What was the last movie you saw?
Whether you’re a political enthusiast or a cinephile, you most likely enjoy watching movies about government and American politics. Fictional or based on true stories, there are lots of great films out there that address this extensive topic.
The thrill of a campaign, the personalities of politics, and the machinations of government just make for exceptional movies. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every political movie is good, but that’s why I’m here—to give you some examples of great movies.
Some of these are noteworthy for teaching about government and politics, while others may have less cinematic value—but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t worth spending two hours on the couch with some popcorn.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 10 true-story movies about politics and the American government!
1. Dr. Strangelove
This is one of the classic movies. It’s a bit bizarre, with unexpected things happening, but this satirical film does a great job of exploring matters related to the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, and the entire idea of mutually assured destruction (MAD). It was directed by Stanley Kubrick, who picked some excellent actors like Peter Sellers and George C. Scott to work with.
Looking back, the whole idea of the movie may seem somewhat ridiculous. It may seem ridiculous now in 2023, but think how it would have been if you had seen this movie in 1964, when it was released.
As a side note, Dr. Strangelove is loosely based on Peter George’s novel, “Red Alert,” which was published before the movie was made.
Frost/Nixon is the story of British journalist David Frost interviewing President Richard Nixon a couple of years after his resignation.
The story is based on the one-to-one, exclusive interviews themselves, although there are some fictionalizations and liberties taken with the narrative outside of the interviews. Frank Langella also does a tremendously great job of portraying Richard Nixon.
There’s just something captivating about the Nixon era, and films about his grueling rise and fall are fascinating. If you want to get more information about the subject, you should also see other movies such as The Post and All the President’s Men.
3. American President–The Bachelor President
The American President is another famous movie about US politics. I remember it came on TV a lot in the ’90s. It’s a rom-com that tells the story of a fictional president, Andrew Shepherd, who’s trying to figure out how to live his love story while simultaneously being President.
But hang on; don’t jump to conclusions, as this isn’t just a silly romantic comedy. The movie script was written by Aaron Sorkin, who later went on to create The West Wing and has some real political writing talent.
The film’s idea is an interesting topic to explore, given the fact that the US hasn’t had an unmarried chief of state in quite some time. If you want to see the movie, here’s an Amazon link where you can get it.
4. All the King’s Men
All the King’s Men is definitely an old classic. It’s a 1949 movie adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s book, which has the same title. It describes the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a rural politician who eventually becomes Governor.
It also follows the story of a man who rails against corruption but becomes corrupt himself as he gains more power. Some people found this move as a foil for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a 1939 political comedy-drama.
There’s also a newer version of All the King’s Men, starring Sean Penn and released in 2006. While neither of the two that share the same title are historical movies, the original story is based on the life of Huey Long, who was the Governor of Louisiana in the 1930s.
Lincoln is a historical drama that evolves around the events of the last few months of Lincoln’s life, especially around how he took an active role in passing the Thirteenth Amendment. Daniel Day-Lewis, the actor playing Lincoln, did a tremendously great job, and the fact that the movie is directed by Spielberg makes it ten times better.
Civil War historians may argue that some parts of the film aren’t exactly based on true facts, but the movie does a good job of exploring the theme in a fairly accurate way. Tony Kushner, the screenwriter, did plenty of research and used Dorris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln as his major source of information.
6. Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog is definitely one of the great films about government. The main idea is that the President finds himself caught up in a massive scandal during a re-election campaign, so he decides to come up with a diversion.
He hires a Hollywood producer to invent something that will draw people’s attention away from the scandal: a war. Several mishaps ensue, and they get in a bit over their heads, but eventually, it works.
Some of the topics in this movie, such as the major role the media has in politics, are particularly relevant today. The film is based on Larry Beinhart’s book of the same name, which I truly recommend reading.
As you may know or have guessed already, JFK is a movie about the tragic event of Kennedy’s assassination. It particularly focuses on the cover-up and/or investigation of the President’s death.
The director, Oliver Stone, relied on a bunch of material from in-depth research, but this doesn’t mean that the movie wasn’t subject to controversy. We all have to agree that it’s the type of story that elicits different points of view, and I don’t think the conspiracies behind Kennedy’s death are going away any time soon.
Now, whether it’s accurate or not, this is an interesting movie, and the performances are great. And yes, it was nominated for many awards and is still regarded as one of the best movies about government.
8. The Post
This movie is quite reminiscent of All the President’s Men. It’s centered around the events leading up to the Watergate scandal, and it tells the story of the paper’s decision to print fragments of the Pentagon Papers.
It’s a significant historical moment—one that paved the way for the investigations into Watergate—and you’ll learn more about the interesting internal political dynamics at the newspaper.
I think that the action and acting are a little more up-tempo in this movie compared to All the President’s Men, so it may appeal to a wider audience. If you haven’t seen The Post yet, you can buy it here.
9. 12 Angry Men
If you haven’t seen 12 Angry Men, you should (but my guess is that you’ve already done that). This movie may not necessarily be about politics, but it’s definitely political. This behind-the-scenes courtroom drama centers on the trial of a young man allegedly accused of killing his father.
Everything happens in the jury room, and basically, the entire movie is about the jury—consisting of twelve men—deliberating and struggling to come to an agreement. It’s certainly an intriguing story that shows how things work behind closed doors within the American justice system. Also, the various characters make you think about matters of justice and truth.
The original 12 Angry Men was released in 1957, but there was also a new version released in 1997, starring Jack Lemon, Tony Danza, and more.
Selma centers around the story of the late Civil Rights Movement, focusing especially on the Selma campaign that made the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 possible.
The protagonist is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the story is told from his perspective. The whole film talks about the internal politics and the Congressional politics of the Civil Rights movement in getting the actual legislation passed.
Although some critics thought the movie was unfair to President Lyndon Johnson, it did an excellent job of highlighting how a movement cannot just move a leader—it also has to shift public opinion and general political support.
Have you seen any of these political movies? Which one did you like most? Let us know in the comments section!
You may also want to read 8 Political Deaths America Still Can’t Get Over.