackroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) were selling/buying on the trading floor of the Commodities Exchange Centre in New York (frozen orange juice futures, not pork bellies) his enthusiasm for the picture was obvious to all.

Johnson’s impassioned cry of 'sell, sell, sell... buy, buy buy!' resounded about the hall.

Trading Places is a classic Christmas movie, and one with a theme that may well provoke a chuckle or two from Boris, who of course was reported to have said 'F*ck business'  in 2018.

The Terminator (1984) MGM, Amazon Buy Only

In September at a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York PM Johnson gave the world a Cassandra-like warning of 'pink-eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race'. Odd, since the T800 terminators were famously red-eyed.

Wall Street (1987) Disney+, Amazon Rent/Buy

Johnson reworked the infamous words of Wall Street’s slimy corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in his speech on Tuesday, proclaiming: 'Green is good, green is right, green works'. 

Perhaps he was appealing to the baser instincts of attendees of the Global Investment Summit, sugaring the pill of green energy with the prospect of vast future profits.

Love Actually (2003) Amazon Prime, Rent/Buy

Admittedly, I don’t think Love Actually is really one of Boris Johnson’s top motion pictures, despite the Hugh Grant-as-PM subplot.

But…he did use elements of the movie in a 2019 election campaign video, unfortunately going with the creepy stalker segment, where the obviously disturbed Mark (Andrew Lincoln) pursues his best friend’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wife (Keira Knightley) with oversized cue cards in an attempt to woo her. Johnson's version saw him promising to get Brexit done on the doorstep of a voter.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) Disney+, Amazon Rent/Buy

The Vince Vaughan/Ben Stiller comedy Dodgeball resembles a right-leaning paean to small businesses, when Vaughn’s small-time Average Joe’s gym faces off against Stiller’s Globo Gym conglomerate in the titular sports’ Las Vegas tournament.

Vaughn is a rare Hollywood actor who proudly self identifies as a conservative, so that may have a subconscious pull with the Prime Minister, but I have another theory as to why he likes the movie.

The frequent scenes of contestants getting repeatedly struck in the face and other sensitive parts of the body could hark back to Johnson’s boisterous days on the Rugby field at Eton. You may recall that the PM has kept his hand in with the sport, overpowering a 10-year-old boy in a touch rugby demonstration when visiting Japan in 2015.

In 2019, when asked what his favourite Christmas movie was, Boris at first cited Dodgeball, despite the absence of any festive scenes in the picture whatsoever.