Top 7 Movies That Influenced Public Opinion

Part of the wonder of Hollywood is its ability to create meaningful discourse about important topics that face us as citizens today. Take a look at the top seven movies that got us as a nation talking:

1. All the President’s Men

This film adaptation of the famed coverage of the Watergate scandal got citizens from both sides of the aisle talking. After a pair of journalists from the Washington Post exposed President Nixon’s abuse of power, enrollment in journalism schools increased. Democrats were less likely to say that there should be restrictions on the press, while Republicans were more likely to say that there should be limits to what journalists should be allowed to write. Either way, the public began to demand more transparency from its public officials – a sentiment that carries on today.

2. The Day After Tomorrow

Yes, the movie was scientifically unsound and laughable in its premise, but there is some evidence to show that the movie about a climate-change induced end of days had some bearing on public opinion. According to Yale researchers, the film sparked a concern about climate change within the American public. This study found that 83% of surveyed movie-goers said they were “somewhat” or “very” concerned about climate change, compared to 72% of non-watchers.

3. Malcolm X

The Spike Lee biopic has had a profound effect on attitudes towards race relations and concerns about racial discrimination. Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder found that the film was “quite powerful in altering political attitudes,” according to a study published in the Journal of Politics in 1997. Watchers were more likely to be aware of discrimination and be concerned with it as a major political issue.

4. American Sniper

The biopic featuring sharpshooter and real-life Iraq war veteran Chris Kyle produced a hailstorm of controversy. The right praised the portrayal of Kyle and his heroic actions serving his country, while portions of the left felt the film glamorized his attacking of Iraqi insurgents, including children. The University of Michigan cancelled a screening of the film after a petition by students said they felt it condoned anti-Muslim sentiments, but the decision was later reversed due to backlash. No matter the side, the film got the American public talking about the mental and human costs of war.

5. Brokeback Mountain

The story of two ranchers and the secret love they share, Brokeback Mountain addresses the issues surrounding closeted homosexuality. Celebrated by gay-rights activists for its portrayal of homosexual love in an industry that prizes traditional ideas of masculinity, the movie broke box office expectations, grossing over $83 million. Released in 2005, its critical reception was positive in that it highlighted issues affecting the gay community long before same sex marriage was legalized.

6. Food, Inc.

This documentary from the minds of Eric Schlossler (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) takes a hard look at the questionable ethical practices surrounding the agricultural giants’ production of meat, dairy products, and crops. A modern take on Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Food Inc. had consumers questioning the processes by which we get our food in America today.

7. Concussion

Will Smith’s depiction of Bennett Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovered NFL players suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) (which leads to suicide), is already generating buzz. The film pits the testimony of NFL players suffering from long-term trauma due to repeated brain injuries against the denials of the National Football League, and it is sure to spark conversation about ethical treatment of athletes, as well as improved concussion protocols for players at every level of the game.

Did we miss something? What movies do you think affect public opinion? Let us know in the comments.

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