The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Classic political films

Kevin Noonan | Monday, October 29, 2012


With the election only a week away, it’s every American’s duty to be as informed a voter as possible, and there’s no better way to do this than by watching some great movies that deal with the wild wicked world of politics. Here are some of Scene’s favorite political films:

“JFK” (1991)

Director: Oliver Stone

Starring: Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones

Writer/director Oliver Stone’s first – and certainly most controversial – in a trilogy of films focusing on American presidents presents what Stone calls a “counter-myth” as to how President John F. Kennedy was really assassinated.

Kevin Costner stars as New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, who becomes obsessed with the assassination and continually pursues conspiracy theories in efforts to uncover the truth. 

The film came under fire for questionable historical accuracy, but is still an impressive cinematic experience.

“All the President’s Men” (1976)

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman

Based on journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book detailing their investigation of President Richard Nixon and the ensuing scandal, this political caper is one of the greatest movies of all time.

Robert Redford stars as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein as they track clues following the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex, and is an exciting thriller from start to finish.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur

Perhaps underappreciated over the years because it came out in the same year as film giants “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” remains one of the greatest political films and inspirations to the American spirit of all time.

Jimmy Stewart stars as a country bumpkin who is picked to replace a deceased U.S. senator. Unbeknownst to him, he is picked by a powerful political machine that expects him to do as he’s told. But come on, this is Jimmy Stewart. When pressured to sign off on a graft scheme, Stewart holds an hours-long filibuster to block the bill in one of the most iconic scenes in American film history.

“Wag the Dog” (1997)

Director: Barry Levinson

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro

This black political comedy, which was ironically released just before the Bill Clinton sex scandal, focuses on spin-master Conrad Brean, played by Robert De Niro. Brean is brought in to work with the White House after the sitting President who, in the middle of a reelection campaign, is accused of inappropriate behavior with a fictional equivalent of a Girl Scout.

Brean orchestrates a fake war in Albania with the help of eccentric Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), not unlike the recent film “Argo.” But in this case, they fake a war to cover up a sex scandal.

“Dave” (1993)

Director: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver

Kevin Kline plays Dave, a part-time President-impersonator, in this political comedy. Dave is unknowingly brought in to impersonate the President by a Secret Service agent in order to cover up the President’s extramarital affair with a staffer. The president suffers a stroke, and the White House Chief of Staff insists that Dave act as president until further notice.

“Black Sheep” (1996)

Director: Penelope Sheeris

Starring: Chris Farley, David Spade

Okay, so this might be technically the “worst” movie on the list, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hilarious. Chris Farley stars as Mike Donnelly, who is determined to aid in his brother Al’s campaign for the governorship of Washington.

After Farley proves an embarrassing brother and a political liability (surprising twist, right?) his brother sends him to the middle of nowhere with a campaign aide played by David Spade. A whole slew of hilarity ensues, including a number of run-ins with a deranged war veteran played by Gary Busey.

Contact Kevin Noonan at [email protected]