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Primary Colors (1998)



Average Rating: 6.5/10
Critic Reviews: 21
Fresh: 13 | Rotten: 8

Well acted and suprisingly funny.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.1/5
User Ratings: 19,655

My Rating

Movie Info

Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May crafted a near-perfect adaptation of the 1996 best-seller, a hilarious and troubling fictional account of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, and recent events make it only more relevant.



Elaine May

Sep 8, 1998


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All Critics (75) | Top Critics (21) | Fresh (60) | Rotten (15) | DVD (9)

As satire, it's toothless and indulgent; as drama of conscience, it's not a patch on real life...

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A smart and savvy piece of work.

February 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
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Travolta's warmth and expansiveness effectively amplify and embellish the likable and personable side of Stanton.

February 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The movie itself makes no judgment. It's smart enough to ask you to do that by yourself and for yourself.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
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Adapting Joe Klein's roman a clef of the same name, ferociously witty screenwriter Elaine May and her smooth old compatriot in comedy, director Mike Nichols, have made a zingy drama and have staffed it well.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
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The movie is endlessly inventive and involving.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Well-acted drama full of Clinton-era jabs.

December 15, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

A savvy and thought-provoking look at the nature of contemporary American politics.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source:

Travolta is amazingly Clintonesque as Stanton, a role that I never believed he could pull off.

January 7, 2009 Full Review Source:

The film owes a few doggie bones to "Wag the Dog," which came first in pointing out what Primary Colors only seconds.

November 3, 2008 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Primary Colors successfully straddles the line between comedy and tragedy.

September 22, 2007 Full Review Source:

Primary Colors becomes a political morality play, and quite frankly, its mechanics cause it to crawl in across the finish line.

August 13, 2007 Full Review Source: Houston Community Newspapers
Houston Community Newspapers

It used to be that we had to wait 20 years for the fictionalization of history -- now that gap seems to have closed to less than five years. Kinda sad. But also kinda entertaining!

December 6, 2005 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

John Travolta has himself a good deal of fun with his take-off on President Clinton.

April 9, 2005 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

an alarmingly topical comedy-drama that dredges up far more issues than it can address in its two-and-a-half hours. But give Nichols, writer Elaine May and everyone else an 'A' for effort.

July 31, 2003 Full Review Source: Kalamazoo Gazette
Kalamazoo Gazette

John Travolta continues to establish himself as one of the best actors of the younger generation, and this may be his best job yet.

February 8, 2003 Full Review Source: Film Quips Online
Film Quips Online

Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May have produced one of the smartest, funniest political movies of the past 20 years.

October 15, 2002 Full Review Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Enquirer

The film asks if it matters if a man's got a questionable personal life if he's good at his job, and God knows this is a relevant question.

September 10, 2002 Full Review Source: Montreal Film Journal
Montreal Film Journal

...hardly important but well-made and ultimately life-affirming

July 31, 2002 Full Review
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Like the politicians it criticizes, the film loses sight of its ideals.

June 18, 2002 Full Review
Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, IL)

In this brilliant and incisive drama, the filmmakers reveal the shadow sides of American politics.

March 2, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

The book was explicit in its indictment of Clinton (or his clone or whatever), but the movie, while keeping most of the storyline the same and many of the scenes literally verbatim, still manages to tiptoe around the issue of personal responsibility.

February 27, 2001 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Primary Colors is one of the best film about politics I have ever seen and is director Mike Nichols best film since The Graduate, 31 years ago.

January 1, 2001 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Audience Reviews for Primary Colors

This movie did not age well. There's a scene early in the democratic primary race where everyone in a packed diner is glued to the small television set, watching and commenting on an interview - "Today Show" style - of our candidate and his wife. Either our political culture was very different back in 1992, or this is an example of the movie's unrealistic, self-absorbed sensationalism. Without any clear sense of direction, we watch the plot stumble into one manufactured problem after another. Instead of insight into modern politics, we get guns, drugs, heart attacks, old men sleeping with 17 year olds, and gay sex - all in one race to become the democratic nominee.
November 12, 2012
Matthew Slaven

Super Reviewer

Primary Colours is a political satire following a southern governor who bears a striking resemblance to Bill Clinton on his presidential campaign trail. This film was obviously aimed far more at mainstream audiences than I was hoping for and so seems very tame to anyone used to the likes of The Thick Of It or even 70s sitcom Yes Minister. The story is shown through the eyes of the idealistic grandson of a civil rights activist played by Adrian Lester, but as we don't get to learn much about him, there is little in the way of emotional involvement; in fact the whole "human drama" aspect of it felt very forced. Travolta's drawling womaniser is shown to be basically an honest and straight talking man with one flaw, and this lack of satirical bite also compromises his character. What does make this film however are the supporting characters; partly Billy Bob Thornton's red neck adviser but mainly Kathy Bates who tears through the film like a large lesbian version of hurricane Katrina. She has the best character and most of the best lines as a disillusioned ex-activist but once again the outcome of her part in the story felt a bit contrived and hollow. It does have wit, intelligence and a message, namely that this era of spin is a Frankenstain's monster that the complicity of a gossip-hungry public and sensationalist media have helped create, and it is always engaging; I just wished it had the cynical, satirical teeth to go in for the kill.
February 1, 2011
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

A well done, if though occasionally flawed, political comedy/drama that features two golden performances from John Travolta and Kathy Bates. While it does get over-dramatic at some parts and some of the characters could've been fleshed out a tad better, for the most part this is a well executed take on politics and how the people involved in them are never what they seem to be. I wish they had left the ending open-ended and daring the viewer to make their own choice as to what they would do in the situation posed in the film's conclusion, but I understand Nichols instead going with the more accepting finale.
January 10, 2010
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

#4 Primary Colours
Okay, technically, Travolta doesn?t play a president in Primary Colours, he plays a presidential candidate. But it can be argued that Travolta?s character - a womanizing, intelligent Southern governor - is based upon the pre-presidential days of one William Jefferson Clinton (Bill to us).
President Speak: "We can do incredible things. We can change this country. I'm gonna win this thing. Look me in the eye, Henry, and tell me that you don't want to be a part of it."
December 21, 2008

Super Reviewer

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

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