In the realm of kinda/sorta holidays, Election Day is one that should totally be nailed down on the calendar as a day where citizens can take the day off to vote and reflect on the country’s path forward. No matter which side you’re on, that should be something we can all agree on. Still, if we’re going to make Election Day a true holiday, it’s going to need its own canon of movies that speaks to just what makes the occasion so special.
Seeing as movies are definitely our thing here at CinemaBlend, we’d like to cast our ballot for the following six movies, starting with 1997’s Air Force One, as the cinematic treats perfect for celebrating the day where voices are heard and ballots are cast. Whether you’re tracking the incoming results like a hawk or trying to avoid anything too early or inconclusive, there’s something for everyone on this rundown of candidates.
Air Force One (1997)
Most people remember the Harrison Ford action-drama Air Force One for the first half of the equation, as fighting Gary Oldman and a handful of Russian terrorists does take up quite a bit of the film’s running time. However, with a script that includes a lesson on the 25th amendment, while also operating at full throttle as a tension-filled thrill ride, there’s quite a bit of dramatic weight to this fast moving classic.
With enough 24 cast members to make fans of that counterterrorism drama do a double take, Air Force One turns a tale that could have just been “Die Hard on the President’s plane” and makes it into something more suspenseful and thought-provoking. The film’s reputation has earned it a proper amount of adoration over time, but you might be surprised just how good the story in-between the shootouts happens to be.
Politics and comedy go together like lemons and water, especially because if you mix them the wrong way, it feels too bitter. That’s not the case with director Ivan Reitman’s beautifully funny Dave, which sees Kevin Kline playing both a real jerk of a president and the adorably reluctant impersonator who has to fill in for him. Banking on cameos from insiders in both Hollywood and Washington D.C., Dave has an all-star cast that includes Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames and Sigourney Weaver.
More importantly, the movie shows a heartfelt story about how politics can change a person for the better, if only they stop pretending to be someone they aren’t. Not to mention, Kline and Weaver’s chemistry as the impersonator-in-chief and his would-be spouse is impeccable, leading to a little bit of rom-com shenanigans that fit in perfectly. Dave beautifully shows how the personal and the political side of office intersect to create the role we know as the presidency.
The American President (1995)
Aaron Sorkin’s legendary TV show The West Wing offered viewers a weekly glimpse into the Oval Office, in a way that’s kind of similar to what Dave before it tried to do. But only two years later, and before President Bartlett even existed on the page, Sorkin wrote the ultimate prototype for his hit series: director Rob Reiner’s The American President. While he went on to bigger and better things with The West Wing, this film still stands out as an all-time favorite of wonks and moviegoers alike.
Imagining a scenario where a well-beloved, but sadly widowed president (Michael Douglas) strikes up a romance with a political lobbyist (Annette Bening,) The American President plays a very Sorkinian game of balancing personal life with office life, in the highest office in the land. Practicing his trade with Michael J. Fox, Anna Devere Smith and even Martin Sheen himself, the movie walks and talks like an episode of the NBC legacy title. It also has a good amount of actual walks and talks, which are always appreciated when Aaron Sorkin is around.
The Contender (2000)
Examining the character of a political leader is something that voters and candidates alike are always willing to do, in the name of determining whether or not a particular person should hold an office as important as that of President. While that exact office isn’t up for grabs in Rod Lurie’s The Contender, it’s the role of the Vice President that’s looking to be filled. Though that distinction doesn’t lessen the ante, as the game at stake is pretty rough.
As Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) has been nominated to become the first female vice president by the current commander-in-chief (Jeff Bridges), her confirmation could make history. But with the opposition trying to latch onto any scandal they can think of to block her, it’s going to be a showdown between a vicious senator (Gary Oldman) and the full weight of the White House. 20 years later, The Contender is still an underrated drama that deserves to be seen.
The Campaign (2012)
Satire is always an important style of comedy when it comes to analyzing the political landscape. Not content with merely crafting politically-charged biopics like Recount and Game Change, director Jay Roach dug into the satirical landscape of the American political process with his comedy The Campaign, and he picked the perfect people to do so. With Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis brawling it out for a seat in Congress, all bets are naturally off as to what levels they’ll go to for a laugh.
Taking a similar tactic to that of this year’s Irresistible, The Campaign plucks a non-assuming citizen of North Carolina (Galifianakis) to run against an incumbent who’s run afoul of the voting public after an affair (Ferrell). What follows is a deep dive into the ribald world of public relations, ad campaigns and, of course, everyone’s favorite punching bag, Citizens United v. FEC. Receiving a hand in blasting the political structure from co-writer/producer Adam McKay, who would go on to make both The Big Short and Vice years later, The Campaign still plays as a laugh riot, while also delivering some important political knowledge.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
We end our Election Day playlist with what is, quite possibly, the most classic political film of our time. Sure, Citizen Kane could have been on this list, but that’s more of a character study with political elements. But if you want to trace most, if not all, of these films back to one inspiration, it’d have to be Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; a film that just over 80 years later still serves as a bedrock of politically-charged filmmaking.
Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) is the perfect candidate for the U.S. Senate, as his reputation as a troop leader in his “unnamed western state” puts him in a prime position for a job that should be an easy act of puppetry. In the true spirit of Capraesque Americana, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington examines politics with an open-hearted, wide-eyed optimism. Daring the world it exists in to do better, Frank Capra’s seminal political fairy tale continues to inspire viewers as much as it did upon its initial release.
With your day in the voting booth behind you, you’ve earned yourself a movie or several to remind you of what we’re honoring on Election Day. These films are just a starter pack as well, with plenty of other tales that range from more hilarious to even more cynical, all existing somewhere out there. But every one of those movies should leave you with one simple message: participation in democracy is an ongoing process, and not just something left to be exercised every presidential campaign cycle. Stay safe, stay informed, and happy Election Day, dear readers!
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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