There has never been a better time to binge.
With lockdowns and restrictions across the country, it’s the perfect time to tick off those must-see movies that have long haunted our watchlists. While many of us will have been flicking between Netflix originals and Halloween horrors this October, the time has now come to switch on those election-themed classics.
This year’s presidential election isn’t just one of the most poignant in the history of the United States, it’s one of the most influential elections our planet has ever experienced and it’s certain to go down in history whatever the outcome. Between now and Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 the world will be counting down the days as the 59th quadrennial presidential election heats up. That gives us all plenty of time to cozy up in front of the television, whip out the popcorn, and binge watch some of the best election-themed movies and tv shows to have ever graced our screens.
Both fictitious stories lampooning our ever imperfect electoral system and true-to-life retellings that, well… do pretty much the same thing. There are so many great motion pictures out there inspired by elections both big and small. Here are our top 10 picks, from black comedies to romantic dramas. Oh, and we’re afraid, in this case, there will be no recounts!
10. “The Campaign” (2012) – Netflix / Amazon Prime
We start off the list with a political comedy that’s been composed with just about as much satire as is physically possible. Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianakis play two juxtaposed North Carolinians both vying for a seat in Congress and possessing equally astounding ignorance. Will Ferrel’s smug character Cam Brady is a four-term Democratic Congressman running for his fifth consecutive term in the fictional 14th District of North Carolina. He soon finds himself continuously underestimating an unlikely political newcomer in Zach Galifianakis’ credulous tourism director Marty Huggins.
The director of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, Jay Roach, returns to directing comedy to give us another hysterical, lighthearted political piece that’ll distract you from all the madness of 2020 with some amusing absurdity of its own.
Length: 1h 25m IMDB: 6.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
8. “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004) – Netflix / Amazon Prime / Hulu
Back to the millennial era of cinema, we have a remake of one of the finest conspiracy narratives to make it to the big screen. The Manchurian Candidate is a 2004 political sci-fi thriller based on the 1959 novel and 1962 film of the same name. While the 1962 film starred Frank Sinatra as a brainwashed war hero who finds himself filling shoes he didn’t wish to fill, the 2004 neo-noir version sees Liev Schreiber play out his own version of celebrated but confused Sergeant Raymond Shaw.
Schrieber’s character is a glamorized U.S. Congressman in a dystopian United States thanks to his heroic war deeds that earned him a Medal of Honor. Continuously supported by his manipulative mother, the United States Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (played by Meryl Streep) and influenced by several other powerful figures, Schrieber’s protagonist too becomes disillusioned with his own purpose. Meanwhile, another war veteran Major Bennet Marco, played by Denzel Washington, begins looking into mysterious circumstances surrounding missing and mentally ill soldiers only to discover that a company called Manchurian Global might not be what it seems.
The conspiracy narratives exhibited in both films and the book explore many relevant elements in presidential elections. Namely the influence of foreign power over presidential candidates, prevalent gaslighting techniques, and the many clandestine clogs that work behind the scenes of presidential elections to divert and distort the truth.
Length: 2h 10m IMDB: 6.6/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
7. “Wag the Dog” (1997) – Netflix / Amazon Prime
On the topic of distortion and deception nowhere has a government scandal, fictitious or not, been more hilariously depicted than in Levinson’s Wag the Dog. The 1997 political satire film was coincidentally released one month before the outbreak of the Clinton and Lewinsky scandal. A Hollywood producer played by Dustin Hoffman is hired to fabricate a fake war in Albania and distract people from a president sex scandal that arrives in the build-up to an election. Hoffman is joined by a star-studded cast including Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, and Woody Harrelson who all give unforgettably convincing performances.
As you’d expect, the media couldn’t get enough of the film’s comparisons with the scandal that followed and several elements in the film find themselves mimicking or predicting past political events.
Length: 1h 50m IMDB: 7.2/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
6. “The War Room” (1995) – Amazon Prime
At the end of the year in which Bill Clinton was inaugurated into office, the documentary film The War Room was released exhibiting all of the political machinations that played out in the Clinton 1992 campaign. Having requested permission to film its progression, filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker proceeded to follow key individuals and chronicle crucial events as they unraveled in the Clinton 1992 Campaign. It is an unapologetic glimpse behind the curtain and while Bill Clinton may have been the presidential candidate at the time, it puts the roles of cunning strategists James Carville and George Stephanopoulos under the microscope.
Leaving no stone unturned the film thoroughly documents every move the 42nd President of the United States made in his run-up to the election, offering a superb fusion of truthful facts and cliffhanging cinematic suspense. We see the planned rhetoric, aggressive tactics, and tireless theorizing that goes on behind the scenes on the campaign trail.
Length: 1h 36m IMDB: 7.3/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
4. “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) – Amazon Prime / Hulu
Can any election-themed list go without the inclusion of this cult classic? Napoleon Dynamite might not exhibit characters scheming for control of the White House but the immortalized coming-of-age comedy sees two very different would-be class presidents attempt to win votes with fliers, posters, and the help of their allies.
Another seemingly unwinnable election sees underdog Pedro Sánchez, the new Mexican transfer kid in school, take on the popular snob Summer. With bizarre campaign schemes such as the protagonist’s Jamiroquai dance the shy outsiders give Summer and the school bullies an unlikely run for their money. The subject of competitive student body elections might seem a facetious parody of democratic machinations but the plot in this day and age maybe doesn’t seem that far away from a presidential election as it once did.
Length: 1h 36m IMDB: 6.9/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
3. “Idols Of March” (2011) – Netflix / Amazon Prime
As only the second movie on this list to have been made in the last decade it’s quite clear that political films of late really haven’t been a hit with modern audiences and struggle to keep up with the bizarre political events of our recent past. The Idles of March, however, refuses to be bunched in with the mediocre political movies of the modern era and was chosen as one of the best films of 2011 by the National Board of Review. It earned Ryan Gosling a Golden Globe for his performance and George Clooney, who stars as well as directs, an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a talented young idealist who excels at communications and finds himself at the center of Ohio’s Democratic primary. He becomes a crucial piece in Governor Mike Morris’s presidential campaign. But working for the charming George Clooney might not be enough for Meyers as he gets a tempting job offer from Morris’s political opponent. A blossoming romance with a young attractive campaign intern only complicates Meyer’s circumstances further but with tricks being played on all sides trusting anybody is a dangerous move.
Dramatic tension is interwoven with an analysis of political corruption that highlights the complications of electoral politics and the smoke and mirrors tactics of contemporary campaigns.
Length: 1h 41m IMDB: 7.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
2. “Election” (1999) – Netflix / Amazon Prime / HBO
The 1999 black comedy Election is another political high-school satire, with many serious parallels with past elections. The Ferris Bueller’s Day Off star Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a popular high school teacher who harbors a spiteful dislike of Tracey Flick, an ambitious, overachieving student who will let nothing get in her way in her bid to be class president. An Oscar-nominated Reece Witherspoon performance has drawn frequent comparisons with Trump’s 2016 Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and the novel on which the film is based was brought out shortly after the Lewinsky scandal.
Sabotage, moral issues, inspired underdogs, and stirring speeches are all a part of what the director Alexander Payne claims, is Barrack Obama’s favorite political film!
Length: 1h 43m IMDB: 7.2/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
1. “All the President’s Men” (1976) – Amazon Prime / HBO
It’s hard to award first place to any other than the award-winning movie that depicts America’s biggest political scandal of the 20th century. All The President’s Men is today regarded as one of the greatest political history movies to have graced the screen and with good reason. Alan J Pakula’s masterpiece follows Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as two keen Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they uncover the Watergate scandal and the corrupt tactics that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Along with its multitude of nominations and awards. In 2010, All The President’s Men was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry and deemed of cultural and historical significance. It’s an absolute must-see and gives insight into the ongoing and misdeeds of real-life world leaders.
Length: 2h 18m IMDB: 8/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 94%