The Big List | The 50 Best Political Movies Ever
40. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991)
Star Trek has always been good about tackling modern political issues while wearing the mask of sci-fi. In Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI, the political issue being addressed is clearly the fall of the Berlin Wall, and America’s mutating relationship with Russia. In the film, there are those who would violently topple the Klingons (Russians) at a moment of their weakness. Kirk and Co. argue that peace is what is needed and not defeat. It’s a clear metaphor, but a savvy one.
39. The People vs. Larry Flynt (dir. Milos Forman, 1996)
Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson), the publisher of Hustler magazine, is two-sides of a coin. On the one side, he’s a waste bin of foul desires, publishing privately taken nude photos of Jackie O and obscene sexual parodies of public individuals. On the other, he’s an American patriot. His fight for freedom of the press tested every limit of the first amendment, proving that unpopular speech is equally protected. The People vs. Larry Flynt shows that even the highest court in the land has to get down in the mud to uphold the constitution (current political ramification: Donald Trump is threatening to sue anyone who says anything negative about himself in the press).
38. The Great McGinty (dir. Preston Sturges, 1940)
The Great Preston Sturges is the real draw here. The screenwriter’s first time out as a director – he sold the script for $10 on that one condition – knocked it out the park with the story of a political charlatan who rises to power, only to see it all come crashing down in a moment of honesty. It’s farfetched satire, but fast and furious, in the manner Sturges would become most famous for, as characters verbally spar and gallop through the breakneck-paced dialogue. And movie’s message, to just keep lying through your teeth, is a nervy as it is cynical.
37. Dick (dir. Andrew Fleming, 1999)
“Deep Throat,” the inside informant who provided Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with the inside scoop on Watergate, turned out to be FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt – but we prefer this movie’s explanation, which posits that two slightly airheaded teenage interns (played brilliantly by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) were actually responsible for bringing down Richard Nixon (a brusque, hilarious Dan Hedaya). A delightfully daffy Bizarro-World version of All the President’s Men, director Andrew Fleming’s colorful satire sticks it to the ’70s with wacky aplomb.
36. I Am Cuba (dir. Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)
Acclaimed Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov went to Cuba to both announce the island’s cinematic presence to the world and proclaim the necessity of communism. The result was I Am Cuba, a film that Cuba itself has mostly dismissed as an outsider’s opportunistic representation, but also greatly influenced revolutionary filmmakers around the world, such as Jean-Luc Godard, by using product association and new advertising language, such as Coca-Cola’s billboard and street presence = capitalism bordering on colonialism to contrast visuals like the burning of a sugarcane field after learning it’s been sold to American investors. I Am Cuba is a visual masterpiece.
35. Team America: World Police (dir. Trey Parker, 2004)
When Trey Parker revealed that his latest satire was about American soldiers who destroy the world while trying to save it, literally played by puppets, his intentions seemed clear: to target George W. Bush’s foreign policy with extreme prejudice. But audiences got more than they bargained for with Team America: World Police, a film that finds fault on all sides: warmongers, pacifists, conscientious objectors and even the musical Rent. The whole world is hollow and plastic, it’s meaningful ideas that give it substance and shape.
34. Triumph of the Will (dir. Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)
To call Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 film an example of groundbreaking documentary form isn’t quite enough. It is also blatant, horrifying propaganda. An account of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress that casts aside all but the most cursory elements of “the Jewish Question,” its use of innovative cinematographic techniques served its larger goal: to promote Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and to frame him as Germany’s savior. Valuable as a piece of film history, it’ll still chill you to the bone.
33. JFK (dir. Oliver Stone, 1991)
Even for those who aren’t old enough to remember the day JFK was shot, one can still experience the glorious extensive web of mythology that has arisen out of his assassination. What Oliver Stone’s film manages to capture is not the truth of the matter, but the swirling miasma of conspiracies, lies, and uncertainty that followed the event. We’ve elected to lose ourselves in the minutiae of the assassination. What we really needed to do was mourn.
32. Starship Troopers (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
War makes fascists of us all. That’s the lesson Paul Verhoeven wants us to take away from his visceral bug planet sci-fi actioner. But what’s most interesting about Troopers is that Verhoeven (who grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland) chooses to introduce nationalism in such a borderline-appealing way (class friends! co-ed showers!) that we don’t see the lack of individuality and perspective until its too late.
With this approach, Verhoeven is able to show how Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy rose to power, during a time that it seems inconceivable to us that they’d have such immense civilian support. And that—despite our sayings otherwise—it could happen again.
31. 1776 (dir. Peter H. Hunt, 1972)
It’s “Declaration of Independence: The Musical” in this sprightly adaptation of the Tony-winning show about John Adams (William Daniels), Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), and how they managed to unite 13 fractious colonies to revolt against the British Empire. The songs are catchy, the Founding Fathers are treated like human beings and not waxworks, the difficult work of coalition-building gets its due, and 1776 is surprisingly suspenseful for a movie whose ending you already know. (Spoiler: They sign it.)