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Reel Recommendations: 15 Essential Political Films You Can’t Miss

Reader, we live in a world that has walls of ignorance and misconception, and those walls must be guarded by people with the courage break them down. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, reader? Who doesn’t even know this is a parody of the best part of a Few Good Men?!

This humble author has a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for assumed political bias and curse the political films you disagree with as propaganda. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what we know: that these films, while unsettling, are what it takes to educate, to challenge, and to inspire.

Please enjoy this list of quality political films that should entertain even the most discerning of politically engaged citizens.

1. All The President’s Men (1976)

All The President's Men Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

“We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.” 

Championing the journalistic crusade of truth and hard-sourced facts, All The President’s Men underscores the fundamental role of a free – and responsible – press in safeguarding a democratic society. It weaves a cautionary tale of how an informed citizenry can expose government corruption and hold the powerful accountable – leveraging indisputable facts in service of its story.

2. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb (1964)

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” 

Dr. Strangelove astutely employs satire to illuminate the absurdity and horror of nuclear weapons. Its portrayal of buffoonish characters engaging in dangerous political games illustrates how precarious the global power balance can be—cautioning viewers about the alarming proximity of such narratives to reality, drawing parallels between its dark humor and the complexities of global politics.

3. The Americanization of Emily (1964)

The Americanization of Emily
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

“We shall never end wars… by blaming it on ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogeys. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers.”

Highlighting the profound challenges of pacifism, The Americanization of Emily advocates for a holistic rejection of war, extending beyond the battlefield to challenge institutions that glorify conflict that also fundamentally provide for the very freedom we use to criticize them. 

4. The Lion in Winter (1968)

The Lion in Winter
Image Credit: AVCO Embassy Pictures.

“We are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are evil. Us!”

The Lion in Winter ingeniously adapts a play that leverages middle-ages monarchy as a metaphor for the eternal human condition. Essentially a Succession episode in less fancy settings, the film leverages stellar performances by Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn to illustrate the timeless and inherently demoralizing nature of political strife being a cancerous symptom of the human condition.

5. The American President (1995)

The American President (1995) Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen in The American President (1995)
Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment

“Democracy isn’t easy. I’ve been reminded of that every day this year.”

The American President provides an idealized yet deeply insightful glimpse into American politics. It explores the intricate dynamic between private life and public office, casting light on the unique pressures of the Presidency while suggesting yes, the people in power, do mean well. 

6. Kill The Messenger (2014)

Kill the Messenger (2014, directed by Michael Cuesta) Jeremy Renner Ray Liotta
Image Credit: Focus Features LLC.

This film illuminates the dual-edged sword of journalism—its power to uncover truth and how when that truth falls on deaf or defiant ears, it turns out truth is far less important than security, comfort, and secrecy. Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, Kill The Messenger is an insightful and brutally truthful introduction to the real nature of journalism in the 21st century.

7. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

As fanciful as Harvey the Rabbit, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington emphasizes the transformative power of individual integrity in the face of systemic political corruption. The film encapsulates the essence of democracy, underlining the importance of civic duty and moral resilience – and makes for a wonderful nostalgic look back on those good ole days that maybe never were.

8. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

V for Vendetta delves into themes of rebellion, totalitarianism, and individual agency. Essentially a video essay set to the cliff-notes version of the Anarchist’s Cookbook, the film lured audiences in with the promise of deadly action and Matrix style fighting, only to provide something far more exciting – a truly reality shattering look behind the curtain of power, politics, and corruption.

9. JFK (1991)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

“I just want to raise our children and live a normal life. I want my life back!” JFK, a gripping exploration of conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination, prods viewers to scrutinize official narratives and seek their truth.

This movie flies by, makes you angry, and finally leaves you with this feeling that you’re *not* crazy for questioning things and the people who suggest you are likely have something to hide.

12. Milk (2008)

Milk, Sean Penn
Image Credit: Focus Features.

“I’m not a candidate, I’m part of a movement. The movement is the candidate.” 

It does a body good. Somehow the most uplifting film I’ve ever seen that ends in tragedy, Milk is a vibrant testament to the power of advocacy and representation and serves as a poignant chronicle of the gay rights movement in the U.S. – even if its hero could be considered problematic by modern sensibilities. 

13. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Good Night, and Good Luck
Image Credit: Warner Independent Pictures.

Set against the backdrop of the McCarthy era, Good Night and Good Luck underscores the significance of media integrity in challenging governmental overreach and abuses of power – and how the right thing is often recognized by history but, sadly, rarely rewarded in one’s lifetime. 

14. Frost/Nixon (2008)

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” 

Frost/Nixon reaffirms the necessity of journalistic diligence and a robust system of checks and balances. And that crippling insecurity can sometimes be enough to ruin even the most powerful of men with the best of intentions and true accomplishments under their belt.

15. Wag The Dog (1997)

Wag the dog
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

In its scathing satire of political manipulation and spin in the modern media era, Wag the Dog hones in on the methods of communication and the manipulation of public perception showing how the sausage of political spin gets made by taking you into the studio, the war room, and the heads of those who play pretend with the lives of the American people.

It contrasts starkly with more allegorical films like Network, offering a raw glimpse into the machinations of politics.

16. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

Charlie Wilson's War
Image: Universal Pictures

While many films tackled the War on Terrorism era, Charlie Wilson’s War uniquely injects depth and context into the narrative. Using real-life covert operations and the historical hindsight offered by the book it is based on, this film dissects how an American-created power vacuum in the Middle East contributed to the rise of Al Qaeda. 

17. Starship Troopers (1996)

Starship Troopers Neil Patrick Harris, Denise Richards, Casper Van Dien
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.

This quote perfectly encapsulates the essence of Starship Troopers, a biting satire that veers into speculative fiction. The film dives headfirst into the themes of militarism, propaganda, and the seductive allure of power, showcasing how these forces can influence societies and provocatively suggesting that the cycle of violence may be an inevitable consequence of forgetting the harsh lessons of history.

Source: (Reddit).

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