Politics are all anyone can seem to talk about these days. The news, social media, convos between friends — this is one of the most politically charged times in U.S. history. But there has always been political discourse and controversial events. The many political movements and moments throughout history have inspired several political movies throughout the years. Some are based on real life, some are not. But they're all inspired by all-too-real themes that are present in American politics. Whether these films are showing actual depictions of presidents or showing the absurdity of political campaigns, they're giving a glimpse into the political culture of this country.
Political movies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are thrillers, others poke fun at United States' political system. Whatever the tone, each of these films touches on some realistic aspect of government. Because if we're being honest, political topics in this country right now are messy AF. So why not watch a political film that will be great for two hours and then end (unlike this national nightmare in the Oval Office)! Sit back, relax, and take in some good old-fashioned civics!
Le Studio Canal+
Part political thriller, part whodunit, this film explores another viewpoint on who killed John F. Kennedy. Director Oliver Stone digs into the investigation and trial against Clay Shaw, who was tried but acquitted for conspiring to kill the President. The film is shown through the eyes of Jim Garrison, a real figure in the investigations surrounding the assassination. In the film, Garrison, with the help of "X" — a high ranking Washington source — that there is a vast conspiracy around what actually happened to Kennedy. This is one of the most fascinating political movies of all time because it dives deep into a real-life event that we still don't have all the answers to!
George Clooney wrote, directed, and starred in this film about the conflict between journalist Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. McCarthy is known for his rampant abuse of power during this era when he went overboard accusing anyone and everyone of being a communist — no matter how flimsy the evidence. Murrow countered his accusations and dissented against the Senator. The theme of this film including the media's responsibility to report the truth no matter the consequence is one that is still highly relevant to this day. Politics should never have power over journalism, and Murrow was a real-life crusader of that idea.
This film may have been released in 1939, but the plot is still insanely relevant to this day. Jefferson Smith (James Stewart, in the role that made him a star) is a newbie in the U.S. Senate who finds himself shell-shocked by the amoral nature of the judicial system. But through determination and some extra-long filibustering, he reveals the rampant corruption around him. Today's Congress falls in the same vein: old, crooked, NRA-owned congressmen being rivaled by the diverse, good-willed, up-and-comers fighting for what's right. It's a tale as old as this country!
Distraction is one of the oldest political tricks in the book. In this film, Robert De Niro plays Conrad Brean, a Hollywood "spin doctor" tasked with masking huge scandals. When the President is caught in a sex scandal, he needs to pull attention away from himself ASAP. With the help of a Hollywood producer, Brean helps to fabricate a war, complete with fake footage and faux war heroes, to bolster the President in the polls and make the world forget all about him hitting on an underage girl. While it may not be a true story it's close enough!. It came out a mere month before the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal that the administration tried to mask with a bombing in Sudan.
Milk is based on the true story of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Sean Penn plays Milk from his initial move to California to his eventual assassination at the hands of a political peer. Harvey works tirelessly in the film to get Proposition 6, an ordinance that would prevent openly LGBT people from working in public schools, shot down. Lobbying for or against gay rights is still a platform politicians run on. Political movies tend to touch on the issues of the era, and those tend to be the same issues repeating throughout history. Milk's impact was made in the 1970s but it's still being felt to this very day.
Perfect World Pictures
This is one of the best political movies, and not just because of the makeup magic done to make Gary Oldman a perfect Winston Churchill! The film shows Churchill's early days as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the onset of World War II. Churchill never trusted Germany or Adolf Hitler and fought tooth and nail to keep the United Kingdom fighting in the war instead of negotiating for peace with the Nazis. While Churchill was eventually voted out of power, the film depicts his execution of "Operation Dynamo" AKA the Miracle of Dunkirk, which saved hundreds of thousands of soldiers. No politician is perfect, but many are just trying to do the right thing to protect the people they represent.
Gary Sanchez Productions
Not all political movies have to be super serious! This film stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as congressional opponents in North Carolina. The two engage in ridiculous plots to foil one another in an attempt to win the campaign. While it may be a comedy, it's not too far from reality. Political opponents do some absurd stuff to win elections. While they may not go so far as to seduce their opponent's wife or shoot the other in the leg, it's still reasonable to say that no one fights fair!
This film spans the final four months of President Abraham Lincoln's (played here by Daniel Day-Lewis) life. During that time, he was just beginning his second term and was determined to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. The political dealings and negotiations are aplenty in this film about the sacrifices that need to be made to get things done in government. Lincoln culminates in the President's death at Ford's Theatre, marking the end of an era and the end of one of the most historic presidencies of all time.
Castle Rock Entertainment
Before Aaron Sorkin was creating TV shows about the presidency, he was creating movies about it! Michael Douglas plays the President in this film and soon finds himself falling for an environmental lobbyist who just moved to Washington. The film is one-part romantic comedy and one-part legislative drama! The American President finds a perfect balance between cute levity and political seriousness. As it turns out, juggling romance and politics can be wacky! It's a lighter take on how politicians get things done. The film also had a huge part in the creation of Sorkin's The West Wing, which is one of the most influential political TV shows of all time!
Ben Affleck directed and stars in this absolutely crazy true story. In the late '70s, during the Iranian Revolution, 60 members of the United States Embassy staff in Tehran narrowly escape a hostage situation. But, now they need a way out of the country that won't land them in trouble. So CIA operative Tony Mendez comes up with the perfect plot: create a fake sci-fi movie, complete with a director and a fake production company! Under the guise that the escapees are shooting a film, they are able to be smuggled out of the country. This is something that really happened and, according to the real Mendez, his fake production company was so convincing that they received real scripts from filmmakers — including Steven Spielberg!
Comedic political movies are always a breath of fresh air! This one tackles politics on a smaller scale and follows the campaign of a Washington man running for governor. One big issue though: his brother. Chris Farley plays the bumbling Mike Donnelly who is the thorn in his ambitious brother Al's (Tim Matheson) side. Family can be annoying, and it only gets worse when you're in the public eye! We can't imagine how many real-life politicians have had their fingers crossed that their crazy family stays hidden!
We meant it when we said funny political movies are awesome! In this silly retelling of the Watergate scandal, two ditzy 15-year-old girls become the legendary "Deep Throat" who uncovered the whole conspiracy. Completely by accident, of course! When they happen to see the break-in at Watergate, they totally don't understand what it is they're seeing — but that doesn't stop the President from being threatened by them. He appoints them Presidential dog walkers to keep them quiet, leading to their accidental involvement in several historical events. Think Forrest Gump but with teenage girls!
What would you do if you were running for President and just knew you couldn't win? Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is faced with this scenario when he's picked to lead the Democratic ticket in a Presidential election and told from the start he can say and do whatever he pleases since he certainly won't win. But as time goes on, he and his campaign manager begin wanting to win and McKay's message becomes more centered and "politician-y" to gain votes. The film gives a great glimpse into the manipulations and adjustments that need to be made during campaigns to influence voters and bring in a win.
Politics can be practiced on a worldwide scale, and they can also be practiced in a high school. The class president race is also super important! Well, it is if you're Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). Flick's campaign for class president leads to complete insanity. A suspicious teacher named Jim (Matthew Broderick) knows the truth about Tracy's manipulative nature and does everything he can to stop her from winning the election. He even goes so far as to rig it! In the end, Jim loses just about everything he holds dear all because of a silly little election. Politics tend to get the best of us!
Elections aren't just tough for the candidate, they're tough for everyone behind the scenes as well. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the junior campaign manager for a Presidential hopeful trying to secure the Democratic ticket. That means they need one big thing: to get Senator Franklin Thompson's (Jeffrey Wright) endorsement. The road to that endorsement is rough and the back-dealing to get it is aplenty. If there is anything political movies can teach us, it's that there aren't very many honest guys in politics!
Many political movies touch on the life of President Richard Nixon because his time in power was so dramatic it just begs to be put on film. This film tells the true story of Nixon's sit-down with British journalist David Frost over four sessions. In the film, Frost secures the interview and is determined to get Nixon to confess to his crimes. The two go toe-to-toe in the sessions and Nixon is vehement that he will not see defeat. In the end, history is made and Nixon admits to his crimes in the final session. It's a perfect depiction of one of the most legendary interviews of all time and Frank Langella may be the most convincing actor to ever play the disgraced President.
As far as political thrillers go, The Manchurian Candidate may be the best. Robert Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is captured and brainwashed during the Vietnam War, along with several of his brothers in arms. The men eventually escape but their trouble seems to be just beginning. Shaw is revealed to have been programmed into a "sleeper agent" for a vast Russian and Chinese Communist conspiracy, able to be manipulated into doing things and left with no memory of what he was made to do. While this may be a bit extreme, it's one of the realities of war. There is no safety in war, not even when you come home sometimes!
It only makes sense that one of the greatest political movies of all time is one that has to do with Richard Nixon. The Watergate conspiracy is rife with storytelling possibilities, and this film shows it all from the perspective of the men who uncovered the entire plot. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford play Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, respectively. The two are known as the Washington Post journalists who discovered how deep Watergate really went. The film follows the two reporters attempts to uncover the truth which leads to the publication of the story that takes Nixon down for good. All the President's Men proves yet again the importance of the media when it comes to keeping politics honest!