Over the course of the history of motion pictures, Hollywood has often touched upon the profession of journalism. Some of these are positive depictions of journalism and celebrate the news business at its best, but there’s also just as many cynical pictures that critique the consumption of mass media. Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Post, definitely falls into that first category.
The Post, which opens in theaters today (Dec. 22), tells the story of The Washington Post‘s involvement with the 1971 Pentagon Papers case. Although The New York Times played a significant part in the case, and many former reporters for the Grey Lady are unhappy about its absence from the film, The Post also doubles as a character study of two major figures in American journalism history: Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major newspaper, and Ben Bradlee Sr. (Tom Hanks), the paper’s iconic executive editor.
In advance of today’s release of The Post, we at The Young Folks have compiled a list of our top ten favorite movies about journalism and news reporters.
But first, here’s a few honorable mentions that nearly made the list: Ace in the Hole, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Frost/Nixon, The Insider, The Killing Fields, Medium Cool, Reds, Shattered Glass and Veronica Guerin.
10. Broadcast News (1987)
An ambitious, but dry reporter. A driven and neurotic producer. A handsome under-qualified news anchor. Mix these three together and what do you get? Broadcast News. James L. Brooks’ 1987 unconventional romantic comedy is much more about the work of the trio at its center than it is about romance. The gist is this: Jane (Holly Hunter) is a talented, voluntarily overworked producer for a D.C. news station. Aaron (Albert Brooks) is her best friend, who works as a reporter and wants to be one of the on-camera anchors – and, of course, is secretly in love with Jane. Jane quickly falls for Tom (William Hurt), a handsome but slightly odd aspiring news anchor that soon gets hired at the station for Aaron’s dream anchor job, despite not seeming to know much of anything about how to find or deliver the news. What Aaron and Jane soon discover is that Tom has his own way of getting a good newscast, and it might play with the truth a little too much for their comfort. The film cleverly plays with and explores the old versus new versions of “News.” Aaron and Tom are not just two points of a triangle vying for Jane’s attention, they also respectively represent the staunch, serious facts-and-figures form of reporting primarily of the past (that is, pre-1987) versus the new, flash-and-feelings focused kind of broadcasting that was rising up. Aaron’s outrage at Tom’s insertion of a little bit of manipulation into his newscast seemed comically out of proportion at the time. Not so much anymore. – Beth Winchester
9. His Girl Friday (1940)
The 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday came out at a perfect time. Not only were newspapers king, banter was too. And my goodness, is His Girl Friday a tribute to both. The barbs come so fast and furious, it’s almost impossible to keep up, even for jaded modern audiences well-accustomed to excess. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are journalists and warring ex-spouses, with Russell set to remarry and live a quiet life, and Grant just as determined to stop her. In the source material, Russell’s character was a man, and the decision to change the character a woman has to be one of the best decisions Hollywood ever made. Watching these two find their way back together while trying to get the scoop is a timeless treat. – Andrea Thompson
8. Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac is particularly frightening because the killer has never been caught. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name, the film looks at the detectives and reporters as they obsessively try to find the infamous Zodiac killer in San Francisco. A month after an initial attack on a couple, a coded letter is received at the San Francisco Chronicle confessing to the crimes. As the letters start to get more frequent, crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) start looking into the case.
Fincher’s goal was not to create a grisly crime thriller like Se7en, but more of a procedural, newspaper film in lines of All the President’s Men. Fincher’s recreation of the killers and obsessive focus on the characters are just two reasons why Zodiac is a quiet masterpiece. The supporting cast is also excellent with John Carrol Lynch having a standout performance as Arthur Leigh Allen, one of the investigation’s prime suspects.
Fincher and writer James Vanderbilt don’t screw around with a fairytale ending of the reporters finishing the story. Instead, the film doesn’t really end at all. The Zodiac killer isn’t caught, and the protagonists are left more confused and frustrated than they started. It’s that stubbornness to create a real human story that makes Zodiac Fincher’s best film to date. – Yasmin Kleinbart
7. Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film may not necessarily be one that first comes to mind when you think of journalism in movie. That’s probably because it is unlike most representations of journalism and journalists on screen. There is basically no time spent in the newsroom. There aren’t any conspiracies to crack. There isn’t anybody harping about all the “papers we gotta sell!” or the “viewers we need to reach.” The perspective of the protagonist William, a 15 year-old self-made journalism and rock-writing prodigy is very much, by necessity, removed from the daily grind of journalism. Because of that, we are too. Instead, we get to see journalism – specifically rock journalism – through the starry eyes of a beginner. Through William we trace the journey of the young journalist: the desire to find the truth and write it, the allure of your inevitably cooler or more interesting subjects, and the disillusionment that comes with uncovering the mundane truth of those you once admired – and then finding a way to write about it. – Beth Winchester
6. Nightcrawler (2014)
It seems unfair to label all “stringers,” or for-hire camera men that scour the streets for the late night crime stories that fill morning news shows, as opportunistic emotionally-void vultures that’ll go so far as to move a dead body from a crime scene just because it’s out of focus in a wide show. Dan Gilroy’s 2014 crime thriller doesn’t help to denounce that stereotype, but at least he made one hell of a character to follow. Said character, the charming but psychotically determined Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, in one of many times he should’ve won an Oscar), drives through Los Angeles in the dead of night filming car crashes and shootouts for the local morning news. While Gilroy’s tight character study doesn’t do much to appreciate the work of stringers, he does show the unphased drive these people have in trying to get the right footage to tell a story with the morning traffic report. It’s as if the stringers are cops themselves, serving themselves as much as others. – Jon Winkler
5. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
The profession of journalism contains a multitude of horrors, especially when you’re genuinely trying to hold up to the highest standards of ethics and responsibility, when you aim to be a reliable voice in the midst of a system broken by interests and lies. This is particularly true for me living in Mexico, where the slightest deviation from the dominant political/corporate discourse can and will get you killed, where reporting on a crime could lead to worse consequences than committing it. Good Night and Good Luck centers on the heroism of Edward Morrow and the CBS news team in the taking down of the brutal Joseph McCarthy, and the role of Television and media in shaping public opinion. As everything regarding McCarthyism, the film is certainly about manipulation and paranoia, but it makes an even bigger point — The purpose of Journalism is to protect some of our greatest freedoms and to enforce one of our greatest rights: Our right to the truth. Even if (and especially when) that makes you a dissident voice. – Leonel Manzanares
4. Network (1976)
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Network is one of the greatest films of all time. The satire, directed by Sidney Lumet, focuses on what a television station does in its efforts to revitalize their poor ratings. Howard Beale is the anchor of the UBS Evening News and what Peter Finch does in the role is nothing short of amazing to say the least. It’s one of the performances of all time and no real-life news anchor is able to capture the nuances of the job in the way that Beale portrays Finch on screen. The film was released in 1976 and took home the Oscar for Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Actor (Peter Finch, a posthumous award), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight), and Best Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky). – Danielle Solzman
3. All the President’s Men (1976)
All The President’s Men is one of the classic journalism films that plays it as a political thriller. Shot only a few years after the nation’s worst presidential scandal, the film follows Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they uncover the Watergate scandal that led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon and earned them the Pulitzer Prize for Public Reporting in 1973.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula and written by William Goldman, the film features superb performances from Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein. Jason Robards took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who Tom Hanks also plays in this year’s The Post – Danielle Solzman
2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
The most fantastic thing about Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy isn’t actually how it manages to maintain its ridiculously deadpean tone throughout, but rather how it manages to be both a tribute to the TV journalism of the past, and those who forced it to change. Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate are news anchors in the 70s who are first rivals, then lovers, then rivals once again as they both try to get their story, each other, and advance their careers in this hilariously quotable movie. Will Ferrell and Applegate become lovers once again? The answer is as clear as it is fun to watch. – Andrea Thompson
1. Spotlight (2015)
Spotlight, the critically acclaimed 2015 Best Picture winner, follows the true story of The Boston Globe investigation into the child sex abuse scandals by Catholic Church priests for forty plus years. The investigation was headed by the Spotlight team back in the early 2000s; one of the oldest investigative journalism teams in the country. The film portrays journalism as a medium to express yourself, and be passionate about your profession, which is demonstrated through the great performances of actors like, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Mark Ruffalo. While director Tom McCarthy does an excellent job of depicting the atrocities committed by these priests, he also illustrates a passionate group of genuine journalists who are extremely necessary for our society. In our age of fake news, these are the type of people that we strive to be. – Ryan Feyre