“The Campaign” opens in theaters this weekend, offering a spin on the modern election process as only Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis can. And while their take on the North Carolina congressional campaign is sure to be memorable, it’s far from the first peek behind the curtains — funny or otherwise — that Hollywood has given us.
Here are ten of our favorite movies that feature an election as a prominent plot device, and take a unique angle on the inevitable mud-slinging, pandering, and uncertain alliances that have made political campaigns the stuff of great storytelling fodder.
Appropriately enough, this dark comedy is widely regarded as one of the best movies about an election you’ll ever see. It stars Matthew Broderick as a high-school teacher whose decision to help out with the school elections adds no small amount of stress to his already troubled life, while Reese Witherspoon plays the over-achieving student who will stop at nothing to become class president. A supremely clever satire of suburban life and politics, the film is an adaptation of a 1998 novel by Tom Perrotta, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, among other accolades.
“Wag The Dog” (1997)
Another dark comedy about modern politics, this film stars Robert De Niro as a Washington spin doctor who hires a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to create a fictional war that will distract the public from a scandal threatening a presidential candidate’s bid for reelection. It’s a fascinating look at the marketing machine behind political campaigns and the very real process of manipulating public opinion on a massive scale. While the film differs greatly from the Larry Beinhart novel that inspired it, it’s still an eye-opening look at how politicians can curry favor and the fantastic illusions that have become an integral part of today’s politics.
“Primary Colors” (1998)
John Travolta plays a charismatic Southern politician vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in this drama based on Joe Klein’s popular 1996 novel of the same name. As his run to the White House gains momentum, his campaign is joined by an idealistic advisor played by Adrian Lester and a tough veteran played by Kathy Bates, and each discover in their own ways how much their candidate’s personal and political personas differ behind the scenes. Bates’ performance in the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, while the film itself received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
This weird 1998 film was co-written, co-produced and directed by its star, Warren Beatty, and follows a lifetime politician who sees the end of his career drawing nigh, and decides to go out with a bang — only to find out that giving up on traditional politics could be the best way to get reelected. While the film wasn’t exactly well received, it does hold the distinction of having not one but two scenes in which Warren Beatty raps. (No, seriously.)
“Black Sheep” (1996)
Before Ferrell and Galifianakis hit the campaign trail, there was Chris Farley and David Spade in this painfully funny film about a guy (Farley) who just wants to help out his brother’s political campaign, but ends up doing more harm than good. While it’s not the best of Farley’s buddy films, it has more than a fair share of memorable scenes featuring the big guy and serves as a great reminder of why he always kept us laughing.