The top classic movies and books about American politics and DC.

by on November 11, 2017 at 12:33 am in Film, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

The estimable Chug asks me:

Curious what you consider the top classic movies and books about American politics and DC.

Today let’s do movies, the following come to mind:

1. All the President’s Men.

2. No Way Out: Gene Hackman at his peak.  The Conversation also might count as a DC movie.

3. The Exorcist, set in Georgetown.  Maybe The Omen too?

4. The Manchurian Candidate.

5. Wedding Crashers.

6. The Day the Earth Stood Still.

7. Born Yesterday.

8. Contact.

I don’t really like Independence Day, but it deserves some sort of mention.  The Oliver Stone Nixon movie I’ve yet to see.  I like Being There, and it is set in DC, but it doesn’t feel like a “Washington movie” to me.  Legally Blonde, Logan’s Run, and Minority Report are all worth ponders, and have their cinematic virtues, but I am not sure they are true to the spirit of the question.

The real question, in my mind, is which of these captures the unique way in which Washington is the world’s epicenter for extreme productivity (don’t laugh) in the areas of economics, public policy, law/lobbying.  What is special but also sometimes despicable about DC area culture?  Might this be a mix of Contact and No Way Out?  I’ve yet to see anyone fully explain the DC micro-culture, as extreme and hyper-specialized as that of say Hollywood or Silicon Valley.

By the way, all the movies you thought I forgot to mention I didn’t, rather I don’t like them.

1 Dzhaughn November 11, 2017 at 12:39 am

The Parallax View.

Oh, you mean the OTHER Washington.

2 GoneWithTheWind November 11, 2017 at 11:13 am

You forgot Oliver Stone’s JFK movie.

3 Tom T. November 11, 2017 at 12:46 am

I can’t imagine Wedding Crashers as a DC movie. It’s a crude bedroom farce involving a generically rich family and could have been set anywhere. There’s a character playing a cabinet secretary, but there’s nothing remotely political about the movie.

4 derek November 11, 2017 at 12:50 am

Going through my unpaid invoices there was a consistency; they were almost all to people who worked for government. Work I invoice to government gets paid.

Is that the culture of Washington?

5 RG November 11, 2017 at 12:59 am

Charlie Wilson’s War definitely captured the peculiar micro culture of the Congress with the scenes in Rayburn offices & hallways & it wasn’t too far off in it’s depiction of the actual Charlie Wilson.

6 Thor November 11, 2017 at 2:36 am

Decent enough movie, but the book was a revelation.

7 RG November 11, 2017 at 8:09 am

Plus the Charlie Wilson character does a concise job of explaining the appropriations process & it’s manipulation via the hidden, classified sections.

8 David Montgomery November 11, 2017 at 1:04 am

No “Lincoln” or “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”? I can imagine arguments against both of them, but was surprised to see them not mentioned at all.

9 dan1111 November 11, 2017 at 1:33 am

Especially given that Independence Day “deserves some sort of mention”…

10 Rich Berger November 11, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Mars Attacks. Idiocracy.

11 RM November 11, 2017 at 1:05 am

I once saw a foreign movie based in, probably Russian. Over the top caricature, but what struck me was how efficient and productive they thought Washington was!

12 RM November 11, 2017 at 1:06 am

“based in/on Washington”

13 Moo cow November 11, 2017 at 1:20 am

I thought The Omen was Chicago.

14 L. F. File November 11, 2017 at 5:29 am

At least some of it was shot in London.

15 Judah Benjamin Hur November 11, 2017 at 1:27 am

“By the way, all the movies you thought I forgot to mention I didn’t, rather I don’t like them.”

I still hope you forgot to include Advise & Consent.

16 Mark Wylie November 11, 2017 at 11:28 am

The film version of Advise & Consent is good, although not as good as the novel. It probably belongs on this list.

17 Barkley Rosser November 11, 2017 at 1:44 pm

I agree. One of the all time best Washington movies (and novels), if a bit dated now.

18 A Truth Seeker November 11, 2017 at 1:35 am

“By the way, all the movies you thought I forgot to mention I didn’t, rather I don’t like them.”
Even that one?

19 A Truth Seeker November 11, 2017 at 1:38 am
20 Bill Conerly November 11, 2017 at 1:50 am

Primary Colors

21 Felipe November 11, 2017 at 1:55 am

Good to Go.

22 John D Lunam November 11, 2017 at 1:56 am

Burn After Reading

23 dan1111 November 11, 2017 at 10:53 am


24 harpersnotes November 11, 2017 at 2:31 am

Thirteen Days in October (2000.) Hiroshima (1995.)

25 Andre November 11, 2017 at 2:49 am

If you are in the mood for some comedy Eddie Murphy’s Distinguished Gentleman is very good with some feel good legislation and shady electioneering.

26 msgkings November 11, 2017 at 3:16 am

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington…’s right in the title

27 Boulevard November 11, 2017 at 3:25 am

“By the way, all your friends you thought I forgot to mention, I didn’t, rather I don’t like them.”

Mic drop.

28 education realist November 11, 2017 at 3:37 am

Most of those are really good movies but they have nothing to do with politics. Some, like No Way Out, are fun movies, but laughable politics. And really, DC’s too boring a town to care if a movie is based there.

Best movies about politics: The Best Man, Advise and Consent, The Candidate. Charlie Wilson’s War is pretty good. Wag the Dog is black comedy, but has a lot of interesting stuff to say. All the President’s Men is a great movie, but has nothing to do with politics.

Few older movies do politics well, but Hepburn and Tracy’s State of the Union is pretty good until the very end.

29 responsible D November 11, 2017 at 4:30 pm

You’re overlooking the Straussian reading of No Way Out’s Georgetown Metro stop.

30 Ben November 11, 2017 at 4:29 am

Burn After Reading is surely top five

31 MKT42 November 11, 2017 at 5:30 am

Perhaps more of a pot-boiler than a classic, but it does capture some of the political maneuvering and nastiness involved with getting the president’s nominees to be approved, in this case a nominee to replace a vice president: The Contender.

32 David Wright November 11, 2017 at 5:52 am

“In the loop”. Not old enough to be a classic, but spot-on.

33 John Hall November 11, 2017 at 7:34 am

I was gonna say. That and Wag the Dog.

34 ex-PFC Wintergreen November 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm


35 shrikanthk November 11, 2017 at 5:55 am

Advise and Consent is one of the best. Mr Smith Goes to Washington a sentimental favorite

36 Robert Saunders November 11, 2017 at 6:00 am

The Man with One Red Shoe

37 Deek November 11, 2017 at 6:56 am

I’m not sure how “Washingtony” it is, but Thank You For Smoking is a great film.

38 GMF November 11, 2017 at 7:19 am

Seven Days in May

Surely rates a mention if Manchurian Candidate does.

39 JD November 11, 2017 at 7:38 am

DC Cab?

40 Ted Craig November 11, 2017 at 9:39 am


41 Gary Leff November 11, 2017 at 8:01 am

The first half of Eddie Murphy’s The Distinguished Gentleman. John Cusack and James Spader in True Colors, which isn’t a great movie but certainly captures Washington of a certain era.

42 clamence November 11, 2017 at 8:18 am

I can’t even tell anymore whether TC is signaling, joking, addled from too much Twitter, being Straussian, or trolling.

Anyway, “Dr Strangelove”?

43 Nigel November 11, 2017 at 10:33 am

I wondered the same.
The absence of Bevis and Butt-Head Do America is a possible clue…

44 clockwork_prior November 11, 2017 at 10:35 am

If Dr. Strangelove – no fighting in the comments section – then this one too.

(‘I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty comments, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.’)

45 mkt42 November 11, 2017 at 1:58 pm

“I can’t even tell anymore whether TC is signaling, joking, addled from too much Twitter, being Straussian, or trolling.”

Is there a difference?

46 a clockwork apriori November 11, 2017 at 8:26 pm


47 RG November 11, 2017 at 8:21 am

If Wedding Crashers (?) merits a mention then The Pelican Brief should get a mention. No, it’s not All the King’s Men but it does have some DC moments.

48 Jonathan November 11, 2017 at 8:35 am

I think of it from the other end…. Miss Sloane is the movie that Hollywood *wants* Washington to be. Reverse that, and you get DC.

49 Belisaurus Rex November 11, 2017 at 9:28 am

Ms Sloane would have been a good movie if it wasn’t railing against guns. You can keep it left wing, just make it something like fracking. The actual thing they’re lobbying for is unimportant and the movie we got was too focused on guns and not focused enough on K Street.

50 Ted Craig November 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

“First Monday in October” is more relevant than a lot of the stuff Tyler makes his students watch for that Law & Literature class.

And really, ” I like Being There, and it is set in DC, but it doesn’t feel like a “Washington movie” to me.” Maybe you need to watch it again.

51 DanC November 11, 2017 at 9:51 am

The President’s Analyst, Dr Strangelove, Broadcast News

52 Ted Craig November 11, 2017 at 10:06 am

“The President’s Analyst” is excellent.

53 anon November 11, 2017 at 10:15 am

“The Senator Was Indiscreet,” (1947) starring William Powell and Ella Raines

54 Roy LC November 11, 2017 at 10:32 am

Other than the above mentioned DC Cab, might I suggest “Gabriel Flew Over the White House” which is insane and knows nothing about the place, but shows that Hollywood has always been more attracted to Fascism than Washington ever has.

But if we are being respectable, how about “Born Yesterday” it is the DC equivalent of the greatest of New York (and Vermont) films, “Nothing Sacred.”

55 rayward November 11, 2017 at 11:23 am

Being There is one of my favorite movies. It captures today’s politics perfectly. I’ve compared Trump’s admirers to Chauncey Gardiner’s admirers, the former misconstruing Trump’s gibberish as profound and the latter misconstruing Gardiner’s gibberish as profound. In the film, Chance lives in the home of the “old man”, who refers to him as Chance the gardener. When the “old man” dies, Chance is sent into the streets, where he is aimlessly wandering when he is accidentally hit by a chauffeur-driven car. In the car is Eve Rand (Rand?), the much younger wife of Ben Rand, a very wealthy, powerful man, and confidant to the president. Eve brings Chance home (the Biltmore Estate was used for the residence) to recuperate and mishears “Chance the gardener” as “Chauncey Gardiner”. Chance meets Ben Rand, who misconstrues Chance’s gibberish as profound, and arranges for Chance to meet the president, who also misconstrues Chance’s gibberish as profound. My favorite scene is the one in which Eve attempts to seduce Chance, who responds “I like to watch”, so Eve proceeds to masturbate while Chance watches the television not Eve. That scene perfectly captures Washington. Truly a film for the ages. Who knew that, by chance, one day Chauncey Gardiner would become president.

56 Lanigram November 11, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Yes, I have been wonderimg if Trump is Chauncy Gardener upon whom we deplorables project our fantasies.

Case in point, despite having despised Trump for decades, I voted for him and now delight in his abuse of DC and PC culture. I imagine him as a battle axe wielding barbarian crashing a PC/DC cocktail party swinging madly and leaving behind him a trail of blood and gore.

It’s beautiful.

57 TMC November 11, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Wasn’t it Obama who said he would speak to a group of people and both sides would leave thinking he agreed with their side. I couldn’t find the exact quote, but that’s the gist of it. classic Chauncey

Rayward is a classic progressive. 2 law of progressives – Projection.

58 Pshrnk November 13, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Trump is not Chance The Gardener! Chance was a sweet innocent know nothing. Trump is a malignant brittle narcissist know nothing.

59 Pshrnk November 13, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Whomever Trump may be, I hope we have a Humphrey Appleby to keep him in line.

60 Yancey Ward November 11, 2017 at 11:42 am

There is no excuse for leaving Being There out of the top three not to mention top 10. Your reason is vague and I don’t buy it.

61 Henner McBroil November 11, 2017 at 11:49 am

Arlington Road

62 Nick November 11, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Amazing that National Treasure with Nick Cage is not on this list. A masterly exploration of U.S. history, and a literal exploration of D.C., with a splash of adventure, and, of course, terrific acting. The movie itself is a……..national treasure.

63 IHeartSkeet November 11, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Hmm. So, taking you at your word that you didn’t forget any, just didn’t like them, the list reveals you have an utterly absurd perception of DC and politics.
1) Heroic reporters took down a president (not true, but admit a good flick)
2) Extraterrestrials and the supernatural are fairly common
3) Farfetched conspiracies are also fairly common
4) DC is a place with really gullible wedding (and funeral) attendees

The list strikes me as contrarian posing.

64 B.B. November 11, 2017 at 12:31 pm

A novel rather than a movie. Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.

How about Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

65 Sandia November 11, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Three Days of the Condor?

66 Ted Craig November 11, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Takes place in NYC.

67 Todd November 11, 2017 at 2:13 pm

‘Strangers on a Train’
‘Watch on the Rhine’

68 James November 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm

A Straussian reading of this post is that a libertarian wouldn’t enjoy any movie that idolises (or idealises) government and politicians.

Also, I don’t know what Straussian means.

69 Dave November 11, 2017 at 8:08 pm

The X-Files: Fight the Future

70 Hazel Meade November 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm

‘Wag the Dog’ 1997

71 Dave Tufte November 11, 2017 at 10:25 pm

I’m in for “Burn After Reading” too.

72 Baskerville Boozehound November 11, 2017 at 10:38 pm

By The Manchurian Candidate, I take it you mean the original noir version with Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury?

73 Yogi November 12, 2017 at 11:34 am

If you don’t get why Wedding Crashers makes the list, my guess is you didn’t grow up in D.C.

How Do You Know (Reese Witherspoon/Paul Rudd/Owen Wilson/Jack Nicholson rom-dramedy) is notable for portraying the Metro bus system as a preferred form of transportation.

74 jb November 13, 2017 at 9:06 am

I would say “Dr. Strangelove” and “Being there”.
But “Seven Days in May” , “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and ” The Candidate ” are not bad either.

75 Brett A Powers November 13, 2017 at 12:39 pm

One can be “productive” in lying, or in child abuse, or in losing money, or in creating bureaucracy and inefficiency.
That’s not real productivity.

76 simon November 13, 2017 at 1:18 pm

The good shepherd

77 TWW November 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm

“Seven Days in May”? “Dr. Strangelove”?

78 November 14, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Given what’s happened in the last few years, “A Face in the Crowd” seems awfully prescient …

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