Top 10 Best Political Dramas of All-Time

by Kali Tuttle
Poltical Dramas

In a world full of political strife, political dramas are becoming more and more relevant. And if you’re like me, you’re becoming more interested in politics by the day. Corruption, conspiracies, and government secrets also make for great cinema. The following movies have all of these components, plus more.

Note: these are all political dramas, not comedies. Top 10 Political Comedies will be uploaded at a later date.

Honorable Mentions:

The Butler (2013)

Milk (2008)

Nixon (1995)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Munich (2005)

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Syriana (2005)

Game Change (2012)

LBJ (2016)

The Candidate (1972)

#10: Bobby (2006)

This movie tells the story of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and his assassination on June 5, 1968, contributing to the already violent family legacy. Bobby features an all-star ensemble cast, including A-listers like Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, and Emilio Estevez, among others. This film is unique in that it tells the famous story through the eyes of twenty-two other people who were in the Los Angeles hotel at the time. It’s also unique in that it splices real-life footage with dramatic reenactments by the actors. It’s a profound drama that gives an intensely engaging history lesson.

Political Dramas

Image via IMDB

#9: Thirteen Days (2000)

Featuring Kevin Costner as political consultant Kenneth P. O’Donnell and Bruce Greenwood as President John F. Kennedy, this tense film tells the story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. This film takes a creative turn in focusing on the political consultant rather than the president himself, giving a different perspective on the world-changing event. While some have criticized it for focusing on the wrong person (some say Ted Sorensen was really the one who held the nation together during the crisis), this film still regales the calamity that gripped America.

Political Dramas

Image via IMDB

#8: The Good Shepherd (2006)

Starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and Robert De Niro (who also directs), this film tells the story of the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency. Loosely based on real events, it’s an intense spy thriller that could even rival Damon’s Jason Bourne franchise. It’s best feature is the fact that it tells the immensely detailed story all through the personal life of one particular agent, Edward Wilson, Sr. (Damon). Romance, deception, and murder create this beautiful drama that educates as well as entertains.

Political Dramas

Image via The New York Times

#7: Frost/Nixon (2008)

Frost/Nixon depicts the interviews between British talk show host David Frost and President Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal. Starring Frank Lagella as Nixon (who also plays a corrupt politician in the family political comedy Dave [1993]) and Michael Sheen as David Frost, this film reveals the extent to which the American government had deceived the people. It also features the stellar directing of Ron Howard (Cinderella Man [2005], A Beautiful Mind [2001], and Apollo 13 [1995]). It’s an eye-opening film about what really goes on in government when we aren’t looking.

Political Dramas

Image via Smithsonian Magazine

#6: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

A George Clooney-directed vehicle, this movie portrays journalist Edward R. Murrow and his struggle to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy. Once again, this film has an amazing cast, including George Clooney, David Straithairn, Patricia Clarkson, and a young Robert Downey Jr. (something I greatly enjoyed). Though not exactly action-packed, this film truly unveils the inner workings of journalism and the lengths reporters go to in order to keep democracy transparent. Also, this film is unique in that it is shot completely in black-and-white to emphasize its historical significance, much like Schindler’s List (1993)The Artist (2011), and Raging Bull (1980).

Political Dramas

Image via Public Transportation Snob

#5: All the King’s Men (1949)

Though later remade in 2006, the original is definitely a classic. This film is about the career of a corrupt politician who retains power through populist appeal in the American South during the 1930s. Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel, this film not only examines the crazy world of politics, but also establishes select morals and themes throughout. One of the more memorable themes is the “Great Twitch,” the idea that no one controls their destiny and we are controlled merely by impulsive actions. It’s a cynical take on an already nihilistic subject and it’s worth a watch.

Political Dramas

Image via Toronto Film Society

#4: Lincoln (2012)

This Oscar-winning film documents the struggle of President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate the slaves during the Civil War. Lincoln does an excellent job of showing how difficult a job it is to be the President of the United States and how important this amendment was to Lincoln and America. This film stars the prestigious Daniel-Day Lewis as Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, David Straithairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, and Tommy Lee Jones. What truly makes this movie is not only the phenomenal story, but also the elaborate set design and strategically dim lighting that truly reflects America in the troubled nineteenth century.

Political Dramas

Image via I Can’t Unsee That Movie

#3: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The twists and turns in this movie are fantastic. Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, this film tells the story of a brainwashed prisoner of war who is unwittingly made an assassin for a Chinese Communist conspiracy. This movie has everything: a little bit of romance, a little bit of war, a lot of corruption, a lot of history, and some intense thrills. It’s one of the movies that once you watch it, you’ll want to watch it again and again just to catch all the brilliant foreshadowing and other hidden twists and turns.

Political Dramas

Image via Brandon’s Movie Memory

#2: JFK (1991)

It wouldn’t be a list of political dramas without including yet another movie about John F. Kennedy starring Kevin Costner. This time, Costner plays New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison who realizes there’s more to the Kennedy assassination and the shooter on the grassy knoll than the government is letting on. The stellar cast includes veterans Jack Lemmon and Gary Oldman. This movie is a fantastic, suspenseful film, especially if you’re down for conspiracies (and honestly, who isn’t?).

Political Dramas

Image via A World of Film

#1: All The President’s Men (1976)

With The Post (2017) recently coming out, I think it’s appropriate that the original movie regarding the Pentagon Papers be placed first on this list. Starring Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford as Bob Woodward, the two reporters expose the infamous documents to the world, risking their careers and reputations. Their heroic actions lead to a freer press and a more transparent government for America. Both stars give magnificent performances in this classic about fighting for freedom of the press.

Political Dramas

Image via The Belcourt

Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on the top 10 political dramas?  Comment down below!

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The Animation Commendation March 3, 2018 - 11:35 am

I didn’t know they made a film about the Cuban Missile Crisis; I gotta watch that now.

Great picks as I do love historical political dramas!

Susan March 2, 2018 - 8:52 pm

No “Fail Safe”? No “Seven Days in May?” Sorry, but those are both better films than some on your list, like “JFK” for example. .

Pearl March 3, 2018 - 11:14 am

Those are both excellent additions. Given my preference for Henry Fonda (Fail Safe), I actually thought about that movie as well when writing my initial reply to Kali. I guess I didn’t think of it as much as a political thriller, more a military one. Same goes for Seven Days in May (Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster). But both are certainly politically oriented as well.

However, as with the omission of the Best Man, and Mr Smith Goes to Washington, I think it simply shows the age of Kali a bit. All of the missing movies are from 1964 and before, I believe. Those movies are now over 50 years old so I think we can cut Kali a bit of slack.

Kali: If you have not seen any of those four movies, I envy you. You are in for some movie enjoyment, whichever of them you watch. They are all exceptionally well made and, perhaps with the slight exception of Mr Smith, have aged very well.

Kali Tuttle March 3, 2018 - 11:41 am

I’ve seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and loved it actually! I just didn’t feel it belonged on political drama though. Maybe it’s just me but it didn’t feel as dramatic as the others. But I may go back and add it to honorable mentions!

Anonymous March 3, 2018 - 1:42 pm

If you’re looking for sheer drama, you won’t go wrong with either Seven Days in May or especially Fail Safe.

Pearl March 2, 2018 - 2:55 pm

No disagreement at all with placing “All the President’s Men” at the top of your list. I was stationed in DC during the time of Watergate and had the Washington Post as my daily morning newspaper.

My only comment would be to add one movie to your list of Honorable Mentions, and perhaps another to your Top 10 List. I’ll admit to being biased when it comes to movies starring Henry Fonda, but the movie made from Gore Vidal’s novel ‘The Best Man” is one of my all time favorites political dramas.

I would also have added “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” as one of the Top 10.

Kali Tuttle March 2, 2018 - 3:23 pm

I’ll have to check out The Best Man!

Pearl March 3, 2018 - 11:05 am

I am pretty sure that you won’t be disappointed. The Best Man is definitely one of my favorites – Henry Fonda or not.

@lynnsbooks March 2, 2018 - 2:19 pm

I’ve not seen all of those but literally just watched JFK about a fortnight ago. It’s a very long film but very interesting.
Lynn ?

Nick Kush March 2, 2018 - 1:30 pm

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