10 Best Movies About America

The 10 best movies about America all have one thing in common: they're about America. Well, that and the fact that they're great. So, two things. Two things in common. Here are the best movies about America:

  1. "The Birth of a Nation" Hey, we didn't say they had to be accurate movies about America. Although, this racist relic might say more about the America of the early 1900s than an accuracy-minded historian or artist ever could. Only a society with very deep racial issues could produce such a misguided tribute to the KKK. Great fun to watch at parties!
  2. "The General" The Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression, if you prefer) is the bloodiest war in America's history. But it was also a war fought by individuals, which probably included a couple of hapless romantics. So it makes sense that at least one of the best movies about America would be about the lighter side of intra-national conflict. And who doesn't love trains?
  3. "Modern Times" Post-industrial America is nothing if not a giant machine that stops once a year to watch the Super Bowl. And Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times," one of the best movies about America, is also perhaps the best movie about that machine. In a famous (and very funny) set-piece, Chaplin gets hooked up to a "feeding machine," which starts malfunctioning and feeding him bits and pieces of the machine itself. Later, Chaplin falls into a larger machine and gets swallowed up among the cogs and gears. Hooray for metaphors!
  4. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" Some of the best movies about America are only about America subtextually. But "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is all about America, right there on the surface. More specifically, it's about the mechanics of the American government, and how those mechanics are too often gummed up by corporate greed or other intervening interests. Watch it when you need to wash the taste of Glenn Beck out of your mouth.
  5. "Citizen Kane" One of the things that makes "Citizen Kane" such a great movie is that it's about almost everything. So consequently it is easily one of the best movies about America ever made. We don't have room to do a deep analysis of the parallels of Charles Foster Kane's story and the story of America, so instead we'll make a joke about that pea commercial Orson Welles did in the 70s. Remember when he said he'd go down on the guy if he could find someone to agree with him on how the copy should be read? Classic Orson.
  6. "The Grapes of Wrath" The best movies about America aren't all about rah-rah patriotism, but instead serious examinations of real problems, maybe even with a suggested solution or two thrown in for good measure. But, there's a place for rah-rah patriotism as well.
  7. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" James Cagney is mostly known now for his roles in gangster movies, which are often interpreted as being about the dark side of American capitalism. But "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is the polar opposite of that, a movie about the life of super-patriot George M. Cohan. And if watching James Cagney dance doesn't make you love America, then maybe you should seek help.
  8. "Ace in the Hole" Billy Wilder made a lot of movies that would be at home on any list of the best movies about America. But his most scathing portrayal of what makes America tick is definitely "Ace in the Hole," about an unscrupulous journalist who will do anything for a story, even stranding an innocent man in a cave for days longer than necessary. And that closing shot of Kirk Douglas has to be one of the most haunting endings of any movie ever.
  9. "The Godfather" The Corleone family isn't really all that different from any other wealthy family or corporation in America. They do what needs to be done to protect their bottom line. If that means murder, fine. If that means a PR stunt involving a senator or two, that's fine too.
  10. "Dogville" The darkest portrait of America on this list, which is definitely saying something.
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