The Ten Best Political Documentaries

To celebrate the release of Greg Barker's The Final Year in cinemas and on demand, here's our rundown of the ten best political documentaries.

Harlan County, USA (1976)

"Which side are you on?"

From legendary filmmaker Barbara Kopple and winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1976, Harlan County, USA follows a coal miner strike against the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June 1973, capturing on film the miners' violent struggles with strikebreakers, local police and company thugs. Featuring a haunting soundtrack by country and bluegrass artists including Hazel Dickens and Merle Travis, the film chronicles the 13-month struggle between a community fighting to survive and a corporation dedicated to the bottom line. Rebel!

The War Room (1993)

"It's the economy, stupid!"

The 1992 presidential election was a triumph not only for Democrat candidate Bill Clinton but also for the new breed of strategists who guided him to the White House - and changed the face of politics in the process. For this thrilling, behind-closed-doors account of that campaign, renowned cinema verité filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker captured the brainstorming sessions of Clinton’s crack team of consultants - especially James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, who became media stars in their own right as they injected a savvy, youthful spirit and spontaneity into politics.

The Fog of War (2003)

"In the end, it was luck. We were *this* close to nuclear war, and luck prevented it."

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2003, The Fog of War tells the story of American foreign policy as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy and President Johnson, Robert S. McNamara. McNamara was one of the most controversial and influential political figures of the 20th century. For the first time ever, he sat down one on one with acclaimed director Errol Morris to offer a candid and intimate journey through some of the most seminal events in modern American history.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you...Now, watch this drive."

This controversial, Palme d'Or-winning documentary from political filmmaker Michael Moore focuses on the administration of George W. Bush and his 'War on Terror'. The film explores the government's handling of the Al Qaeda attacks on 9/11 and the dubious relationship between both Bush administrations and the Bin Laden family, questioning the possible role of Saudi Arabia in the attacks, and looking at the fallout of the tragedy and subsequent events from a personal angle through the testimony of Lila Lipscomb, a Michigan woman whose son was killed in Iraq. One of Moore's best.

Why We Fight (2005)

"The 'defense' budget is three quarters of a trillion dollars. Profits went up last year well over 25%. I guarantee you: when war becomes that profitable, we're going to see more of it."

From The House I Live In director Eugene Jarecki and named after the series of short films by legendary director Frank Capra that explored America's reasons for entering World War II, Why We Fight surveys a half-century of military conflicts, asking how and answering why a nation of, by and for the people has become the savings-and-loan of a government system whose survival depends on an Orwellian state of constant war. 

The House I Live In (2012)

"If you stand in a federal court, you're watching poor and uneducated people being fed into a machine like meat to make sausage. It's just bang, bang, bang, bang. Next!"

For over forty years, America's 'War on Drugs' has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world's largest jailer, and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet for all that, drugs in America are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever before. Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In captures heart-wrenching stories at all levels of America's drug war. Together, these stories pose urgent questions: What caused the war? What perpetuates it? And what can be done to stop it?

The Unknown Known (2013)

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know."

In The Unknown Known, Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris offers a mesmerising portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, the larger-than-life figure who served as George W. Bush's Secretary of Defence and as the principal architect of the Iraq War. Rather than conducting a conventional interview, Morris has Rumsfeld perform and explain his "snowflakes" - the enormous archive of memos he wrote across almost fifty years in Congress, the White House, in business, and twice at the Pentagon. A perfect partner to Morris' earlier film, The Fog of War.

Best of Enemies (2015)

"Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered."

In the summer of 1968 television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult - their explosive exchanges devolving into vitriolic name-calling.

Weiner (2016)

"The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers."

With unprecedented access to Anthony Weiner, his family, and his campaign team as they mount his New York City mayoral campaign, Weiner documents the impending political meltdown of epic proportions. What begins as an unexpected comeback from a disgraced ex-congressman takes a sharp turn once Weiner is forced to admit to new sexting allegations. As the media descends and rips apart his every move, Weiner tries desperately to forge ahead, but the increasing pressure and crippling 24-hour news coverage halts his political aspirations dead in their tracks. Nominated for the Best Documentary BAFTA in 2017.

The Final Year (2017)

"The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back. And that's okay.""

Featuring unprecedented access inside the White House and State Department, Greg Barker's The Final Year offers an uncompromising view of the inner workings of the Obama Administration as they prepare to leave power after eight years. The film revolves around a foreign policy team assembled by Barack Obama nearly a decade ago, during his first presidential campaign: Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor and presidential confidant Ben Rhodes, as well National Security Advisor Susan Rice and President Obama himself.