Movies focusing on politics take many forms. They can have a serious stance on a major issue or moment in history, or make fun of the whole system with a satirical plot. Regardless, the genre has over the years produced some of the most gripping, entertaining movies.
One of the best political movies ever made, “All the President’s Men,” just celebrated its 40th anniversary. In honour of the occasion, and with the backdrop of the election, we thought it was a good time to rank the greatest the genre has produced.
Here are the top 22.
Eddie Murphy plays a Florida con man who realises he has been missing out on the biggest con of all: being a politician. Winning a seat in Congress because he has the same name as a longtime Congressman in his district who suddenly passed away before the election, he proceeds to turn DC upside down. Honestly, this is one of Eddie Murphy's last great comedies while at his height in Hollywood.
Anthony Hopkins playing Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's epic look at the 37th president is hit-and-miss at moments, but as with any great actor, in the moments when he's right, the movie thrives. But Stone also examines the shrewdness of Nixon, as one moment he's in the bugged Oval Office tearing apart his legacy and another he's confronted by Vietnam protesters at the Lincoln Memorial and he actively tries to understand what they are against.
Sean Penn earned an Oscar win for his performance as Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay politician to be elected to public office. The movie chronicles Milk's struggle as a gay activist in San Francisco in the late 1970s and ends with his shocking assassination. As with almost everything he's in, Penn gives a moving performance.
Great political movies don't always have to deal with adults. Alexander Payne's look at a high school election and the ramifications that occur when a teacher (Matthew Broderick) is fed up with an over-achiever (Reese Witherspoon) running for student body president is as entertaining as it is eerily similar to how grown politicians act.
Set 10 years in the future from when it was released, the film is a thrilling drama that follows a planned coup of the president in seven days after a nuclear arms treaty has been signed. On top of the great performances by Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, during the height of the Cold War, the movie touched on the tension that many in the country had about nuclear war.
Directed by Rob Reiner with a script from Aaron Sorkin, Michael Douglas plays a widowed sitting president who falls for a lobbyist (Annette Bening). The romantic dramedy captures both Reiner and Sorkin's strengths and highlights how well Martin Sheen, who plays the chief of staff in the movie, does with Sorkin's dialogue. Soon after the two would team again for the successful 'The West Wing' series.
Joan Allen gives a powerful performance as a senator who has been chosen by the president (Jeff Bridges) to take over the vice presidency following the sudden death of the current VP. But in her way of taking the position is the congressman (Gary Oldman) at the head of the committee to select her. Instead of speaking on why she's qualified for the job, questions about her past sexual encounters come up leading to the hearings becoming a media sensation. Allen's performance earned her an Oscar nomination and, as always, Oldman is incredible.
This 1950 best picture Oscar winner follows the rise and fall of everyman politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) who gets into politics hoping to help the working man, but when he gets in, becomes so corrupt that he no longer knows the difference between right and wrong.
Daniel Day Lewis received an Oscar for his portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War when he struggles with the idea to emancipate the slaves. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film is a powerful look at not just our greatest president but how politics were handled at the time.
Capturing one of the most unique series of televised interviews ever done -- in which Richard Nixon admits to illegal acts as president -- this adaptation of the popular stage play stars Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as broadcaster David Frost (the two also starred in the roles onstage). The compelling story shows that the drama behind the scenes of the interviews was as riveting as what occurred on the screen.
Based on a novel that was originally published anonymously (and was later revealed to be written by journalist Joe Klein, who had been covering the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton for Newsweek), the movie stars John Travolta as the spitting image of Clinton in a governor running for office. Under director of Mike Nichols, the film is a funny look at the campaign trail.
Though director and star Orson Welles tried to keep it from the public and press, it was obvious that his character of Charles Foster Kane was heavily based on the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. All the way down to Kane attempting to get into politics, which Hearst also tried.
Always one to go against the grain, Robert Redford showed off his un-conformist ways in this film, in which he plays Bill McKay, a young, good-looking son of a former governor who has no chance of winning the senate seat he's going after so he's allowed to run his campaign as he wants, and speak what's on his mind.
Warren Beatty also found a way to jab at the political establishment with his funny look at a Democratic senator (Beatty) who after hiring a hitman to kill him goes on a two-day truth-telling rant with the help of a black activist (Halle Berry).
Before there was 'Veep,' Armando Iannucci directed this hilarious satire that follows the not-too-bright American and British governments as a war in Iraq is upon them. The vile language and power plays make you wonder why anyone would get into politics.
With a sex scandal about to dismantle the president's reelection, a spin doctor (Robert De Niro) hires a big Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to fabricate a war. With amazing performances and a wickedly smart story, the movie is a scary look at the tricks done to make us believe the people in power.
You can come up with numerous theories of who assassinated John F. Kennedy, but very few movies on the topic are as powerful as this classic by Oliver Stone. From Kevin Costner's perfect performance as a New Orleans district attorney searching for justice to Gary Oldman looking exactly like alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, the movie is an incredible journey inside one of American history's most disputed moments.
Though most will remember Andy Griffith for playing the squeaky-clean sheriff on 'The Andy Griffith Show,' one of his best performances was playing the despicable Arkansas drifter Larry 'Lonesome' Rhodes who becomes one of the biggest commentators in the country thanks to his unfiltered, good-ol'-boy talk. However, his thirst for power leads to his demise.
Frank Sinatra plays a former prisoner of war who realises that a fellow solider in his platoon has been brainwashed to be an assassin for a Communist conspiracy. This Cold War thriller found modest interest when it was released, but after rumours that Sinatra demanded the film be taken out of theatres after the assassination of his good friend President Kennedy, the film turned into a classic when it was rereleased in the late 1980s.
In one of the best movies about journalism ever made, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively, as they uncover the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Nixon. The drama that comes from the not-so-exciting process of reporting is a testament to the actors and director Alan J. Pakula.
Stanley Kubrick's classic satire on nuclear war never gets old. From the multiple characters played by Peter Sellers to George C. Scott's gum-smacking war hawk general to Slim Pickens riding the bomb to the end of civilisation, the movie has countless memorable moments filled with a dark comedy that has been imitated for decades.
Though when the film was released it was banned in some areas of the world as it differed with regional ideology, and under controversy here in the States because some thought it made senators look bad, Frank Capra's look at a naive senator who ends up fighting a jaded and corrupt Washington, DC, has become a pillar in the political movie genre. A big reason is the performance by Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith. Playing someone who fights for the belief that good can come out of the halls of the senate, he gives one of his finest performances.
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