Top Ten Political Movies

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According to Kathy Gill, the top ten American political movies are as follows:

1. Air Force One (’97). . The American President (’95). 3. All the President’s Men (’76). 4. Born Yesterday (’50). 5. Candidate (’72) 6. Dave (’93). 7. Dr. Strangelove (’63). 8. The Manchurian Candidate (’62, remade recently). 9. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (’39). 10. Wag the Dog (’98).

Of course, a function of lists is to inspire disagreement. I think of Air Force One as a thriller, of The American President as a romance, and of Dave as a version of The Prince and the Pauper. Wag The Dog was pretty good, except a better ending would have been for the Hollywood guy to make the government guy disappear–more in keeping with how things work, I think.

I’d certainly put The Candidate, Dr. Strangelove, and The Manchurian Candidate on my list. I’d add Cool Hand Luke, which in terms of language-manipulation, the dynamics of power, and the price of resistance, is a political movie–and a good one, maybe a great one. I like JFK, not because it presents a conspiracy theory but because it presents almost all the conspiracy theories at once and therefore, implicitly, suggests that a) something besides what the Warren Commission concluded happened, and that b) we’ll never know what happened.

I think Malcolm X is a good political movie, as well as the original screen adaptation of All The King’s Men. Invasion of the Body Snatchers and/or the original Stepford Wives may do a better job that political movies, per se, of showing what happens to people exposed to politics, the political spectacle, and political language too long. Then I’d probably round out the list with The Amistad and Nixon.

There: now you can disagree with my list.

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3 Responses to “Top Ten Political Movies”

  1. Wild Bill Says:

    Some entries in Ms. Gill’s list are inexplicable unless the availability or price of DVDs explains the entries.

    “Air Force One” and “Born Yesterday” belong nowhere near any serious top 10.

    I’d pair “The Candidate” and “Wag the Dog” as significant exposes of the triumph of appearance over substance in modern electioneering.

    “Advise and Consent” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” belong together as well as homages to Congress, about which “The West Wing” and other political TV is at best quiet.

    “The American President” and “Dave” were roughly contemporaneous but said far less about politicking than “The Contender” or “Charlie Wilson’s War” does individually.

    “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) is terrific on McCarthyism, but that is what “Inherit the Wind” was intended to cover as well.

    “All the President’s Men” is also indispensable, but what about “The Parallax View?”

    I agree that “JFK” is must, but see “Executive Decision” for a chilling depiction of oilmen killing the president.

    Soon, I shall post on this matter anew. When I do, I’ll elaborate on a point made by Dr. Ostrom: some of the most important political movies have an indirect or nonobvious relation to politicking.

  2. O. Says:

    Good calls on “Executive Decision” and the “Parallax View,” the former (as Professor Haltom notes) because of its specific, well realized version of how the assassination might have happened, the latter because it captures the spirit of the era in which it was made: a sense of paranoia and of feeling as if one will never know “what really happened.”

  3. Wild Bill Says:

    Sorry! I derailed our cyber-train. “Executive Action” is the Burt Lancaster vehicle about the Kennedy assassination.

    “Executive Decision” is a Kurt Russell movie not dissimilar to “Air Force One.”

    I forgot to mention that “The Best Man” and “The Last Hurrah” are also available on DVD these days.


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