’25 Best Conservative Movies’

As y’all know, I am inordinately fond of movies, and also of Top Five Lists and their lesser cousins, Top Ten lists and other denominations.

So it was with interest that I perused this one put together by National Review, “the 25 best conservative movies of the last 25 years,” which are described as “great movies that offer compelling messages about freedom, families, patriotism, traditions, and more.” It’s not a list it would have occurred to me to compile, since I don’t think in those left-vs.-right terms. And in some cases NR has to put an odd spin on them to make them “conservative,” but in others I see the point, to the extent that it matters. Who cares? A good movie is a good movie. But I perused it with interest, as I do all such lists. Here I add a little of my own commentary on each (for the magazine’s commentary, follow the link):

The Best Conservative Movies
1. The Lives of Others (2007): This WAS wonderful, and if you haven’t seen it, order it from Netflix or whatever. It’s in German, with subtitles — so Herb should especially like it. I think maybe it made No. 1 on this list because it was one of the last movies William F. Buckley saw, and he raved about it. Well, the man always had good taste.
2. The Incredibles (2004): This was good, but would not make any kind of “best 25” list I would compile.
3. Metropolitan (1990): Never saw it.
4. Forrest Gump (1994): OK, fine.
5. 300 (2007): Didn’t like it all that much. Too artificial.
6. Groundhog Day (1993): Definitely a Top 25 on any list, but this is one where the “conservatives” are missing the point, although they’re certainly right to say, “Theologians and philosophers across the ideological spectrum have embraced it.” You know where I first heard about it? In a homily at St. Peter’s. Msgr. Lehocky was impressed by it because the entire point of the movie is that the only way Murray’s character can escape the pointless treadmill of his existence is to live one day that is perfectly lived for other people, NOT for himself. “Conservatives” of the über-selfish, modern libertarian variety have to overlook that obvious message to like this flick. Again, it’s not about the value of “the permanent things,” but about living for OTHERS. But I’m glad for them to like it anyway. Everyone should.
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006): Haven’t seen it.
8. Juno (2007): Yes, it was wonderful. And yeah, it had a “conservative” message in that if affirmed life. Although I’m still, after all these years, trying to figure out how affirming life got to be “conservative.” Yet another way that Roe has distorted the way we think, and even the way we think about thinking, in this country.
9. Blast from the Past (1999): Very enjoyable, and yeah, it spoke up for traditional values.
10. Ghostbusters (1984): Bet you didn’t know that this one was political. Neither did I. The justification for this call is pretty thin. It seems mostly based on the bad guy being from the EPA, and Akroyd’s hilarious line: “I don’t know about that. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results!”
11. The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003): Yeah, OK — I can see that.
12. The Dark Knight (2008): Again, seems odd on this list. And while it might be one of the best 25 new movies I’ve seen in the past year, I wouldn’t elevate it above that.
13. Braveheart (1995): Saw it. Hated it. The first sign of Mel Gibson’s obsession with characters who are gruesomely tortured to death, which is all I remember of it.
14. A Simple Plan (1998): Never saw it.
15. Red Dawn (1984): Well, of course. And I enjoyed it for what it was, minus the political preaching. I enjoyed it on this level — there were times as a high school student I would have welcomed the fantasy of paratroopers suddenly landing in the schoolyard and shooting up the school, so that I’d have a good excuse to grab some friends (including girls) and some guns and run up into the mountains for an extended adventure. Didn’t you think thoughts like that in school? OK, never mind…
16. Master and Commander (2003): Yes, folks, this is why I posted this entire item. As y’all know, I’m always bringing up O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books here on the blog, and nobody ever engages the subject, which is a big disappointment. This offers me another excuse. And yes, if you’re reaching for it, I guess this movie extols conservative virtues. (I guess it didn’t strike me because, having grown up in the navy, the conservative values it portrays are ones that I, and John McCain, take for granted.) As NR says, the H.M.S Surprise is “a coherent society in which stability is underwritten by custom and every man knows his duty and his place.” Granted. And Jack Aubrey is as Tory as they come. But then the stories are equally about Stephen Maturin, who is after all a former Irish republican, who detests authority from that practiced by naval officers to that assumed by Buonoparte. But Stephen is no modern, milksop liberal — although strangely, in the movie version, he is portrayed that way (right up until the moment he boards the enemy ship sword in hand, which the movie makers really didn’t prepare the viewer for, since at every moment up to that point you were given the impression he was a pacifist or something). Yeah, the movie was great, but the books are a thousand times better — whatever your political orientation. Some of y’all go read them, so we can discuss them here.
17. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005): Didn’t see it; never particularly wanted to. I’m guessing you had to read these books as a kid to be interested.
18. The Edge (1997): Never saw it.
19. We Were Soldiers (2002): This was OK, but not any kind of top 25. An ironic choice for NR, since it was written by Joe Galloway, who was there. If you’ve read Joe’s columns, you know what I mean. He doesn’t see the world their way (or mine, either).
20. Gattaca (1997): Yeah, it was OK. Worth seeing. Not that great, though.
21. Heartbreak Ridge (1986): This movie stunk up the place! I can’t get past the first 10 or 15 minutes. Awful acting. Cartoonish depiction of the Corps. Yeah, I was hoping this movie would be what NR seems to think it was. But it wasn’t. Not one of Eastwood’s better efforts.
22. Brazil (1985): Hated it. Yeah, it had its cool parts — DeNiro’s guerrilla repairman, for instance — but on the whole a bummer. I hate these nihilistic, hopeless tales that go to such lengths to conjure a world in which life is useless and meaningless. Isn’t life depressing enough?
23. United 93 (2006): A fine film, a fine tribute. Not a Top 25, though.
24. Team America: World Police (2004): Never saw it; never wanted to. (You get the idea that they included this one for ironic effect or something?)
25. Gran Torino (2008): Just saw it SUNDAY NIGHT, and it was great. My wife and I had a rare night out. It surprised me that she wanted to see it, and one of my daughters almost talked her out of it (we considered going to see “Slumdog Millionaire” instead, which would have been OK, but I really wanted to see this one). Well, we both loved it. The reviews that rave about it are not exaggerating. Clint Eastwood just gets better and better at his craft.

The magazine then listed 25 “Also-Rans,” as follows:

Air Force One, Amazing Grace, An American Carol, Barcelona, Bella, Cinderella Man, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Hamburger Hill, The Hanoi Hilton, The Hunt for Red October, The Island, Knocked Up, The Last Days of Disco, The Lost City, Miracle, The Patriot, Rocky Balboa, Serenity, Stand and Deliver, Tears of the Sun, Thank You for Smoking, Three Kings, Tin Men, The Truman Show, Witness

Of those, several should have made the Top 25, being way better than most on the list that made it, specifically:

Air Force One — Nothing like a president who kicks terrorist butt personally. He’d have my vote. Aside from that, just a well-done action flick, as only Wolfgang Peterson can make ’em. (Although you know what I liked better? “In the Line of Fire.” Not for its conservatism, but for its communitarianism. What? You don’t remember Eastwood saying repeatedly how much he loved public transportation?)
Bella — Beautiful flick, although the parts that flash back to the terrible thing that happened are hard to take. It helps to understand Spanish (the movie’s sort of bilingual), but it’s not necessary.
Knocked Up — A real hoot, and of course we know about how it’s an unconventional evocation of traditional values. It’s still a hoot.
Serenity — A little preachier than the original series on the whole anti-Nanny State thing, but the characters and the action make it easy to ignore. Why did “Firefly” not last? Because it was too good, I guess.
Witness — Another of Harrison Ford’s best. Excellent fish-out-of-water drama.

Heck, even “The Island” was better than most of those that made the list…

Oh, just to finish the job. If I were to pick a Top Five List from among the above 50 — just Top Five, regardless of political “message” — I’d go with:

  1. Groundhog Day
  2. The Lives of Others
  3. Master and Commander
  4. Air Force One
  5. Serenity

Mind you, if I were compiling a list of Top 25 from the past 25 years without restrictions, it would include a lot of flicks not among the 50 above. Such as “Almost Famous,” “American History X” and “Apollo 13,” and that’s just the A’s. How about you?

37 thoughts on “’25 Best Conservative Movies’

  1. Weldon VII

    Of course you hated Brazil, Brad. It gave you a hyperbolically accurate view of how government works — like the Keystone Cops dealing with banana peels on a hamster’s wheel.
    Anyone who loves government as much as you do certainly wouldn’t like that.
    At least I agree on Groundhog Day, but I’d just like to say I hated Forrest Gump, and the only Top 25 list I’d ever put it in is Most Overrated Movies.

  2. Bart

    Heartbreak Ridge?…..only in one’s wildest dreams!
    Braveheart?….liked the parody with the chimps much better.
    The Edge?…..good movie, good character study, didn’t know it was political. But, with Alec Baldwin, what isn’t?
    Forrest Gump?……I think we got the box of chocolates with the TARP, Stimulus package, and Obama’s budget.
    Air Force One?….can you even IMAGINE Clinton, Bush, or Obama kicking a terrorist’s butt? Maybe Bush after a press conference but the other two?
    United 93?…..haven’t seen, don’t want to. These people died heroes. Leave them alone.
    The Pursuit of Happyness…….haven’t seen many on the list but if I had to choose one movie that could support conservative values, it would be this one. It was totally apolitical and all about one man’s desire to get ahead and do what it took to get there. Perseverance, personal honor, and devotion to his son.
    I still like good movies but they are few and far between. The trash out there today is not worth the price of admission. The cookie cutter format used by SCIFI’s monster movies produces much better entertainment. At least they don’t make any pretense of what they are about.
    I just get damned tired of “message” movies and vastly overpaid, over bloated, untalented actors preaching to me about anything.
    NR needs to stay with political commentary and stay away from reviewing movies.

  3. Randy E

    My nomination is Jonestown: The Life and Death of the GOP
    It’s the story of an ideologue with his own radio show. His screeds of hate and party over patriotism leads the conservatist faction to resort to “revolutionary suicide” by forming the dixiecan party.

  4. Bill C.

    And to think, you could have watched an overhyped movie about a kid from India playing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire instead.

  5. ARCA

    Randy – did you know the real Jim Jones was a communist? And directed his sheeple to send money to the communist party?
    “God gave his sheep to be pastured, not shaven and shorn.” [1]
    [1] Shouted in the English Parliament — some time in the 12th century.

  6. Lee Muller

    Now the Democrats try to spin the Jonestown Massacre as the work of the GOP.
    Jim Jones was a Democrat and communist from California, a friend of Nancy Pelosi, Harvey Milk, Diane Feinstein, and that whole crowd of socialist radicals from the 1960s drug and anti-war culture.
    As I said last year, Barack Obama is uncomfortably like Jim Jones.

  7. Bill C.

    When can we expect the Best Liberal Movies of the past 25 years? That won’t be hard to come up with.

  8. bud

    Best Liberal Movies (lots of corporate bashing and anti-war themes)
    Erin Brockovich
    Farenheit 911
    Across the Universe
    The Deerhunter
    On the Beach
    The Big Chill
    The Verdict
    Groundhog Day (Brad’s comments were on the money)
    All Quiet on the Western Front

  9. Greg Flowers

    I also loved Juno but would have a hard time calling it a conservative film. I feel certain that the cast and crew would be surprised by that. I would characterize it as a relatively simple story graced by a really fine script, direction and acting. The fact that the baby was brought into the world, though gratifying to me was not the crux of the film.
    I must see the Lives of Others, I have heard nothing but raves.
    I did not start out as an Eastwood fan, but every movie he does just seems better than the one before. I loved Million Dollar Baby and did not see as pro-suicide but about a man making the very hardest decision of his life about someone he truly loved.
    Master and Commander, a real surprise for me (no pun intended) as I am not a Russell Crowe fan and was not able to get into the series. The movie was a sweeping adventure of the kind “they just don’t make any more.” I caught a couple of minor historical errors but was really just caught up in the sweep of the thing. The relative lack of historical epic/ adventures being made today is quite sad to me.

  10. Bart

    I watched “On the Beach” last week when I couldn’t sleep. Still a great movie with a great cast.

  11. Randy E

    Here’s another, The Firm.
    It’s a story about an organization that demanded allegiance, controlled the message, committed crimes, and involved the death of innocent people. Throw in ineptitude and you have the movie W

  12. mattain

    A much better recent Russell Crowe film would be the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. I’m biased towards westerns though.
    You might want to give the “love conquers all” version of Brazil a try.
    Best liberal movie is Dr. Strangelove.

  13. Brad Warthen

    Yep, that was a good flick — the Western lives!
    Anybody see the original, with Glenn Ford? I keep meaning to.
    Here’s a fun Cliff Clavin fact to know and tell. That movie was based on an Elmore Leonard story first published in 1953, the year I was born. That sort of shocked me, as I hadn’t known ol’ Elmore had been around that long. I think of him as intensely mid 90s in his style and subject matter, with “Get Shorty” being the perfect film evocation of that.
    By the way, I read the original story during one of my visits to Barnes & Noble (I love to hang out there and drink coffee and not buy anything), and it was hardly recognizable. I guess it evolved over the years.

  14. bud

    Dang, I forgot about Dr. Strangelove. Easily the best liberal movie. A more serious movie with the same theme was Fail Safe. But I guess those were more than 25 years old. (So were All Quiet on the Western Front and On the Beach but both were remade). The Color Purple would also be a good addition to the liberal list.

  15. Randy E

    Great populist film; A Civil Action (1998) with Travolta duking it out with Duvall. The little people win at the end, sticking it to big business and their high powered attorney.

  16. Greg Flowers

    Regarding your above comments on Firefly. I am i longtime libertarian but am not a conspiracy theorist. There is variety in any group and I feel certain that you do not hold the view that all libertarians are the same any more than all Roman Catholics, newspaper editors, Navy brats or graduates of Memphis State University. There is actually a school of socialist libertarians (I kid you not).
    It pains me when I see any philosophy or group of any kind used as a vehicle for hate and exclusion.

  17. Greg Flowers

    My all time favorite, though it is 47 years old now: To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve seen it I don’t know how many times and the ending still puts a lump in my throat

  18. mattain

    The Glenn Ford version is in my Netflix Que but still a ways down the list. Guess I’ll have to check out the short story too.
    Being There is another Peter Sellers gem. I would say tied with Strangelove as his best performance.
    A documentary worth trying is Street Fight about Cory Booker’s attempt to run for mayor of Newark, NJ. Also The King of Kong for something a little lighter.

  19. Greg Flowers

    To Kill a Mockingbird was Duvall’s film debut. Not a single line yet still an excellent performance.

  20. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, it’s in my queue, too — WAY down. How far down? Well, over the weekend I tried to add something to my queue, and Netflix said I couldn’t, because you can’t have more than 500 movies in your queue at once.
    I am not making this up. This actually just happened, like on Saturday.
    Who knew there was a limit? I guess that puts a stop to me putting movies on my list to watch “some day,” because I don’t have time to go clean up the list. If I had that kind of time, I’d watch some of the movies…
    Speaking of which, I saw “Wall-E” over the weekend, which I had bumped to the top of the queue after reading some things saying it was one of the best pictures of 2008. It was enjoyable — and very impressive, just in terms of sheer technical artistry. I still liked “Gran Torino” better.

  21. mattain

    Both Wall-E and Gran Torino deserved best picture nominations more so than The Reader and Benjamin Button in my opinion. I agree about liking Torino better, but WALL-E is not a bad way to kill ninety minutes at all. Nine year old mattain might disagree though.

  22. Ralph Hightower

    Add Firefox to the list, a Clint Eastwood movie where he goes into Russia to steal an advanced Mig fighter prototype.

    Landing on the Artic ice to be refueled by a submarine: that was cool!

  23. Brad Warthen

    Mattain, I don’t even know what was up for Best Picture. I have paid zero attention to the Oscars ever since they gave the Best Picture award to “Shakespeare in Love” — a silly little mildly enjoyable comedy about self-obsessed show people, which is why Hollywood loved it — in the same year that “Life Is Beautiful” and “Saving Private Ryan” were nominated.
    Either of those could have been the winner, and I would have been satisfied. You could make the case either way. But giving it instead to something as insubstantial as “Shakespeare In Love” instead of one of those two disgusted me to the point that I’ve tuned out the whole bankrupt process ever since.

  24. bud

    Brad, you show your bias yet again here: violence over sex. I liked Private Ryan ok but it really wasn’t the masterpiece it’s made out to be. The whole Omaha Beach landing sequence was just plain silly. The shot of the guy holding his severed arm, plus all the other gratuitous, endless violence. Yeah, I get it, war is brutal. That’s why I oppose it. But to throw this stuff in my face just for shock value really doesn’t improve the movie. Nevertheless, Ryan WAS a pretty good flick. But not really better than Shakespeare in Love. I’d rate the 2 about the same.
    I never saw Life if Beautiful.
    Biggest Oscar travesty: Russell Crowe (Gladiator) over Tom Hanks (Castaway) for Best Actor. That was the easiest pick in Oscar history and they got it wrong.

  25. Brad Warthen

    It had to be in the last 25 years, Phillip.
    Good list, gayguy — especially Almost Famous, which is like the only film that guy made that I like, but I like it a lot.

  26. Rodney Welch

    While “Metropolitan” is not what I consider a conservative movie, I can see how someone would think it is. It skewered a certain well-bred, well-educated, liberal-minded and pseudo-intellectual group of young people; a latter-day Gatsby set who gab away about a lot of things they don’t understand.

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