Politics in American Film: A Decade by Decade Breakdown

Hollywood and politics has had a great relationship throughout the years. Some of the most powerful films whether based on real life or fictional stories have seduced moviegoers and critics alike.

Big name actors, writers, directors, and American studios have put political life under the microscrope and marketed it as "that’s entertainment". Political-oriented films are similar to politics: some are weak or strong on content-substance or on image-star power, and the great ones are strong in both.

How do our political figures, issues, processes, and ideology stand up against Hollywood’s representation? Award-winning and nominated directors have tackled politics including: Frank Capra, Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, John Frankenheimer, Oliver Stone, Otto Preminger, Barry Levinson, Rob Reiner, and Jonathan Demme.

Here’s a list from A-Z of politics in American film (not including political documentaries) featuring a few vital statistics: genre, major actor(s), director, tagline that appeared on the film poster (if available), and the release year.

Whoopi Goldberg picked "A Face in the Crowd", starring Andy Griffith as one of her favorite films when acting as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies. It’s about a drifter who rises to fame and fortune, and covets power to a frightening degree. Griffith delivers a performance so far from the sheriff in Mayberry you’ll gain a new appreciation for him. My personal favorites end in five stars.


Duck Soup (1933-Comedy), starring the Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont; directed by Leo McCarey.*****

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939-Drama/Comedy), starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart, and Claude Rains; directed by Frank Capra. Tagline: Capra at his greatest!*****


Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940-Drama/History), starring Raymond Massey, Gene Lockhart and Ruth Gordon; directed by John Cromwell.

All the King’s Men (1949-Drama), starring Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, and John Ireland; directed by Robert Rossen. Tagline: He Might Have Been A Pretty Good Guy . . . If Too Much Power . . . And Women . . . Hadn’t Gone To his Head!

Citizen Kane (1941-Drama/Mystery), starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten; directed by Orson Welles. Tagline: Radio’s Most Dynamic Artist . . The Man At Whose Voice A Nation Trembled . . . Now the screen’s most exciting NEW star! Orson Welles in the picture Hollywood said he’d never make.

The Farmer’s Daughter (1947-Comedy), starring Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten; directed by H.C. Potter. Tagline: A Gal with Cultivating Ways!

The Great McGinty (1940-Comedy), starring Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus and Akim Tamiroff; written and directed by Preston Sturges.

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944-Comedy), starring Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines and William Demarest; directed by Preston Sturges.

Meet John Doe (1941-Comedy/Drama/Romance), starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Eddie Arnold and Jackie Gleason; directed by Frank Capra.

State of the Union (1948-Comedy/Drama), starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn; directed by Frank Capra. Tagline: How’s the State of the Union? It’s GREAT!


A Face in the Crowd (1957-Drama), starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, and Walter Matthau; directed by Elia Kazan.*****

The Last Hurrah (1958-Drama), starring Spencer Tracy and Jeffrey Hunter; directed by John Ford. Tagline: Big book! big cast! big picture!

The Manchurian Candidate (1952-Drama/Mystery/Thriller/War), starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury; directed by John Frankenheimer. Tagline: When you’ve seen it all, you’ll swear there’s never been anything like it!*****


Ada (9161-Drama), starring Susan Hayward and Dean Martin; directed by Danel Mann. Tagline: Bo Gillis is running for Governor. Steve writes the speeches, Sylvester runs the campaign and Bo plays the guitar.

Advice & Consent (1962-Drama), starring Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton and Don Murray; directed by Otto Preminger. Tagline: Are the men and women of Washington really like this?

The Best Man (1964-Drama), starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson; directed by Franklin Schaffner. Tagline: Does The Best Man Always Get To The White House?

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964-Comedy), starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott; directed by Stanley Kubrick. Tagline: The hot-line suspense comedy.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance (1962-Western), starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin; directed by John Ford. Tagline: Together For The First Time – James Stewart – John Wayne – in the masterpiece of four-time Academy Award winner John Ford.

The President’s Analyst (1967-Satire), starring James Coburn and Godfrey Cambridge; directed by Theodore J. Flicker. Tagline: Only two people on earth want Sidney Schaefer alive. Sidney Schaefer. And the President of the United States.

Seven Days in May (1964-Drama/Thriller), starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March; directed by John Frankenheimer. Tagline: "I’m suggesting Mr President, there’s a military plot to take over the Government of these United States, next Sunday…"


1776 (1976-Drama/Family/History/Musical), starring William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard; directed by Peter H. Hunt

All the President’s Men (1976-Drama/History/Thriller), starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford; directed by Alan J. Pakula. Tagline: At times it looked like it might cost them their jobs, their reputations, and maybe even their lives.

Being There (1979-Comedy/Drama), starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacClaine, and Melvyn Douglas; directed by Hal Ashby. Tagline: Getting there is half the fun; being there is all of it!*****

The Candidate (1972-Drama), starring Robert Redford and Peter Boyle; directed by Michael Ritchie. Tagline: Too Handsome. Too Young. Too Liberal. Doesn’t have a chance. He’s PERFECT!

The Man (1972-Drama), starring James Earl Jones and William Windom; directed by Joseph Sargent. Tagline: It took an accident to make this man President of the United States. What they do to him now won’t be an accident.

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979-Drama), starring Alan Alda, Barbara Harris, Meryl Streep and Rip Torn; directed by Jerry Schatzberg. Tagline: There are many ways to be seduced. Fame. Power. Love. Joe Tynan knows them all.

-1980s- (Mysteriously lacking!)


The American President (1995-Comedy/Drama/Romance), starring Michael Douglas and Annette Benning; directed by Rob Reiner. Tagline: Why can’t the most powerful man in the world have the one thing he wants most?

Bob Roberts (1992-Comedy), starring Tim Robbins and Giancarlo Esposito; directed by Tim Robbins. Tagline: More amazing than Watergate.

Bulworth (1999-Comedy/Drama/Romance), starring Warren Beatty, Halle Berry and Oliver Platt; directed by Warren Beatty. Tagline: Brace yourself. This politician is about to tell the truth!

Dave (1993-Comedy/Romance), starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Frank Langella; directed by Ivan Reitman. Tagline: In a country where anybody can become President, anybody just did.

Dick (1999-Comedy), starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya and Will Ferrell; directed by Andrew Fleming. Tagline: He was tricky. They were better.

Election (1999-Comedy), starring Mathew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon; directed by Alexander Payne. Tagline: Reading, Writing, Revenge.*****

JFK (1991-Drama), starring Kevin Costner; directed by Oliver Stone. Tagline: The Story That Won’t Go Away

My Fellow Americans (1996-Adventure/Comedy), starring Jack Lemmon, James Garner, and Dan Aykroyd; directed by Peter Segal. Tagline: A comedy about life, liberty and the pursuit of two ex-presidents.

Nixon (1995-Biography/Drama), starring Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen; directed by Oliver Stone. Tagline: He had greatness within his grasp.

Primary Colors (1998-Comedy/Drama), starring John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates; directed by Mike Nichols. Tagline: What went down on the way to the top.

Wag the Dog (1997-Comedy), starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro; directed by Barry Levinson. Tagline: A Hollywood producer. A Washington spin-doctor. When they get together, they can make you believe anything.


All the King’s Men (2006, Remake-Drama), starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins & Kate Winslet; directed by Steve Zaillian. Tagline: Time brings all things to light.

The Contender (2000-Drama/Thriller), starring Gary Oldman, Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges; written and directed by Rod Lurie. Tagline: Sometimes you can assassinate a leader without firing a shot.*****

Head of State (2003-Comedy), starring Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, and Lynne Whitfield; directed by Chris Rock. Tagline: The only thing white is the house.

Man of the Year (2006-Comedy/Drama/Romance/Thriller), starring Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, and Jeff Goldblum; directed by Barry Levinson. Tagline: Could this man be our next president?

The Manchurian Candidate (2004-Remake, Drama/Mystery/Sci-fi/Thriller/War), starring Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber; directed by Jonathan Demme. Tagline: This summer everything is under control.Whoopi Goldberg picked "A Face in the Crowd" as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies.Award-winning and nominated directors have tackled politics.Oliver Stone directed two films focused on U.S. presidents: one a Democrat, the other Republican.Frank Capra directed more films with political themes than any other American director.

These films occur in United States States, and are a testiment to politics being just as complicated, frustrating, challenging, and comical as today.