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If you are a part of the journalism or media industry, chances are someone inspired you to take that career path. It’s possible you were influenced to become a government watchdog by seeing Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford portray Woodward and Bernstein on the big screen. Or if you’re younger, perhaps you’re pursuing a news career because you want to shine a “Spotlight” on society.
Journalism films can be educational, offering reporting insight and information about the importance of credible sources, court rulings about freedom of speech issues, and warnings about plagiarism and fabrication.
With the new journalism movie “The Post” now out, it seemed fitting to offer a list of journalism films that are worth a watch. We asked a group of journalists to share their favorites. Some are serious; some are fun. What’s your favorite journalism movie? If it isn’t on the list, we’ll add it.
The Post (2017) – Steven Spielberg directs a cast of Oscar winners, including Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, who depict watchdogs from The Washington Post and The New York Times. These champions of the watchdog role of the press published the Pentagon Papers, shedding light on the U.S. government’s involvement in Vietnam. Streep stars as Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, who leads a team exposing government secrets. Also starring is Sarah Paulson of “American Horror Story” fame.
The Paper (1994) – Some of the reporters who responded said “The Paper” is often overlooked among journalism movies. Ron Howard directed this 1994 film that takes you behind the scenes of a daily newspaper with a familiar cast of characters. Watch it, and you’ll probably see an editor or reporter you know. The film is 24 hours in the life of a newspaper editor and the daily organized chaos the staff goes through to get the scoop. Great performances by Glenn Close and Michael Keaton and others. Cast includes Robert Duvall and Marisa Tomei.
All the President’s Men (1976) – Many people have remarked that they were inspired to become watchdogs because of this movie. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with the help of an informer, uncover details of the Watergate scandal and bring down a president. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook.
Network (1976) – Anchorman Howard Beale discovers that he’s being let go, so he threatens to shoot himself on live TV. Instead, he engages in a televised rant that results in a huge rating boost in this news satire. He’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. The film remains relevant today in our social media world driven by clicks, likes and followers. Starring Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway.
Superman – We all know that journalists are the real superheroes. Nothing demonstrates this better than “Superman.” Even if Clark Kent didn’t have superpowers, with the power of print, he could still symbolically change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel with his bare hands while fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way as a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.
Spotlight (2015) – Like “All the President’s Men,” this modern journalism movie is inspiring a new generation. Boston Globe reporters investigate a priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Through interviews with numerous victims, they uncover widespread sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber.
Devil Wears Prada (2006) – Many young journalists dream of moving to New York City and working for a fashion magazine like Vogue, but fashion is a serious business. This film offers a glimpse inside one influential magazine. Meryl Streep’s character is an editor based on Vogue Editor Anna Wintour. It appears she has devilishly struck fear in the heart of some of her employees. Starring Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt.
Absence of Malice (1981) – When a reporter is duped into running an untrue story, tragedy follows, and the reporter is forced to face the responsibilities of her job when confronted. According to Columbia Journalism Review, the film title refers to the “legal definition of one of the requirements of proof against libel defamation.” The movie is often used in journalism classes “to illustrate the conflict between disclosing damaging personal information and the public’s right to know.” Starring Paul Newman, Sally Field.
The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996) – Journalists love a good story involving the First Amendment. When opponents of “Hustler” magazine break decency laws, pornographer Larry Flynt hires an attorney to help fight his legal battles. He is later shot and paralyzed by one of his opponents, but citing free speech, he takes his case to the Supreme Court and wins. Starring Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton, Courtney Love.
Capote (2005) – Considered by some as the original non-fiction novel, though it is debated that other writers experimented with the medium, In Cold Blood is still one of top selling true crime books in publishing history. The movie is a biographical novel about Truman Capote’s experiences writing the book about the murder of a small town Kansas family. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener.
Shattered Glass (2003) – It’s one of the best journalism movies out there to offer a warning about plagiarism and fabrication. A young reporter, working for a national publication, begins to gain fame when he turns in outrageously interesting stories. A rival journalist becomes suspicious about their accuracy and discovers many of the reporter’s sources have been fictional. Starring Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny.
Leatherheads (2008) –Set in 1925, the story focuses on the Duluth Bulldogs, a struggling professional American football team. A Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter becomes the object of the affections of two football players. Starring George Clooney, Renee Zellweger.
Broadcast News (1987) – The 1987 romantic comedy, set in a newsroom, stars Holly Hunter and William Hurt. Hunter is a television news producer caught in a love triangle who has daily emotional breakdowns. I’m sure some can relate.
His Girl Friday – (1940) When an editor learns his ex-wife and former star reporter is about to remarry and settle down to a quiet life as a wife and mother, he tries change her plans by asking her to cover one last story in this comedy. Starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell.
State of Play (2009) – Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is viewed as the next presidential nominee until his research assistant/mistress is found murdered and damaging secrets are revealed. His friend and journalist must investigate the murder, discovering a cover-up.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) – Journalist Edward R. Murrow exposes Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to root out communists in America despite pressure on Murrow from CBS News’ corporate sponsors to stop. Starring George Clooney, David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson.
Fletch Lives (1989) – Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher, (Chevy Chase), is one of the top investigative reporters in the country, yet he becomes the main suspect in a murder case.
Citizen Kane (1941) – When a reporter is assigned to decipher newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane’s (Orson Welles) final word, “Rosebud,” he learns about Kane’s life, but isn’t sure he’ll ever solve the mystery of the mysterious word.
The Lawless (1950) – Set in a California border town in the 1950s, race relations have intensified between white farmers and migrant workers. A Mexican-American teenager is wrongly accused of assaulting a white woman, and a newspaperman (Macdonald Carey) tries to help him while facing a mob.
Nothing but the Truth (2008) – When a reporter writes a story that reveals the identity of a covert CIA operative, the government demands that she reveal her source. She is jailed when she refuses, but her attorney takes her case to the Supreme Court. Starring Kate Beckinsale, Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon, Alan Alda.
Continental Divide (1981) – When a Chicago reporter is beaten up by crooked police officers after he writes about an unethical city councilman, his editor sends him out west, where he meets someone special. Starring John Belushi, Blair Brown.
Call Northside 777 (1948) – In 1932, a man is convicted of murdering a police officer. Eleven years later, his mother, takes out a newspaper classified ad asking for information about the crime. An editor assigns a skeptical reporter to investigate. The film is based on a true story. Starring Jimmy Stewart.
Deadline USA (1952) – When a New York City newspaper’s circulation begins to steadily decline, the widow of the paper’s publisher wants to sell the business. Fearing it could be the end of the publication, the editor must finish his expose on a gangster before it’s sold. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Kim Hunter, Ethel Barrymore, Ed Begley.
It Happened One Night (1934) A spoiled woman falls in love with a reporter. Starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert.
Message in a Bottle (1999) – When a journalist discovers a bottle on the beach with a heartbreaking love letter inside, her paper publishes the letter, and she tracks down the author. Starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, Paul Newman.
Never Been Kissed (1999) – Josie Geller, a Chicago Sun-Times copywriter, poses as a student at her former high school as part of an investigative report. In the process, she falls in love with her English teacher. Starring Drew Barrymore, Michael Vartan, David Arquette.
A Passion For Justice: The Hazel Brannon Smith Story (1994) – The publisher of a small-town newspaper takes a stand against racism in 1950s Mississippi. Starring Jane Seymour.
Up Close and Personal (1996) – A Miami TV producer watches an audition tape from a young Nevada woman named Sally Atwater, decides to hire her, and becomes her mentor and lover. She eventually moves to a larger market and lands a scoop that results in national recognition. Starring Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer.
Christine (2016) – When some hear the name of this title, they may think of the 1983 Stephen King horror story about a car with a mind of its own. But this 2016 film is about an ambitious young television reporter in Sarasota, Florida, who wants to move on to a bigger market, but she faces a life/work conflict. She wants to do important issue-oriented reporting, but her boss demands sensational stores that garner high ratings. Her mental health declines, and she makes a fatal decision. The film is based on the true story of TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck who shot herself live on the air in 1974, but instead of focusing on the act and tragedy, the film does a good job of humanizing Chubbuck and showing what may of motivated her decision that day. Starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall.
We know we’re missing a few, so help us out — what other flicks should be on the list?