This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, and America’s most notorious political scandal has proven plenty inspirational for filmmakers over the years. President Richard M. Nixon’s downfall and eventual resignation has been portrayed in movies as diverse as All the President’s Men, Nixon and the teen comedy Dick, and joining their ranks this month is the new Starz limited series Gaslit, premiering April 24. Based on the podcast Slow Burn, the show shines a light on lesser-told stories from the scandal, with Sean Penn, 61, starring as Attorney General John N. Mitchell and Julia Roberts, 54, playing his wife, Martha, a conservative woman who nonetheless is credited as the first person to publicly accuse Nixon of being connected to the break-in. Here, a watch list of films that will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the history-changing crime and cover-up.
The movie: All the President’s Men (1976)
The Nixon: Archival footage
The premise: Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman, now 84) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford, 85) take center stage in this Oscar-winning political thriller about the race to uncover the president’s crimes, which landed the duo at number 27 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest heroes in American movie history. Jason Robards won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role as Ben Bradlee; the Post executive editor reportedly told him before filming, “Just don’t make me look like an a–hole.” The film is perhaps best remembered for Deep Throat’s famous line “Follow the money,” which has since become a part of the American lexicon.
The movie: Secret Honor (1984)
The Nixon: Philip Baker Hall
The premise: Philip Baker Hall goes it alone in this tour-de-force solo performance, which Roger Ebert called “one of the most scathing, lacerating and brilliant movies of 1984.” Directed by Robert Altman, the film sees Nixon ranting and pacing around his office, speaking his stream-of-consciousness thoughts into a tape recorder, surrounded by closed-circuit TVs, a loaded pistol, a bottle of Scotch and portraits of Lincoln, Kissinger, Eisenhower and his mother. In a long and rambling monologue, he reminisces about his Quaker roots, rails against his political enemies (and frenemies) and reveals his true feelings about the Watergate scandal. (Did we mention it’s all totally made up?)
The movie: The Final Days (1989)
The Nixon: Lane Smith
The premise: Based on the 1976 book of the same name by Woodward and Bernstein, this Emmy-nominated TV movie follows the rapid downward spiral of the Nixon administration after the Watergate scandal broke. Lane Smith portrays the president as a paranoid and pathetic man, whose world is crumbling around him: aide Alexander Butterfield reveals the existence of the White House taping system, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns, Nixon turns over the tapes and then holds his infamous “I’m not a crook” press conference from his home in Florida, all in the span of a few short months.
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The movie: Forrest Gump (1994)
The Nixon: Archival footage
The premise: This decades-spanning Oscar winner hopscotches through U.S. history, and Tricky Dick of course makes an appearance. After Forrest and the U.S. ping-pong team are invited to the White House, Nixon has him set up at a new hotel; late one night, Gump witnesses something amiss outside his window. “You might want to send a maintenance man over to that office across the way,” he says to the security guard on the phone. “The lights are off, and they must be looking for the fuse box or something, ’cause them flashlights they’re, they’re keeping me awake.” The camera pans to reveal he’s staying at the Watergate, and Nixon is swiftly resigning in the next scene.
Don’t miss this: 14 Things You Didn’t Know About the Movie ‘Forrest Gump’
The movie: Nixon (1995)
The Nixon: Anthony Hopkins
The premise: At 3 hours, 12 minutes, this historic epic from director Oliver Stone, 75, covers some 60 years in the life of the president, played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins, 84, who earned one of the film’s four Oscar nominations. The Welsh actor doesn’t give a perfect impersonation but his performance is nonetheless impressive and almost Shakespearean in its scope, with Ebert writing, “Thoughts of Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear come to mind; here, again, is a ruler destroyed by his fatal flaws.” It’s a sprawling, messy, nonlinear portrait, with Joan Allen providing the moral center as First Lady Pat Nixon.
The movie: Dick (1999)
The Nixon: Dan Hedaya
The premise: Back in 1999, before we knew the identity of Deep Throat, this witty satire posed the question, “What if the famous whistleblower who blew the Watergate scandal wide open was actually… two ditzy D.C. teenagers?” Future Oscar nominees Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst play the daffy duo who set history in motion when they sneak out of one of their Watergate apartments to mail a letter to teen idol Bobby Sherman at the precise moment of the break-in. The hilarious ensemble includes Will Ferrell, now 54, and The Kids in the Hall's Bruce McCulloch, 60, as Woodward and Bernstein, Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy and Dave Foley, 59, as H.R. Haldeman.
The movie: Frost/Nixon (2008)
The Nixon: Frank Langella
The premise: Langella, 84, earned a best actor Oscar nomination for this Ron Howard–directed drama about the real-life 1977 conversations between former president Nixon and British journalist David Frost, played by Michael Sheen, 53. Though the story takes place three years after his resignation, the Watergate scandal still looms large over the TV-interviews-turned-play-turned-film, especially when Nixon admits to unethical misdeeds by saying, “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
The movie: Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (2017)
The Nixon: Archival footage
The premise: Liam Neeson, 69, stars as FBI agent Mark Felt, who revealed in 2005, at the age of 91, that he had been “Deep Throat” — the anonymous source who provided crucial information to Woodward and Bernstein. Costarring Diane Lane, 57, as Felt’s wife, Audrey, the film offers a whole new perspective on the scandal, and director Peter Landesman, a former investigative journalist and war correspondent, said of his subject: “When Mark Felt outed himself, you could feel anticlimax in the air, almost a disappointment. Felt wasn’t sexy. He wasn’t a celebrity. A lifelong FBI man, the infantry of law enforcement. I’d never even heard of him, but I knew one thing for sure: The seeming banality of the true identity of Deep Throat was going to end up being precisely why Felt was one of the great stories of our time.”
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.