The Best Politics Movies of the 21st Century, So Far

The past two decades have been characterized by globalization and increasingly polarized politics. Fortunately, with these policies came a wave of films inspired by the challenges of the 21st century. Some have provided biased accounts of American involvement in world politics, using our current context to reflect on historical events. Others have used historical events to talk about our current political climate. Many are inspired by age-old political themes, such as greed, corruption and ambition. However, the internet age has also allowed these films to spill over into real-world politics, causing real controversy and consequences.

After 9/11, the tone became markedly heavier, as patriotism soared and interest grew in geopolitical films portraying America as “the good guy.” Terrorism, previously seen as a vague threat, became a defining force in action films during this period. 24 skyrocketed in the ratings. Some movies, like those from 2002 The Bourne Identity, even chose to resume scenes in order to make the CIA less mean. More nuanced portrayals of the US political role in the Middle East would come around the 2010s. The last 6 years have seen the rise of a darker, often absurd and satirical tone (as in Vice Where Don’t look up), as a wave of domestic populism and international disasters (and Trump) stain the previously rosy images of those in power.

Whether based on national or global politics, many political films of the 21st century have often reflected who we are as a country and as a people. How will these recent political films stand the test of time? Let’s take a look at ten of the greatest movies to tackle politics in the 21st century so far.

Related: Don’t Look For Criticism: Netflix’s Sledgehammer Satire Of America’s Political Divisions

9 The Ides of March (2012)

Ryan Gosling shaking hands in The Ides of March.
Sony Pictures

George Clooney’s fictional campaign politics thriller hits home with its solid performances and timeless themes. Based on Farragut Northa play by Beau Willimon, it is set during the Democratic primary in Ohio and follows the early stages of a presidential campaign from the perspective of his press secretary as he falls prey to hubris and corruption. The title references both the time of the primary and the assassination of Julius Caesar, which was famous proof of how even the most beloved idealistic rulers can fall victim to their own pride. The smash-hit cast, including Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Marissa Tomei, helps offset its somewhat cliched plot.

8 Borat Next Movie (2020)

Sasha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova in Borat's next film.

How to continue to make brilliant political satires when the political climate has become a satire of itself? Just pull out a camera and shoot. Although it helps if you add Sasha Baron Cohen as the beloved Kazakh, Borat and newcomer Maria Bakalova in an incredible performance as his estranged daughter. Jason Woliner’s controversial second “movie” in the Borat series straddles the line between farce, video farce and mockumentary. It’s steamy and unforgettable, chaining American political scene after scene. There’s Rudy Giuliani who is sadly duped and the hilarious “blood moon dance‘, among other horrors. Yes, the plot is contrived, but it’s a shocking, if ghastly, product of America’s increasingly absurd journey into new political territory.

Related: These Are 5 Of The Best Mockumentaries

seven Argo (2013)

Ben Affleck holding a screenplay in Argo.
Warner Bros.

Argo embodies the heightened interest in the 2010s regarding America’s role in the Middle East. Although it is firmly grounded in the true story of how the CIA used the cover of a fake Hollywood sci-fi movie to extract hostages from Iran, it takes a more complex view of the crisis of 1979, providing significant context as to why anti-American sentiment existed in Iran in the first place. The stranger-than-fiction story offers a fascinating portrait of the political and diplomatic tensions of the time, all directed by its own star, Ben Affleck. Its perfect blend of tension, humor, politics and entertainment brought Washington DC and Hollywood together, especially when it won the Best Picture Oscar.

6 Milk (2008)

Sean Penn standing in front of a microphone in Milk.
Focus characteristics

The biopic Milk by Gus van Sant tells the story of Harvey Milk, America’s first elected openly gay politician. Milk arrived in San Francisco expecting a gay refuge, but found that prejudice and police raids were rampant. While Milk’s unwavering dedication to activism has driven many into her personal life, it’s led to real change in her city. He was ready to take on anyone, delivering fiery speeches and forging alliances in unlikely places. Sean Penn’s performance livens up the film. In his hands, Harvey is a flawed idealist who will do anything he can for his community. Although it ends in tragedy, the story is ultimately one of triumph, with a man speaking fearlessly on behalf of an oppressed community.

5 Frost/Nixon (2008)

Michael Sheen as David Frost in Frost/Nixon.
Universal Studios

Ron Howard’s entry into the crowded realm of Watergate films focused on the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s resignation, fictionalizing the famous interviews between journalist David Frost (the incomparable Michael Sheen) and the former scandalized president (Frank Langella). Frost/Nixon garnered accolades and nominations for its complex portrayal of the relationship between Frost and Nixon (or journalism and politics), lending a degree of humanity to the president who had long since become a cartoonish villain of American culture. It provides a much-needed layer of perspective on Nixon as a figure in American politics, because beyond being a monumental political scandal, Watergate was the act of a deeply anxious man wanting to be loved and accepted by his country. .

4 Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day Lewis standing with the Union Army at Lincoln.
20th century workshops

Spielberg’s moving portrayal of the most revered president in American history has been widely praised and will endure one of the best legendary directors movies. Daniel Day Lewis plays Abraham lincoln, making him more than the hero of our history books. Spielberg focuses on a short period of Lincoln’s presidency as the Civil War draws to a close. Meanwhile, the President faces his own civil war, desperately trying to quell the infighting and rally the voices for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing an end to slavery. At home, he grapples with the death of his son Willie, fearing he will lose another son to war. lincoln ponders what made the leader such an effective master of politics at the time, even as he battled his own demons.

3 Selma (2014)

David Oyelowo walking in Selma.
Paramount Pictures

The drama of Ava DuVernay Selma center one of the greatest political minds in American history, Martin Luther King Jr. David Oyelowo plays the icon as he fights for the right to vote, meets with leaders and orchestrates the famous march from Selma to Montgomery , Alabama, which would become a defining moment in the civil rights movement. Selma’s thesis remains prescient: we cannot just sit and wait. Real change only comes with sacrifice, vigilance and political commitment. DuVernay explores the inner workings of Dr. King’s life, including his marriage to Coretta Scott (Carmen Ejogo), presented as a full-fledged political actress. Of course, there’s the unforgettable climax, “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, shot with perfect historical precision and excruciating tension.

Related: Here Are 5 Reasons Why Selma Is The Best MLK Jr Movie.

2 The Death of Stalin (2018)

Steve Buscemi in The Death of Stalin.
Entertainment One

“Yeah, he’s clearly not feeling well,” Beria (Simon Russell Beale) says, pointing to Stalin’s corpse. Entertaining, unexpected and above all hilarious, the comedy of 2018 Stalin’s death transported viewers to the Soviet Union of the 1950s, the day after Stalin’s death. He comes from the razor-sharp Armando Ianucci, creator of crude political comedies The thickness of it and Veep, and his view of power is no less cynical and eviscerating. The ruthless tone and dark humor (and dark ending) caught some viewers off guard, but proved to be the perfect way to tackle the political jamming after one of the bloodiest reigns in history. Plus, Steve Buscemi is unsurprisingly amazing as a scheming and sassy Russian politician.

1 Leviathan (2014)

Alexei Serebryakov seated in front of a whale skeleton in Leviathan

Despite its name, this Russian drama directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev is actually the story of small-town politics and one man’s fight against a twisted mayor who wants his land. That said, he carries the gravity of universal struggles against corrupt authority and understands that the political system (however small) can come across as a destructive and monstrous system. Leviathan. Although it is set in modern Russia, it is inspired by the relatable story of an American auto mechanic who demolished the town hall after a zoning dispute with the local authorities. The scathing review of the film on corruption under Putin’s government faces a real backlash in Russia, where the film was filmed and demonized. The cinematography overshadows its protagonist, a small man facing a vast, oppressive landscape. The movie title monster, drawn of the Book of Job, refers to authoritarianism that seizes rights and property until there is nothing left. It’s a breathtaking political masterpiece

James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
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