Last month we offered a list of books for aspiring journalists. Now, here’s a selection of films all news journalism buffs should see.

What films should an aspiring journalist watch

After compiling a list of books for aspiring journalists, I was curious about other media forms that could inspire young people to learn more about the industry.

Several News Decoder correspondents included films along with their book recommendations, so I started there.

At first I thought journalism and filmmaking might seem dissimilar — fact vs. fiction — but at the core of each discipline is a dedication to great storytelling. Focus, perspective, pacing and context are central to both crafts, and lessons we impart to students in News Decoder’s educational programs.

Inspired by our correspondents film recommendations, we’ve created a list of 20 films that depict the good, the bad and the ugly of journalism.

From covert cover-ups and foreign combat to international hostilities and serial murder, these films offer a detailed look at the journalism industry and the people who go to great lengths to tell important stories.



1. Spotlight (2015)

A team of investigative journalists at the U.S. newspaper The Boston Globe uncover and expose systemic abuse and molestation of children within the Catholic Church and local Archdiocese. Battling government red tape, pressure from top city officials, legal constraints, personal religious beliefs and emotional exhaustion throughout the year-long inquiry, the team remains steadfast in its pursuit of the truth and justice for victims. 

Based on a true story.

Note*: Sensitive subject matter

2. Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager in Rwanda, ensures the safekeeping of more than a thousand refugees during the African country’s 1994 civil war and genocide. As violence rages outside the hotel grounds, international journalists, news broadcasters and camera operators face unfathomable moral dilemmas. 

Based on a true story.

Note*: Graphic scenes of violence



3. All the President’s Men (1976)

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two investigative journalists covering a break-in at the national headquarters of the U.S. Democratic Party, stumble onto a much larger story. An anonymous source named Deep Throat shares shocking details of wiretap surveillance, sabotage and abuse of power that lead straight to the White House.

Based on a true story.

4. Broadcast News (1987)

Jane Craig, an overworked American broadcast news producer, is embittered by the industry’s shift from hard-hitting journalism to hollow entertainment stories. The arrival of news presenter Tom Grunnick creates a new challenge for Craig as she finds herself drawn to him, despite his professional shortcomings, leading to a workplace love triangle.

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6. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

A foreign correspondent on his first assignment, Guy Hamilton finds himself in Jakarta, Indonesia covering escalating opposition to President Sukarno. The situation comes to a head when Hamilton uncovers a story that could catapult his career but endanger those closest to him.

6. The Post (2017)

With the help of a U.S. government insider, two journalists publish classified government documents outlining U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. In response to the release of the Pentagon Papers, a federal restraining order is filed against the paper in an effort to stop further details from becoming public knowledge. 

Based on a true story.

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7. The Killing Fields (1984)

A foreign correspondent for the New York Times, journalist Sydney Schanberg works alongside Cambodian interpreter and local journalist Dith Pran during the 1975 Cambodian war and “Year One” cleansing. As the Khmer Rouge begin exterminating “undesirable” Cambodians, Schanberg and fellow international journalists attempt to smuggle Pran out of the country. 

Based on a true story.

Note*: Sensitive content and graphic violence


8. Kill the Messenger (2014)

News reporter Gary Webb is contacted by Coral, a woman who claims to have proof the U.S. government facilitated cocaine trafficking and sales to fund Nicaraguan Contra rebels. With this proof, Webb begins interviewing drug dealers, informants and government employees. A three-part series of his findings are published, but when his character is called into question, so too is his work.

Based on a true story.

Note*: Drug use


9. Shattered Glass (2003)

Washington, D.C. journalist Stephen Glass is at the center of a major scandal when it’s revealed that many of his published works are fabricated. The meteoric rise of Glass, an unremitting overachiever, is stymied when a Forbes magazine journalist examines his work. 

Based on a true story.

10. Goodnight and Goodluck (2005)

A 1950’s broadcast journalism team use their television program to dispute and protest against U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to remove any semblance of Communism from the government. As U.S. citizens are targeted and put on trial for allegedly having Communist ties, the team continues to fight injustice over the airwaves. 

Based on a true story.


11. State of Play (2009)

Following the suspicious deaths of a homeless man and later a U.S. congressman’s assistant, two journalists begin to uncover clues that point to a much larger political cover-up. Their investigation leads to a major private home security company, and a trail of covert schemes, secret operatives and hired assassins soon follows.

12. Nightcrawler (2014)

When petty thief Lou Bloom witnesses a car accident, he sees a crew of “stringers” jostling to film the scene and decides to try his hand at capturing lucrative newsworthy content. When he begins doctoring scenes, tampering with evidence and sabotaging others, he sets in motion a deadly outcome. 

Note*: Scenes of violence and mature content


13. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

Tired of her conventional life, Kim Barker volunteers to travel to Kabul, Afghanistan to work as an on-camera correspondent for three months. Her time in a war zone begins to warp her sense of reality, and ethical dilemmas plague her conscience. 

Based on a true story.

Note*: Scenes of violence

14. Capote (2005)

While covering the investigation of a murdered Kansas family, American novelist Truman Capote develops an unexpected emotional connection with one of the accused. While he craves a dramatic conclusion for his book, his interviews with the prisoner lead him to empathize with the man whose life hangs in the balance.

Based on a true story. 

Note*: Scenes of violence and mature content


15. Frost/Nixon (2008)

British “has-been” broadcast journalist David Frost orchestrates a four-part interview with disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon. Determined to elicit a confession regarding his knowledge of and involvement in the Watergate scandal, Frost engages Nixon in a battle of wits, each man constructing his own strategic narrative.

Based on a true story.


16. Citizen Kane (1941)

With his dying breath, Charles Foster Kane, an amalgamation and caricature of real-world American media tycoons, utters the word “Rosebud.” A reporter begins an investigation into his death and in his search discovers Kane’s compelling life story.


17. Zodiac (2007)

Throughout the 1960s and 1970’s, San Francisco is gripped with fear as the Zodiac killer taunts both the police and local news outlets with phone calls, letters and ciphers. By threatening to take more lives, the serial killer maintains his celebrity by forcing news stations to publish his cryptic messages. 

Based on a true story.

Note*: Scenes of violence

18. Under Fire (1983)

Foreign news photographer Russell Price is covering the conflict in Nicaragua between President Somoza and rebel leader Rafael. Insurgents lead Price to a garrison where he learns that Rafael has been killed, but the rebels convince Price to conceal the murder by faking an image of the dead man. The success of the photo triggers grievous repercussions both for the war effort and Price’s professional integrity.


19. Live from Baghdad (2002)

In the summer of 1990, CNN selected foreign news broadcaster Robert Wiener and his crew to cover the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and secure interviews with Saddam Hussein. When Iraq ignores the United Nations deadline to evacuate Kuwait, Wiener’s team installs the four-wire, a private phone line to the CNN headquarters in the United States, becoming the only station with this level of direct communications.

20. The Paper (1994)

An overworked news editor, Henry Hackett, discovers a coverup that could destroy the lives of two innocent teenagers who have been charged with murder. Hackett’s growing obsession with the case leads him and those closest to him down a dangerous road that could be the last chance to save the accused boys.


Questions to consider:

  1. Should war’s potential psychological consequences prohibit correspondents from being too immersed in combat? Would it be possible to enforce restrictions? 
  2. How should interviewees be selected when journalists seek first-hand accounts as part of their research? How reliable is memory? 
  3. Having witnessed atrocity, can a journalist/photojournalist ever be truly objective?

Jessica Strickland in News Decoder’s Program and Communications Intern. A Canadian national, Strickland has worked in communications for the last eight years. Currently a resident of Paris, she is studying for a master’s in Global Communications from the American University in Paris.

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