November 30, 2022

What’s your favorite journalism movie?

That’s the question we asked on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit, and then compiled your votes into a final list of favorites. We’ve published our own list before from senior media writer Tom Jones, but we wanted to hear from you. 

Your favorite journalism movies run the gamut, across genres and decades. The reporters included the intrepid and the treacherous, what the profession can sink down to at its worst and what we hope can be our best. 

Something that became obvious pretty quickly: We need a working definition of what is and isn’t a journalism movie. We’re choosing to go with movies where a character engaging in the practice of journalism is a driver of the plot. Apologies to Die Hard and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but we have to draw the line somewhere. 

There’s a good amount of crossover between the two lists, but plenty of films that Poynter left off our list ended up on yours. And, plot twist: According to your votes, All the President’s Men doesn’t take the top spot. 

25. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Young Australian foreign correspondent Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is working in Jakarta, Indonesia in search of a big story when one surges toward him and the local journalism community: a military overthrow of the Indonesian government. But the news is the backdrop for the real story here: Hamilton’s romance with a British embassy assistant played by Sigourney Weaver.

(Was #13 on Poynter’s list.)

24. Kill the Messenger (2014)

San Jose Mercury-News reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner)’s reporting leads him to uncover CIA involvement in large-scale cocaine trafficking to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebel forces. Then the threats begin.

(Was #22 on Poynter’s list.)

23. Superman (1978)

Novice newspaper reporter Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) falls for his Daily Planet co-worker Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) while managing a demanding part-time job. Okay, jokes aside: What do we think Superman’s greatest fear is: Kryptonite or missing deadline? 

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

22. Mr. Jones (2019)

Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton) goes to the Soviet Union in 1933 and discovers evidence of the Holodomor, a mass famine that killed millions of Ukrainians — quite the opposite of the stories written by New York Times Moscow bureau chief Walter Duranty, who denied the famine’s existence entirely.

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

21. Anchorman (2004)

Chances are you spent a non-negligible chunk of the 2000s listening to people quote this movie. The plot comes from a real chunk of journalism history, as broadcast journalism in the 1970s looked to new formats to juice up ratings, including on-the-spot action news and the novelty of having women behind the anchor desk. 

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

20. The Pelican Brief (1993)

A thriller from Alan J. Pakula, who also directed “All the President’s Men,” “The Pelican Brief” is the story of a young law student (Julia Roberts) who writes a legal brief after the assassination of two Supreme Court justices only to find that she could be a target and the reporter (Denzel Washington) who helps her uncover the truth in a movie that’s more pulpy dramatic fun than realism.

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

19. Richard Jewell (2019)

A recent addition to the misplaced media hysteria movie canon, this Clint Eastwood-directed movie follows Atlanta security guard Richard Jewell after he discovers an incendiary device in a backpack during the 1996 Summer Olympics, becoming a hero, then a suspect, then a media coverage-fueled pariah.

The movie’s portrayal of real-life Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) was criticized by Scruggs’ relatives, friends and former colleagues as inaccurate, with the editor-in-chief writing in an open letter that a depiction of Scruggs trading sex for information in covering the Jewell case was “entirely false and malicious.”

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

18. The Killing Fields (1984) 

This powerful drama tells the true story of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterson) and Cambodian journalist and interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) covering the civil war between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian national army.

(Was #9 on Poynter’s list.)

17. The Insider (1999)

“The Insider” features Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.

Based on a real “60 Minutes” segment and a Vanity Fair article about it, “The Insider” is the high-tension tale of CBS producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) trying to get former tobacco industry executive Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) to go on the record as threats begin and the walls seem to close in.

(Was #11 on Poynter’s list.)

16. Deadline – U.S.A. (1952)

Humphrey Bogart stars as Ed Hutcheson, the managing editor of a struggling New York City newspaper, as he races to finish an exposé on a gangster and boost circulation before the publisher’s widow finalizes a sale, likely to close the paper’s doors for good.

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

15. Zodiac (2007)

Serial killers sending cryptic and haunting messages to newspapers is a well-used trope, but how many times has the story been told from the newsroom? This story finds its hero in Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with trying to find the Zodiac Killer after the paper starts receiving ciphers from him.

(Was #21 on Poynter’s list.)

14. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Who hasn’t had a nightmare of an editor? Okay, yes, this much-loved comedy doesn’t see much newsroom fussing between assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) and editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) during its runtime, but anyone who has pored over proofs before a final printing deadline can see the journalist life all over this. 

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

13. Ace in the Hole (1951)

Washed up New York journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is newly sober, landing in Albuquerque and angling to get back to a big newspaper when he hears of a man trapped in a collapsed cliff dwelling. Thus begins a circus, partially inspired by two real-life episodes of media hysteria, and a lasting critique of opportunism bumping up against ethics. 

(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

12. Nightcrawler (2014)

“If it bleeds, it leads” is taken to its logical and horrific conclusion in this psychological thriller, where ghoulish stringer Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) records late night violence in Los Angeles to sell the footage to a local television news station. It’s a deeply uncomfortable watch, and an indictment of a local media environment that would let a character like Bloom thrive.


(Was not on Poynter’s list.)

11. Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

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

A George Clooney-directed telling of legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) going up against U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy and his wildly accusatory anti-communist crusade, this story of media responsibility against harmful agendas resonates today.

(Was #12 on Poynter’s list.)

10. His Girl Friday (1940)

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

In this beloved screwball romantic-comedy, newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is about to lose his star reporter and ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) when he asks to cover one more story with her, desperate to win her back. With its famously mile-a-minute dialogue, Walter and Hildy getting mixed up in a murder case, and the wonderful chemistry between Grant and Russell makes this a deserved classic.

(Was #18 on Poynter’s list.)

9. Absence of Malice (1981)

Paul Newman in “Absence of Malice”

Young reporter Megan Carter (Sally Field) is tricked into running a fake story by a prosecutor. The man the story is about, liquor wholesaler Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman), starts to see things unravel as he is suspected of murder. Sharing his alibi would hurt a friend. “Absence of Malice,” a film named after a legal defense against a libel case, traces its dramatic outlines on the conflict of weighing disclosing damaging personal information with the public’s right to know. Absolute reporter bait.

(Was #5 on Poynter’s list.)

8. Almost Famous (2000)

“Almost Famous.” (Dreamworks LLC)

This coming-of-age story sees a 15-year-old music fan William Miller bluff his way into an assignment from Rolling Stone, following up-and-coming band Stillwater on the road in 1973. Featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as influential rock critic Lester Bangs, the reporting may be ethically questionable but the story sings. 

(Was #25 on Poynter’s list.)

7. Network (1976)

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

A news anchor discovers he’s going to be taken off the air. He promises on-air to kill himself in next Tuesday’s broadcast. Ratings spike — and the show begins. The satirical black comedy-drama “Network” is a scathingly funny look at the not-so-ironclad ethics of television news in the 1970s, as producers saw the relationship between ratings, anger and bloodlust. 

(Was #4 on Poynter’s list.)

6. The Post (2017)

Steven Spielberg’s ode to editorial judgment, when Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and executive editor Ben Bradlee weighed publishing the Pentagon Papers and facing the legal onslaught that brought journalistic principles toe-to-toe with government lawyers before the Supreme Court.

(Was #14 on Poynter’s list.)

5. Shattered Glass (2003)

“Shattered Glass” shows The New Republic’s young star Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) at his hot-shot height in the 1990s, and the eventual crumble as colleague Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) finds that Glass’s stories are just that: stories. Glass’s fall from grace after his fabrications are uncovered is a prime cautionary tale, making this movie perfect for the thousand journalism classes it’s been played in.

(Was #6 on Poynter’s list.)

4. Broadcast News (1987)

Both media satire and a love triangle romantic comedy, “Broadcast News” sees frazzled and loveable Washington D.C. television producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) navigate the news and potential romances with a handsome but vapid new anchorman (William Hurt) and an intelligent but awkward news reporter (Albert Brooks). Media ethics criticism and romance? No wonder it’s #4 on your list.

(Was #2 on Poynter’s list.)

3. The Paper (1994)

Michael Keaton and Lynne Thigpen in “The Paper.”

People who love “The Paper” love to say that not enough people love “The Paper.” (Our own Tom Jones did the same thing in his list.) Some of that underdog spirit has to come from the movie itself, a fast-paced 24 hours in the life of New York Sun metro editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton), who chases the right version of a big story at fever pace before deadline. 

(Was #7 on Poynter’s list.)

2. All the President’s Men (1976)

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in “All the President’s Men”

An enduring classic and the definitive “journalism movie” for decades, “All the President’s Men” follows young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, but who are we kidding — you already knew that) as they poke around a botched burglary and uncover Watergate, with the help of a confidential source. This is the Cadillac of journalism movies.

(Was #1 on Poynter’s list.)

Honorable mentions

Before announcing the final spot, it’s time to shout out some movies that just barely didn’t make the cut, but should still be mentioned. Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, Jimmy Stewart-helmed 1948 drama Call Northside 777, James Woods as a booze-and-drug loving photojournalist covering a civil war in Salvador, and the 1977 underground newspaper comedy-drama Between the Lines were all close to being on this list, but just didn’t make it. 

If you haven’t seen those yet, you just might have a new favorite waiting in the wings.

1. Spotlight (2015)

This drama tells the true story of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team uncovering a massive conspiracy to cover up child abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests. The film is loved for its realism: rumpled shirts, document-perusing, newsroom meetings over crowded desks and dogged determination against the Catholic church to get the story out. There’s a reason “Spotlight” won Best Picture in 2015: It’s that good.

(Was #3 on Poynter’s list.)

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