The Manchurian Candidate
International theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Demme
Screenplay by
Based on
Produced by
CinematographyTak Fujimoto
Edited by
Music byRachel Portman
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 30, 2004 (2004-07-30)
Running time
130 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million
Box office$96.1 million[2]

The Manchurian Candidate is a 2004 American neo-noir[3] psychological political thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme.[4] The film, based on Richard Condon's 1959 novel of the same name and a reworking of the previous 1962 film, stars Denzel Washington as Bennett Marco, a tenacious, virtuous soldier; Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, a U.S. Representative from New York, manipulated into becoming a vice-presidential candidate; Jon Voight as U.S. Senator Tom Jordan, a challenger for vice president; and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, also a U.S. Senator and Raymond's manipulative, ruthless mother.

While the name of the novel and the earlier film was retained, the significance of "Manchurian" was changed. In the original, the protagonist was captured in the Korean War and brainwashed by the Chinese in the actual Manchuria. In the 2004 film, with the Korean War replaced by the Gulf War, Manchurian is instead used as the name of a sinister multinational company.


Major Bennett Marco (Washington) commanded a U.S. Army unit during the Gulf War in 1991. His unit's member Sergeant First Class Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) was awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly engaging the enemy during their ambushed reconnaissance patrol in Kuwait and leading all but two men of the patrol to safety over three days through the desert. Shaw is now a U.S. congressman. His ruthless mother, Virginia Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Streep), uses her influence to secure his nomination as the vice-presidential candidate over the favorite, Senator Tom Jordan. Raymond is aloof and somewhat reserved, but opens up to his mother, although he still resents her role in the break-up of the relationship with his childhood sweetheart Jocelyn, Senator Jordan's daughter, prior to his enlistment.

Al Melvin, one of Marco's former soldiers, tells Marco of his confusing memories and dreams about their ambushed patrol. Though clearly mentally ill, he shows Marco his drawings of images from his dreams. Marco also begins to have dreams about that mission, in which he and the rest of the patrol are captured, tortured and brainwashed.

Marco starts investigating what really happened. He travels to New York City: on the train he meets an outgoing supermarket clerk named Rosie who had already identified him. She offers him a place to stay in New York. While showering at her apartment, Marco feels a small lump on his upper back. He uses a knife to dig at the spot, and pulls out a tiny metallic object from under his skin, but accidentally drops it down the bathroom sink after Rosie, having listened to Marco's subtle sounds of distress, forces her way inside.

Marco confronts Raymond at campaign headquarters, and during their joint lunch, wrestles him down, biting into Raymond's back to remove an implant he suspects to be there. Marco is arrested but is subsequently released when Raymond decides not to press charges. Back at Rosie's apartment Marco recovers Raymond's implant which he had removed and kept hidden in his mouth during his detention. Marco has Raymond's implant analysed by his friend Delp (Bruno Ganz) who surmises that the implant's purpose was storage of emergency medical data, but also recollects that there was a parallel project for various kinds of implantables funded by Manchurian Global, a powerful private equity firm with major political connections, including Eleanor. After Delp administers electro-convulsive therapy with methohexital to Marco at his request, Marco begins to have clearer recollections that he was brainwashed during the ambushed mission and that he and Raymond were forced to kill the two missing soldiers from his patrol. He begins to suspect that he's under surveillance and finds in Rosie's handbag cassette tapes with a file of information about him. The tapes turn out to contain recordings of his conversations with Rosie.

His research on Manchurian Global in the public library leads him to the name of Dr. Atticus Noyle, the South African geneticist accused of human experimentation on political prisoners during Apartheid and involved in scientific research with novel memory implants for Manchurian Global. He brings his findings to Senator Jordan, who confronts the Shaws with clear connections between Dr. Noyle's work on deep implant behaviour modification under a research grant from Manchurian Global during Desert Storm, Marco and Raymond's patrol missing for three days in the desert, and subsequent dreams and recollections of the patrol's members; he suggests that Raymond withdraw from the campaign. Instead, Eleanor "activates" Raymond and orders him to kill Jordan. Jocelyn is also killed when she tries to stop Raymond.

When Marco confronts Rosie, she reveals she works for the FBI and has been following him undercover. Having found an implant in Melvin, who, like all other members of Raymond and Marco's patrol, died mysteriously, the FBI arranges a meeting between Marco and Raymond to convince them they were brainwashed under an assassination plot, which takes place just as Governor Arthur and Raymond win the White House. Raymond receives a phone call intended for Marco from Eleanor, and by using trigger words, she gives the command to assassinate the President-elect so that Raymond becomes President, and admits that she voluntarily gave him to the brainwashers for the country's benefit; Raymond resists the mind-control techniques, empowered by Jocelyn's death.

At the climactic moment, Raymond deliberately places himself between the entranced Marco and the President-elect. As Rosie rushes through the crowd to find Marco, Raymond looks at the vent where Marco is hiding and nods as a signal to kill him and his mother. Raymond dances with his mother and steers them into the marked position, where Marco kills them both with a single rifle shot. Marco prepares to kill himself, but after seeing Raymond's nod, Rosie arrives and prevents his suicide by wounding him.

The FBI frames a deceased Manchurian Global contractor as the shooter. Manchurian executives watch in defeat as their entire conspiracy is revealed on television. Rosie takes Marco to the remote island compound where he was conditioned. After reflecting on his time there, Marco drops a photo of his Army unit and Raymond's Medal of Honor into the sea.




Tina Sinatra was a co-producer of the film. Her father Frank Sinatra portrayed Marco in the original 1962 film and owned that film's legal distribution rights into the late 1980s, never re-releasing it during that time (although it did air on network television several times). In the original, nationally released during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the premise was based on communists taking control; in this remake, big corporate influence serves as the evil faction, a twist to maintain the "Manchurian connection". The remake does not follow the original film's plot details on several occasions.

The film's Persian Gulf War scenes were filmed in New Jersey.[5]


Box office

The Manchurian Candidate was released July 30, 2004, alongside Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Thunderbirds, & The Village. The film grossed $65,955,630 in North America and $30,150,334 in other territories, totaling $96,105,964 worldwide.[2]

Critical response

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 80% rating, based on 207 reviews, with an average rating of 7.11/10. The site's consensus reads, "While not the classic its predecessor is, this update is well-acted and conjures a chilling resonance."[6] Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 76, based on 41 reviews.[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[8]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of Streep, "No one can talk about the acting in The Manchurian Candidate without rhapsodizing about Streep (in the role originated by Angela Lansbury). She has the Hillary hair and the Karen Hughes attack-dog energy, but the charm, the inspiration, and the constant invention are her own. She gives us a senator who's a monomaniac, a mad mommy and master politician rolled into one, a woman firing on so many levels that no one can keep up – someone who loves being evil as much as Streep loves acting. She's a pleasure to watch and to marvel at every second she's onscreen."[9]


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2005 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
BET Awards Best Actress Kimberly Elise Nominated
Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actor Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Kimberly Elise Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Meryl Streep Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards Costume Designer of the Year Albert Wolsky Won
Jupiter Awards Best International Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Best International Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film The Manchurian Candidate Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Liev Schreiber Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep Nominated

See also


  1. ^ "THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. July 29, 2004. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The Manchurian Candidate (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  3. ^ Schwartz, Ronald (2005). Neo-noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-8108-5676-9.
  4. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  5. ^ Nash, Margo (January 11, 2004). "In Celluloid Fantasy, New Jersey As Kuwait". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 12, 2023.
  6. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  7. ^ "The Manchurian Candidate reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  8. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "The Manchurian Candidate" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  9. ^ LaSalle, Mick (July 30, 2004). "Terrorist attacks, corporate control, election controversy: Sound familiar? 'The Manchurian Candidate' has it all". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 27, 2013.