Mind control, brainwashing and coerced drug testing are among the favorite topics for thrillers and science-fiction films. As such, one of the most infamous IRL attempts to get a handle on the human mind via some super shady (and illegal) drug trials, MK-Ultra, has served as inspiration for some of pop culture’s most pervasive and affecting mind control, brainwashing, and sinister government testing stories.
From The Manchurian Candidate to episodes of The X-Files and Fringe, MK-Ultra inspired storylines have cropped up in many of our favorite films and television shows. Most recently? Netflix’s brand new series Stranger Things. Let’s take a look at what else draws some of its story from the real-world MK-Ultra.
1. Stranger Things
The new Netflix series that got loads of that oh-so-80s goodness has everybody talking. Winona Ryder is back where she belongs, doing great work, and the super stylized sci-fi thriller is a beautiful thing to behold. In Episode 3, we get a good look at some MK-Ultra involvement in the plot as the investigation into Will Byers’s disappearance leads to digging up some evidence on the illegal testing of drugs on kids in the course of MK-Ultra.
2. The Manchurian Candidate
Possibly one of the most well-known films surrounding brainwashing and the idea of experimental mind control, The Manchurian Candidate films (both 1962 and the 2004 versions) are must-sees.
3. The Banshee Chapter
Centered around the investigation of a woman’s mysterious disappearance, The Banshee Chapter is dark, creepy and has plenty of MK-Ultra snippets and references.
4. The Prisoner
Held against his will and subjected to experimental methods of forcing him to divulge why he resigned his position as a spy, a British man (called Number Six) is prisoner in a village from which he cannot escape in this 17-episode British mini-series.
5. “Unusual Suspects” (The X-Files)
Of course The X-Files was going to tackle MK-Ultra sooner or later. Unusual Suspects” is that episode, written by Breaking Bad creator-to-be Vince Gilligan, and explores the idea of testing gas on unsuspecting civilians through asthma inhalers.
6. Conspiracy Theory
Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts star in this 90’s film about a man who runs his own (very) small publication of conspiracy theories finds himself with a major target on his back when one of his theories is correct. Oh, and it turns out he was a graduate of MKU.
7. Dream Logic” (Fringe)
Like The X-Files, Fringe was a natural place to explore some secret government stuff. Though one might find a number of parallels with Walter Bishop’s work and MK-Ultra, it’s mentioned specifically in Season 2’s fifth episode.
8. The Killing Room
Focused on three subjects and “testing the limitations of the human psyche,” The Killing Room didn’t get great reviews, but does get to the heart of the MK-Ultra creepiness.
9. American Ultra
Stoner/programmed killer Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) finds himself on the government’s extermination list and has to use the skills he didn’t know he had to save himself and KStew.