The Great Dictator

Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Movies About Politics

Politics are all over the news lately. A number of local and state elections take place next week. More than that, you can’t turn on the TV or open social media without hearing about one major scandal or another. Setting aside the real-world disaster that is our current political landscape, what are your favorite movies about politics?

M. Enois Duarte

Remembered as his first true sound film with spoken dialogue, Charlie Chaplin made what I consider the greatest political satire ever in ‘The Great Dictator‘. The plot’s hysterical criticism of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and the ideologies they represented is not the only reason for the film’s greatness. What really makes it a masterpiece is the film’s insightful jabs at fascism and the breakdown of government systems that prescribe to such hateful rhetoric. To this day, the final speech delivered by Chaplin’s dictator Adenoid Hynkel is one of my favorite moments in cinema, an emotionally poignant harangue that remains as relevant today.

Shannon Nutt

Although it focuses on a small high school and the campaign for Class President, I don’t know that there’s been a better movie made about the dark side of politics than Alexander Payne’s ‘Election‘.

This 1999 film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a high school teacher who has an absolute hate for his overachieving young student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). You see, Tracy had a fling with Jim’s best friend and fellow teacher. His friend got fired and then divorced, but there were no repercussions for Tracy whatsoever. So when the perky blonde decides to run for Class President, Jim does everything in his power to make sure she loses… with disastrous results.

A cult classic almost since its release, ‘Election’ is finally getting the Criterion treatment on Blu-ray at the end of this year, and I can’t recommend it more highly.

Luke Hickman

I’m not exactly the biggest fan of purely political pictures. However, I’m a huge fan of political thrillers. Full-blown political films are typically depressing (just like true politics), so I prefer a dose of sensationalism with mine. Ever since I was an early teen, I’ve always been drawn to political thrillers. The one that I first truly fell in love with was the second Tom Clancy adaptation, ‘Patriot Games‘.

I love all five Jack Ryan movies and look forward to Amazon’s upcoming series, but ‘Patriot Games’ is still my favorite. The mix of global politics, behind-doors CIA spy stuff and heated Sean Bean revenge make it the perfect package. Considering a very real threat level and the fact that no one – not even Ryan’s wife and kid in D.C. – are safe, makes it a very satisfying and intense film that has aged extremely well. If only we could get a new remaster for home viewing.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I completely understand why you’re rolling your eyes right now, but there’s something close enough to politics at the core of ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!‘. Federally funded experiments were directly responsible for the rise of colossal, sentient tomatoes with a taste for human flesh. Press Secretary Jim Richards is tasked with making a woefully incompetent, pen-crazed President come out looking good in all this, working with the PR agency that handled the Prez’s re-election campaign to put a happy face on the tomato invasion. Just think of what staggeringly large tomatoes could do for pizza! As it turns out, the true source of the red menace is Jim Richards himself. His scheme is to secure the Presidency as his own, certain to be voted in by thankful survivors once he singlehandedly puts an end to the crisis that he secretly engineered. Sure, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ it’s not, but considering Frank Capra’s well-publicized bias against carnivorous tomato movies, that’s no surprise.

Josh Zyber

I mentioned ‘Bob Roberts‘ not too long ago in our Roundtable about Worst Movie & TV Politicians, but it’s too good a pick not to highlight again. Tim Robbins’ blistering satire stings just as deeply today as it did back in 1992, a sad reminder that not much has changed in the meantime. If anything, the cartoonish exaggerations Robbins played for laughs have all come true in real life.

For something a little more sobering, ‘Nixon‘ remains one of Oliver Stone’s most underrated and complex works. Far from the hatchet job that everyone expected out of Stone, the film is a nuanced, surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a complicated man undone by the fatal flaws in his character. The director isn’t afraid to acknowledge Nixon’s accomplishments and victories, as well as his failures and ultimate fall from grace. The story is engrossing from start to finish, even with a Director’s Cut running over three-and-a-half hours. Sad as it is to say, the movie may actually leave you pining nostalgically for the days when Richard Nixon was viewed as the worst President our country ever had.

Give us your picks for best movies about politics in the Comments below.


  1. EM

    George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, about the “battle” between newscaster Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joe McCarthy—using actual footage of McCarthy. While the film might overemphasize Murrow & co.’s role in McCarthy’s fall and experience other problems inherent in dramatizing a true story, nonetheless it’s a good piece about a good fight against demagoguery and its dangers.

    If that sounds too serious, try Paul Bartel’s over-the-top action film Death Race 2000, produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. It portrays an America ruled by Mr. President and his Bipartisan Party, where the population is kept in check with the bread and circuses of high-tech TV and blood-soaked sporting competitions, and the media channels kowtow to the government in its campaign of misinformation. But even if you don’t care about that, maybe you’ll enjoy the blood and guts and T&A and profusion of gags.

    • Bolo

      I’d forgotten about ‘Good Night and Good Luck’. That one was pretty good.

      I liked ‘Ides of March’ better though. It was nice to see one side criticizing itself instead of just pointing the finger at the other guy. There’s a really good observation in there where one character says that just because you’re bad at fighting dirty, doesn’t mean you aren’t still fighting dirty. That stuck with me.

  2. Csm101

    The first one that comes to mind is The Contender. Joan Allen is accused of doing some slutty stuff in her past which may hurt her chances at becoming vp. She tries to take the high road by not slinging dirt back at her competitor. That’s what I remember off the top of my head. On a funny note, I really enjoy The Campaign. It’s ridiculously over the top, but cracks me up nonetheless.

  3. Bolo

    I’ll go with ‘The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas’. It’s a good movie about how a mob can quickly form and become obsessed with doing something about something that wasn’t a problem and never concerned them. It’s got charming performances, cheeky laughs, and great songs. I can’t count how many times I hear some politician and think of the song “The Sidestep” from this movie.

  4. Elizabeth

    Enemy of the State. Sure, you can look at it as just an action thriller with some political intrigue tossed in. But if you really look at it, the movie was actually quite prescient in its politics. What gets the action rolling is the murder of a senator who is going to vote no to a bill that would allow massive government surveillance of US citizens. Three years later, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act was passed effectively creating the surveillance state this move warned about.

  5. Plissken99

    On this day the 5th of November, I could scarcely think of a better or more relevant political movie than V For Vendetta. Given the going’s on at the moment, it feels like a documentary for a time we’re about to experience.

  6. Timcharger

    “pining nostalgically for the days when Richard Nixon was viewed as the worst President our country ever had.”

    Why be pining? The Kenyan’s reign is over. We are great again. I do have one of the greatest memories of all time, so I would know. Believe me!

  7. Timcharger

    I see a picture of Charlie Chaplin at the Charlottesville rally. I was proven right, there’s good people on both sides.

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