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Theatrical release poster
Directed byWarren Beatty
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byWarren Beatty
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Edited by
Mulholland Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • May 15, 1998 (1998-05-15)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million
Box office$29.2 million[2]

Bulworth is a 1998 American political satire dark comedy film co-written, co-produced, directed by, and starring Warren Beatty. It co-stars Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle, Paul Sorvino, Jack Warden, and Isaiah Washington. The film follows the title character, California Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty), as he runs for re-election while trying to avoid a hired assassin. The film received generally positive reviews and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay yet narrowly failed to break even on a $30 million budget.


In March 1996, fictional Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Bulworth of California appears to be losing his primary bid for re-election to a fiery young populist. Bulworth's liberal views, formed in the 1960s and 1970s, have lost favor with voters, so he has conceded to more conservative politics and to accepting donations from big corporations. While he and his wife have been having affairs with each other's knowledge for years, they must still present a happy facade in the interest of maintaining a good public image.

Tired of politics, unhappy with his life in general, and planning to commit suicide, Bulworth negotiates a $10 million life insurance policy with his daughter as the beneficiary in exchange for a favorable vote from the insurance industry. Knowing that a suicide will void his daughter's inheritance, he contracts to have himself assassinated within two days.

Turning up in California for his campaign extremely drunk, Bulworth freely begins speaking his mind at public events and in the presence of the C-SPAN film crew following his campaign. After dancing all night in an underground club and smoking marijuana, he even starts rapping in public. His frank, potentially offensive remarks make him an instant media darling and re-energize his campaign. Along the way he becomes romantically involved with a young black activist named Nina, who tags along with him on his campaign stops. He is pursued by the paparazzi, his insurance company, his campaign managers and an increasingly adoring public, all the while fearful of his impending assassination.

After a televised debate during which Bulworth drinks from a flask on air and derides insurance companies and the American healthcare system, he decides to hide at Nina's family's home, located in the South Central Los Angeles ghetto. While there he wanders around the neighborhood, where he witnesses a group of kids selling crack, and buys the group ice cream. After saving the group from a racially motivated encounter with a police officer, he finds out they are "soldiers" of L.D., a local drug kingpin to whom Nina's brother owes money. Bulworth eventually makes it to a television appearance arranged earlier by his campaign manager, during which he raps and repeats verbatim statements that Nina and L.D. have told him about the lives of poor black people and their opinions of various American institutions, like education and employment. Eventually he offers the solution that "everybody should fuck everybody" until everyone is "all the same color" stunning the audience and his interviewer.

After Bulworth's TV appearance (at the end of which one mysterious assassination attempt occurs) he escapes with Nina and goes with her back to her house where she reveals that she is the assassin he indirectly hired (ostensibly to make the money needed to pay off the debt her brother owes to L.D.) and will now not carry out the job. Relieved, Bulworth falls asleep for the first time in days in Nina's arms. Bulworth sleeps deeply for over 36 hours (with Nina tenderly watching over him), during which time the media is abuzz about his mysterious absence on election day. During this time, various people are shown reacting to the TV coverage and the impact Bulworth's escapade is making on the political/social conversation in the country (race, poverty, inequity, greed). Bulworth wins the primary election by a landslide.

The next morning the press and Bulworth's campaign managers converge on Nina's house, all eager to talk to him. L.D. also comes to Nina's house and, having had a change of heart, says he will let Nina's brother work off his debt instead of hurting or killing him. Bulworth emerges from the bedroom looking rested and, as he steps outside, he invites Nina to go with him; she eventually joins him, after some hesitation. Bulworth and Nina embrace and begin to kiss as people cheer. As Bulworth happily accepts a new campaign for the presidency, he is suddenly shot in front of the crowd of reporters and supporters by an agent of the insurance company lobbyists, who were fearful of Bulworth's recent push for single-payer health care.

Bulworth's fate is left ambiguous. The final scene shows an elderly vagrant, whom Bulworth met previously, standing alone outside a hospital. He exhorts Bulworth, who is presumably inside, to not be "a ghost" but "a spirit" which, as he had mentioned earlier, can only happen if you have "a song". In the final shot of the film, he asks the same of the audience.



Beatty first pitched the film in 1992 under the basic pitch of a depressed man putting a hit on himself for the life insurance before falling in love. 20th Century Fox executive Joe Roth approved of the pitch and a budget of $30 million before Beatty got to work on the point of view in politics that would take center stage for the film, with Beatty taking input from writers such as Jeremy Pikser, James Toback and Aaron Sorkin (who reportedly did a re-write on the script). Beatty, long involved in politics since his first hero of Robert Kennedy, wanted to make a film that would strike the perceived notion that politics had become too absorbed in polls and fundraising while losing sight on the issues that matters most. Beatty styled his film in hip-hop and rap because of the "great comic contrast" that would come from it.[3]


The soundtrack was released on April 21, 1998 by Interscope Records.

Critical reception[edit]

The film generated a great deal of controversy and received a positive reception from film critics.[4][5][6][7][8] It currently holds a 75% approval score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The site's consensus states: "Star and director Beatty's ambitious take on race and politics in 20th-century America isn't perfect, but manages to provide more than its share of thought-provoking laughs."[9] Writing in Time Out New York, Andrew Johnston observed: "More than anything else, Bulworth is descended from Preston Sturges's topical farces of the 1940s, which juxtaposed a deep belief in the promise of America with irreverent attacks on the hypocrisy of its institutions."[10]

Box office results[edit]

The Los Angeles Times commented that Bulworth did "extremely well" on a limited release.[11][12] Despite this, the film ultimately grossed just $29,202,884 worldwide at the box office.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
71st Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser[2] Nominated
56th Golden Globe Awards Best Screenplay Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser Nominated
Best Picture Bulworth Nominated
Best Actor Warren Beatty Nominated
1998 Satellite Awards Best Actor Warren Beatty Nominated
1998 Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 1998 Best Screenplay Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Screenplay (1998) Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser Won
1998 Golden Lion Awards Best Film Bulworth Nominated
1999 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress Halle Berry Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor Don Cheadle Nominated

Cultural legacy[edit]

In 2013, The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama had, in private, "talked longingly of 'going Bulworth,'" in reference to the film.[13]


  1. ^ "Bulworth (18)". British Board of Film Classification. September 18, 1998. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Bulworth". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  3. ^ https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-may-03-ca-45719-story.html
  4. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (May 22, 1998). "Bulworth". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 22, 1998). "Bulworth". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved December 4, 2010 – via rogerebert.com.
  6. ^ McGurk, Margaret A. (May 22, 1998). "No apologies for 'Bulworth'". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  7. ^ Vice, Jeff (May 22, 1998). "Film review: Bulworth". Deseret News. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  8. ^ Guthmann, Edward (May 22, 1998). "Hilarious 'Bulworth' – the truth sets a senator free". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  9. ^ "Bulworth (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  10. ^ Johnston, Andrew (May 14, 1998). "Bulworth". Time Out New York.
  11. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (May 19, 1998). "Weekend Box Office; Audiences Still Flocking to 'Impact'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  12. ^ Natale, Richard (May 27, 1998). "Mixed Early Returns". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  13. ^ Baker, Peter (May 15, 2013). "Onset of Woes Casts Pall Over Obama's Policy Aspirations". The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2013.

External links[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Ann Hornaday, "The 34 best political movies ever made" The Washington Post Jan. 23, 2020), ranked #19