Washington Movies Beyond The Beltway

Sophia White

The majority of films set in Washington, D.C., deal with politics or aspects or espionage. However, the films listed below show there are different sides to the American capital.

Broadcast News (1987)

Politicians would be very lost without the media and because of this Washington D.C. is understandably the home of many prominent TV news channels. With its innocuous title, Broadcast News could go one of many different ways. The fact that it is written, produced and directed by The Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks will probably tell you that it is more Anchorman than Control Room, though it still does raise some interesting questions about journalistic integrity. Billed as a romantic comedy-drama, the film follows three very different characters who work in television news as they fight to get ahead.

Chances Are (1989)

Chances Are is a pseudo-supernatural romantic comedy film – in the same vein as Ghost – which follows a dead man, Louie Jeffries, who returns to life as a young man, Alex Finch, and later begins to reconnect with his family. While the plot requires you to suspend disbelief, and there is the moderate weirdness of Alex having romantic involvement with Louie’s daughter, the film is still enjoyable and shows several different sides of D.C. There is the more traditional side, with the beginning of the film following Louie in his job as a young D.A. before getting hit by a car, while the film’s cinematography also paints a charming picture of Georgetown, with its canal towpaths and cobbled streets.

The Exorcist (1973)

Every city has its scary side. The Exorcist film poster shows the shadowy figure of Father Merrin bathed in streetlight, giving an accurate depiction of the sometimes creepy nighttime-feel of Georgetown. The steps featured in the movie at the corner of 36th St. NW and M St. NW, locally known as the Exorcist Steps, have become a tourist attraction. The film itself follows two priests as they try to exorcise the teenage daughter of an actress.

The More the Merrier (1943)

The More the Merrier is a comedy about the World War II housing shortage in Washington D.C. It makes light of the issue that was facing many Americans in the 1940s and romantic hijinks ensue. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) is an adviser on the housing shortage and Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) allows him to sublet her apartment as part of her patriotic duty during the war. The More the Merrier shows what it was like living in D.C. during this very distinct period.

Shattered Glass (2003)

Like Broadcast News, Shattered Glass is also about journalism, albeit with a much different focus and tone. It tells the true story of a young reporter for The New Republic, Stephen Glass, who admitted to fabricating many of his articles. First reported in Vanity Fair, the case remains the “most sustained example of fraud in modern journalism”. While the moral of the film surrounds fact checking and ethics in journalism, the depiction of this chapter of Stephen Glass’ life demonstrates the decisions that face young, low paid-journalists and how money or prestige can overshadow other ideals. Shattered Glass is a tale of the dark side of Washington journalism and success.

Slam (1998)

Slam is an independent film that follows a low-level criminal living in a fictional D.C. housing project as he uses his skills as an MC and poet to cope with the issues of crime and poverty in his neighborhood. This film offers the starkest contrast to the “typical” D.C. films, with the depictions of gang life, violence, drugs and poor housing conditions being the total opposite of the wholesome National Mall and central D.C. While the film’s Dodge City neighborhood is itself fictional, it is based on Southeast D.C., a predominantly African American area, which is known for its high crime rates. Slam shows “the other side” of the nation’s capital.

St Elmo’s Fire (1985)

St Elmo’s Fire is one of the most popular Brat Pack films starring regular players Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Mare Winningham. It is a coming-of-age film that follows a group of Georgetown graduates as they try to navigate post-college life and struggle with their adult responsibilities. Due to the edgy content of the film, Georgetown University refused to let the film use its campus, so scenes were shot at the University of Maryland instead. Nevertheless, the film captures the feel of student and recent graduate party life in the Georgetown area.

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