Top Ten Political Movies of all Time

(1) All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men is a 1976 American political thriller film about the Watergate scandal, which brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Directed by Alan J. Pakula with a screenplay by William Goldman, it is based on the 1974 non-fiction book of the same name by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two journalists investigating the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post. The film stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, respectively; it was produced by Walter Coblenz for Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises.

The film was nominated in multiple Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA categories, and in 2010 was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

 

(2) Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The film was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and features Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens. Production took place in the United Kingdom. The film is loosely based on Peter George’s thriller novel Red Alert (1958).

The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. It separately follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress included Dr. Strangelove in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was listed as number three on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs

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(3) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a 1939 American political comedy-drama film directed by Frank Capra, starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart, and featuring Claude Rains and Edward Arnold. The film is about a newly appointed United States Senator who fights against a corrupt political system, and was written by Sidney Buchman, based on Lewis R. Foster’s unpublished story “The Gentleman from Montana”. The film was controversial when it was first released, but was also successful at the box office, and made Stewart a major movie star.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Story. Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1989, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

 

(4) Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American mystery drama film by Orson Welles, its producer, co-screenwriter, director and star. The picture was Welles’s first feature film. Nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, it won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles. Considered by many critics, filmmakers, and fans to be the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane was voted as such in five consecutive British Film Institute Sight & Sound polls of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as its 2007 update. Citizen Kane is particularly praised for its cinematography, music, editing and narrative structure, which have been considered innovative and precedent-setting.

The quasi-biographical film examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based in part upon the American newspaper magnates William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, and aspects of the screenwriters’ own lives. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane’s career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is told through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate’s dying word: “Rosebud”.

 

(5) The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 American suspense thriller film about the Cold War and sleeper agents. It was directed and produced by John Frankenheimer. The screenplay was written by George Axelrod, and was based on the 1959 Richard Condon novel The Manchurian Candidate. The film’s leading actors are Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Janet Leigh, with Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, and James Gregory among the performers cast in the supporting roles.

The plot centers on the Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw, the progeny of a prominent political family. Shaw was a prisoner of war during the conflict in Korea and while being held was brainwashed by his captors. After his discharge back into civilian life, he becomes an unwitting assassin involved in an international communist conspiracy. Officials from China and the Soviet Union employ Shaw as a sleeper agent in an attempt to subvert and take over the United States government.

The film was released in the United States on October 24, 1962, at the height of U.S.-Soviet hostility during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was well-received by critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Editing. It was selected in 1994 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

 

(6) Z film

Z is a 1969 Algerian-French epic political thriller film directed by Costa-Gavras, with a screenplay by Gavras and Jorge Semprún, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos. The film presents a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. With its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark sense of humor, and its downbeat ending, the film captures the outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time of its making.

The film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as the investigating magistrate (an analogue of Christos Sartzetakis who later served as president of Greece from 1985 to 1990). International stars Yves Montand and Irene Papas also appear, but despite their star billing have very little screen time. Jacques Perrin, who co-produced, plays a key role as a photojournalist. The film’s title refers to a popular Greek protest slogan  Ζει, IPA: ˈzi meaning “he lives,” in reference to Lambrakis.

 

(7) Malcolm X

Malcolm X, sometimes stylized as X, is a 1992 American epic biographical drama film about the Afro-American activist Malcolm X. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the film stars Denzel Washington in the title role, as well as Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., and Delroy Lindo. Lee has a supporting role, while Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and future South Africa president Nelson Mandela make cameo appearances. This is the second of four film collaborations between Washington and Lee.

The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X’s life: his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and his later falling out with the organization, his marriage to Betty X, his pilgrimage to Mecca and reevaluation of his views concerning whites, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. Defining childhood incidents, including his father’s death, his mother’s mental illness, and his experiences with racism are dramatized in flashbacks.

Malcolm X’s screenplay, co-credited to Lee and Arnold Perl, is based largely on Alex Haley’s 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Haley collaborated with Malcolm X on the book beginning in 1963 and completed it after Malcolm X’s death.

 

(8) The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers, La battaglia di Algeri, معركة الجزائر‎, French: La Bataille d’Alger, is a 1966 Italian-Algerian historical war film co-written and directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and starring Jean Martin and Saadi Yacef. It is based on events by rebels during the Algerian War (1954–62) against the French government in North Africa; the most prominent being the titular Battle of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. It was shot on location and the film’s score was composed by Ennio Morricone. The film was shot in a Roberto Rossellini-inspired newsreel style: in black and white with documentary-type editing to add to its sense of historical authenticity. It is often associated with Italian neorealism cinema.

The film has been critically celebrated. Both insurgent groups and state authorities have considered it to be an important commentary on urban guerrilla warfare. It occupies the 48th place on the Critics’ Top 250 Films of the 2012 Sight & Sound poll, as well as 120th place on Empire magazine’s list of the ‘500 greatest movies of all time’.

 

(9) Milk

Milk is a 2008 American biographical film based on the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black, the film stars Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as Dan White, a city supervisor who assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone. The film was released to much acclaim and earned numerous accolades from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, it received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for Black.

Attempts to put Milk’s life to film followed a 1984 documentary of his life and the aftermath of his assassination, titled The Times of Harvey Milk, which was loosely based upon Randy Shilts’s biography, The Mayor of Castro Street (the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 1984, and was awarded Special Jury Prize at the first Sundance Film Festival, among other awards). Various scripts were considered in the early 1990s, but projects fell through for different reasons, until 2007. Much of Milk was filmed on Castro Street and other locations in San Francisco, including Milk’s former storefront, Castro Camera. 

 

(10) Election

Election is a 1999 American black comedy-drama film directed and written by Alexander Payne and adapted by him and Jim Taylor from Tom Perrotta’s 1998 novel of the same title. The plot revolves around a high school election and satirizes both suburban high school life and politics. The film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, around the time of the school’s student body election. When Tracy qualifies to run for class president, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title and tries to stop her from winning.

Although a box office bomb, Election received critical acclaim. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Witherspoon in the Best Actress category, and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film in 1999.

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