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

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.


The Parallax View.

Oh, you mean the OTHER Washington.

You forgot Oliver Stone's JFK movie.

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.

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?

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.

Decent enough movie, but the book was a revelation.

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

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.

Especially given that Independence Day "deserves some sort of mention"...

Mars Attacks. Idiocracy.

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!

"based in/on Washington"

I thought The Omen was Chicago.

At least some of it was shot in London.

"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.

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

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

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

Primary Colors

Burn After Reading

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

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.

Mr. Smith Goes To's right in the title

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

Mic drop.

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.

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

Burn After Reading is surely top five

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.

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

I was gonna say. That and Wag the Dog.


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

The Man with One Red Shoe

I'm not sure how "Washingtony" it is, but Thank You For Smoking is a great film.

Seven Days in May

Surely rates a mention if Manchurian Candidate does.

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.

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

Anyway, "Dr Strangelove"?

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

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.')

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

Is there a difference?


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.

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.

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.

"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.

The President's Analyst, Dr Strangelove, Broadcast News

"The President’s Analyst" is excellent.

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

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Arlington Road

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.

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.

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

How about Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Three Days of the Condor?

Takes place in NYC.

'Strangers on a Train'
'Watch on the Rhine'

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.

The X-Files: Fight the Future

'Wag the Dog' 1997

I'm in for "Burn After Reading" too.

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

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.

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.

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.

The good shepherd

"Seven Days in May"? "Dr. Strangelove"?

Given what's happened in the last few years, "A Face in the Crowd" seems awfully prescient ...

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