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December 22, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 9:52am

The best journalism movies to watch this Christmas: From Spotlight to The Great Muppet Caper

By Charlotte Tobitt

Christmas 2021 may have – once again – put a spanner in many of our usual festive plans, but there is one traditional thing we can all still do: sit on the sofa and watch endless movies for a week.

But they don’t all have to be saccharine fests of snow, carols and kissing under the mistletoe.

If you’re lucky enough not to be in the newsroom between Christmas and New Year, it can be the perfect time to rewatch old favourites and finally catch up with classics that have so far passed you by.

Even if you welcome a break from the (virtual) newsdesk, you might miss it – so why not kick back with our ultimate selection of journalist-centric movies.

Based on a true story

Spotlight (2015)

The Boston Globe’s celebrated Spotlight investigative team in 2002 revealed the extent of systemic child abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston and have since won the Pulitzer Prize and had their work immortalised in an Oscar-winning film.

Spotlight was universally praised for its verisimilitude and harrowing interview scenes showing many movie-goers for the first time just how much hard work reporters put into their work.

High praise came from ex-Spotlight editor Walter Robinson, portrayed by Michael Keaton, who told Press Gazette it “exceeded our expectations for accuracy” and praised the understated way it “de-glamourises reporting”.

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All The President’s Men (1976)

All The President’s Men was voted the most popular journalism film by Press Gazette readers in 2012, although several recent rivals including Spotlight had not yet been released.

The political thriller is based on the book written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and brilliantly captures the twists and turns of their relentless investigation into the Watergate scandal.

The Post (2017)

Speaking of the Washington Post, The Post turned out to be more of a boardroom drama than a newsroom drama but it still delights in being a movie about a newspaper with some frankly beautiful shots of the production process.

Although the story being chased by the Post has already been broken by the New York Times, viewers have fun seeing behind the scenes of publisher Katherine Graham’s decision to publish secret military documents that revealed government dishonesty about the Vietnam War.

A Private War (2018)

Actress Rosamund Pike delivered a transformative performance embodying Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times correspondent who died in a rocket attack on a makeshift media centre in Syria in 2012.

The film powerfully pairs scenes of Colvin’s adventures at war with her PTSD battle, a far cry from the tame-by-comparison newsroom arguments of Spotlight and The Post.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Back to Watergate and Michael Sheen (himself a vocal supporter of the local news ecosystem) gets stuck into grilling Frank Langella as the shamed former US president.

Though it rather stretches the truth at times, the film gives a gripping look into the entire interview process from inception to broadcast.

[Read more: The best (non-fiction) books about journalism: From Harold Evans to Emily Maitlis]

Zodiac (2007)

Jake Gyllenhaal as an obsessive journalist taking his interest in a story too far… does anyone recognise that feeling?

This dark film takes us inside the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s and shows the power of the local press back then – and the dangers of getting too invested.

Best of Enemies (2015)

Witness a masterfully narrativised, multi-night catfight between the two OG TV political pundits: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley.

Set during the 1968 Republican and Democrat National Conventions, this documentary explores how ABC sought to boost its flagging ratings with a novel idea: inviting on two public intellectuals to duke it out for the honour of their party in a marathon ten night dust-up.

Pitting the openly-bisexual writer and wit Vidal against National Review founder Buckley, Best of Enemies shows us a debate that remains bizarrely familiar, even 50 years out. The movie features a thrilling climax and, if nothing else, is worth the watch just for all the gems from Vidal: he’s said to have once, after being punched out by author Norman Mailer, have instantly shot back from the floor with “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer”.

Not-so-true stories

Citizen Kane (1941)

Often named as the best film of all time, Orson Welles’ masterpiece did take great inspiration from the life of US media baron William Randolph Hearst alongside others including Joseph Pulitzer.

The similarities so incensed Hearst that he used his newspapers and power to embark on a campaign trying to derail it upon its release.

The film examines the life and legacy of its main character Charles Foster Kane through the lens of a reporter who is scrabbling to decipher the meaning of his dying word “Rosebud”.

The French Dispatch (2021)

Wes Anderson was inspired by The New Yorker to create this gorgeous anthology of stories from a fictional US expat’s magazine in the French town of Ennui. The pieces include the editor’s obituary, a cycling tour of Ennui, a restaurant review-turned-police chase, a student revolution, and an artistic prisoner.

Spider-Man (2002/2004/2007)

Get me those front page pictures of Spider-Man, Parker! JK Simmons as the vile loudmouth editor J Jonah Jameson is iconic – and to be fair to him, he knows what sells papers.

In Spider-Man 3, he fires Peter’s rival Eddie Brock for doctoring images of the webbed hero – a big no-no. All the newsroom scenes in the Spider-Man series are great fun.

His Girl Friday (1940)

When hard-boiled editor for The Morning Post, Walter Burns (Cary Grant), learns his ex-wife and former star reporter Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to marry bland insurance man Bruce Baldwin, he is determined to sabotage her plans.

Superman (1978)

Yes, it’s another superhero movie – but never mind that, when Clark Kent and Lois Lane are such superstar reporters. We love the Daily Planet scenes as much as the main action itself.

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Who doesn’t want to see Kermit the Frog as an intrepid, if somewhat useless, investigative reporter? With Fozzie Bear and Gonzo making up the rest of your editorial team, good luck standing up the story…

Roman Holiday (1953)

A US agency reporter (played by the charming Gregory Peck) spends a day touring the sights of Rome under subterfuge with a princess (Audrey Hepburn) – but ultimately decides not to sell the story.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Based on author Lauren Weisberger’s experiences as an assistant for renowned Vogue editor Anna Wintour, this is the best movie looking behind the scenes of the magazine world.

Wintour herself has been reported as saying she was “100%” behind the movie despite some questions over its portrayal of her: “Anything that makes fashion entertaining and glamorous and interesting is wonderful for our industry.”

Anchorman (2004)

A brilliantly absurd send-up of the US broadcast news world and the rivals between stations – and even between presenters on the same show.

[Read more: Best novels featuring journalists, from Scoop to Bridge Jones]

Nightcrawler (2014)

For Jake Gyllenhaal’s second starring appearance on our list he becomes a shady figure selling footage of crime scenes to local TV stations – and eventually going to great lengths to get it, raising questions of industry ethics.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

Out of a number of rom-coms using a “glamourous” journalist lead (dishonourable mention goes to Never Been Kissed for sending an undercover reporter into a high school) this has got to be the most fun as it follows a women’s magazine writer vs an advertising executive at odds without realising it.

For more journalism movie suggestions, check out our reader-voted list from 2012.

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