The 10 Best Political Movies on Netflix

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The 10 Best Political Movies on Netflix

Politics and pop culture have never been more intermingled—for better or worse—but political movies are a long tradition in Hollywood, and Netflix has a good assortment of political documentaries, dramas and satire on offer in their current streaming library. From Jon Stewart’s directorial debut to Ava DuVernay’s important look into American slavery and its legacy into the 21st century, Netflix provides a look at domestic and international political systems beyond the daily news grind. Peruse the full list of the 100 Best Movies on Netflix or dig into the 10 Best Political Movies on Netflix below:

10. Rosewater


Year: 2014
Director: Jon Stewart
It’s no surprise that Rosewater, Jon Stewart’s initial foray into feature filmmaking, is a political drama. The Daily Show host is a master of satire, using sardonic wit and intelligent insight to skewer governments, politicians, bureaucrats and the media during his fake news broadcast. His debut film is based on BBC journalist Maziar Bahari’s best-selling memoir Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival. During Iran’s historic 2009 presidential elections, the Tehran-born Bahari (portrayed by Gael García Bernal) left his London home to secure an interview in Iran with Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the primary contender against incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After Ahmadinejad declared victory in the race hours before the polls even closed, the broadcast journalist captured footage of street riots and general unrest, which he then transmitted to the BBC. Because the footage painted the Iranian government in an unfavorable light, the Revolutionary Guard arrested Bahari, a Canadian citizen, and accused him of spying for the West. He was detained for 118 days and subjected to both physical and psychological torture, conducted by a man whom Bahari nicknamed “Rosewater” (played by Kim Bodnia) for his choice of scents. As a first-time director, Stewart is assured of the message he wants to present to the masses. He dutifully lays bare the evils of political oppression and human rights violations that often go unnoticed. But in his restraint, Rosewater lacks the punch of other politically minded films.—Christine N. Ziemba

9. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry


Director: Alison Klayman
Year: 2012
Alison Klayman’s loving portrait of China’s dissident artist Ai Weiwei may strike some as hagiographic—but how can it not be? This is a man who would be a major artist no matter what his national origin. Yet both his art and his story are made infinitely more fascinating by the incredible courage and steadfastness he shows in openly defying and mocking one of the most evil regimes on Earth. He’s smarter than them; he’s more talented than them; he’s more charismatic and popular. But of course: They have the guns. That the fight seems evenly matched may be the greatest tribute of all.—Michael Dunaway

8. Milk


Year: 2008
Director: Gus Van Sant
Sean Penn took home a Best Actor Oscar, and writer Dustin Lance Black an Original Screenplay statue, for their work in Gus Van Sant’s vibrant snapshot of slain San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay individual to be elected to public office. As the activist-turned-politician—who was assassinated in November 1978 by fellow city supervisor Dan White—Penn is characteristically intense, but there’s a singular ebullience to his portrayal of a public servant at a watershed moment for civil rights, a decade after Stonewall and with four decades to go until marriage equality. In Penn’s chameleonic characterization, Milk’s journey is a personal one writ large, a midlife crisis that prompted landmark campaigns—and not just for LGBTQ rights. Van Sant captures the energy of San Francisco’s counterculture, especially in the Castro District, with Milk’s spirited calls for action igniting the community. Despite his understandable martyrdom, Penn doesn’t shy away from Milk’s flaws, tantrums and lapses in judgment. It’s a fully fleshed, utterly astonishing turn in a career of them. The ensemble cast is uniformly outstanding; you can feel Josh Brolin at once imploding and exploding as the repressed White, and Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, James Franco, Victor Garber and Denis O’Hare, as Milk’s assorted lovers and colleagues, lend emotional depth and purpose to his journey. One of the best, most moving biopics in recent memory. —Amanda Schurr

7. The Square


Year: 2013
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Bringing calm insight to an impassioned, still-developing historic event, The Square looks at the 2011 Egyptian Revolution from the perspective of those who were on the frontlines from the very beginning, personalizing the dramatic developments without losing a sense of greater stakes. Director Jehane Noujaim, who previously helmed Control Room and co-directed, has delivered a snapshot of a grassroots political movement over its bumpy two-year history, embracing the emotional complexity and logistical obstacles that have made Egyptians’ road to democracy so difficult. Using no voiceover narration and only a handful of intertitles that inform the viewer about the exact time period of events, The Square seeks to create an urgent, immediate experience that tells its story through the reactions of its main participants. In the West, the scenes of peaceful, joyous protest at Tahrir Square were warmly greeted as hopeful signs of a new Middle East. The Square doesn’t throw cold water on those hopes as much as it meticulously demonstrates that systemic change does not come easily. That’s why you care so deeply about the people you see in this movie—it’s not that their quest is easy but that it’s so very hard..—Tim Grierson

6. Carlos


Year: 2010
Carlos is more than just an epic movie—running at two hours and forty-five minutes even in its shortened version—it’s a picture that captures the feeling of world caught in the turmoil of terrorism. Its wildly international scope tells the story of a post-modern revolutionary, whose idealism slowly transforms into pragmatism despite a willingness to die for his cause. In particular Edgar Ramirez’s performance in the lead role is spectacular, illustrating both the man’s charisma and commitment alongside his vanity and self-deception. Olivier Assayas manages to make Carlos empathetic despite a largely critical view of his actions and the work, like the man at its center, ends up a bundle of intentional contradictions, as fascinating as any biopic put to film. —Sean Gandert

5. Bob Roberts

Year: 1992
Director: Tim Robbins
The political bite to Tim Robbins’s directorial debut wasn’t a surprise given his history of political activism. Based on a short he made for Saturday Night Live in 1986, the mockumentary focuses on a conservative politician and folk-singer who cynically uses every dirty trick in the Lee Atwater book to win a Senatorial campaign in Pennsylvania. If you think dishonesty and partisanship in the political media is a recent phenomenon, let this film from 1992 prove otherwise in fairly hilarious fashion.—Garrett Martin

4. Inside Job


Year: 2010
Director: Charles Ferguson
Matt Damon narrates this excoriating exposé of the Powers That Be behind the 2008 financial collapse. Not that we aren’t aware of the corporate machines whose wanton disregard for global consequences precipitated the “completely avoidable” economic devastation—but it’s doubtful we knew the extent of what is essentially fraud and its reach back throughout history. Enter Charles Ferguson’s bracing, exhaustive doc. The Oscar-winning film traces the national hemorrhage from deregulation through credit and housing speculation, “The Bubble” to the ensuing crisis, bailouts, and subsequent attempts at reform. The corollary timeline makes perfect sense, and it’s mind-boggling. Ferguson’s tone, while polemic, is cut by its incredulous humor and sharp pacing. You’ll be pissed, but you’ll also be riveted.—Amanda Schurr

3. Patton


Year: 1970
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Watching Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner’s colossal biographical ode to one of World War II’s most renowned and most controversial military figures, you get the sense that George S. Patton would likely dig Schaffner’s work; the film doesn’t apologize for itself or for its subject’s actions and attitudes, much as Patton didn’t make a habit of apologizing for either unless directly ordered to by his superiors. There may be no more appropriate way to honor the man’s memory than that, such as Patton can be narrowly described as an “honor.” The film doesn’t exactly flatter the general, per se, but straddles a line between hero worship and sober representation, letting Patton, and by extension George C. Scott’s commanding and iconic portrait of him, speak for himself without fear of condemnation or reprisal. As Patton is about Patton, so, too, is it about Scott, which makes sense: If you make a movie and name it after its central character, you’re also making it about its central performance, and so it’s good that Scott was up to the task of reincarnating the late general in all his egotistical, violent, callous, and shockingly vulnerable glory. Patton is a war movie, make no mistake, but it uses the war movie blueprint for housing a character study of its protagonist. The results, almost half a century later, remain completely singular in the genre. —Andy Crump

2. In the Loop


Year: 2009
Director: Armando Iannucci
If clever verbal humor were easy, we’d have more comedies like In the Loop. But it’s not, and this one stands in a class of its own. It’s the most quotable film of the decade—by miles—and the cynical potty mouths on screen are so articulate and creative that, after the avalanche of witticisms, you’re left with the lingering sense that you’ve seen not just a funny movie but also a wicked political satire of the highest order, the kind where the absurdity speaks for itself.—Robert Davis

1. 13th


Year: 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
Director Ava DuVernay has successfully made a documentary that challenges and even dismantles our collective understanding of one of the most dangerous notions of our time: “progress.” How do we define progress, and who precisely gets to define it? 13th is a captivating argument against those who measure progress with laws that pretend to protect American citizens and amendments, and even to uphold the Constitution. It is a deftly woven and defiant look at how clauses within those amendments (specifically the lauded 13th) and the language of our political system both veil and reveal a profound and devastating truth about America: Slavery was never abolished here, DuVernay and the participants in the film argue. It was simply amended, and it continues to be amended in 2016, with the constant evolution of the criminal justice system. It’s a bold and terrifying statement to make, but in using a documentary instead of, say, a narrative film, DuVernay is able to point directly to that history and to those people who have defined “progress” for black Americans. In doing so, she draws a line directly from the 13th amendment, to today’s America, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. —Shannon M. Houston