- The political movie genre has always there to celebrate, keep in check, and satire the system.
- Here we highlight the 22 best political movies ever and rank them.
- Find out where classics like “JFK,” “All the President’s Men,” “Wag the Dog,” and “Lincoln” end up on the list.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Movies focusing on politics take many forms. They can have a serious stance on a major issue or moment in history, they can also make fun of the whole system with a satirical tone. Regardless, the genre has over the decades produced some of the most gripping, entertaining movies ever told.
And now more than ever, we need these stories in our lives.
From “All the President’s Men” to “JFK” to “Bulworth,” here we rank the 22 greatest the genre has ever produced.
22. “The Distinguished Gentleman” (1992)
Eddie Murphy plays a Florida con man who realizes he has been missing out on the biggest con of all: being a politician.
Winning a seat in Congress because he has the same name as a longtime Congressman in his district who suddenly passed away before the election, he proceeds to turn DC upside down. Honestly, this is a hidden gem in the Eddie Murphy filmography.
21. "Nixon" (1995)
Anthony Hopkins playing Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's epic look at the 37th president is hit-and-miss at moments. As with any great actor, however, in the moments when he's right, the movie thrives.
But Stone also examines the shrewdness of Nixon. One moment he's in the bugged Oval Office tearing apart his legacy and another he's confronted by Vietnam protesters at the Lincoln Memorial and he actively tries to understand what they are against.
20. "Milk" (2008)
Sean Penn earned an Oscar for his performance as Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay politician to be elected to public office.
The movie chronicles Milk's struggle as a gay activist in San Francisco in the late 1970s and ends with his shocking assassination. As with almost everything he's in, Penn gives a moving performance.
19. "Election" (1999)
Great political movies don't always have to deal with adults. Alexander Payne's look at a high school election and the ramifications that occur when a teacher (Matthew Broderick) is fed up with an over-achiever (Reese Witherspoon) running for student body president is as entertaining as it is eerily similar to how grown politicians act.
18. "Seven Days in May" (1964)
Set 10 years in the future from when it was released, the film is a thrilling drama that follows a planned coup of the president in seven days after a nuclear arms treaty has been signed.
On top of the great performances by Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, released during the height of the Cold War, the movie touched on the tension that many in the country had about nuclear war.
17. "The American President" (1995)
Directed by Rob Reiner with a script from Aaron Sorkin, Michael Douglas plays a widowed sitting president who falls for a lobbyist (Annette Bening).
The romantic dramedy captures both Reiner and Sorkin's strengths and highlights how well Martin Sheen, who plays the chief of staff in the movie, does with Sorkin's dialogue. Soon after the two would team again for the successful "The West Wing" series.
16. "The Contender" (2000)
Joan Allen gives a powerful performance as a senator who has been chosen by the president (Jeff Bridges) to take over the vice presidency following the sudden death of the current VP. But in her way of taking the position is the congressman (Gary Oldman) at the head of the committee to select her. Instead of speaking on why she's qualified for the job, questions about her past sexual encounters come up leading to the hearings becoming a media sensation.
Allen's performance earned her an Oscar nomination and, as always, Oldman is incredible.
15. "All the King's Men" (1949)
This 1950 best picture Oscar winner follows the rise and fall of everyman politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) who gets into politics hoping to help the working man, but when he gets in, becomes so corrupt that he no longer knows the difference between right and wrong.
14. “Lincoln” (2012)
Daniel Day-Lewis received an Oscar for his portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War when he struggles with the idea to emancipate the slaves. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film is a powerful look at not just one of our greatest presidents but how politics were handled at the time.
13. "Frost/Nixon" (2008)
Capturing one of the most unique series of televised interviews ever done - in which Richard Nixon admits to illegal acts as president - this adaptation of the popular stage play stars Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as broadcaster David Frost (the two also starred in the roles onstage).
The compelling story shows that the drama behind the scenes of the interviews was as riveting as what occurred on the screen.
12. "Primary Colors" (1998)
Based on a novel that was originally published anonymously (and was later revealed to be written by journalist Joe Klein, who had been covering the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton for Newsweek), the movie stars John Travolta as the spitting image of Clinton as a governor running for office.
Under the direction of Mike Nichols, the film is a funny look at the campaign trail.
11. "Citizen Kane" (1941)
Though director and star Orson Welles tried to keep it from the public and press, it was obvious that his character of Charles Foster Kane was heavily based on the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. All the way down to Kane attempting to get into politics, which Hearst also tried.
10. "The Candidate" (1972)
Always one to go against the grain, Robert Redford showed off his un-conformist ways in this film. He plays Bill McKay, a young good-looking son of a former governor who has no chance of winning the senate seat he's going after so he's allowed to run his campaign as he wants and speaks what's on his mind.
9. "Bulworth" (1998)
Warren Beatty also found a way to jab at the political establishment with his funny look at a Democratic senator (Beatty) who after hiring a hitman to kill him goes on a two-day truth-telling rant with the help of a black activist (Halle Berry).
8. "In the Loop" (2009)
Before he created the hit HBO series "Veep," Armando Iannucci directed this hilarious satire that follows the not-too-bright American and British governments as a war in Iraq is upon them. The vile language and power plays make you wonder why anyone would get into politics.
7. "Wag the Dog" (1997)
With a sex scandal about to dismantle the president's reelection, a spin doctor (Robert De Niro) hires a big Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to fabricate a war.
With amazing performances and a wickedly smart story, the movie is a scary look at the tricks done to make us believe the people in power. Some could make the argument this movie is more relevant today than it was back in the late 1990s when it was made.
6. "JFK" (1991)
You can come up with numerous theories of who assassinated John F. Kennedy, but very few movies on the topic are as powerful as this classic by Oliver Stone.
From Kevin Costner's perfect performance as a New Orleans district attorney searching for justice to Gary Oldman looking exactly like alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, the movie is an incredible journey inside one of American history's most disputed moments.
5. "A Face in the Crowd" (1957)
Though most will remember Andy Griffith for playing the squeaky-clean sheriff on "The Andy Griffith Show," one of his best performances was playing the despicable Arkansas drifter Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes who becomes one of the biggest commentators in the country thanks to his unfiltered, good-ol'-boy talk. However, his thirst for power leads to his demise.
4. "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
Frank Sinatra plays a former prisoner of war who realizes that a fellow soldier in his platoon has been brainwashed to be an assassin for a Communist conspiracy.
This Cold War thriller found modest interest when it was released, but after rumors that Sinatra demanded the film be taken out of theaters after the assassination of his good friend President Kennedy, the film turned into a classic when it was re-released in the late 1980s.
3. "All the President's Men" (1976)
In one of the best movies about journalism ever made, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively, as they uncover the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Nixon.
The drama that comes from the not-so-exciting process of reporting is a testament to the actors and director Alan J. Pakula.
2. "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964)
Stanley Kubrick's classic satire on nuclear war never gets old. From the multiple characters played by Peter Sellers to George C. Scott's gum-smacking war hawk general to Slim Pickens riding the bomb to the end of civilization, the movie has countless memorable moments filled with a dark comedy that has been imitated for decades.
1. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
When this film was originally released, it was banned in some areas of the world as it differed with regional ideology, and was under controversy here in the US because some thought it made senators look bad. Today, Frank Capra's look at a naive senator who ends up fighting a jaded and corrupt Washington, DC, has become a pillar in the political movie genre.
A big reason why the film is still a classic is the performance by Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith. Playing someone who fights for the belief that good can come out of the halls of the senate, he gives one of his finest performances.