I’ve wanted to write a journalism movies post for about two years now. I scrapped the idea the first time because I was thinking more along the lines of writing a “best journalism movies” post. Even if I had succeeded in developing a sexy algorithm (oxymoron?) that yielded an objective list, it would still be wrong. My logic was flawed. I don’t think you can make a list of the best journalism movies ever made, because it’s too subjective.
For starters, what is a journalism movie? Is it a movie about journalism, like All The President’s Men, or would a journalist character be enough, as is the case with Superman? Then there’s the question of films like Capote or The Help, which don’t meet the former criteria, but have elements one could argue are representative of professional journalism. Would these films be worthwhile?
Then there was the issue of credibility in recommending any films to watch. I’m not a film critic. I’m not a journalist. And for the most part, I haven’t seen all the films I would put on the list. Then it hit me – you probably haven’t seen a lot of these films either. Why not just put together a thoughtfully assembled list and let you decide which films appeal to your interests? I relied heavily on @journalistics‘ Twitter followers for suggestions, and thanks to them (and some research into the topic), I’ve come up with roughly 30 journalism-related films. Most you’ve seen, but my hope is you discover one or two on this list that you didn’t know about.
I’ve tried to provide a little background for each film on the list. Where possible, I’ve included tweets from our followers about the films – as an added thanks for their contributions. The list includes some great Oscar nominees and winners, some incredible documentaries, and a few less respectable works I’m mixing in there for the heck of it.
I view this post as a work in progress. It won’t be complete until you chime in with your suggestions for films I overlooked, or your opinion on the films you’ve seen on this list. The goal of this post is to help some of you discover a journalism-related film you didn’t know about before reading this post. If that happens, please let me know.
Without further adieu, here’s that list of journalism-related films I came up with. Brace yourself, the post comes in just under 4,700 words.
A Mighty Heart (2007)
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl went missing in Pakistan after he was supposed to interview an Islamic fundamentalist. His pregnant wife, Mariane Pearl, also a journalist, embarks on a search to find her husband. While the story is sensationalized in film, it’s a great reminder of the risks and sacrifices some brave journalists face to bring us the news. While there was no Oscar love for this film, Angelina Jolie was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role as Mariane Pearl.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
I wouldn’t have thought of this one, but I’m glad our Twitter followers delivered. Ace in the Hole stars Kirk Douglas as a down-and-out reporter at an Albuquerque newspaper who finally gets his big chance to report on a story for national newspapers. Things get out of control as Douglas’ character works to restart his career around this once-in-a-lifetime story. This film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay in 1952.
- From Twitter: Martin Kohler, Berlin (@martinko58) – “Ace in the Hole” – Kirk Douglas: so incredible!”
Absence of Malice (1981)
This film has a pretty cool plot as far as journalism storylines go. The son of a dead Mafia boss is falsely accused of murder by a frustrated prosecutor who leaks false information which is covered by reporter Megan Carter. The reporter is cleared of libel under the ‘Absence of Malice’ rule in slander and libel cases. It also makes a great title for the film. The rest of the film deals with the accused trying to move on with his life, but it’s an interesting plot about the implications of false accusations that get played in mainstream media. Something that’s probably even more of an issue today than in 1981, where news spreads faster and lasts longer. The film has a great cast which includes Paul Newman (Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominee), Melinda Dillon (Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nominee), and Sally Field. The film was Oscar-nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay.
All The President’s Men (1976)
If any of you made a list of “journalism” movies, it would have this classic tale of the Watergate scandal on it. I remember reading the book and watching the movie in my Interviewing & Reporting class in college. It’s the definitive film on what investigative journalism is all about, and no doubt the film most responsible for students wanting to major in journalism in the 80s. I had the opportunity to meet Bob Woodward and hear him speak at a PRSA conference in the 90s. It was incredibly motivating to me as a journalism student at the time. There’s a lot to learn from this film, even if it’s just how good Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford are at acting. Protect your sources, be deliberate and fearless in the pursuit of the truth, and you too can make a difference. If you haven’t seen this one, put it at the top of your queue on Netflix. All The President’s Men won four Oscars, including Best Actor (Jason Robards) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was nominated for four others too.
Of interest to fans of All The President’s Men, The New York Times featured an article by Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) – who starred as himself in Page One, another film on this list – announcing Robert Redford is producing a documentary about Watergate. You can read the article, “Watergate Reporting, the Second Draft” here.
- From Twitter: Riya V. Anandwala, Communications Specialist at Waldorf College (@riyavanandwala): “All The President’s Men! Hands Down.”
Almost Famous (2000)
This is one of those movies that purists would say doesn’t belong on the list. I beg to differ. It’s the story of the famous director Cameron Crowe’s early ‘luck’, landing a dream job reporting for Rolling Stone. Crowe quickly learns covering the rock & roll scene isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, as he travels the country writing about one of the hot bands of the time. I think it’s worthy of a spot on this list, but I could see how some of you might disagree. The writing for the film was fantastic, but don’t take my word for it, the film won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for two Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscars (Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand) and Best Film Editing. A word of caution if you do decide to watch this one, you’ll be singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” for days to follow.
“I’m Ron Burgundy?” Yes, yes you are Will Ferrell. Ferrel plays a television ‘anchorman’ in the 70s parody of the broadcast news business. He faces some steep competition from a woman (Christina Applegate) who is quickly proving she’s better at the job than the men, in the man’s world of television news in the 70s. If there’s any movie on this list worthy of a sequel, it’s this one. Earlier this week, rumors surfaced that there is in fact a sequel in the works. While this isn’t one of the “best” films made about journalism, it’s certainly one of the funnier ones. I own a copy, you should too.
- From Twitter: Evan Floyd, Public Relations Graduate, Georgia Southern (@evoyd) – “Anchorman has to be the top journalist movie. I’m Ron Burgundy?”
I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of this film about war correspondent (Roger East) and Romos-Horta covering the murders of the “Balibo Five,” five journalists that go missing as Indonesia prepares to invade East Timor in 1975. This is one of the films I discovered through my informal poll on Twitter. Hat tip to Hilton Thom for bringing this one to my attention. I also didn’t know Indonesia ever tried to invade another country, so I got a history lesson writing this post as well. I’d love to get some reader feedback on this one since I’m clearly not the best endorser for the film.
- From Twitter: Hilton Thom, Student at the University of Pretoria, South Africa (@schalkie_thom) – “Balibo. Definitely inspired me to study journalism.”
Broadcast News (1987)
Part comedy, part drama, and a wee bit of romance make Broadcast News a perennial favorite among journalists I’ve polled for this post. This one was nominated for 7 Oscars (wow), including Best Picture, Best Actor (William Hunt), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Albert Brooks), and Best Actress (Holly Hunter). This is on the “must-watch” list if you haven’t seen it. Even if you have, it’s worth watching again. I’m adding it to my growing library of journalism-related films.
- Michelle Garrett, PR Consultant & Technology Specialist, Columbus, OH (@PRisUS) – “Easy – Broadcast News! Love that one! My least fav – The Paper.”
- Rachel Moore (@rachel_really) – “Broadcast News!” Holly Hunter & Albert Brooks were incredible.”
This is one of those films that doesn’t fit the typical definition of a “journalism movie,” but it is based on the research Truman Capote did for his book “In Cold Blood” – which is classified as a journalistic work since it was based on a murder of a Kansas farm family in their home. The book was based on journalistic research Capote did for the book, and it’s the book Capote is best known for. Just to get the facts straight, since I know somebody will point this out, Capote actually wrote: “In Cold Blood” with help from Harper Lee, who wrote, “To Kill A Mockingbird” (so now you know, in case it comes up when you’re watching Jeopardy). Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor, and the film was nominated for four others in 2006, including Best Picture.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Based on some early reader comments to this post, I realized I left Citizen Kane off the list. I’m adding it now to save face. A group of reporters scrambles to figure out the last word spoken by Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper tycoon: “Rosebud.” Through flashbacks, the film shows us how Kane rose to fame – and how he eventually fell from glory. Do we ever find out what Kane meant with his dying word “Rosebud” – you’ll have to watch it if you don’t already know the answer. Directed by and starring Orson Welles, the film won an Oscar for Best Writing, and Screenplay and was nominated for eight others, including Best Actor (Orson Welles) and Best Picture. It was clearly an oversight on my part to leave Citizen Kane off the original list.
Deadline U.S.A. (1952)
This is a great find. Another film I hadn’t heard of before writing this post, Humphrey Bogart stars as editor Ed Hutcheson. Hutcheson is working to write an expose on a notorious gangster, working against the mother of all deadlines, a change in newspaper ownership. Will he file his story in time and expose the gangster? You’ll have to watch the film to find out (or rely on the reader comments below for a spoiler).
Going the Distance (2010)
While I can’t bring myself to put Never Been Kissed (another Drew Barrymore film where she struggles as a journalist) on this list, I’ll let Going the Distance slide because a few followers found it entertaining. The story does attempt to shed some reality on the topic of how difficult it is to make a go at a career in newspaper journalism. You won’t see any award nominations for this one, but if you like Drew Barrymore and romantic comedies, I can think of worse suggestions than this one.
- From Twitter: Paola Loriggio, Reporter/Editor, The Canadian Press, Toronto, ON (@p_lori) – “Going the Distance” (another Barrymore flick) was a lot more accurate. Re: Job Prospects for Journos.”
Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow looks to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy in this historical drama. Directed by and starring George Clooney, this film was nominated for six Oscars in 2006, including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actor (David Strathairn), and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. This one is near the top of my queue at the moment.
In the Best Documentary named after everyone’s favorite font, this suggestion came in from another Journalistics reader. It’s a documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture. This is one of my favorite additions to this list because you won’t find it on any of the other journalism movie posts out there. I’d love some reader feedback on this one if you’ve watched it. I can’t remember which reader suggested this – if it was you, let me know via the comments or Twitter (and thanks).
His Girl Friday (1940)
This is why I love our readers so much. This 1940 film starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy wouldn’t have made it on this list without a reader’s suggestion. The premise? A newspaper editor uses his powers to prevent his ex-wife from remarrying. The film was from 1940 – wasn’t divorce still a taboo back then? No Oscar love, but Cary Grant as a newspaper editor? Sign me up. It looks like you can watch the full movie through IMDb. Just click on the title above to head over to the listing (just don’t blame me when your boss catches you watching movies at your desk).
- From Twitter: Jeff Domingues, Journalist/Editor (@jeffdomingues) – “His Girl Friday”
Key Largo (1948)
Key Largo is a stretch, but I’ll add it to the list for two reasons: 1) It’s Bogey and Bacall, and 2) It was suggested by Dan Christ, Director of Audience Engagement at The Patriot-News. Isn’t that reason enough? If not, it also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Claire Trevor). As Christ points out in his tweet below, Bogart plays a former circulation director in the film. I’ve seen this one, and it’s great, so let’s roll with it. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.
- From Twitter: Dan Christ, Director of Audience Engagement, The Patriot-News, Philadelphia, PA (@danchristpn) – “Key Largo.” Humphrey Bogart’s character is a former circulation director. #favoritefilmswithnewstheme.”
Meet John Doe (1941)
Another film you’re likely to see on TCM as you’re flipping through the channels late one Saturday night, Meet John Doe‘s journalistic storyline revolves around a reporter publishing a fake letter from unemployed “John Doe” as her final article after being fired by the paper. When Doe threatens suicide, the paper has to hire the reporter back. The “John Doe” philosophy takes on a life of its own in the film, starting a political movement. I won’t spoil the outcome, but I will suggest this one on the list – particularly if you like classic films. Meet John Doe was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Writing, Original Story category in 1942.
- From Twitter: Kathleen Parker, Lifelong Librarian, and Cubs Fan, (Marian library) – “Favorite is Meet John Doe.”
Another great suggestion from the readers. Another Oscar-winning movie with a journalistic undertone, Missing is a story about a writer that disappears during the Right Wing military coup in 1973 Chile and his family tries to find him. I’ve never seen the movie, but a surprising number of you have. I also don’t remember the coup – but that’s probably because I wasn’t born yet. Please chime in on this one in the comments if you’ve seen it. Missing won the Oscar for Best Writing and Screenplay, and it was nominated for Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek), and Best Picture. I’m going to watch this one for sure.
Morning Glory (2010)
Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) gets fired from her job as a morning TV show producer. She lands a new job out of desperation, both on her part and her new boss that wants to revive a struggling morning show. There’s lots of friction as Fuller tries to breathe new life into the dying show, along with sexist co-host Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). The film also stars Diane Keaton and Jeff Goldblum (the only other names I was that familiar with). No Oscar love for this one, but plenty of people said this one was worth watching.
- From Twitter: Alicia Sayers, PR & Media Studies Nerd, Toronto, ON (arose) – “Most recent favorite is Morning Glory.”
“A TV network exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor’s ravings and revelations about the media for their own profit” (Source: IMDb). I haven’t seen this one, but it looks solid. It won four Oscars (yes, won) for Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight), and Best Writing. Consider this one toward the top of the “to watch” list for me.
- From Twitter: Rodney Lotter Jr., News Reporter for The Capitol Hill Times, Seattle, WA (rodneylotter) – “Fav films: Network, Red Riding: 1974, Shattered Glass and Ace in the Hole. Less fav: Edison Force is pretty terrible. JT, LL Cool J, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey churned out a turd on this one…” This might be the best tweet of the bunch.
This film is a musical (the only musical on the list), based on the 1899 newsboy strike caused by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raising distribution prices (making it even harder for the ‘newsies’ to make a living. Christian Bale and David Moscow play characters leading the new union, in this classic story of underdogs taking on “the man” – or in this case, the men of the newspaper business at the turn of the century. No Oscar love for this one, but it’s hard to argue the film deserves a place on the list.
- From Twitter: Samantha Werre, Communications Professional, and Graduate Student, Twin Cities, MN (samwerre) – “Newsies All The Way.”
How did I not know about this one? A film (documentary) about the most transformative time in traditional media. Filmmaker Andrew Rossie goes into the newsroom of The New York Times – for a year – following the ins and outs of the Media Desk, the staff of the Times responsible for covering the transformation of media. That’s a nice twist on this incredibly relevant subject matter. And the cast? Get this: Tim Arango, Julian Assange (yes, the Wikileaks guy), Carl Bernstein (you’ll see his name again a few rungs down on this list), David Carr, Brian Stelter, and Jimmy Wales – all played by themselves. I wrote a lot about the demise of newspapers in 2009 when I started this blog. Despite continued declines in a lot of traditional media, it sure does feel like we’re coming out of things. I credit the embrace of new media to papers like The New York Times (regardless of your position on paywalls). This one is now at the top of my list. I will be watching this one this weekend.
- From Twitter: Tulane PRC, Making Healthy Living Easier in New Orleans and Beyond, New Orleans, LA (tulaneprc) – “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” A great documentary with human storylines.”
Okay, I really need to catch up on my journalism movies. I never heard of this one either before this post. This is a complex plot, but I’ll do my best to paraphrase it. Rookie reporter Eddie Dunford is working for The Yorkshire Post in 1974. A schoolgirl goes missing and our young reporter suspects it’s one of several crimes going back six years. The police would rather blame gypsies than investigate Dunford’s findings. When he continues digging into the story, he faces opposition (and much worse) from the police. There’s foul play afoot in this thriller. No Oscars, but one sure to make your list if you’ve seen most of the other suggestions on this list.
- From Twitter: (See Rodney Lotter’s tweet on “Network”)
Shattered Glass (2003)
If you only watch one movie on this list, watch this one. Why? Because Adam Penenberg reads this blog, that’s why. Steve Zahn plays the part of Penenberg in this film – a true story about the rise and fall of Stephen Glass, a former journalist at The New Republic who was caught fabricating stories in the mid-1990s. Glass was found to have fabricated more than half his stories at The New Republic. It’s an amazing story and film. Seriously, watch this one. Hopefully, Adam will join in the comments on this one.
- Adam L. Penenberg, Journalist, Author, Professor, and the only Twitter follower that can say they were featured in one of these films, New York (@penenberg) -“I’m biased on this question, of course: http://imdb.to/Z3r3a.” He also wrote one of my favorite books of the past couple of years, “Viral Loop.” Buy it, it’s a great background for anyone trying to spread the word on anything.
- Will Sommer, Kingstown Patch Editor, Kingstowne, VA (@willsommer) – “Shattered Glass, Of Course.”
- Brian Moritz, Ph.D. Student at Syracuse (Go Orange!), Syracuse/Rochester, NY (@bpmoritz) – “Favorite: Adam Penenberg (played by Steve Zahn) in “Shattered Glass.”
State of Play (2009)
A team of investigative reporters works with the police to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress. Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, and Ben Affleck star in this “journalism” film. No Oscar nominations for this one, but I’ve liked Affleck since Good Will Hunting and you don’t see Matt Damon on this list anywhere, do you? Exactly.
I think we can all agree that journalists really are superheroes, aren’t they? Spider-Man and Superman were both employed by newspapers. Clark Kent was the real deal, while Peter Parker took pretty pictures. That seems fitting in so many ways though. For one, who’s first on the scene when news breaks? Superheros and journalists. Batman was a spoiled billionaire, while Spidey and Superman were the heroes of their day. I went with the 2002 version of Spider-Man (it was nominated for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects Oscars), partly because I couldn’t find an older film (though I’m sure there was one). For Superman, the choice was easy, you can’t beat Christopher Reeve in the 1978 classic. I loved that movie growing up. Superman won an Oscar, the prestigious Special Achievement Award, and was nominated for Best Film Editing, Best Music/Original Score, and Best Sound (I’m humming the Superman theme right now).
- From Twitter: Mission Agency Ltd., United Kingdom (missionagency) – “Mission Agency Ltd. likes Superman”
Two grumpy younger men, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, star in this film set at a Chicago newspaper. Lemmon plays a reporter who’s had enough. Matthau plays a scheming editor trying to keep Lemmon (reporter Hildy Johnson) on staff. It’s not an Oscar-nominated film, but it’s a classic with some great actors. Susan Sarandon also stars in the film.
- From Twitter: Raymond Joseph, Journalist, Journalism Trainer, and Media Consultant, South Africa (@rayjoe) – “The Front Page is my favorite by a country mile.”
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
I almost left this one off the list. I think that would have been a mistake on my part because Meryl Streep was awesome (isn’t she always?). Streep plays the part of Miranda Priestly, a ruthless editor for one of the biggest magazines in circulation. While the film doesn’t stand on its journalism merits, it’s an entertaining look into the world of the New York magazine business. Having worked with a few high-profile magazines during my time in New York, I can honestly say it’s not 100% fiction.
Daniel Craig plays the part of Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist searching for a woman who has been missing for forty years. This bestseller turned journalism-related film was an Oscar favorite this year, winning Best Achievement in Film Editing and receiving six other nominations, including Best Actress (Rooney Mara). As if you needed an excuse to watch this one. It’s great (and yes, I know, the book is better).
- From Twitter: Kelly Krumsee, Social Media in PR for PKA Marketing, Cedarburg, WI (@kellykrumsee) – “Got say… fav=” Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Blomkvist is the James Bond of Journalists.”
The Help (2011)
While not technically a movie about journalism or journalist, The Help represents storytelling in its true form. When an aspiring writer takes on the controversial subject of the Civil Rights Movement and tells that story from the point of view of “the help,” it makes for a fantastic film. What can aspiring journalists learn from the concept of being brave in their pursuit of a great story? A lot I think, which is why I’m putting this one on the list. Of course, the Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and three nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain) help justify my decision too.
- Jewel Figueras, Award-Winning Blogger, and Self-Professed News Junkie, South Florida (@thetinyjewelbox) – “DEF @helpmovie!”
- Rachel C. Stella, Student Journalist, Chicagoland, Ill. (@rachelcstella) – “The Help.”
The Killing Fields (1984)
The Killing Fields deserves a place on this list. It’s the only film with a photojournalism hook, based on a New York Times journalist and photographer Sydney Schanberg who covered the Civil War in Cambodia in the 70s. A war that claimed the lives of more than two million “undesirable” civilians during Pol Pot’s bloody “Year Zero” cleansing campaign. The film earned three Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor (Haing S. Ngor), and was nominated for four others, including Best Actor (Sam Waterston), Best Director (Roland Joffe), Best Picture and Best Writing, and Screenplay.
- From Twitter: Boris Licina Borja, Journalist, Zagreb (@borislicina) – “The Killing Fields”
The Paper (1994)
There had to be one film on the list with a tabloid hook, right? Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) is a tabloid editor – a low-paid workaholic. He has an opportunity to work for The New York Times and is conflicted with the decision. One of the best quotes from the story, which pretty much sums up the tabloid business, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” While the film was technically nominated for an Oscar, don’t get your hopes up, it was for Best Song (Randy Newman’s “Make Up Your Mind.”).
The Paper (2007)
Thanks to our readers, The Paper rounds out the list of journalism movies I’ve decided to share in this post. The Paper is a 2007 documentary following The Daily Collegian, Pennsylvania State University’s newspaper. The film takes a look at the pressures and problems of modern journalism as faced by the staff. The film showcases the challenges of plummeting circulation, barriers to investigative reporting, and criticism of coverage, from the viewpoint of first-time journalists. This is a great film for anyone passionate about journalism, particularly students enrolled in journalism programs today.
- From Twitter: Meredith Cummings, Journalism Professor, Tuscaloosa, Ala. (@merecummings) “The Paper,” hands down.” I’m going to give Meredith the benefit of the doubt here and assume she was referring to this film, and not the Michael Keaton one – being a journalism professor and all.
This one almost didn’t make the cut, but if my only criteria is a movie about journalism or with journalist characters, I must include it. Honestly, I remember watching this movie for the first time because it was about journalism. Well, that’s what I thought. It’s a love story set in the world of TV journalism with an aspiring TV journalist played by Michelle Pfeiffer. I’ll let you be the judge on this one. Believe it or not, it was nominated for an Oscar. Oh, wait, “Best Music, Original Song” for Diane Warren’s, “Because You Loved Me.” Never mind.
- From Twitter: Danielle Grant, Managing Director/Co-Founder A&O-a Creative Communications – and a cool Twitter handle owner (@tinysentences) – “Up Close and Personal” is both fav and least fav. Penned by Joan Didion…could have done without Bob Redford though.”
So that’s my list of movies that have some journalism tie-in. Thanks again to all the @journalistics followers who provided input for this post. Can you believe how many of these films were nominated for or won Oscars? I was. It appears The Academy loves journalism movies as much as we do. Do you know what would be really cool? If some adventurous Journalism Professor turned this subject into a class. I would go back to school to watch Journalism movies every week for the semester.