Politics have a lot in common with movies.

Each relies on a carefully crafted script. Each production costs a lot of money, unless you go independent, which makes you a long shot at best. Each has plenty of drama, and critics grade the "actors" on their performances.

Why else would so many actors and entertainers end up in politics? In the spirit of the presidential election season, let's look at 10 examples of Hollywood exploring the democratic process. Let me forewarn you: Not on this list, because I haven't seen it yet, is "The Ides of March," the 2011 film with George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman -- don't impeach me.

  • "The American President" (1995): Yes, it was warm, fuzzy and idealistic. But shouldn't we believe that we could have a president who isn't a narcissistic, self-serving manipulator whose very essence depends on how much power he wields? Right ... never mind.

  • "Blaze" (1989): This film retells the love story between 1950s Louisiana Gov. Earl Long (played exuberantly by Paul Newman) and stripper Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovitch). Between his unapologetic affection for Blaze and his push for voting rights for blacks, Long faces long odds at re-election. But, as played by Newman, he emerges as a compelling politician.


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  • "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939): The James Stewart film isn't as much a campaign movie as it is a classic look at the bright and dark sides of the political process. However, politics is almost always about the next election. And Stewart's idealistic Jefferson Smith certainly creates the blueprint for the honest, altruistic candidate.

  • "Primary Colors" (1998): This was fiction. No, really. John Travolta did a surprisingly great job as the philandering, charismatic candidate who was not Bill Clinton. Really.

  • "Wag the Dog" (1997): This was a giant shot of adrenaline to political conspiracy theorists. The president gets ensnared in a scandal just before an election, requiring a spin doctor (Robert DeNiro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to create a war of distraction that isn't much more than fictionalized drama played out for TV cameras.

  • "Election" (1999): It's only a high school election, but this dark comedy starring Reese Witherspoon brings out many elements of big-time politics. Witherspoon plays the popular, ambitious (and annoying) girl running unopposed for student body president. When a democracy-loving teacher played by Matthew Broderick drafts a popular athlete to take her on, plot-twisting hilarity ensues.

  • "Bulworth" (1998): If only this happened in real life: Disillusioned Sen. Jay Bulworth, played with reckless hilarity by Warren Beatty, loses his sense of political consequence, causing him to commit the ultimate political no-no: telling the truth.

  • "Bob Roberts" (1992): A joy ride for cynics (especially those who loathe young Republicans), it stars Tim Robbins as a wealthy, connected wannabe political hipster who, as the documentary-style film goes on, turns out to be a rotten power-grabber. Go figure.

  • "All the President's Men" (1976): A superb movie that's almost as good as the book. Technically, it focuses on two Washington Post reporters who unravel the Watergate scandal, yet much of the story was directly related to President Richard M. Nixon's re-election effort.

  • "The Candidate" (1972): This is the gold standard of campaign films. Robert Redford plays a political newcomer and son of a former California governor drafted as an underdog candidate against a popular Republican U.S. senator. Redford rides the turbulence of a realistic-looking campaign that continuously runs up against his idealistic and honest nature. The film features perhaps the greatest line (and closing sentiment) in political film history when, after Redford scores an unexpected victory, he pulls his campaign manager (Peter Boyle) aside and asks, "What do we do now?"

    I'm sure all candidates probably ask that question at some point.

    Contact Tony Hicks at thicks@bayareanewsgroup.com or at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks.