A movie with a political message? Obviously not unheard of — film is one of the most common ways to make an ideological statement.
Takes Matt Damon’s latest, “Elysium.” Damon and director Neill Blomkamp insist there’s no agenda, but it’s been called a “transparently lefty” tale of the haves and have-nots, advocating for immigration reform and universal health care.
John Osborne’s “Miss Liberty’s Guide to Film and Video: Movies For The Libertarian Millennium” compiles over 250 movies that spotlight libertarian ideology, from anti-war films to dystopian portrayals of totalitarian governments to feel-good flicks about being yourself.
We picked our favourites from Osborne’s list and added some of our own for the 19 movies that best combine politics and cinema. They’ll make you think and might incite some small-government enthusiasm. Get popcorn and prepare to embrace your personal liberty, for better or worse.
Also check out Osborne’s full book here.
Ratings are courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.
Rating: 92% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Gorgeous Pixar animation gives life to Flik, an entrepreneurial ant looking to liberate his colony from oppressive ant overlords. It's a kid's movie but the dialogue is great and the the travelling bug circus makes a great ensemble cast.
Why It's Libertarian: Flik is the consummate innovator, always searching for an invention to improve the monotonous feudal lifestyle of his colony and help them break free from the greed and oppression of the grasshoppers.
Rating: 99% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: One of the most high-intensity war movies of all time, 'Apocalypse Now' is a cinematically stunning Vietnam War tale heavy on the gunfire and violence. It's not for the squeamish.
Why It's Libertarian: War comes with certain horrifying truths, and in 'Apocalypse Now' they come in the form of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), deemed an insane enemy of the state who's abandoned the American army and commands his own forces in Cambodia. The true enemy here is war promulgated by imperialist states masquerading as moral crusaders.
Rating: 92% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Dinosaurs walk among us in a magical theme park we all kind of wish were real.
Why It's Libertarian: Man thinks they've got the dinosaurs completely under control but 'nature finds a way' to let the impressively intelligent prehistoric beasts act in their own self-interest to reproduce and run wild.
Rating: 96% Fresh
What It's Awesome: The rapid decline of a small town politician's (Broderick Crawford) morals and ideals is both tragic and compulsively watchable. Crawford's speech-giving skills are top-notch and his combination of corruption and infidelity hits too close to home in today's scandal-marred political arena.
What It's Libertarian: Big government takes a self-proclaimed 'hick' politician and swallows him whole. Crawford doesn't even realise how far he's strayed from his original intentions until it's too late -- that's just the power of the political machine.
Rating: 93% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: It's 'Star Wars.'
Why It's Libertarian: Good vs. Evil as a band of libertarian rebels tries to take down a domineering military industrial complex that could swallow the entire universe. A deleted scene also apparently warns of the dangers of nationalization, upping the film's political message.
Raing: 96% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: In addition to one of the greatest theme songs of all time, 'Ghostbusters' is one of the campiest supernatural movies ever made. It's hilarious, kind of gross, and completely out of this world.
Why It's Libertarian: The film starts off with a ghost-busting trio (Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis) losing their jobs at Columbia University, forcing them to continue their paranormal exploration on their own. They build a successful business, until they're shutdown by an Environmental Protection Agency lawyer (big government), who manages to unleash hundreds of captured ghosts on the city of New York.
Rating: 65% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: When self-proclaimed liberal parents Matt and Christina (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) learn that their daughter (Katharine Houghton) plans to marry a black man (Sidney Poitier), they must confront the controversial subject of interracial marriage.
Why It's Libertarian: With Houghton (who is Hepburn's niece) forcing her parents to face their own prejudices, there's a strong message of each generation improving on societal levels of tolerance. Interracial marriage remained illegal in 17 U.S. states for part of 1967, so the movie pushed for change both with its content and its very existence.
Rating: 81% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Based on Ray Bradbury's classic dystopian novel, 'Fahrenheit 451' takes place in a futuristic world where a totalitarian government mandates the burning of all books, because books are the source of humanity's differences and disagreements. Fireman Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) starts to question the forcibly uniform, strictly passive world around him, with dramatic results.
Why It's Libertarian: A quote from on of the fire chiefs says it well: 'We've all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books.' 'Fahrenheit 451' warns of the dangers of conformity and submission to the government, as well as the importance of culture in maintaining individuality.
Rating: 68% (Audience Reviews)
Why It's Awesome: After Harry Johnson's (Edward Hermann) aunt dies of a heart attack brought on by tax-related stress, he decides to declare literal war on the IRS. Plus it's campy and hilarious -- Harry rides a tank into a local news station to spread his message.
Why It's Libertarian: 'Harry's War' is all about standing up to the red tape injustice of big government. The script describes a lot of the real powers that viewers might not have known the IRS has, and while the government does everything it can to discredit Harry, (spoiler alert!) justice wins out in the end.
Rating: 100% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: The American Film Institute called it the third best American movie of all time, and for good reason. 'The Godfather' is a dazzling epic of crime, family, suspense, betrayal, power, envy, and more.
Why It's Libertarian: The Corleone family business is criminal but it's still a business working around intervention from government authorities. Free from regulation, the Five Families (at least temporarily) manage to collude and set their own rules.
Rating: 93% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: It's one of the best holiday movies in history, but it's also so much more than that. George Bailey (James Stewart), a man deeply unhappy after a life spent compromising on his dreams, get the chance to see what would have happened if that life had never come to be.
Why It's Libertarian: Cruel banker Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) might be the film's antagonist but he's also an unabashedly capitalist entrepreneur looking to buy up an entire town and crush it's popular, forgiving banker in the process.
Rating: 98% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Fear of the deep gets the Spielberg treatment when a man-hungry shark of epic proportions terrorizes a resort town in Massachusetts.
Why It's Libertarian: Local politicians are too worried about losing tourism dollars to fix the shark problem, so the police chief (Roy Scheider), a scientist (Richard Dreyfuss), and a gnarled shark hunter (Robert Shaw) go rogue in a tiny boat to get things done.
Rating: 85% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: There are a lot of movies out there about why it's good to ignore the haters and be yourself but few are as beautiful and heart-wrenching as 'Billy Elliot.' A boy (Jamie Bell) in a British coal mining town in 1984 deals with the consequences of excelling at ballet rather than boxing.
Why It's Libertarian: It's the ultimate celebration of individualism, done against the backdrop of a mining strike that started when then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started closing unprofitable mines.
Rating: 91% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Violence abounds in one of Daniel Day-Lewis's most chilling performances as an oil man who strikes it rich in a desolate California landscape and makes a religion out of wealth and greed.
Why It's Libertarian: Daniel Plainview's (Day-Lewis) successful oil business is unfettered capitalism as he buys up surrounding land, grows his endeavours in a microcosm of American expansion, and forcibly rejects the religious beliefs of an aspirational young pastor (Paul Dano).
Rating: 79% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Set in a futuristic super-state known as Oceania and based on George Orwell's novel, '1984' is the ultimate dystopian tale: Thought Police neutralize anyone who so much as doubts 'The Party,' led by the ever-watching eye of totalitarian figurehead 'Big Brother.' It's over the top but it also might be more applicable than ever.
Why It's Libertarian: Most post-apocalyptic films either go one of two ways: the government is gone and it's every man for himself, or a totalitarian super-government takes over claiming to protect the people from themselves. '1984' is the latter to the extreme, showing the dangers of continued government expansion and taking the consequences of human willingness to let someone else make the decisions to their extreme but natural ends.
Why It's Awesome: One of the most famous trilogies in film history, 'Lord of the Rings' has no shortage of ardent supporters, and earned a Best Picture Oscar for it's third instalment , 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.' It follows a small band of heroic underdogs on a quest to destroy the 'One Ring' and free Middle Earth from the shackles of evil, all-powerful Sauron.
Why It's Libertarian: There's a heavy theme of power and human greed throughout the film: even the most honorable characters are tempted by the ring and the supreme dictator-esque abilities it affords. The little guy (literally, the protagonist is three-foot-tall Hobbit) takes on great evil and the all-powerful ring is made of gold.
Rating: 88% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Based on a true story, three Aboriginal girls in 1930s Western Australia are ripped from their families and taken to a 're-education' camp designed to isolate and breed out the Aboriginal people. Evil takes human form in A.O. Neville, 'Chief Protector of the Aborigines,' but the girls demonstrate constant courage in their attempts to escape and follow several thousand miles of rabbit-proof fence through rural Australia and back to their homes.
Why It's Libertarian: The Australian government attempts to forcibly assimilate native people, assuming them to be culturally backwards and qualified only for low-level servitude.
Rating: 80% Fresh
Why It's Awesome: Ken Harrison (Richard Dreyfuss) is a sculptor who finds himself paralysed from the neck down after a car accident. Dissatisfied with his new reality, Harrison fights for the right to refuse treatment and end his life. It's a dark comedy but also a moving story, and brings up an issue that remains legally contentious.
Why It's Libertarian: The movie brings up the dramatic question of whether a person should have the right to decide to die, and broader issues of self-determination central to Libertarian ideology. Harrison's quality of life has dramatically declined but he remains sound of mind: should he have the right to end his own life?
Why It's Awesome: A highly stylised, brutal story about a pencil-pushing every-man (Edward Norton) who breaks up the monotony of routine by joining a group of men who beat each other senseless for sport.
Why It's Libertarian: 'Fight Club' doesn't take too kindly to corporate America, but it also shows an extreme consequence of groupthink. Throughout the film (spoiler alert) the narrator (Norton) is just projecting Tyler (Brad Pitt) and has to take responsibility for himself.
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