1. It Happened One Night (1934)
In search of a story, journalist Peter (Clark Gable) helps runaway heiress Ellie (Claudette Colbert) get from Miami to New York in this early romantic-comedy. The reporter’s original intent is less than noble, but he later has a change of heart. Classic Capra.
5 Oscar wins: best picture, best actor (Clark Gable), best actress (Claudette Colbert), best director (Frank Capra), best writing
2. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
In this Frank Capra comedy classic, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) inherits a fortune and is seduced by Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), a reporter looking for a front-page story about the simpleton who doesn’t get socialites and city life. First an opportunist in it for the story glory, Bennett turns out to be the only one looking out for Mr. Deeds. I’m seeing a trend.
Oscar win: best director (Frank Capra)
4 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor (Gary Cooper), best screenplay, best sound recording
3. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
First it was a Broadway play. Then MGM adapted it for the big screen, starring Katharine Hepburn (who reprised her Broadway role), Cary Grant and James Stewart, as the reporter. The story was adapted again in 1956 as movie musical High Society, with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Louis Armstrong. This story’s got legs!
2 Oscar wins: best actor (James Stewart), best screenplay
4 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actress (Katharine Hepburn), best supporting actress (Ruth Hussey), best director (George Cukor)
4. Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles’ magnum opus centers on a fictionalized William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publishing giant, who allegedly told his correspondents, “You supply the pictures and I’ll supply the war.” In Welles’ own words, his character Charles Foster Kane is “a hero and a scoundrel,” but the film’s ending shows even media moguls maintain a level of humanity: “Rosebud.”
Oscar win: best original screenplay
8 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor (Orson Welles), best director (Orson Welles), best cinematography, best art direction-interior decoration, best sound recording, best film editing, best score
5. Ace in the Hole (1951)
Kirk Douglas plays a cynical, big-city reporter frustrated by his relegation to an Albuquerque newspaper job. He attempts to exploit a human tragedy (a man stuck underground after a mine cave-in) for a human interest story that will help his career. Not a regular hero, but definitely a cutthroat journalist.
Oscar nomination: best screenplay
6. Deadline—U.S.A. (1952)
Before his newspaper is sold, a resilient editor (Humphrey Bogart) only has a few days to finish an expose on a ruthless gangster who tried to silence a reporter pursuing a lead. Here’s Bogey’s newsman-as-hero character: “This paper will fight for progress and reform. We’ll never be satisfied merely with printing the news. We’ll never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory wealth or predatory poverty.”
7. Roman Holiday (1953)
When in Rome, an American reporter (Gregory Peck) falls for a sheltered princess (Audrey Heburn) after the two decide to play hooky. With all the sightseeing, not much journalism happens. But who knew those two could (kinda) drive a Vespa?
3 Oscar wins: best actress (Audrey Hepburn), best writing, best costume design
7 Oscar nominations: best picture, best supporting actor (Eddie Albert), best director (William Wyler), best screenplay, best cinematography, best art direction-set direction, best film editing
8. The Frontpage (1974)
It’s a version of the 1931 original and the 1940 film His Girl Friday, which stars Cary Grant, as a newspaper editor trying to stop his reporter ex-wife from remarrying. The Frontpage is not their best movie together, but as usual, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau=funny.
9. All the President’s Men (1976)
The Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) uncover the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The dramatic thriller, based on Woodward and Bernstein’s true life account, inspired countless reporters and editors to pursue a journalism career.
4 Oscar wins: best supporting actor (Jason Robards), best adapted screenplay, best art direction-set decoration, best sound
4 Oscar nominations: best picture, best director (Alan J. Pakula), best supporting actress (Jane Alexander), best film editing
10. Network (1976)
Network anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) becomes the country’s favorite broadcaster after he loses it on air and starts telling people how things really are. His producers, recognizing the spike in ratings, run with his rantings and give him a new show and more airtime. Beale’s revolution will be televised. Now go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
4 Oscar wins: best actor (Peter Finch), best actress (Faye Dunaway), best supporting actress (Beatrice Straight), best screenplay
6 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor (William Holden), best supporting actor (Ned Beatty), best director (Sidney Lumet), best cinematography, best film editing
11. Superman: The Movie (1978)
His journalist side is probably the only thing not very heroic about him. Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) works as a reporter at the Daily Planet, alongside his love interest Lois Lane, a hard-hitting journalist who reports on Superman. Also, Marlon Brando as Superman’s father Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor are awesome.
3 Oscar nominations: best film editing, best original score, best sound
Special achievement award: visual effects
12. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Mel Gibson plays a foreign correspondent on his first assignment abroad, covering political unrest in Indonesia, with help from a photographer (Linda Hunt) and a key source (Sigourney Weaver). He’s in the thick of a revolution, but takes risks for a scoop.
Oscar win: best supporting actress (Linda Hunt)
13. The Killing Fields (1984)
Cambodian photojournalist and stringer Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) suffers under the Khmer Rouge, but survives the genocide, while New York Times foreign correspondent Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), after leaving Cambodia with the rest of the international press corps, tries to find his colleague. These journalists are witnesses to crimes against humanity, and Pran is heroic in his survival and will to live and tell his story.
3 Oscar wins: best supporting actor (Haing S. Ngor), best cinematography, best film editing
4 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor (Sam Waterston), best director (Roland Joffé), best adapted screenplay
14. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Based on the drug and alcohol-soaked journalistic exploits of Rolling Stone’s Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) drive to Vegas and shit gets weird. Thompson’s spirit and special brand of experiential reportage—gonzo—is as much the hero as the man himself.
15. Almost Famous (2000)
Based on screenwriter-director Cameron Crowe’s youthful foray into music journalism, a teenager becomes embedded in a rock band’s entourage after being assigned a story by Rolling Stone. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, who mentors the young journalist while he attempts to tell a truthful story and protect the musicians’ secrets. Every fan of the film remembers the tour bus montage: “Hold me closer tiny dancer.”
Oscar wins: best screenplay
3 Oscar nominations: best supporting actress (Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand), best film editing
16. Spider-Man (2002)
Your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker, is a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle. Sure, he makes money selling pictures of himself fighting bad guys, but hey, he’s fighting bad guys everyday. Mine as well monetize your crime fighting. Thanks to Uncle Ben, Spider-Man knows that with great power comes great responsibility. Journalists, take note.
2 Oscar nominations: best sound, best visual effects
Spider-Man 2 (2004) won an Oscar for best visual effects.
17. The Life of David Gale (2003)
A journalist (Kate Winslet) covers the trial of an anti-death penalty activist (Kevin Spacey) convicted of murder. She doesn’t believe he’s guilty, and her reporting ultimately shows that the actions of David Gale, and the person he allegedly killed, were done in protest of the failures of the criminal justice system. The reporter is the trusted ally, who tells the true story of capital punishment.
18. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
The real story of 1970s newsroom patriarchy isn’t very funny, but the anti-PC, chauvinist gags that mock the period are hilarious. The Adam McKay-Will Ferrell one-liners are super quotable: “Milk was a bad choice.” “I love scotch.” “You stay classy, San Diego.” So, anyone for yazz flute?
19. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
In the height of the anti-Communist witch hunts, revolutionary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) attempts to reveal Senator Joseph McCarthy for the anti-democratic demagogue he really is. The film portrays Murrow, the stoic anchor, as a journalist who refuses to back down despite government pressure.
6 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor (David Strathairn), best director (George Clooney), best screenplay, best cinematography, best art direction
20. A Mighty Heart (2007)
When Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl is kidnapped in Pakistan, his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie) seeks to find him. While the film, and the true story, ends tragically with Pearl’s murder, it shows the real risks reporters face in pursuing dangerous sources, and the journalist’s courage and drive to find the truth.
21. Zodiac (2007)
Based on real events, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. play a political cartoonist and crime reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle trying to uncover the identity of a serial killer in the late 1960s Bay Area. Both become obsessed with the case after the paper is forced to print a coded message that supposedly reveals the murderer’s name. Gyllenhaal’s character writes a book documenting his investigation, but to this day the real killer has never been identified.
22. Frost/Nixon (2008)
The film centers around one historic interview: British presenter David Frost (Michael Sheen) sitting down, on camera, with disgraced former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). As a talk show host, Frost’s journalistic credentials are doubted. But he asks Nixon tough questions and gives the American public the trial “Tricky Dick” had avoided by resigning from office. After all, Nixon says, “when the president does it that means it’s not illegal.” Unless it’s caught on tape.
5 Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor (Frank Langella), best director (Ron Howard), best adapted screenplay, best film editing
23. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Pulled from the European comic strip, director Steven Spielberg puts investigative reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy into a 3-D animated adventure. The young journalist, ever determined, uses his keen skills of deduction to find a lost treasure before others scoop him.
Oscar nomination: best original score
24. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Fictional, Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), with the help of hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), investigates the case of a young woman from a wealthy family who went missing years earlier. Director David Fincher’s remake is a solid, Americanized version of the excellent Swedish original (actually, the whole trilogy is great), based on the novels by Stieg Larsson. Craig channels James Bond in the role, which makes for a smart journalist character that kicks ass and uncovers the truth.
Oscar win: best film editing
4 Oscar nominations: best actress (Rooney Mara), best cinematography, best sound mixing, best sound editing