Top 12: Best Movies About Journalism

Some of these films were a larger influence on me choosing to study journalism at university than I care to admit. Morning Glory was the main reason for me deciding to take a television journalism paper, and The Pelican Brief was responsible for introducing me to the world of investigative journalism.

Here are some of the best journalistic films:

spotlight.jpgSpotlight (2015)
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation, Spotlight follows the journey of a group of investigative journalists unearthing the child abuse within the Catholic Church. Despite the heavy and disturbing subject matter, it is such a moving film. Just watching the trailer gives me chills; it is so well made.


the paper.jpgThe Paper (1994)
“A clipboard and a confident wave will get you into any building in the world!”
A comedy/drama directed by the brilliant Ron Howard shows Michael Keaton’s journalist character who is considering a job offer with better pay when a big scoop lands in his lap. It’s a race against the clock to meet the deadline to get the true story printed. It’s a very exciting movie and a great snapshot of how a 90s newsroom looked.


The Pelican Brief.jpgThe Pelican Brief (1993)
“If this thing reaches this deep and goes as high as we think it does, these men will do anything not to be exposed.”
Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts), a law student, writes about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices and her theory behind it. Her work turns out to be totally correct, but soon gets into the hands of the wrong people who are determined to keep the truth under wraps. Darby soon finds herself running for her life until an investigative journalist (Denzel Washington) helps her get the truth out. I love this film, we studied the editing and use of sound at high school, but it was John Grisham’s captivating storyline that really captured me.


nightcrawler.jpgNightcrawler (2014)
“Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real.”
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is searching for a job he’s really good at. He soon discovers the media industry where freelance camera operators use police scanners to find newsworthy content such as car crashes and shootings to film and sell to local news outlets. Bloom dives into this career and quickly makes a sweet sum. This film is by far one of the creepiest films I’ve seen. It’s not so much scary, but it does put you on edge and makes your skin crawl.


morning glory.jpgMorning Glory (2010)
“Okay. Is Daybreak a shitty show? Yes! But it’s on a network, and not just any network. This is one of the most legendary news divisions in the entire history of television.”
A bit of a twist to my list, Morning Glory is a comedy. Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a workaholic who is made redundant. She eventually gets hired by a breakfast show that’s going down the pan. The story follows her struggles to rebuild herself, and the show. It is a brilliantly funny story, particularly Harrison Ford’s character who was an investigative journalist before being ployed on to the morning show as an anchor.


the help.jpgThe Help (2011)
“Careful, Hilly. That’s chapter 12. Don’t give yourself away now.”
Based on true events, this is about a strong-willed and moral young woman named Skeeter (Emma Stone) who interviewed African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi despite it being very dangerous and very much against the law. With many struggles and an immense amount of courage from all involved, she wrote a book anonymously based upon the accounts of the Help who serve white families for little money and humiliating conditions. A brilliant movie.


capote.jpgCapote (2005)
“Sometimes when I think of how good my book is going to be, I can’t breathe.”
If I’m including The Help, then it’s only fair to include Capote. Also a Southern-based true story, this is about Truman Capote who interviews a murderer in 1959 to write a book about him. Along the way, he develops a relationship with the criminal who is now on death row. While a slow film, it does follow the journey of a writer who conducts interviews for publishing, which is journalism at its core.


state of play.jpgState of Play (2009)
Cal: “I heard a young woman was murdered.”
Police officer: “Who told you that?”
Cal: “…you just did.”
Two seemingly unrelated deaths occur, but reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) can join the dots. He discovers a mass conspiracy to be uncovered, but he soon has to decide if it’s worth risking his life for the story. Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve managed to watch this film from beginning to end, but the parts I’ve seen are certainly enjoyable.


goodnight and goodluck.jpgGood Night, and Good Luck (2005)
“Funny thing, Freddie, every time you light a cigarette for me, I know you’re lying.”
This story is set against the backdrop of television journalism during its infancy of the 1950s. It chronicles the real-life story of television newsman Edward R. Murrow and his team of researchers who aim to scrutinise every political story with good quality journalism, while resisting corporate and sponsorship pressures for fear-mongering. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this film, but I’m looking forward to watching it in full.


network.jpgNetwork (1976)
“I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Set to the backdrop of journalism more than it being about journalism I suppose. It follows a frustrated news anchor who goes on a massive rant and threatens to kill himself live on air after being fired. A producer notices how the television rating spike because of his outlandish reaction and takes advantage of it by deciding to keep the anchor on air. It explores how television is ratings-driven and profit-driven, with little consideration for moral or authentic work. Quite interesting. I’d imagine this film was inspiration to Morning Glory.


All the President's Men.jpgAll the President’s Men (1976)
“This whole thing is a cover-up and it’s right under our nose.”
Based on the true story of the two Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) who uncovered details of the Watergate scandal. I’ve only seen bits and pieces, but the bits I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed.


the post.jpgThe Post (2017)
“Do you know what my husband said about the news? He called it the first rough draft of history.”
Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is the publisher The Washington Post. With help from editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), they expose a massive cover-up of government secrets. The unlikely duo overcome their differences to bring the truth to light, while risking their jobs and freedom. While I thought this film was dry and dragged out with a ton of unnecessary dialogue and lack of emotional tension, this must be included in the list because I’m sure journalism-lovers will enjoy it regardless.


I appreciate that I should probably include Citizen Kane. I have seen it and studied it at school and I am aware that it’s a classic. I feel this movie is the equivalent to Michael Jackson’s music – you can quietly dislike it, but you can’t deny the genius behind it. So, while I appreciate it, I honestly wouldn’t purposely watch it again. But if you haven’t seen it, you probably should.

About NZ Film Freak

I am a journalism graduate (2014) from New Zealand. Currently working in marketing, and writing fiction in my spare time. I love to write about movies on this blog when I can. I also do paid reviews and voiceovers via Fiverr (nzfilmfreak).
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