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10 top movies featuring journalists

By Peter Bartram

Author Editor Journalist

I’ve always loved movies which feature journalists as prominent characters. So here is my top 10 pick. But let me know what you think – especially if you feel I’ve left out a movie that ought to be in the top 10 of this category. I’ve listed the films in order from the oldest to the most recent.
  1. His Girl Friday (1940)
Don’t be put off by the fact this film is more than 75 years old. The dialogue is as taut and witty as anything you’ll see today. The film reworks the 1931 movie, The Front Page, in which reporter Hildy Johnson is tricked by crafty editor Walter Burns into covering a hanging story. In His Girl Friday, the part of Hildy is turned into a female character (Rosalind Russell) and smooth Cary Grant plays Walter Burns. To add a new angle to the story, Burns and Johnson’s marriage has broken up and Hildy is planning to wed a new husband – but not if her editor can persuade her to cover the hanging instead.
  2. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
It looks like 1940 was a great year for journalist-based movies. This one is an early Alfred Hitchcock thriller – and helped make his reputation as a master of suspense. The film is set in 1939, before the outbreak of war. New American foreign correspondent Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is sent to Europe to discover the low-down on whether and when war will break out. He gets mixed up in espionage and murder. The film features classic Hitchcock set pieces, including a scene in an eerie windmill and a shot-down aircraft. Black and white, but still a gripper.
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
One of the most lauded films of all time. Based on the life of the unscrupulous US newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, it’s the film that made Orson Welles’ reputation. He was producer, director and star – and had a hand in writing the screenplay. The film takes the form of a newsreel retrospect on the life of fictional newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Welles) in search of the mystery of the last word Kane uttered before he died: “Rosebud”. Striking black and white photography makes this a noir classic in more ways than one.
  4. Ace in the Hole (1951)
Another period piece. This one follows the machinations of disgraced reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) as he tries to find a job on a major newspaper. When he happens on a story about a man trapped in a cave, he manipulates it with cynical disregard for the consequences – and the man’s life – in order to resurrect his own career. Director Billy Wilder shows his class as he ramps up the tension.
  5. Deadline USA (1952)
A real thriller about an editor, Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart), who wants to expose a gangster in his paper. Trouble is, the paper’s proprietor, Mrs Garrison (Ethel Barrymore), wants to sell the paper to shady interests that will close it down. Hutcheson juggles problems with his estranged wife and other stories while he battles to expose the gangster – and keep the paper alive.
  6. The Front Page (1974)
There are two versions of this film – three if you include His Girl Friday – but don’t miss the this version starring Jack Lemmon as reporter Hildy Johnson on the Chicago Examiner and Walter Matthau as Walter Burns, his crafty editor. Johnson wants to quit the paper to marry his fiancé, but when a condemned prisoner breaks out of his cell, Burns uses every trick in the book to keep Johnson on the story. Great playing by Lemmon and Matthau in a film which will keep you smiling.
  7. All the President’s Men (1976)
Tells the true story of the Watergate scandal which convulsed America in the 1970s. The film follows how the Washington Post’s star reporters – Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) – pieced together the elements of the scandal which led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. The story is detailed and intricate – so keep alert. The documentary style of the film makes it as fresh today as when it was originally made.
  8. The Paper (1994)
Comedy-drama which follows 24 hours in the life of a fictional tabloid, the New York Sun. A mixed cast of characters including workaholic editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton), editor-in-chief Bernie White (Robert Duvall) and managing editor Alicia Clark (Glenn Close) pursue stories while they try to keep the paper going through its financial difficulties. Great as a slice-of-life view of what happens on a newspaper (as seen by film-makers who’ve never worked for one!).
  9. Goodnight and Good Luck (2006)
A tough film which focuses on the battle between legendary journalist Edward Murrow (David Strathairn) and commie-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy (who appears in the film in archive footage). The film captures the hysterical atmosphere generated by McCarthy’s witch-hunt for alleged “communists” and shows the part Murrow played in the disgraced senator’s downfall. The film ends with an inspiring Murrow speech urging the power of television to be used to inform and educate people. Plenty of lessons for today’s America about the power of truth – and of tolerance – in this film.
  10. Spotlight (2015)
A biographical drama which follows the work of the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team as they uncovered the child sex scandal in Boston’s Roman Catholic Church. Spotlight is one of the longest running dedicated investigative journalism teams in US newspapers. The film provides a great inside track on the stresses and strains of researching a difficult story against entrenched opposition from powerful vested interests. A strong cast includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci.

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