Films about media

Reporters and other media people are among the favorite characters in film and literature.  This list contains many classics but also quite a few cinematic duds. Some, like All the Presidents Men, The Killing Fields and Veronica Guerin, are closely based on actual historical events.  Most of the others, like Front Page, Groundhog Day and Almost Famous, are fictional accounts of journalists, advertising execs and public relations people that are interesting for the way they portray media professions and depict the zietgeist of the age.  (My personal favorite?  Almost Famous– BK) 

Top Ten you won’t want to miss:

  1. Foreign Correspondent — 1940
  2. Citizen Kane — 1941
  3. The Front Page — 1973
  4. All the President’s Men– 1976
  5. Absence of Malice – 1981
  6. The Killing Fields — 1984
  7. Groundhog Day — 1993
  8. Almost Famous –  2000
  9. Veronica Guerin — 2003
  10. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — 2009

Similar lists, by the way:

Ten great journalism movies for summer — Great list with embedded clips by Robert Courtemanche of teachj.wordpress.com.

The Washington Post’s top 10 – By Matt Slovick — Guess which one is at the top of the Top 10?

And now, a modest attempt to be comprehensive

1930s – 50s

  • Five Star Final- 1931 –  IMDB says: “The City Editor of a sleazy tabloid goes against his own journalistic ethics to resurrect a twenty year old murder case… with tragic results. “
  • The Front Page- 1931 –  Chicago news reporter Hildy Johnson and his editor cover up the escape of an innocent man facing the gallows. (The 1973 version is better). Written by Ben Hecht.
  • Blessed event — 1932 — About a gossip columnist who will stop at nothing.
  • It Happened One Night — 1934 — Claudette Colbert is a runaway heiress and Clark Gable is a recently fired journalist. (And a journalist, as Mark Twain once observed, is a reporter out of work).
  • Front Page Woman- 1935 — A female journalist is out to prove she’s as good as the male journalists but runs into trouble.
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – 1936 — A hot reporter helps a homespun entertainer rise to stardom, but lives to regret it.
  • Speed Reporter – 1936 – A newspaper reporter tries to expose the mob connections to his town’s Reform League.
  • Nothing Sacred – 1937 – A newspaper reporter tries to help a woman diagnosed with radium poisoning (which was a big deal in the news back then. See the Radium Girls).  One of the movie’s memorable lines: “I’ll tell you what I think of newspaper men. The hand of God, reaching down into the mire, couldn’t elevate one of them to the depths of degradation.”  Written by Ben Hecht.
  • Headline Crasher / Star Reporter – 1937 -    Double feature about yellow journalism, organized crime, and  a man who inherits a newspaper.
  • Nancy Drew, Reporter – 1938 -  Usually portrayed as a detective in juvenile fiction, Drew also served as a reporter, often helping the innocent and uncovering the guilty.
  • Foreign Correspondent- 1940 — A classic of foreign intrigue on the eve of WWII, as an American journalist exposes a Nazi spy ring in London.  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Philadelphia Story — 1940 — IMDB says: “When a rich woman’s ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.”
  • His Girl Friday- 1941 — Remake of the Front Page with Cary Grant as editor and a female reporter / love interest Rosalind Russell. Definitely better than the 1931 version of The Front Page which had serious sound problems and a plodding script.
  • Meet John Doe- 1941 — A Frank Capra story revolving around a reporter’s deception.  Often on top  ten lists.
  • Citizen Kane- 1941 – A newspaper publisher ruthlessly rises to the top. Orson Wells stars and wrote the script based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, who suppressed it until the 1960s.   Often called the best film ever made, Kane is too dark and slow-moving for modern audiences, and the legendary publisher is too long gone for the insights into his life to have much appeal.
  • Woman of the Year- 1941 — IMDB says: “Rival reporters Sam and Tess fall in love and get married, only to find their relationship strained when Sam comes to resent Tess’ hectic lifestyle.” Stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, so it’s worth watching for those two alone.
  • Call Northside 777 - 1948 – Documentary-style legal drama based on a true story about a journalist proving the innocence of a man falsely accused and imprisoned for killing a cop in a speakeasy.   Stars Jimmy Stewart as a hard-boiled reporter.
  • The Big Clock – 1948 – A crime magazine publisher  (Charles Laughton) tries to pin the murder of his own mistress on the magazine’s edito  (Ray Milland).
  • All the Kings Men – 1949 — A journalist helps with public relations as his friend rises to governor of Louisiana. Based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, which was based on the life of real Louisiana politician Huey Long.
  • The Big Carnival (Ace in the Hole) — 1951 –  Billy Wilder film about a  reporter (Kirk Douglas) who exploits a “human interest story.” Based on the true Floyd Collins saga and the media circus surrounding it.
  • Captive City – 1952 — Army buddies become newspaper publishers only to find themselves up against a gambling syndicate. Stars John Forsythe.
  • Park Row – 1952; Film about competition between newspapers and the spirit of independent journalism in the 1890s. Sappy but strong on media history.
  • The Turning Point – 1952 – A newsman investigates ties between a crime syndicate and a policeman’s father.
  • Deadline USA -- 1952 — Humphrey Bogart is the editor of The Day, standing up for honest publishing and against sleazy money. Kind of hokey but fun.
  • Francis covers the Big Town — 1953 — A man with a talking mule works as a newspaper reporter  and gets mixed up in a murder trial. Dopey comedy.
  • Little Boy Lost – 1953 — Bing Crosby stars as an American correspondent who marries a Parisian singer before WWII and searches for his son in the aftermath.
  • Roman Holiday — 1953 — One of the great films of all time, starring Gregory Peck (as a journalist) and Audrey Hepburn (as the princess).  Charming, funny, endearing and bittersweet.
  • Rear Window – 1955 – Jimmy Stewart is convinced he’s seen a murder.
  • Black Tuesday – 1955 – ?
  • Sweet Smell of Success (1955) — Walter Winchell sendup
  • Appointment with a Shadow – 1957 – ?
  • Crime of Passion – 1957 – A film noir about newspaper columnist Babs (Barbara Stanwyck) who falls in love with a Los Angeles detective.  It had some interesting ideas about women in a man’s world, and what might drive them to murder. But this predictable and plodding film is only marginally salvaged by Stanwyck’s acting.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – 1956- A reporter sets himself up as a prime suspect in order to expose a corrupt district attorney.  Remade in 2009.
  • The Naked Truth – 1958 — A magazine publisher specializes in blackmail. Very funny. Stars Peter Sellers.
  • Deadline Midnight ( -30-) 1959

1960s – 70s

  • The Mark – 1961 — A reporter recognizes a child molester and suspects him of a murder in his town.
  • Reporter Raju – 1962 — A dying nurse tells a journalist about an assassination conspiracy.  Indian. (Hindi language)
  • Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 — 1963 — Autobiographical film about the problems of a film director. Won two Oscars.
  • Ghost and Mr. Chicken – 1966 – A Don Knots movie, pitifully goofy, about a typesetter who hopes to work his way up to reporter by spending the night in a haunted house.  Disney-level family stuff from the 60s.
  • Gaily, Gaily — 1969 (Released as “Chicago, Chicago” in the UK).  By Ben Hecht. Sort of a warm-up for Hecht’s Front Page, but not bad for the times. A reporter loses his innocence in the brothels and political scandals of late 19th century Chicago.
  • The Front Page — 1973 — Hard boiled Chicago newsmen gete involved in helping a convicted killer escape the gallows. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau star in this hilarious classic from director Billy Wilder. One of the top  ten films about journalists.
  • Parallax View – 1974 – After a senator is assassinated, a journalist  realizes that all the reporters who witnessed it are dying.
    Stars Warren Beaty.
  • The Passenger – 1975 – A correspondent played by Jack Nicholson is reporting on a North African war when he trades identities with a dead acquaintance.
  • Network- 1976 — A news anchor loses his mind on the air, and an old-school TV journalist battles corrupt executives.
  • All the President’s Men- 1976 — Netflix calls it “The film that launched a thousand journalism school students.”  Recap of events around the Watergate scandal from the Washington Post point of view. Excellent but breathless.
  • Three Days of the Condor – 1975 — Based on Jack Anderson protege James Grady’s novel Six Days of the Condor. Stars Robert Redford.  (The novel was twice as good).
  • Superman, 1978 – It’s a bit strange, says Columbia Journalism Review, that  Superman disguised himself  as a reporter so that he  would NOT  be mistaken for a crusader trying to make a difference for humanity.
  • China Syndrome- 1979 (Reporters investigate a nuclear power plant’s falsification of records; released the week before the Three Mile Island accident).
  • The Ruttles: All You Need is Cash – 1978 — documentary send-up of Beatles starring the Monty Python crew, George Harrison, Mick Jagger and other stars of the era.
  • The Journalist 1979 — Comedy about an Australian journalist.
  • Electric Horseman – 1979 – Jane Fonda is a TV reporter intrigued by a rodeo champion’s attempt to save wild mustangs.

1980s

  • Absence of Malice- 1981 — About a Miami reporter whose clueless and unethical journalism leads to tragedy.  Written by former Detroit Free Press editor Kurt Luedtke.
  • Eyewitness – 1981 – TV reporter Sigorney Weaver investigates a murder.
  • Circle of Deceit (Die Fälschung) – 1981 — A German journalist is sent to Lebanon to cover the war in 1975.
  • Year of living dangerously- 1983 — About an Australian Journalist in Indonesia. “There’s a trove of stuff to chew on here, to muse upon. But the likable little guy is the audience’s stand-in and their moral compass,” says Columbia Journalism Review.
  • Under Fire – 1983 – Great movie about photojournalism during the  Nicaraguan revolution. Stars Nick Nolte.
  • The Killing Fields- 1984 – True story of New York Times journalists Dith Pran and Sydney Shanberg  in Cambodia at the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the genocidal regime of Pol Pot.
  • The Mean Season – 1985 — A serial killer contacts a reporter  (Kurt Russell), ensuring  front-page attention. Based on the novel “In the Heat of the Summer” by Miami Herald police reporter John Katzenbach.
  • Bliss- 1985 — Very funny and surrealistic film about advertising in Australia; not recommended for the kids.
  • Fletch – 1985 — Chevy Chase comedy about investigative reporting.
  • Comic Magazine – 1986
  • Salvador- 1986 – A journalist covers the war in El Salvador.
  • Good Morning Vietnam - 1987 — Armed Forces radio DJ in Vietnam runs afoul of military thinking. Stars Robin Williams.
  • Broadcast News- 1987 – Three ambitious workaholics are set loose in a network TV newsroom. Stars William Hurt.
  • Full Metal Jacket, 1987 — Stanley Kubrik’s camera follows an Army journalist through the Tet offensive. Lots of combat.
  • Street Smart – 1987 – A magazine writer makes up a story about a New York pimp, but finds his imagination is uncomfortably close to reality.  Stars Christopher Reeve and Morgan Freeman.
  • Switching Channels- 1988 — Remake of the Front Page but in a TV studio. Stars Kathleen Turner, Christopher Reeve and Burt Reynolds.
  • Chameleon Street – 1989 — A Sundance award-winning film about a man who impersonates doctors, journalists and lawyers.

1990s

  • Crazy People - 1990 — Comic send-up of the advertising business starring Dudley Moore.
  • Newsies- 1992 — A Disney musical about the Newsboys Strike of 1899.
  • A River Runs Through It – 1992 — Two brothers growing up in Missoula, MT share a love of fishing but take different paths in life. One becomes a reckless journalist.  The other  leads a respectable life as a teacher.
  • Hero – 1992 — Dustin Hoffman is mistaken for a hero by a clueless media in search of heroes.
  • Groundhog Day – 1993 — Best movie ever about a TV weatherman. A perennial favorite.
  • MST3K – Beginning of the End — 1993 -  The “satellite of love” crew shower caustic comments on a full length 1957 movie about a reporter covering radioactive grasshoppers who take over Chicago and threaten the future of mankind.
  • Snow falling on cedars – 1993 – Tensions rise between Japanese Americans and a coastal town in the Pacific northwest during WWII.  A reporter has the key to unlock a mysterious murder.
  • The Pelican Brief- 1994 — Based on a John Grisham novel about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices and a journalist determined to find the truth.
  • The Paper - 1994 — Drama about 24 hours in the life of a New York tabloid newspaper.
  • Speechless- 1994 — Two speechwriters fall in love but then end up working for opposing politicians during an election.  Kind of a dud.
  • Quiz Show- 1994 — A somewhat accurate depiction of events surrounding the Charles Van Doren quiz show scandal of 1958. Stars Robert Redford.
  • Cobb — 1994 – A sports reporter interviews baseball legend Ty Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones) and learns that his hero is a bigoted jerk. How should he write the story?
  • I Love Trouble — 1994 – Rival newshounds  (Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts) cover a deadly train derailment that leads to a story about corporate conspiracy and bioterrorism.
  • To Die For – 1995 -  A young woman dreams of being on television, but her husband wants her to stay at home. Nichole Kidman, Matt Dillon.
  • News Radio – 1995 – Eccentrics and office romances feature in this TV drama about NY city radio station WNYX.
  • Up Close and Personal- 1996 -  Robert Redford is a TV news executive who helps a young news woman rise through the ranks. Loosely based on the life of Jessica Savitch.
  • One Fine Day – 1996 – George Clooney,  a reporter, and  Michelle Pfiffer, an architect, have to cooperate with child care to get their work done.
  • Silent Cradle – 1997 – A reporter gives birth to a stillborn child, or so she thinks, but then uncovers a ring of thieves that put babies up for adoption at a price.
  • Welcome to Sarajevo – 1997 -  A reporter from the UK watches the war grow savage in Bosnia and tries to help an orphan.
  • Wag the Dog – 1998 – Funny movie about a president using a war and the media to inflate his approval ratings.
  • Bright Shining Lie – 1998 — Based on UPI correspondent Neil Sheehan’s book about Vietnam and John Paul Vann’s experience. The movie doesnt quite get to the heart of what Sheehan was saying in the book.
  • Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – 1998 — Gonzo journalism with Hunter Thompson. Not one of Bill Murray’s great moments.
  • The Truman Show – 1998 — Jim Carey doesn’t know he’s the star of a TV show and that he’s grown up on a movie set.
  • Winchell — 1998 — Drama about radio commentator from the 30s and 40s.
  • The Insider – 1999 (Based on the book about insider trading)

2000s

  • Almost Famous – 2000 — Highly recommended movie about rock journalism.
  • What women want – 2000 — Howlingly funny. Mel Gibson is a typically clueless advertising exec who suddenly finds he can read the minds of women.
  • Erin Brockovich, 2000 — A true story of investigative reporting involving a cancer cluster around natural gas pipelines and the effects of Chromium VI (hexavalent chromium).
  • City of God – 2002 — Two friends from a violent neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro find their lives diverge – one becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer.
  • Quiet American – 2002 – Based on the spy thriller by Graham Greene, a Brit reporter covers the rapidly escalating Vietnam war. Set in 1952.
  • Chicago, 2002 –  If you want the flavor of the highly competitive Chicago news scene in the early 20the century, a better bet would be the Front Page or Gaily, Gaily, both written by Ben Hecht.
  • Live from Bagdhad – 2002 — The story of CNN’s Gulf War coverage involving conflict with military brass hats over access to the troops and decisions about risking their lives by crossing battle lines.
    • Unfortunately, the truth was far more startling.  Unarmed journalists were recklessly targeted by the US military. See http://www.collateralmurder.com/  
  • Simone — 2002  — A movie producer in trouble creates a digital actress who becomes a hit.
  • Veronica Guerin – 2003 (True story of an Irish investigative reporter)
  • Shattered Glass, 2003 — Forgettable film about dishonesty at the New Republic magazine.
  • Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgundy, 2004  — A comedy starring Will Ferrell
  • Good Night and Good Luck, 2005 — Dramatization of events surrounding the Murrow – McCarthy confrontation in 1955.  Often shows up on top ten lists.
  • Scoop, 2006 –An American journalism student in London scoops a big story, and begins an affair with an aristocrat as the incident unfurls.
  • The Devil Wears Prada, 2006 — Competitive instincts take over inside a fashion magazine. A “guilty pleasure” says Columbia Journalism Review.
  • Wild Reporter  (Reportera Salvaje) – 2007 – Mexican film about an investigative reporter who goes undercover at a strip club.
  • Zodiak – 2007 -  A serial killer leaves clues for a San Francisco newspaper.
  • Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land – 2008 – Danish documentary about Burmese journalists who refuse to be silenced by a tyrannical government.
  • Nothing but the Truth, 2008 — Terrific film about a journalist who refuses to reveal her source and is jailed for contempt of court.  At one point the journalist’s lawyer argues before the Supreme Court:
    • “In 1972 in Branzburg v Hayes, this court ruled against the right of reporters to withhold the names of their sources before a grand jury, and it gave the power to the government to imprison those reporters who did. It was a 5-4 decision. Close. In his dissent in Branzburg, Justice Stewart said, ‘As the years pass, the power of the government becomes more and more pervasive. Those in power,‘ he said, ‘whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it, and the people are the victims.‘ Well, the years have passed, and that power is pervasive. Ms Armstrong could have buckled to the demands of the government. She could have abandoned her promise of confidentiality. She could have simply gone home to her family. But to do so would mean that no source would ever speak to her again, and no source would ever speak to her newspaper again, and then tomorrow when we lock up journalists from other newspapers, we’ll make those publications irrelevant as well, and this will make the First Amendment irrelevant. And then how will we know if a president has covered up crimes? Or if an army officer has condoned torture? We, as a nation, will no longer be able to hold those in power accountable to those whom they have power over. And what then is the nature of government when it has no fear of accountability?”
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009  — First of three film adaptations  of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy.” Others include The Girl Who Played with Fire and the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  Close to home, but far more exciting than the News Corp.  spying scandal that unraveled over the summer of 2011.
  • State of Play, 2009 –  When a congressman’s mistress is found dead, he tries desperately to protect his name and career. Journalists Cal (Russell Crowe) and Della (Rachel McAdams)  uncover a web of lies stretching to the highest levels of power.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt  – 2009 – Low budget remake of a 1956 film.
  • Reporter – 2009 – documentary about  New York Times writer  Nicholas Kristof reporting on the humanitarian crisis in the  Congo in 2007.
  • Crazy Heart – 2009 – A reporter interviews an alcoholic country music has been and falls for him.  Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall.
  • Restrepo – 2010 – Documentary about soldiers in Afghanistan by Sebastian Junger, author of the Perfect Storm.
  • No One Killed Jessica – 2011 – True story of a model killed in a bar and the efforts of her family and a news reporter to uncover the truth.  Hindi language Bollywood film.

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