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The best political movies

A few weeks back, we asked Fixistas for their suggestions for the best political books ever written. And, after sorting through literally hundreds of suggestions, we published our list.

But, in the midst of compiling the best of the best in political books, a number of Fixistas suggested we build a similar list of the top political movies of all time.

And we are nothing if not responsive!

The Fix is, admittedly, more of a book guy than a movie guy. (The last movie the Fix family saw in the theaters was "There Will Be Blood".)

But, that doesn't mean we don't have a favorite. To our mind, the best political movie is "A Perfect Candidate", the documentary of the 1994 Virginia Senate race between then Sen. Chuck Robb (D) and Oliver North (R) -- among others.

The movie is filled with unforgettable moments but for us two stand out:

* Robb trying to chat up a potential voters -- in the most awkward way imaginable -- in a grocery store aisle.

* The legendary Post reporter Don Baker absolutely haranguing Robb outside of a factory on whether he supported an issue. Robb eventually said the voted for "cloture", at which point Baker turns to an aide and says something to the effect of "You're going to translate that for us, right?" BRUTAL.

For political junkies looking to understand how politics -- and political journalism -- really work, "A Perfect Candidate" is as close to perfection.

But, that's just one man's opinion. What's yours? You can offer your favorite political movie(s) in the comment section below or send it via email to us at

Get to it!

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 18, 2010; 12:27 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
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Next: Mitt Romney: President Obama has 'failed' the American people


Charlie Wilson's War

- "Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?"
- "Tradition, mostly."

Posted by: Jindal2012 | February 20, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Netflix has a couple of BBC series titled, "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" that I haven't seen mentioned here. Very funny and entertaining political satire; highly recommend.

Posted by: Tyelctu | February 20, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe no one mentioned this movie.

Posted by: SuzyCcup | February 20, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

"All the President's Men,"
followed by "Dave" -- and everything else falling into place behind.
Just as people remember where they were on Dec. 7th, on the day JFK was shot, and on 9/11, I'll never forget watching Nixon resign. I'm a former copy editor/Features writer for a big-city newspaper and I've never skipped the opportunity to watch "All the President's Men" on TV. It continues to be mesmerizing. With the dearth and death of investigative journalism, the White House/Capitol Hill motto is "Anything goes." God bless Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee and Katharine Graham.

Posted by: fionalowther | February 20, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Saying "Primary Colors" is the best would be giving too much credit to the hack Joe Klein. He's just not that talented -- you'd be saying he is better than Frank Capra, and that's just crazy talk.

Posted by: JBaustian | February 20, 2010 3:20 AM | Report abuse

Day of the Condor and The Pelican Brief?

The Conversation.

In the short-subject category, the recent "Green Police" ad during the Super Bowl.

Posted by: JBaustian | February 20, 2010 3:14 AM | Report abuse

Honorable mention to 'The West Wing' even though it's a TV show?

Posted by: ltanzania | February 19, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Someone mentioned it previously, but it's
good enough that it bears repeating--"Z". Plus a lot of other good movies mentioned above, but Z stands out.

Posted by: BadgerGuy203824 | February 19, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

The best political movie of all-time is the one about the greatest pure politician of our lifetime - Bill Clinton - and the fundamental dilemma of politics - do the ends justify the means?

Primary Colors.

Posted by: alexshoor | February 19, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I love "The Candidate": "Can't any longer play off black against old, young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless, feed its foodless."

Anytime "Dave" comes on, I have trouble turning it off.

Both "Bulworth" and "Wag the Dog" make some excellent points in scenes that are fun to watch, although neither film finishes strong.

Richard Gere made a movie called "Power." Check out the scene in which a candidate in New Mexico tries to ride a horse while filming an ad.

Some people have mentioned "Being There." I'm not sure politics is the main thrust of the movie (although I can see the case for it), but I am sure that it's one of my favorite movies of all time, period.

Posted by: dognabbit | February 19, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

"The Godfather" -- Pure Machiavelli in narrative form.

Posted by: fallenstjames | February 19, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

"The Grand Illusion" -- As much about the politics between a POW and his captor as it is about their friendship and shared sense of honor. (Plus, the scene where the French POWs stand up and sing the Marseilles makes the similar scene in "Casablanca" almost look silly.)

"Reds" -- I don't know how a movie glorifying an American communist got made during the early Reagan years, but few movies have been able to capture both the thrilling romance and tedious bureaucracy of Revolution.

Posted by: fallenstjames | February 19, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised no one has mentioned "My Fellow Americans" that movie is downright hilarious.

As far as relevant strategic movies, I'm a fan of "Deterrence" although I don't think many people have seen it.

"All the President's Men" is simply a classic.

Posted by: ckb11 | February 19, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

you guys are using a lot of movies that have a political message, but my to me a political movie, is one in which the main characters work in government. Not war movies (which I love) or message movies (which I also love). My top ten are:
10. City Hall
9. Primary Colors
8. The American President
7. Nixon
6. All The Presidents Men
5. Milk
4. The Candidate
3. A Face In The Crowd
2. Frost/Nixon
1. Mr.Smith Goes To Washington*

*My love for this movie is starting to diminish as my frustration with the modern filibuster grows.

Posted by: elijah24 | February 19, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Advise and Consent.

Posted by: canaldoc | February 19, 2010 5:50 AM | Report abuse

Advise and Consent.

Posted by: canaldoc | February 19, 2010 5:49 AM | Report abuse

I missed one--the greatest one of all:

Duck Soup

Posted by: tjbv1 | February 18, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

can we include _election_? it's a high school election but great. I agree with journeys with George. watched the nine lives of Marion berry recently, which was also great. for a campaign movie, I'm voting for the war room.

Posted by: plathman | February 18, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

Whew! Tough one, Chris......

(no particular order):

Bob Roberts
Birth of a Nation (restored)
Battle of Algiers
Wag the Dog
The Ugly American
All the King's Men
Winter Kills/Parallax View/Manchurian Candidate [a paranoiac's trilogy]
Seven Days in May
Dr. Strangelove
Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtoon [Stamaty ref]
[and maybe, probably]: Fail Safe

Posted by: tjbv1 | February 18, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

1) Best campaign movie: The Candidate with Robert Redford - Best line after winning the election Robert Redford "what do I do now?" Identifies the problem with candidates who can't govern because they focus on the campaign as the finish line instead of the first lap.

2) Best Presidential Move: Missiles of October - Martin sheen as Robert Kennedy awesome.

Posted by: Shootiest3 | February 18, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Mr Cillizza writes - The Fix is, admittedly, more of a book guy than a movie guy. (The last movie the Fix family saw in the theaters was "There Will Be Blood".)

That last movie the Fix family saw, did it take place in November 2010?

Posted by: SuzyCcup | February 18, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

1) Eleanor and Franklin, the early years

2) Seven days in May

3) The Last Emperor

4) A Man for all Seasons

5) Thirteen days

6) Fail safe

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | February 18, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

serious- Gandhi
funny- Being There

Posted by: NYClefty | February 18, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

"Seven Days in May," which was recently on TCM. Still relevant today. Fredric March was incredible.

Troll all-time favorite: "Birth of a Nation," the Directors Cut.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | February 18, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

"Blaze" is pretty darned good too.

Posted by: lack | February 18, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Bob ever. No doubt.

Posted by: lack | February 18, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Streetfight...the movie about the rise of Corey Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ

Posted by: pdavi52 | February 18, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

I think most of the good ones about Am domestic politics have been named. The HBO "John Adams" might be a worthy addition.
The Middle East today is easier to understand after watching "Lawrence of Arabia". "Gandhi" helps with comprehending India and Pakistan. Hoagland would not have been so credulous about his Indian interviews the other day if he had freshly seen that one.

"The Killing Fields" and "Hotel Rwanda" tell us about still recent history that shapes our world.
I am probably expanding the field in a way CC did not intend.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | February 18, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Obama does Dallas

Posted by: armpeg | February 18, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Being an idealist I have to nominate Henry Fonda in Gore Vidal's "the Best Man".

Posted by: bradcpa | February 18, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

"In the Loop" hands down, best contemporary political film

Posted by: marcjchalifoux | February 18, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Why has no one mentioned "Wag the Dog"? I thought it had to be one of the funniest political films ever. The behind-the-scenes finagling used to manipulate the news media was wonderful. Especially the way they exposed the use of war news.

Posted by: shirty | February 18, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The only movie that changed political reporting for ever..All the President's Men

Posted by: JohnCadmus | February 18, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

1) All the King's Men (original)
2) The Candidate starring Robert Redford (I heard that there was going to be a remake/original. True?)
3) Primary Colors
4) Nixon (with Anthony Hopkins)
5) The Contender

Posted by: Haners | February 18, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Similar to A Perfect Candidate... believe the documentary is called Taking on the Kennedy's. A look at Patrick Kennedy's first race, and the challenges the Republican (who was clearly more qualified) had in running against the name. Great movie, very well done

Posted by: kms20 | February 18, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I thought Frost/Nixon was excellent. The Nixon portrayal was great.

Posted by: DDAWD | February 18, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

The American President, The Contender, Dave, the "not go quietly into the night" speech part of Independence Day; they're all good. But nothing competes with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

For documentaries, I like Vote for Me, Last Man Standing, and Journeys with George.

Posted by: CCDMembership | February 18, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

"The Lion In Winter." Three princes. One throne. Hardball ensues.

Posted by: jdeeth1 | February 18, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Definitely Primary Colors. One of the few political books that was turned into an excellent movie.

I also nominate Wag the Dog, as well as Dave with Kevin Kline (although that last one is a bit of a stretch for a political movie).

Posted by: jdmaccoby | February 18, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I like 'No Way Out'
it's kind of political.. also, 'JFK'.

Posted by: newbeeboy | February 18, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

It may by more spy/thriller but I like Three Days of the Condor for the lines:
"Do you miss the war?" (referring to WWII)
"I don't miss the war, I miss the clarity it brought."
We could use a little clarity these days.

Casablanca had a political message about self-sacrifice that should be remembered today.

The Man who Shot Liberty Valence would be my #1 pick but I can no longer suspend my disbelief and believe that a man or woman like the character Jimmy Stewart played exists in today's world.

Posted by: caribis | February 18, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Surprised this hasn't been mentioned yet, but Marshall Curry's "Street Fight" is one of the reasons I became interested in politics. It has all the best and worst ingredients of politics: hope, corruption, stellar candidates, and national recognition.

Posted by: Hoops11 | February 18, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

"Bob Roberts" -- Sarah Palin is probably using it as a how-to guide.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | February 18, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

"Bob Roberts" -- Sarah Palin is probably using it as a how-to guide.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | February 18, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

For the record, I am not using fear, hatred and hysteria (no comment as to whether you are "simple-minded" or not):

"Barack Obama is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

"War Room" hands down

Posted by: tbirdwh0 | February 18, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

The Manchurian Candidate has striking parallels to today's Republican party using fear, hatred and hysteria to manipulate simple-minded people.

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Peter Sellers as Chauncy Obama.

Posted by: drivl | February 18, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Gonna agree with drindl, "A Face in the Crowd" belongs on the list -- for what it says about commercialized mass media's impact on politics and society.

Ditto "The Candidate" with Redford and "The Manchurian Candidate" with Sinatra.

Posted by: scrivener50 | February 18, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Louisiana Boys Raised on Politics
All The King's Men
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Posted by: akinsdem | February 18, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse


"Enemy of the State" (1998). This Will Smith-Gene Hackman thriller (perfectly directed by Tony Scott) foreshadowed the prefabricated 9/11 hysteria that has decimated the rule of law and human rights in America. Its climactic scene also gives hint as to where the good and the bad guys are in the shadow government that really rules America (despite what you read in this space).

Second place:

"Seven Days in May" (1964). Completed just as JFK was assassinated. Burt Lancaster plays against type as the prototypical military coup-meister. Did writers Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey have an inside line?

Third place:

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939). Not as Pollyanish as you might think for a Frank Capra film, given Claude Rains' spot-on portrayal of the corrupt Senator Joseph Harrison Paines.



Help expose the government scandal that makes Watergate look like just another black bag job. Ask Obama administration officials these two questions:

1. Has the U.S. government deployed a cell tower- mounted microwave weapon system capable of attacking, impairing, or injuring human beings?

2. Is any government agency investigating reports that this system has been used against American citizens?

And don't be waved off by character assassination and disinformation.
OR (see articles list)

OR (see "stories" list)

Posted by: scrivener50 | February 18, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The Manchurian Candidate (the original) has striking parallels to Obama's unaccounted for trips to foreign lands.

Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

"The War Room", highlighting Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. "The Candidate," starring Robert Redford. The original "Manchurian Candidate." And the classic, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

Posted by: jpovadia | February 18, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Best Political Movies List:

1. Mr. Smith goes to Washington
2. The Manchurian Candidate (the original)
3. Citizen Kane
4. Dr. Strangelove
5. All the President's Men
6. Primary Colors
7. 13 Days
8. Dave
9. Bulworth

Posted by: King2641 | February 18, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

" A FACE IN THE CROWD' -- Best thing Andy Griffith ever did. Plays a Palin-like character, folksy on the surface but actually a greedy demagogue.

'MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE' Excellent depiction of the rightwing hysteria of the McCarthy era.

'ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN' The Watergate story.

'ALL THE KING'S MEN' Story of Huey P. Long, Senator of LA.

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

"Journeys with George," the documentary Alexandra Pelosi (Speaker Pelosi's daughter) made during the 2000 campaign for president while part of the Bush press pool.

Posted by: sykesjustin | February 18, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Seven Days in May - still holds today even though it was made in 1963/64

Posted by: clera | February 18, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

would any list be complete without "All the Presidents Men". Unless you consider this movie not a "politcal" movie (to which I contend a break in at DNC headquarters by operatives of a decidedly republican bent constitutes a "political" movie)it should be on the list.

Posted by: jspontarelli | February 18, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

'Robb trying to chat up a potential voters -- in the most awkward way imaginable -- in a grocery store aisle.

* The legendary Post reporter Don Baker absolutely haranguing Robb outside of a factory on whether he supported an issue. Robb eventually said the voted for "cloture", at which point Baker turns to an aide and says something to the effect of "You're going to translate that for us, right?" BRUTAL.'

and I guess you like that because it's an R dumping on a D?

J3 -- both are so excellent, how could you choose between them?

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Pick your favorite Peter Sellers movie:

Being There


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Better known as Dr. Strangelove.

Posted by: JakeD3 | February 18, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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