Top 20 Political Movies

Washington goes Hollywood this week when Vice President Al Gore arrives in Los Angeles for his coronation ceremony, but Hollywood has been going Washington for most of this century.

If the real political world is putting you to sleep, get into the campaign spirit and head to the video store. Check out some of the titles on our list of the 20 best political films and get in the mood to vote.

The Manchurian Candidate

(1962) Starring: Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh Classic political movie of the film noir genre. A brainwashed U.S. soldier unwittingly turns into a presidential assassin. The movie hits on explosive Cold War-era topics: Espionage, McCarthyism, and conspiracy. When John F. Kennedy is assassinated the year after the movie’s release, Sinatra pulls it from theaters, and successfully keeps it under wraps for more than 20 years.

The Candidate

(1972) Starring: Robert Redford, Peter Boyle

Redford stars as a young California lawyer who is talked into running against a well-respected incumbent when grizzled professional political consultants insist that he can run on his power-to-the-people principles. But as the campaign progresses, party manipulation interferes with his ideals. Real-life politicians George McGovern and Hubert H. Humphrey appear briefly in cameos.

A Perfect Candidate

(1996) Documentary

Take a behind-the-scenes look at a Senate campaign as filmmakers follow Oliver North’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia in 1994. Classic scenes include a TV debate in which North — in an attempt to defend his past — claims to be the most investigated person in the history of the world. Wilder points out there must have been a reason for the scrutiny.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

(1939) Starring: Jimmy Stewart

Directed by Frank Capra, ABCNEWS resident film buff Nancy Gabriner says it’s “the movie that made us love politics.” Classic tale of a naive senator who exposes corruption in Washington. Stewart stars as the wide-eyed country boy who was appointed to finish a dead senator’s term by powers that assumed that he wouldn’t disturb their corrupt schemes.


(1993) Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver

White House aides replace a comatose president with a stand-in, an ordinary guy who bears an uncanny resemblance to the real commander-in-chief. But no one counts on the replacement becoming more popular — to the public and the first lady — than the actual president.

Bob Roberts

(1992) Starring: Tim Robbins

In this “mockumentary,” chart-topping folksinger Bob Roberts is a right-winger who coopts 1960s liberal ideals to mount a conservative bid for the Senate. Blowing his harmonica and strumming his guitar, Roberts lashes out at the liberals for ruining the country. This satire is studded with star cameos.

Wag the Dog

(1998) Starring: Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman

By an amazing coincidence, this movie about a president manufacturing a war to cover up a scandal was released just as the world was meeting Monica Lewinsky and the United States was going to war. In real life, as the House took up impeachment proceedings, President Clinton ordered an air strike on Iraq, prompting Sen. Trent Lott to say, “Both the timing and the policy are subject to question.” Our film hound Gabriner says, “With Capra gone, we get cynical movies about politics.”


(1998) Starring: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry

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