There are a lot of great journalism movies. Here are our top 25.

April 12, 2019
Category: Business & Work

There a lot of movies about journalism. A lot more than you might think. And most of them, actually, are quite good.

It’s not like sports. For every sports classic such as “Hoosiers” or “Raging Bull” or “Bull Durham,” there’s a dog like “Caddyshack 2” or “Rocky V” or “Blades of Glory.”

This isn’t like movies about presidents. For every “Lincoln,” there’s an “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Most journalism movies, even the ones that aren’t exactly like the day-to-day lives of flesh-and-blood journalists, are still pretty entertaining. Many perfectly capture the journalistic experience.

That’s why coming up with a list of the 25 best ever movies about journalism was not easy. Yet, we’re confident in our selections. So grab your popcorn and take in our 25 Greatest Movies About Journalism.

25. Almost Famous (2000)

"Almost Famous." (Dreamworks LLC)

Teenager William Miller tricks Rolling Stone into believing he’s a veteran rock writer and, after some advice from legendary music writer Lester Bangs, he hits the road with a band called Stillwater and a groupie (sorry, I mean “band-aid”) named Penny Lane — and his career is born. Loosely based on the experience of writer and director Cameron Crowe.

24. The Parallax View (1974)

Warren Beatty in 1974's "The Parallax View." (Paramount Pictures)

Two years before he directed “All the President’s Men,” Alan J. Pakula released this thriller about a reporter, played by Warren Beatty, investigating a secret organization that specializes in political assassination. Somehow, this movie has gotten better with time.

23. Frost/Nixon (2008)

Michael Sheen in "Frost/Nixon." (Courtesy Universal Pictures)

A fictional look back at the interviews British journalist David Frost did with disgraced former president Richard Nixon after Watergate. Frost’s final session with Nixon is a masterclass in interviewing.

22. Kill the Messenger (2014)

"Kill the Messenger" movie poster. (Focus Features)

Based on a true story, this is the film about the late San Jose Mercury-News reporter Gary Webb and his series about CIA involvement in Contra cocaine trafficking. Often overlooked when talking about great films about journalism.

21. Zodiac (2007)

Jeff Daniel Phillips in "Zodiac." (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

No one knows the case of San Francisco’s Zodiac serial killer better than Robert Graysmith, a former cartoonist and true crime author who spent 13 years and wrote two books (and saw his marriage end in divorce) over the case. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith in this David Fincher thriller.

20. Under Fire (1983)

"Under Fire" movie poster. (Courtesy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

Set during the last days of the Nicaraguan Revolution in the late 1970s, this film is based on the murder of ABC reporter Bill Stewart and his translator in 1979. It’s all-star cast features great performances from Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman.

19. Salvador (1986)

"Salvador" movie poster. (Courtesy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

There was a time when actors James Woods and Jim Belushi and director Oliver Stone were all really good. They all came together for this better-than-you-think film, which focuses on a hard-drinking and drug-using photojournalist played by Woods, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.

18. His Girl Friday (1940)

From left, Earl Dwire, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." (Courtesy Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

We briefly considered putting “The Philadelphia Story” in this slot, but went with this screwball comedy starring Cary Grant (as a newspaper editor) and Rosalind Russell (as his ace reporter) because it’s more about “journalism” and it’s just, well, better.

17. Live from Baghdad (2002)

"Live from Baghdad" movie poster. (Courtesy HBO Films)

This made-for-TV HBO movie shows the pivotal moment in CNN history when the network was in Iraq for the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. It showed the power of a 24-hour news network. Actor Michael Keaton (who, by the way, is in three of the movies on this list) is superb as CNN producer Robert Wiener.

16. State of Play (2009)

Reporters Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) star in this political thriller about a rising congressman and an investigative journalist embroiled in a case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders. (Courtesy Universal Pictures)

Russell Crowe plays a journalist who looks into the suspicious death of a congressman’s lover. The cast is ridiculous: Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright and Jeff Daniels.

15. Reds (1981)

Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty star in "Reds." (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

One of the best movies of the 1980s is about John Reed and his first-hand account of the Bolshevik Revolution, which resulted in his book “Ten Days That Shook the World.” Warren Beatty directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in this movie that also featured Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Jean Stapleton, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

14. The Post (2017)

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in "The Post." (Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

I still think most of this movie about the Pentagon Papers is only slightly better than average, but if you don’t get goosebumps when the presses start rolling and if you don’t tear up when the Supreme Court decision is announced, well, you might want to see if you have a pulse.

13. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver in "The Year of Living Dangerously." (Courtesy United International Pictures and MGM/UA Entertainment Company)

This really is a love story, but it’s set during the overthrow of Indonesia president Sukarno in the 1960s and features Mel Gibson as an Australian journalist. He falls in love with Sigourney Weaver’s character. The real star of the movie is Linda Hunt, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress while playing a man.

 12. Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

David Strathairn and Ray Wise in "Good Night, and Good Luck." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

This George Clooney movie about how Edward R. Murrow brought down Sen. Joe McCarthy resonates today as journalists take on politicians who are bullies and liars, and who push agendas that separate the country.

11. The Insider (1999)

"The Insider" features Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.

A fictionalized account of a “60 Minutes” report about tobacco-industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. The all-star cast includes Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as Don Hewitt and Al Pacino as award-winning journalist Lowell Bergman.

10. Citizen Kane (1941)

In terms of film-making, this is the best movie on this list and one of the greatest movies ever made. The story, believed to be based on the life of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, would have been higher in our rankings if there had been just a little more actual journalism.

9. Killing Fields (1984)

John Malkovich, Julian Sands, Sam Waterston, and Haing S. Ngor in "The Killing Fields" (Warner Bros./Getty Images)

The fall of Cambodia is the backdrop in a movie that can be hard to watch even once. But the true story of New York Times’ Sydney Schanberg and his friendship with Cambodian colleague Dith Pran is a movie that should be seen — at least once.

8. The China Syndrome (1979)

Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, and Daniel Valdez in "The China Syndrome" (Archive Photos/Getty Images)

How creepy is this: This movie about a nuclear power plant disaster referenced a leak that could impact the size of Pennsylvania. Twelve days after its release, there was a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in central Pennsylvania. Everyone in this cast — Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Wilfred Brimley and, especially, Jack Lemmon — are phenomenal.

7. The Paper (1994)

Michael Keaton and Lynne Thigpen in "The Paper"

The most underrated film on this list. When it came out, many journalists scoffed at this movie because of the stereotypes. Then you realize clichés become clichés because they are true. This used to be a guilty pleasure movie for journalists. Now, it’s a cult favorite among anyone who has ever worked at a newspaper.

6. Shattered Glass (2003)

Hayden Christensen in "Shattered Glass"

This movie should be talked about more. Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard are perfect in this nearly flawless film about how the New Republic’s Stephen Glass built a reputation as one of journalism’s hot-shot young writers by making up most of what he wrote.

5. Absence of Malice (1981)

Paul Newman in "Absence of Malice"

The most journalistic movie title ever. It’s the legal definition for a defense against a libel lawsuit. Paul Newman is on top of his game, Wilford Brimley takes over one of the climactic scenes, Sally Field is perfect as the eager young reporter and Melinda Dillon is heartbreaking in a scene when she picks up newspapers off the lawns in her neighborhood to keep readers from finding a story that she had an abortion.

4. Network (1976)

Peter Finch in "Network" (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

This bitterly funny movie about TV news is more than 40 years old, yet has a message that is as powerful now as ever. Seriously, Howard Beale’s legendary “I’m as mad as hell” speech would fit in perfectly on today’s TV, where anger and polarization trump journalism and reporting.

3. Spotlight (2015)

Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Brian d'Arcy James in "Spotlight" (Kerry Hayes)

The true story of The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic church is this generation’s “All the President’s Men,” showing relentless and tedious shoe-leather reporting, while going up against a powerful organization. Like “All the President’s Men,” it’s an inspiration for young journalists.

2. Broadcast News (1987)

Holly Hunter and William Hurt in "Broadcast News"

This hilarious satire hits closer to real-life network TV than you might realize. Holly Hunter’s character, Jane, who is loosely based on new CBS News president Susan Zirinsky, is one of the richest characters ever written for the screen, while William Hurt (the dumb but pretty anchor) and Albert Brooks (the smart but awkward reporter) are brilliant.

1. All the President’s Men (1976)

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in "All the President's Men"

Let’s not get cute or overthink this. This is the best movie movie about journalism ever made, and it’s not even close. The nail-biting (even though you already know the ending) gold standard is the reason many journalists reading this went into the business.

As a bonus, here are our 10 favorite fictional journalists, our 10 favorite funny journalists and our 10 favorite fictional news organizations.

Our 10 favorite fictional journalists

  • Jane Craig (Broadcast News)
  • Henry Hackett (The Paper)
  • Steve Everett (True Crime)
  • Camille Preaker (Sharp Objects)
  • Clark Kent (Superman)
  • Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada)
  • Lou Grant (Lou Grant)
  • Will McAvoy (Newsroom)
  • Brenda Starr (Brenda Star, Reporter)
  • Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report)

Our 10 favorite funny journalists

  • Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati)
  • Ron Burgundy (Anchorman)
  • Slap Maxwell (Slap Maxwell)
  • Irwin Fletcher (Fletch)
  • Carl Kolchak (Kolchak: The Night Stalker)
  • Ted Baxter (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)
  • Murphy Brown (Murphy Brown)
  • Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple)
  • Hildy Johnson (His Girl Friday)
  • Michael McDougal (The Paper)

Our 10 favorite fictional news organizations

  • The Daily Planet (Superman)
  • Union Broadcasting System (Network)
  • New York Sun (The Paper)
  • KVWN-Ch. 4-San Diego (Anchorman)
  • WJM-Minneapolis (Mary Tyler Moore Show)
  • Daily Bugle (Spiderman)
  • The Lone Gunman (X-Files)
  • Los Angeles Tribune (Lou Grant)
  • Atlantic Cable News (Newsroom)
  • New York Star (Sex and the City)

What do you think of our list? Do you agree, disagree or think we left a deserving film out? Let us hear from you at news@poynter.org or on Twitter @poynter. 

Comments

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  • I have only one quibble: you’re missing Deadline U.S.A. I would easily pick it over Shattered Glass.
    Ed Hutcheson holding up his phone as the press starts rolling page one: “That’s the press, baby. The press! And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing!”

  • Great list Tom. Broadcast News is a little high for me, and I would have somehow found a spot on a list for J. Jonah Jameson, but overall, we mostly agree. Most interesting of all is there are too many I haven’t seen. I need to get to work.

    • Much to enjoy and chew over but first, these glaring omissions: How could you have missed “Ace in the Hole”? it’s one of the most scathing, entertaining and accurate takes on journalism ever filmed. As close to a tragedy as you’re likely to find featuring director Billy Wilder & I.A,L Diamond’s brilliant dialog and Kirk Douglas’s hallmark razzle-dazzle with those words. Also — “A Face in the Crowd”! That prescient film has gotten a lot of notice in the wake of Trump’s TV-driven rise. Andy Griffith’s portrayal of a rube-turned-demagogue via radio will surprise first-time viewers. (The original British series “State of Play” featuring Bill Nigh, among others, was vastly surperior to the slimmed-down film version) One last thing: you really think Clark Kent was a “fictional journalist”?

  • Re: No. 18 – His Gal Friday. Okay, I get it. It is “the classic” version, but some homage should made to the original “Front Page;” the 1970s “The Front Page” remake with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, which by far is the most entertaining version; and the 1980s “Switching Channels.” Interesting mini film festival: watch all four in succession.