There are many films in cinema history in which the main character is a journalist and the plot revolves around a journalistic investigation.
According to the rules of classical dramaturgy, there has to be a conflict between the personal (emotions) and the professional (duty).
Journalism is a profession that allows the contrast between the personal and the professional, the creation of conflict. And naturally, journalists at the center of a conflict or dilemma are very attractive in terms of cinematography.
They’re brave, busy, honest, motivated, and, ultimately, charming. After all, the man who is engaged in work for the public benefit and who does this work with dedication and by overcoming his inner torments always evokes sympathy.
In addition, when a journalist makes revelations on screen and slowly unravels the thread of complex information, he at the same time advances the plot of the film. We often see the story through his eyes and get the full picture through the crumbs of information he’s excavated.
Actually, journalism is a very convenient profession for film, since journalists like taking risks and are ready to dive into various adventurers. Moreover, there is no shortage of film genres — from romantic comedy to political thriller. And, of course, a large number of detective movies involve journalists.
The 10 films on our list were filmed in different years and are of different genres. The list is subjective, but we’ve tried to single out those films that were turning points in movie history — and for journalists.
The only problem, perhaps, is rapid developments in technology, as a result of which movies about journalists can be provisionally divided into two parts: before the internet and in the internet age.
1. La Dolce Vita (1960)
Director: Federico Fellini
La Dolce Vita left an indelible mark on not only movie history, but also journalism, thanks to a secondary character who relentlessly pursued celebrities and unexpectedly photographed them. His surname was Paparazzo (which probably originated from papataceo, a large and bothersome mosquito).
The last name Paparazzo was very quickly stripped of individuality and launched a new profession (or more precisely, a journalism genre). From that point forward, paid photographers who sought scandalous and discrediting details from celebrities’ personal lives were known as paparazzi.
The film’s main character, Marcello Rubini, is a journalist. He has everything he can dream of: he lives a bohemian life and is loved by various beautiful women. Rome is full of love and adventure, and life is delicious and sweet.
Marcello gets excited and grows cold, searching and relishing. Broadly speaking, he too doesn’t understand how time flies and people with it.
One thing is clear: the eternal existential questions arise unexpectedly. Psychologists call this a crisis; some, a satiety of the sweet life. In both cases, emptiness begins to corrode inside.
The main character of this classical film has a traditional occupation. He works with words, through which he tries to express human destinies. But words sometimes get clogged, stop, and no longer subject to their author. And what remains are the questions. La Dolce Vita is one such big and beautiful question — without a happy ending.
2. Roman Holiday (1953)
Director: William Wyler
Many have already seen this romantic comedy and whenever possible they watch it again. The love story between a graceful princess (Audrey Hepburn) and a manly reporter (Gregory Peck) with Rome as their backdrop has a magnetic effect.
It’s a beautiful love story of beautiful people, which though it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending (it doesn’t end in a wedding), is considered a benchmark for love and generosity.
When the American reporter realizes that he has met the mysterious state princess, he tries to turn the chance meeting into a news story, sure that it will bring him money and glory.
This quite delicate film is created such that the two lead actors are in unequal conditions. The reporter knows whom he’s met, while the princess does not. The reporter can become rich and famous by publishing scandalous photos of the princess, but there comes a moment of affection, when feelings conquer one’s profession.
The reporter decides to forgo his moment in the spotlight because his glory will ruin the princess’ life.
For a journalist, silencing the journalist within him (and to do so voluntarily) is very difficult. Admit that if this is not a real feat, then it’s quite close to being considered one.
3. Groundhog Day (1993)
Director: Harold Ramis
This tragicomedy is based on repetition. Narcissistic TV reporter Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is sent to cover the story of Punxsutawney Phil and quickly return home.
But he and his film crew get caught in an unexpected snowstorm, separated from the world, and remain hostage in a town.
Phil is stuck in a time trap: the same day repeats over and over; everything around him happens as a destined once and for all, but he’s the only who can change it. Time has stood still, and man can’t even die. He is doomed to live this accursed day continually for six months, until he finds the trick to reconcile time and his surroundings with him.
There’s a scene in the film, which describes very well the essence of a journalist’s work. When stubborn and selfish Phil is asked what he would do if he found out that the end of the world was approaching, he says, “I would choose the most suitable and highest point from which I would film the event taking place.”
4. Wag the Dog (1997)
Director: Barry Levinson
A very witty film with an intense plot, which is based on the conviction that mass media is capable of creating a parallel reality, and one that is more convincing than life.
The US presidential election is approaching, but the incumbent has serious problems: he is accused of sexual harassment, which means fewer votes. And coming to the rescue in this almost desperate situation is a film/media expert (Dustin Hoffman) who begins to skillfully create a new, virtual reality.
Beginning and gradually growing deeper is a completely fake story about Albanian terrorists, fake military operations, and refugees who don’t really exist.
Reportages are filmed using actors and spread through news outlets. Due to this manipulative and powerful media onset, the audience (the army of future voters) forgets the president’s “slip” and is swept up by the fake story — like a soap opera. Pseudo-patriotism, a fake war, and stories of heartbreaking captivity distract everyone’s attention away from the president.
This film that was shot nearly 20 years ago is surprisingly still relevant. Of course, television is no longer the main media weapon, but, all the same, a simulated, intelligently staged, and very well financed media campaign can move mountains. And from what we see, it does.
The title of the film is referenced in the following caption at the beginning of the film:
Why does a dog wag its tail?
Because a dog is smarter than its tail.
If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.
So, it’s better to be smarter and more educated than those who embark on media onsets.
The film has a surprising ending. That which is fake is immortal, even when its author dies. Thus, starting a war (including informational warfare) is easy, but ending it is impossible.
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Director: David Fincher
There are a few films (and a TV series) based on Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name. The story revolves around an investigation and cooperation between a journalist and a hacker.
Journalist charged with libel Mikael Blomkvist and having a strange appearance and fate Lisbeth Salander begin gathering material for a dangerous and complex case, resulting in the case becoming more and more complex and complete with creepy details.
This is one of those films where the plot provides suspense and some rather brutal scenes. But who said that a journalist’s work is soft and comfortable? No, journalists often collide with bloodthirsty maniacs, fraudulent businessmen, and brutal guardians.
And if a journalist chooses a rebellious girl endowed with mad courage as his assistant, his work becomes all the more interesting.
6. All the President’s Men (1976)
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford’s characters are journalists at The Washington Post, who during the entire film investigate the Watergate scandal, which eventually leads to US President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
What’s interesting is that the journalists get the documents discrediting the president at the start of the film, but, as is well known, having information and trying to prove it are two completely different things.
Great effort, perseverance, and patience is required of the journalists until they’re able to find witnesses and convince them to testify.
The film investigation based on real-life events that happened 40 years ago applies even today. Now too journalists not only dig up information, but also try at any cost to defend the source’s safety and stress the need for public awareness.
If the president is a transgressor (if he breaks the law), he shouldn’t be president, even if he does everything to keep his positions unwavering and impregnable. After all, journalists are vigilant and industrious.
7. Blowup (1966)
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
A young and successful ‘Swinging London’ photographer takes pictures of radiant and carefree models. One day, he randomly takes a photo of a kissing couple in the park and, enlarging the photo, sees odd details: there’s a dead body in the picture.
The image can testify to a crime, but the negatives disappear — or rather, they’re stolen. But in a large sense, it doesn’t matter because Blowup essentially is “anti-detective,” where what’s important is not the plot but the photograph. The film itself is an ode to the photograph, a photo mindset, and the skill of composition.
It seems the film’s main characters aren’t the people but color and light. That is, the photographic arts. The actual events are just a pretext to ponder the transient and always solitary human being. Eventually, was there a dead body? And the photographer? Perhaps both were shadows?
Based on Argentinian novelist Julio Cortázar’s short story The Devil’s Drool, Blowup is a game — captured by a camera lens.
Antonioni created a new model of film construction when mystery, questions, and alarm arises in a usual situation. It’s not important who killed, who died, and who captured it on film. What’s important is how you interpret it.
Film has a habit of aging rapidly, but this film of Antonioni’s, it seems, only gets better with time. After all, Blowup opened a new road for almost all film directors because it put the image and image creators on completely different planes. In other words, he put in action subconsciousness.
8. Spider-Man (2002)
Director: Sam Raimi
Besides the fact that it is a high-grossing blockbuster, Spider-Man is also a unique analysis of journalists’ work. The main character, Peter Parker, is a modest, unnoticed, and unsuccessful photographer who after developing spider-like super powers becomes strong and fearless. And it turns out that part of him is a hero, while the other part is a person who prepares reportages on that hero.
The weak and unknown journalist photographs and writes about the powerful hero — that is, himself. Admit that this is a very symbolic situation, since any journalist becomes famous from the subjects of his news stories. Especially, when those pieces are literally exclusive.
It can even be said that performing-altruistic-deeds and saving-lives Spider-Man doesn’t do it for the sake of humankind but for the purpose of providing the other half of himself (the journalist) with exclusive material.
It’s a magnificent situation for any journalist: you do something, then change your mask and write about it. If you want, you can do a counter-action. Everything depends on what you want to write about.
9. The Passenger (1975)
Original title (in Italian): Professione: Reporter
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
All of us from time to time find ourselves at an impasse, get tired, sick of life and our profession, and try to escape from those issues gnawing inside and outside us. But, as a rule, escape is impossible, since we find ourselves at the same place from where we began to run.
For a journalist, who is constantly at the center of events and works vigorously every day, the best way to escape is to become invisible or unrecognizable.
Famous London TV reporter David Locke (Jack Nicholson) decides to do just that. For a long time he’s been preparing reportages and films in African countries on rebels, bloody tyrants, and never-ending clashes. Life, which he views through a camera, has ceased to excite or interest him, while pain and death are simply material for reportages.
One day, his car breaks down in the desert, and there’s nowhere to go. And here Antonioni stages the famous scene when Jack Nicholson’s character, disgusted and irritated, tearfully shouts that he couldn’t care less about anything. This scene is unforgettable.
Fate gives the journalist an opportunity to begin a second life — with someone else’s ID; that is, to become unrecognizable. But the problem is that along with getting that other person’s identifying documents, he also gets that man’s fate. Even in this case it’s not escape and salvation, but a brief refuge because, as it is known, you can’t escape from yourself.
David Locke wanted to show the entire world in his reportages, but he didn’t know what to do with his own life. It’s interesting that in the film, the character is constantly in motion: he’s always travelling, moving. It seems, if he suddenly stops, life will stop. Probably that’s how it is with a journalist’s profession, which changes a person’s internal rhythm and forces him to see events as an unblinking examiner.
10. The Newsroom (2012–2014)
US TV series
Created by Aaron Sorkin
The Newsroom is a TV series that, however, is constructed as a complete film. The staff of a cable news channel prepare a news broadcast every day and simultaneously manage to fall in love with each other, get hurt, forgive, become friends, hate, and get divorced.
And almost every day they save the world — by delivering verified, balanced, and breaking news to their audience.
The characters are the same, but the news stories are different and advance the storyline of each episode. The series justifies and shows in detail the work of every member of the newsroom. After all, broadcasts that shape public opinion are born due to a united, professional, and interconnected team — especially since the broadcasts go on air in a tense and last minute environment almost every time.
It’s interesting that as a basis for the narrative, real-life events are used in some of the episodes (the killing of Bin Laden, the revolution in Egypt, the Occupy Wall Street protests).
And of course, The Newsroom is a very political series. It couldn’t be any other way, since television not only is under political influence, but also shapes political agenda.
GIFs credit: Media.am