As we try and process the latest world events and the state of politics, our brains could benefit from a break from the news. For President’s Day weekend, we’ve curated a watchlist of scripted stories that bring the inspiration, comedic relief, romance, and carefully crafted resolutions missing from current events — while still challenging us to think.
Inspire Me: John Adams
Make Me Laugh: Dick
What it’s about: Betsey (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams) are two ditzy but well-meaning teenagers who, through a series of unexpected events, become the “Deep Throat” whistleblower who helped take down the Nixon presidency.
Why watch it? Dick is an under appreciated cult classic. While Watergate was a serious turning point in American history, spawning skepticism and a distrust of the government, watching a comedic depiction of the events reveals just how strange and disturbing the whole debacle was. Arlene’s crush on Nixon is a brilliant piece of comedy, and there’s a goofy reimagining of real-life Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as well as an accidental dosing of Nixon with the girl’s marijuana cookies. An original that you watch with the younger generations to shed light on an important historical event.
Where to watch Dick: VOD
Crack Me Up: Election
What it’s about: Based on Tom Perrota’s novel of the same name, director Alexander Payne bought the rights to the book before it was even published. The film follows Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a high school social studies teacher who has to deal with an overachieving and — in his opinion — downright obnoxious student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). When Tracy decides to run for student class president, Jim convinces another student to run against her.
Why watch it? Election was actually inspired by a real-life political event: the 1992 presidential election where Ross Perot unexpectedly ran as a third-party candidate. A satire of American politics, the film also pokes fun at the absurdity of the American high school system: everyone from the administration to the students are fair game. This is also a great time to watch the movie as it’s getting a sequel! Tom Perrota wrote a follow-up novel, Tracy Flick Can’t Win, and it’s currently in production. Reese Witherspoon is set to return as the adult Tracy Flick, who is now an assistant vice principal. Imagine what she will be like with all that power.
Where to stream Election: Amazon Prime, Paramount Plus
Take Me Back: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
What it’s about: When a small town Boy Scout troop leader (Jimmy Stewart) is asked to go to DC to represent his state, he pitches the idea to hold a national convention for the Boy Scouts, and quickly learns how corrupt congress can be.
Why watch it? Despite being filmed during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington held no bars when it came to critiquing the state of our national politics and government sector. It is disappointing to watch this and realize that not much has changed. From being attacked by the media to Mr. Smith being chewed up and spat out, you’ll recognize every single political punch. But Mr. Smith’s tenacity is admirable, and you will find yourself rooting for this lovable underdog — and finally understanding why so many reference this timeless classic.
Where to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: VOD
Grip Me: The Manchurian Candidate
What it’s about: Korean war vet Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) was captured and brainwashed by communists after his platoon was captured. After he returns to the states, he unwittingly becomes an assassin whose mission is to target a presidential nominee. Upon the nominee’s death, the communist powers would overthrow the U.S. government.
Why watch it? A tense and brilliant historical drama, The Manchurian Candidate was released in 1962 during the height of the Cold War. Today, the film gets linked with JFK’s assassination; in fact, there’s a rumor that Frank Sinatra, who stars in the film, purchased the rights to it so that it could not be released. Rumors aside, the film is riveting as it sheds light on the state of American politics in the 1960s: both parties are shown to be untrustworthy, and Senator John Iselin is a not so veiled version of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who led the communist witch hunts in the 1950s.
Where to stream The Manchurian Candidate: Paramount Plus, Tubi, Pluto TV
Scare Me: The Purge Series
What it’s about: In a dystopian version of America, the government has decreed that all crime is legal for 24 hours. Each film in the series focuses on what this would be like: the initial The Purge focuses on a family trying to protect themselves from home invaders, while subsequent films explore how “The Purge” affects the states. In The Purge: Election Year, a senator wants to end the purge forever.
Why watch it? The Purge series isn’t perfect; for instance, why don’t we ever see anyone robbing a jewelry store, but the films do have a lot to say about the current state of affairs in America. In The First Purge, we learn that the event was initially invented with good intentions: it was meant to combat poverty and rising crime rates. However, it’s made clear that the purge is designed to target the poor and benefit the wealthy, as the 1% can stay in their homes and easily protect themselves while the rest of the population can’t.
Where to stream The Purge: VOD. The Purge is available on Freevee. The Purge: Anarchy is available on HBO Max. The First Purge is available on Fubo and FX Now. The Forever Purge is available on HBO Max.
Romance Me: The American President
What it’s about: Widowed U.S. President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is up for re-election while trying to pass a moderate crime bill. When he realizes that the public sees him as a tragic “lonely widower,” he starts dating Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), an environmental lobbyist. Despite political attacks and the struggle to get both their bills passed, Shepherd and Wade fall for each other.
Why watch it? Initially, actor Robert Redford pitched the script as “the president elopes.” While Redford was not ultimately involved with the project, he did get Aaron Sorkin to write the script, which inspired him to create The West Wing afterward. The story itself is a charming, deeper take on a classic rom-com that examines the political climate of the 1990s. Consider this one for Date Night, as it will appeal to Sorkin fans, politicos, and romantics.
Where to stream The American President: TNT, TBS, VOD
Move Me: Southside with You
What it’s about: A young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) goes on his first date with Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) in Chicago, where they check out an art exhibit, walk through the park, and watch a movie together while revealing themselves in ways that hint at what’s to come.
Why watch it? We don’t often think about our presidents having a romantic life, let alone how they first met their spouse. So Southside is intriguing in its premise and structure. Sawyers and Sumpter are quite convincing as the future Mr. and Mrs. Obama, and watching a movie about a first date actually makes for a great first date. The film is also a love letter to Chicago, which doesn’t always receive the movie love it deserves.
Where to stream Southside With You: Amazon Prime, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV
Thrill Me: Air Force One
What it’s about: President James Marshall (Harrison Ford), along with his family and entourage, visits Moscow to make it clear that the US will not negotiate with terrorists. On the way back to the states via Air Force One, terrorists take over the plane. It’s up to Marshall to take the terrorists down and save his family.
Why watch it? Fun fact: in preparation for filming, the crew actually did visit the real Air Force One in order to make the set as realistic as possible. Aside from that tidbit, Air Force One is pure fun. It’s an over-the-top action film that’s pure escapism. Ford gives his all as the heroic President Marshall, and it’s his performance that really makes the film.
Where to stream Air Force One: Netflix
Up My Adrenaline: Independence Day
What it’s about: When aliens attack major US cities, it’s up to Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a satellite engineer, along with several military officials to take down the extraterrestrials.
Why watch it? Independence Day is, for the most part, the ultimate popcorn movie. There are explosions, UFO’s, battles, planes – you name it, Independence Day probably snuck it in there. There’s also witty dialogue, but don’t expect nuance or deep character development. Independence Day screams USA! USA! And rather fittingly, is the perfect film to watch on Presidents Day.
Where to stream Independence Day: Fubo, USA