“The Manchurian Candidate” (1962)
The original, 1962 version of this film is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made, let alone a great film about the politics of an era. Frank Sinatra (yes, that Frank Sinatra) stars as one of several American soldiers captured during the Korean War and, unbeknownst to them and the American public, brainwashed into becoming tools of the Communist regime. The communists’ sinister plot unfolds as the soldiers’ return vaults them into the political arena, and a diabolical plot to give the nation’s enemies control over the country. The film is filled with high tension and an unbelievable cast that also includes Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
This 1994 romantic comedy stars Geena Davis and Michael Keaton as speechwriters for rival candidates in a New Mexico political campaign. It’s a fun little film that takes a unique angle on the election process by looking at how the right word at the right time can shift public sentiment in dramatic ways. The movie also features a great performance by Christopher Reeve as “Baghdad Bob,” a television reporter covering the film’s campaign.
“The Ides of March” (2011)
A thriller starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, this film was directed by Clooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay. In the film, Gosling plays a junior campaign manager for the Governor of Pennsylvania (Clooney), who’s attempting to get the Democratic nod in the presidential election.. As one might expect, things take one dark turn after another as secrets from the candidate’s past come to light during the campaign, and Gosling’s character is forced to choose between his morals and his career.
“Game Change” (2012)
This HBO movie offered a fascinating examination of the 2008 United States presidential election campaign — specifically the campaign of John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Republicans’ senior strategist Steve Schmidt. Even if you’re not interested in revisiting that wild election year, this one’s worth checking out if only to see the performances of Julianne Moore as Palin, Ed Harris as McCain, and Woody Harrelson as Schmidt.
“Gangs of New York” (2002)
Finally, while this film doesn’t actually spend a lot of time on the elections that occur over the course of the story, it does offer a fascinating look at the infamous political machine that dominated New York for decades (and according to some, still dominates the city). From the role of legendary “Boss” Tweed in the local politics to the elections that regularly resulted in candidates being elected by more voters than the number of people living in the city at the time (“Vote early, vote often!”), director Martin Scorsese didn’t shy away from showing the corruption that built New York City. In the end, it would be easier to list all of the awards this film wasn’t nominated for than the long list of accolades it received.
“The Campaign” hits theaters August 10.