These Movies Perfectly Captured The Political Climate Of Each Decade

They say art imitates life, and that’s just as true for art on the big screen as for art on a canvas. Many filmmakers are inspired by the day’s political climate and create incredible films that reveal what the country was going through during a specific moment in time. Whether the Cold War, the Lewinsky scandal, or the post-Watergate environment, these films give viewers the aggregate mood of the political society of the 1940s through 1990s…

All The President’s Men Detailed The Watergate Scandal


The 1976 film All The President’s Men centers on two journalists from the Washington Post who investigate the Watergate scandal, which leads to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Based on the 1974 nonfiction book of the same name, the film stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. The film was met with critical acclaim and praised for highlighting free press as well as what pointing out what happens when power goes unchecked. In real life, Nixon tried to cover up events that occurred when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters were broken into in 1972. He resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment.

Travolta Impersonated Bill Clinton In Primary Colors


The 1998 film Primary Colors is based on the book, Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics about President Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. The book was written by reporter Joe Klein, who covered the campaign for Newsweek. John Travolta plays a Southern governor who is seeking the highest political office in the country while dealing with numerous issues, including accusations of infidelity. The movie epitomizes ’90s politics and shows how tawdry the game can get. Many critics loved how it so accurately portrayed the political climate of the time period. It did not perform well at the box office, but Travolta was well received for his imitation of Clinton.

Robert Redford Shone In The Candidate


In the 1972 film The Candidate, Robert Redford plays Bill McKay, a charismatic and attractive man who is vying for a U.S. Senate seat in California. He’s picked for the role by a political election specialist named Marvin Lucas, played by Peter Boyle. McKay is unusual because instead of playing the game, he says what he feels and advocates his own political views. He eventually realizes that image is more important than actual ideas and substance. The film won a Best Writing Oscar for screenwriter Jeremy Larner, who was the speechwriter for Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy during his campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.

Romance Casablanca Is An Overlooked Political Drama


The 1942 drama Casablanca stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid and is set during World War II. It centers on an American expatriate who has to decide between love and honor. Rick must choose between the love of his life or helping her husband, a Czech resistance leader, escape from Casablanca while he puts himself in danger. The wartime audience appreciated the film’s theme of sacrifice, particularly if it meant going off to war for the greater good. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s considered one of the greatest films in movie history.

Wag The Dog Drew Comparisons To Clinton’s Presidency


The 1997 black comedy Wag The Dog stars Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary and William H. Macy. Based loosely on the novel American Hero by Larry Beinhart, the film centers on a Washington, D.C., publicist who hires a movie producer to invent a fake war in Albania to distract voters from a sex scandal just days before an election. The movie hit theaters about one month before the Monica Lewinsky scandal made headlines and the Clinton administration bombed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Subsequently, many couldn’t help but notice the parallel between the film and real-world events.

The Manchurian Candidate Tapped Into People’s Cold War Fears


The 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate was released during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States and the Soviet Union were at each other’s throats. The Cold War suspense film, starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Janet Leigh, centers on a man who is the son of a prominent political family. He is brainwashed and winds up becoming an unwitting assassin for communist causes. Chinese and Soviet officials believe an assassin who is brainwashed is less likely to feel fear and guilt. The political thriller/satire was received well by critics and is considered a culturally historic film.

President Obama’s Favorite Political Film Is Reese Witherspoon’s Election


The 1999 film Election stars Reese Witherspoon as high school student Tracy Flick. She’s an overachiever whose number-one goal is to become class president — and she’ll stop at nothing to get her wish. A teacher doesn’t feel she deserves to win, so he urges a popular football player to run against Tracy. That’s when Tracy does everything she can for the job. The movie satirizes both politics and high school drama. While the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, it bombed at the box office. Interestingly, President Barack Obama once told the director it’s his favorite political film.

Dr. Strangelove Mocked The Cold War


Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb satirizes the Cold War. It centers on the nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, a very real fear during that time period. The paranoid Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper accidentally orders a nuclear strike against the enemy while politicians and diplomats try to halt the attack to prevent an apocalypse. One of their more outrageous tactics is taking the advice of former Nazi and nuclear expert Dr. Strangelove. The movie pokes fun at the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which should prevent nuclear war because it would cause a cataclysmic disaster regardless of who wins.

The American President Still Resonates Over 20 Years Later


The 1995 romantic-comedy The American President centers on President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) who falls in love with a lobbyist (Annette Bening) while seeking re-election. Written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), the film shows how their relationship becomes a problem for their careers. In 2016, Presidential candidate Ted Cruz paraphrased a quote from the film when Donald Trump insulted his wife. In 2013, the New York Times noted how President Obama failed to secure a piece of legislation, which was in direct contrast to the vote gathering effort from the film. Obama responded by asking rhetorical questions to actor Michael Douglas.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Was Controversial For Its Hard-Hitting Truth


Considered one of the greatest films of all time, 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington stars Jimmy Stewart as a new senator who tries to fight a politically corrupt system seeded with greed. It stirred up controversy upon its release, and many were disgusted by the movie. U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. dubbed it “one of the most disgraceful things I have ever seen done to our country,” while Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley (D-Ky.) claimed the film “makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks.” It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Story.

Seven Days In May Received Support From President Kennedy


The 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May was set in 1974. It centers on a planned takeover of the U.S. government in response to the president signing a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviet Union. Starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, the film was made during the Cold War and examined the feelings many had about nuclear war. The movie was based on a book of the same name, which was influenced by some events that took place during the Kennedy administration. Kennedy himself encouraged the making of the film and reportedly lent some assistance to producers.

The Contender Hit Theaters Following The Lewinsky Scandal


The 2000 film The Contender was made in response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal involving President Bill Clinton. It stars Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater. It centers on the President of the United States and what happens when he appoints a new Vice President after the current VP suddenly dies. Rather than touch on her qualifications, one congressman, played by Oldman, questions the VP candidate about her sexual history. The subsequent hearings make headlines for their intrusiveness. The film was mired in some controversy. Oldman later claimed edits were made to appease the studio’s Democratic inclination.

President Obama Mentioned His Desire To Go Bulworth


The 1998 comedy Bulworth was written, produced, and directed by Warren Beatty. He also stars in the film as a Democratic senator who hires an assassin to kill him as he runs for re-election. Beatty mocks politics as his character gives unflinchingly honest public commentary at events during his campaign. His honesty and inadvertent connection with voters leads to a landslide victory. According to the New York Times, in 2013 President Barack Obama had at one point privately “talked longingly of ‘going Bulworth.'” Many thought the film was an accurate commentary on politics at the time.

The Best Man Showed The Inner Workings Of Political Ambition


The 1964 film The Best Man was written by novelist and political commentator Gore Vidal, based on a play that he wrote of the same name. The movie centers on a Presidential campaign and stars Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson as men both trying to get their party’s nomination (the party is not identified). Lee Tracy plays an ex-President, and the actor was nominated for an Academy Award for his role. The film was remarkable for its portrayal of the inner workings of political ambition. Neither candidate in the film was perfect for the job, but they weren’t terrible either.

Z Showed The Greek People’s Outrage Towards Their Government


The 1969 Algerian-French thriller Z starring Jean-Louis Trintignant is based on the 1966 novel of the same name. It’s a fictionalized account of what happened in 1963 when democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis was assassinated. The film takes a satirical look at Greek politics and spotlights the people’s anger at Greece’s military dictatorship during that time period. The title of the film references a popular Greek protest slogan that means “he lives” and refers to Lambrakis. Critic Roger Ebert noted how the film demonstrated that even moral victories can be corrupt. It won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Charlie Chaplin Attacked The Third Reich In The Great Dictator


The 1940 political satire/comedy The Great Dictator starred British comedian Charlie Chaplin in his first true sound film. He takes shots at Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, fascism, antisemitism, and the Third Reich as a whole. He played both leading roles — a Jewish barber and a fascist dictator. At the time of its release, the United States and Nazi Germany were formally at peace. It’s since been labeled a historically significant film and was nominated for five Academy Awards. Nearly 25 years later, Chaplin said he wouldn’t have made the film had he known about the horrors that took place at the Nazi concentration camps.

Fail Safe Centered On An Accidental Thermonuclear First Strike


Several films touched upon the Cold War during the 1960s. Fail Safe, directed by Sidney Lumet, was a 1964 movie based on the novel of the same name. The movie centers on a nuclear crisis and how Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union result in an accidental thermonuclear first strike when U.S. bombers are inadvertently sent to Moscow. Henry Fonda, Dan O’Herlihy, Walter Matthau and Frank Overton star. The movie hit theaters after Dr. Strangelove, dampening its success at the box office. While some criticized its premise that a breakdown in communication could cause a nuclear war, many praised its content.

The Battle Of Algiers Detailed Urban Guerrilla Warfare


The 1966 Italian-Algerian historical war film The Battle of Algiers stars Jean Martin and Saadi Yacef. It centers on the titular battle, which took place during the Algerian War against the French government in North Africa. It takes place between 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters infiltrated the Casbah and took up arms against French paratroopers. Shot on location, it defines Italian neorealism cinema and is considered a very significant film about urban guerrilla warfare, including the illegal methods colonists used to combat their opponents. The film was deemed controversial in France and wasn’t released in the country until 1971.

Three Days Of The Condor Was Made During Tense, Post-Watergate Times


The 1975 film Three Days of the Condor was a post-Watergate thriller that succinctly portrayed the public’s paranoia during a tense political climate. The movie stars Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max von Sydow. It centers on a CIA researcher who returns from a lunch break and discovers all of his colleagues are dead. While trying to figure out what happened and who he can trust, he tries to outmaneuver and outlast the killers. The movie made its mark because the plot didn’t seem that far out of the question following the Watergate scandal. Director Sydney Pollack denied it was political propaganda.

In The Loop Was A Commentary About The Iraq War


The 2009 British black comedy In The Loop satirizes British and American 21st century politics, particularly the invasion of Iraq. A spin-off of the BBC series The Thick of It, the film stars Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, Chris Addison, David Rasche, and James Gandolfini. It concentrates on the interesting tactics of the American and British governments as war looms. While researching the film, director Armando Iannucci met with people from the Pentagon and CIA and later explained: “At least two people told me that Condoleezza Rice was a bit rubbish. She got rather star-struck in Washington and never really stood up to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.”