5 Political Films More Entertaining Than Congress

Sometimes reading the news and taking in events on Capitol Hill is a bit like sitting down to a movie. Watching senators duke it out in D.C. could be a new zombie-themed Hunger Games, or Obama’s political arm wrestling with Congress could be the next Fight Club – the first rule might be something like “You do not talk about Obamacare.”

The point is, politics are dynamic — they’re dramatic, full of corruption, full of hope, and just generally high stakes. Picture the poker game in Casino Royale combined with crap loads of paperwork and legal fees. That’s what makes politics rather well-tailored for film. It has all the right ingredients, and movie producers have all the right montage-making tools to skip over said paperwork. Here are just five.

1. JFK

If you’re looking to get your “spook” on and dig into some John F. Kennedy conspiracy, JFK is the right film. Directed by political film master, Oliver Stone, JFK is fast paced and full of intrigue. It looks at the Kennedy assassination through the eyes of a District Attorney who believes he’s uncovered something beyond what’s been accepted. The film stars Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Jack Lemmon.

There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of movies about JFK, and which one you watch depends on what you hope to get out of it. This might not be the best film for examining a historical look at Kennedy’s life and accomplishments, but it is a good suspense flick — not to mention it received an 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

2. W.

I’m not actually certain Oliver Stone’s 2008 film about George W. Bush is the best choice of biopics. It has some humorous parts and shed some light on his personality, his administration, and his career. The timing of its release also made it an interesting premiere as it came out while Bush was still in office. But for the most part it’s a good segue into the genre, which is extensive and impossible to tackle one by one.

There’s also the 1995 film Nixon, starring Anthony Hopkins — honestly, can you think of anyone better to play Tricky Dicky than Hannibal Lecter? Think of a well-known politician, and there’s a film on them, from Milk to The Kings Speech, to Lincoln, Malcom X, and George Wallace.

3. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

No political film list would be complete without this classic. It probably deserves to be in the first paragraph, the first sentence, hell, maybe the title. Dr. Strangelove is one of those political films that’s witty, but simultaneously has an incredible depth and intelligence — satire at its best.

It has everything a fan of politics could hope for: cold war conundrums, foolish politicians, and devious scientists. It even manages to work a little political game theory in there if you look close enough. The writing is clever, the characters hilarious, and yet disturbingly familiar, and all in all the black and white production is explosive, dynamite, TNT, and any other ammunition-related word you might think of.

4. All the President’s Men

If you have any interest in the Watergate scandal, Nixon, Woodward and Bernstein, or even just investigative journalism generally, All the President’s Men is a must see. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The Washington Post called it “a fresh and even stirring reminiscence,” though it’s hardly surprising they’d enjoy the flash back their glory days.

The story weaves a mix of political coverup and the reporting storytelling, with all the digging and persistence needed to tell any great mystery story. It received a Metascore of 80 from Metacritic.com and a 98 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

5. The Manchurian Candidate

A darker political picture is hard to find, or a more referenced piece of cinematography in the political category — excusing Dr. Strangelove, of course. A suspenseful conspiracy film, The Manchurian Candidate is the end all of brainwashing flicks. It takes you on a ride somewhere along the border of insanity and government cover-up, batted between schizophrenia-esque theories, and the search for implants.

Denzel Washington does an admirable job dragging us through the story of a military man who begins to realize his mind has been tampered with — and he’s not the only one.

Did I forget your favorite film? I’m not surprised. There’s only five on this list; so let me know what political cinema deserves a shout out in the comments below. Honorable mention: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS