Politics is one of the favorite subjects of cinema since the time of its very foundation. First, movies were used as a powerful propaganda machine, but subsequently developed into artistic device to criticize and vivisect various elements of political power. Directors became free to express their own political views and ideologies through their films.
In this list you can find thriller, comedy, drama and war films. All of them deal with one fascinating subject – politics – and show how it exerts their influence on our lives. Here are the 10 great political films:
10. The Death of Stalin
Every political comedy fan knows or should know “In the Loop” (2009), which was the feature film debut of Scottish director Armando Iannucci. After eight years of breaking into directing, he created another political satire – “The Death of Stalin.”
The movie depicts a complicated period in the history of the USSR, when in 1953 their bloodthirsty dictator, Joseph Stalin, unexpectedly dies in his own office because of a stroke. What starts from here is a power struggle between the prominent members of the Central Committee.
It seems impossible to think that such a serious and grim historical topic could be any source of humor, but Iannucci managed to construct a brilliant black comedy out of it. The movie’s humor is based mainly on sharply written and witty dialogue exchanges between the Soviet politicians, as well as lethal absurdities that accompanied the life and politics in the USSR.
The actors are wonderfully cast and made their characters truly memorable, especially Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev and Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov. Instead of speaking with an artificial Russian accent, the entire cast speaks with their native accents, with an added additional layer of uniqueness to the already unconventional film. “The Death of Stalin” is a must-see for every history buff and lover of British dark humor.
9. Wag the Dog
When the president of the United States is charged with an allegation of a sexual misconduct just two weeks before election day, ingenious spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), with help from prominent Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), fabricates a completely fictional war in Albania in order to distract the public opinion.
“Wag the Dog” (1997) is a brilliant, satirical comedy that deals with the subject of the unbreakable connection between the mass media and politics, and their ease of manipulating the public opinion by having just the right resources and idea.
After the movie’s end, viewers will ask themselves a question: “How much TV news is made up?” And this is why “Wag the Dog” is so effective. It forces the audience to open their eyes and question the assertions of politicians and the mass media.
Not without a reason, the movie was called the “Dr. Strangelove” of the 90s. It’s funny, witty, but also pretty scary if you realize that this scenario could happen. And maybe it had already happened…
8. Der Untergang
Oliver Hirschbiegel shocked the world with his examination of the darkest corners of human nature in his utterly disturbing feature film debut, “Das Experiment” (2001). His sophomore effort, “Der Untergang” (2004) depicts the downfall of Nazism, a political ideology based on the worst aspects of humanity.
The majority of its running time is set in the underground bunker in Berlin in April 1945, where Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz) and a group of his associates, composed of prominent Nazi politicians and military generals, desperately tried to continue the uneven and already lost fight against the Russian army with the cost of civilian life.
The movie sparked some controversy at the time of release because of its alleged sympathetic presentation of the mass murderer – Adolf Hitler – which is absolutely not true at all. Showing Hitler as a deranged but essentially still human being, and not as some grotesque monster from other dimension, makes him more real than he ever was on the cinema screens and therefore more terrifying. Ganz’s acting abilities made Hitler’s outbursts of rage and the deterioration of his mind and body fully believable, but not caricatured.
The images of Berlin’s ruins, with the sounds of artillery shooting in the background, should be a warning for everyone who decides to vote for anyone with totalitarian aspirations.
7. All the President’s Men
The Watergate scandal is considered one of the biggest political scandals in the United States history, and ultimate proof of the uncommon arrogance and hubris of Richard Nixon and his administration. Blameworthy political behavior against the opposition party had much more in common with Eastern Bloc techniques than with democratic society.
Alan J. Pakula’s famous film “All the President’s Men” tells the true story about two Washington Post journalists – Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) – who decide against all odds to solve the enigma surrounding a break-in to the Watergate hotel complex, which was the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. During their investigation, with a little help from mysterious character nicknamed “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), they uncover the bleak facts about the government activities that could bring down President Nixon.
The film is a fascinating reconstruction of their investigation and shows in a very precise and slow-burning way the arduous process of seeking the truth in the age of lies. Redford and Hoffman – two icons of New Hollywood Cinema –– are likeable and charismatic in their roles and make a great duo each time they appear on screen together.
From all the movies about Watergate, “All the President’s Men” is the most compelling one and should be mandatory to watch for every young person who wants to become a journalist.
6. The Manchurian Candidate
At the time of the Korean War, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and the rest of their squad were kidnapped during a routine patrol mission, and sent to a top secret Soviet facility to become fully brainwashed by an innovative technique that combines the usage of hypnosis and drugs. They returned to the United States having no recollection of that incident and believing, due to the fabricated memories, that Raymond Shaw heroically saved them from their enemies.
While Shaw is about to be rewarded for his actions with a prestigious medal of honor, Marco starts to suspect something because of his realistic and frightening dreams about the sergeant.
“The Manchurian Candidate,” based on the novel by Richard Condon and directed by John Frankenheimer, is a masterfully made, suspenseful and simply breathtaking Cold War political thriller. Despite being made over 50 years ago, it is still as engaging and thrilling for modern viewers, just like it was at the time of its release. A concept of being manipulated by mind control even to this day can evoke shivers.
The film has a somewhat satirical side because of the character of Johnny Iselin (James Gregory), a paranoid right-wing politician, who claims that his political opponents are communistic agents – which is an obvious allegory to the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was responsible for so-called “witch hunt” in the 50s. The movie’s strength lies in the great acting by Harvey as complicated tragic figure Raymond Shaw, and by Angela Lansbury as his manipulative mother.