Primary Colors (1998) - Rotten Tomatoes

Primary Colors1998

Primary Colors (1998)



Critic Consensus: Well acted and suprisingly funny.

Primary Colors Photos

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.

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John Travolta
as Gov. Jack Stanton
Emma Thompson
as Susan Stanton
Billy Bob Thornton
as Richard Jemmons
Kathy Bates
as Libby Holden
Adrian Lester
as Henry Burton
Larry Hagman
as Gov. Fred Picker
Diane Ladd
as Mamma Stanton
Paul Guilfoyle (II)
as Howard Ferguson
Caroline Aaron
as Lucille Kaufman
Tommy Hollis
as Fat Willie
Rob Reiner
as Izzy Rosenblatt
Robert Klein
as Norman Asher
Mykelti Williamson
as Dewayne Smith
Ben Jones
as Arlen Sporken
J.C. Quinn
as Uncle Charlie
Allison Janney
as Miss Walsh
Monique L. Ridge
as Tawana Carter
Ned Eisenberg
as Brad Lieberman
Brian Markinson
as Randy Culligan
Charlie Rose
as Himself
Larry King
as Himself
O'Neal Compton
as Sailorman Shoreson
Kevin Cooney
as Lawrence Harris
Bonnie Bartlett
as Martha Harris
Cynthia O'Neal
as Elegant Woman
Chelcie Ross
as Charlie Martin
John Vargas
as Lorenzo Delgado
Tony Shalhoub
as Eddie Reyes
Robert Cicchini
as Jimmy Ozio
Stan Davis
as Jack Mandela Washington
Rolando Molina
as Anthony Ramirez
Ross Benjamin
as Peter Goldsmith
Stacy Edwards
as Jennifer Rogers
Susan Kussman
as Ella Louise
Robert Symonds
as Bart Nilson
Gia Carides
as Cashmere McLeod
Robert Easton
as Dr. Beauregard
Scott Burkholder
as Danny Scanlon
Bill Maher
as Himself
Lu Elrod
as Chubby Woman
R.M. Haley
as Shipyard Announcer
Darice Richman
as Linda Feldstein
Rosalie Peck
as Retiree
Susan Forristal
as Bugger Bugger Woman
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News & Interviews for Primary Colors

Critic Reviews for Primary Colors

All Critics (79) | Top Critics (25)

Primary Colors, Nichols' second feature with screenwriter and former stand-up comedy partner Elaine May, is mainstream filmmaking at its most accomplished.

August 7, 2019 | Full Review…

The performances are splendid, beginning with Travolta's magnificent turn as the big-hearted but hardballing man with 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on his horizon.

March 21, 2019 | Full Review…

Primary Colors perfectly captures the spirit of its topic and time to become The Big Chill of politics.

January 8, 2018 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
Top Critic

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

June 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Travolta's warmth and expansiveness effectively amplify and embellish the likable and personable side of Stanton.

February 14, 2001

A smart and savvy piece of work.

February 14, 2001 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

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.

Matthew Slaven
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.

xGary Xx
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.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

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