HomeMoviesArticlesStreaming for Your Pleasure: Political Theater 

Streaming for Your Pleasure: Political Theater 

Before we start I should clarify the purpose of this list. No, this is not a ranking of political films. The list is in no particular order, and I will be the first one to admit these are not all great movies or TV shows. Some are while others are simply worth your time. With the massive amount of streaming services and movies to choose from its hard to know what is available. The purpose of this article is to collect titles that are currently streaming for your pleasure.

As we all know watching the world of politics for too long can make anyone’s brain hurt any time of year. Then the bitter rhetoric, repetitive debates, and the overbearing media coverage gets turned up to a new level as each party begins their Presidential Conventions.  So refuge is needed to escape from these glorified circus shows. Luckily we live in the world of online streaming so there is a bunch of great TV shows and movies to choose from.

Although real life politics can be a chore to sit through fictionalized politics can be a delight. With that in mind I combed through all the available streaming services to select some of the best television shows and movies that either satirized or dramatize US politics. Also note for this list I kept away from presidential biographies or other material that was heavily based on real life stories.


The Candidate (1972)
110 min|Comedy, Drama|August 23, 1972
7.1Rating: 7.1 / 10 from 8,412 usersMetascore: N/APG
Bill McKay is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. He has no hope of winning, so he is willing to tweak the establishment.

It is often said that politics today is more divided than ever and that campaigns used to be about the important issues. We hear that things were simply better back in the day. When that day was has yet to be determined. What I always wonder is are those statements accurate or are they a result of a glorification the past? That is when movies like The Candidate are helpful. The Candidate‘s documentary esc style is a big reason why it has aged so well over the years. It feels like you are getting insight into the changing political climate of the time and how campaigns were adjusting the way candidates were sold to the public. For me its ending is prolific, and without giving anything a way it is a poignant way to express how people are more consumed with winning elections than they are of actually being prepared for the office once it is won.

Available: Amazon Prime


The American President (1995)
114 min|Comedy, Drama, Romance|November 17, 1995
6.8Rating: 6.8 / 10 from 46,357 usersMetascore: 67PG-13
Comedy-drama about a widowed U.S. President and a lobbyist who fall in love. It's all above-board, but "politics is perception", and sparks fly anyway.

Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin make a pretty good pair. This directing and writing duo gave us A Few Good Men  that has quotes that still populate today’s lexicon, and while The American President does not have the same popularity in many ways it is actually a better film. Sorkin’s knack for writing dialog gives The American President its sharp edge to make you feel like you in the the room with real life political heavy weights, while Reiner’s direction humanizes the characters to make the drama more relatable. It’s odd to call a movie that is over twenty years old a throwback but in many ways it is exactly that. It is like a classic Frank Capra drama that is a delight to witness.

Available: Amazon Prime


Parks and Recreation (2009–2015)

22 min|Comedy|April 9, 2009
8.6Rating: 8.6 / 10 from 155,871 usersMetascore: N/ATV-PG
The absurd antics of an Indiana town's public officials as they pursue sundry projects to make their city a better place.

I know Parks and Rec may not be the first show people think of when I mention politics. Sure other television shows may work on the world stage and have plots revolving around serious topics like preventing nuclear war, terrorism, and economic disaster. Well Parks and Rec covers important topics too like Community Town Hall meetings, wild raccoon infestations, and the glories of breakfast food. Obviously Parks and Rec has its fun satirizing small town politics but never in a demonizing manner. One of the best aspects of the show is the relationship between Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope. Two people on the opposite of the political spectrum who are the bestest of friends…or work associates depending on who you ask. They demonstrate that just because people disagree does not mean they cannot greatly respect each other. A notion that is often lost in today’s environment.

Available: Hulu and Netflix


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

129 min|Comedy, Drama|October 19, 1939
8.2Rating: 8.2 / 10 from 92,431 usersMetascore: 73NOT RATED
A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.

When talking about political films one must mention Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Certainly it is a product of its time so it may not be the in-depth look at the political landscape like other dramas on this list.  For what I can remember I do know if a name of a real life political party is even mentioned. It does demonstrate that the fear of corruption is nothing new for Washington. Jimmy Stewart gives one of the best performances his career as the ultimate underdog hero. To this day whenever I hear someone talk about a filibuster this movie is the first thing that comes to my mind.

Available: (Digital Rental) – iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube rental.


The Ides of March (2011)

101 min|Drama, Thriller|October 7, 2011
7.1Rating: 7.1 / 10 from 202,299 usersMetascore: 67R
An idealistic staffer for a new presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail.

The Ides of March is a good movie in a great movies body. You would think with the talent involved it would be an all-time classic, but it never reaches that status. It is still worthy of your in large part due to the amount of great performances. When your cast list includes George Clooney, Ryan Gosling Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman it is no surprise the acting is on point.  The Ides of March is another exploration into how the desire for power can corrupt, and the lengths even the best of people will go to obtain that power.

Available: Amazon Prime


Veep (2012–)

28 min|Comedy|April 22, 2012
8.2Rating: 8.2 / 10 from 32,590 usersMetascore: N/ATV-MA
Former Senator Selina Meyer finds that being Vice President of the United States is nothing like she hoped and everything that everyone ever warned her about.

If any show can make you laugh at the pure insanity that is the Washington D.C. political machine it is Veep.  It takes the style of the British comedy The Thick of It and transport it to the USA with an HBO flair. Julia Louis-Dreyfus leads a brilliant cast full of intensely hilarious characters. It can be brutal at times as these people who clearly can’t stand each other try to use one another for their own benefit.

Available: HBO Go and Amazon Prime


In the Loop (2009)

106 min|Comedy|September 4, 2009
7.5Rating: 7.5 / 10 from 48,851 usersMetascore: 83NOT RATED
A political satire about a group of skeptical American and British operatives attempting to prevent a war between two countries.

 

Speaking of The Thick of It you we now come to the glorious comedy In the Loop. The Spin-off of the same well regarded British television show The Thick of It, this took aim at the special relationship between the United States and Britain. Showing how a word flub during a meaningless press conference and unintentionally lead to war. Peter Capaldi is a force of nature and Doctor Who fans may enjoy seeing their most recent Doctor giving a much different performance. 

Available: Netflix and Hulu Plus


Thank You for Smoking (2005)

92 min|Comedy, Drama|April 14, 2006
7.6Rating: 7.6 / 10 from 201,664 usersMetascore: 71R
Satirical comedy follows the machinations of Big Tobacco's chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, who spins on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his twelve-year-old son.

 

Well if you are going to talk about politics one must mention the lobbyist that are probably the people who really run things. One of the best looks into the mindset of a lobbyist is Thank You for Smoking. Aaron Eckhart gives what is still the performance of his career as Nick Naylor, a man with an MD in kicking butt and taking names. His complete lack of shame has made him one of my personal favorite anti-heroes . Never would I have thought I would be routing for a person works for Big Tobacco but Thank You for Smoking causes you to do just that. For those concerned Thank You for Smoking is not designed to propagate the benefits of smoking rather the sheer craziness of the political machine and how easy we can be manipulated by charming individuals.

 

Available: (Digital Rental) – iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube rental.


House of Cards (2013–)

51 min|Drama|February 1, 2013
8.9Rating: 8.9 / 10 from 399,850 usersMetascore: N/ATV-MA
A Congressman works with his equally conniving wife to exact revenge on the people who betrayed him.

We shift away from the world of comedy to the world of hard nosed drama. It is somewhat odd placing this on an article of this nature because House of Cards  is probably the most notable show in streaming history up to this point. The show that changed the game and legitimize streaming shows. In a way that is why it also has to be mentioned. Despite its notoriety I would not call House of Cards a great show, but there are some great elements including the performances o Kevin Spacey and Robin Right, production design, and overall look that was established by David Fincher. House of Cards is a well made Soap Opera with the ultimate pessimistic view of government. Frank Underwood is the king puppet master pulling the right strings at the right moment to manipulate things in his favor. It exists in reality where nothing is off limits from blackmail to straight up murder. In this frenzy of awfulness half the fun is seeing the lengths people will go to destroy their opposition.

 

Available: Netflix


The West Wing (1999–2006)

44 min|Drama|September 22, 1999
8.8Rating: 8.8 / 10 from 52,104 usersMetascore: N/ATV-14
Inside the lives of staffers in the West Wing of the White House.

 

When end on what I would call the ultimate work of fiction centered on current day US politics. Recently Geekcast Radio did a countdown of the Top 100 TV shows of all Time, and when I was creating my list there was no question for what I should put as the greatest show of all time. The West Wing raised the bar for the type of drama you could create with television. Aaron Sorkin took what he started with a film like The American President and added a level of a intellectualism that had not yet been seen on Prime Time television.  If House of Cards is pessimistic look at those who govern us  The West Wing takes the opposite approach. One that breathes optimism into a world that tends to reject the concept. It is not without is cynicism mind you, however it is not ruled by those negative ideals. Instead it demonstrates what can happen when the smartest people in the room have to answer the unanswerable questions and attempt to win the unwinnable battles. Drama in its best form. The form that will make you think, make you laugh, and make you feel a cavalcade of different emotions in one single episode. By the end you may find yourself witting in Jed Bartlett’s name when you vote this fall.

 

Available: Netflix

 

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Writer and Podcaster for @GeekCastRadio | CoHost of @CinemaGeekCast & @TalknInCircles| Husband | Father | Lover of Film, Comics, and Comedy| Jetpack Enthusiast | Wearer of Shoes