5 Films That Will Help You Understand International Affairs


The world of international affairs can be confusing, complicated, and wonderfully interesting. Hundreds of movies deal with important aspects of international affairs – history, war, spies, global tragedy, disasters, etc.

Here are five movies that will help you understand international affairs today:

1. Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Starring Tom Hanks as partying U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman as maverick CIA operative Gust Avrakotos, the film has its fair share of international intrigue and diplomatic jockeying for support, but is most useful in revealing the type of domestic political will and back-and-forth that go into supporting some foreign policy aims. The film also shines light on the fate of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and how the U.S. insurgency was successful.

2. Fail Safe (1964)

One of the best near-end-of-the-world thrillers from the Cold War, this film captures fully the sobering and frantic nature of that terrible period of time. It clearly displays howthe idea of Mutually Assured Destruction led to the Cold War and continues to influence issues today.

3. Argo (2012)

Few issues in international affairs matter as much today as the history of Iran and its relationship with the United States. Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning film on the Iran hostage crisis pushes the limits of diplomacy and intrigue, set against the backdrop of a powerful revolution that continues to shape current events.

4. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

War, alliances, romance, nationalism, tribalism, racism, diplomatic intrigue, imperial meddling in the Middle East – this Peter O'Toole classic has it all. It is an incredibly useful film to help understand the Middle East, the West's relationship with the Middle East, and the concept of nation-building. The real Lawrence played a huge role in shaping what we call today unconventional warfare or counterinsurgency – though he would probably been critical of certain nation-building efforts over the past two decades.

5. The Godfather (1972)

Often regarded as one of the best films ever made, The Godfather actually has quite more to teach us about foreign policy and international relations than meets the eye. Mafia don Vito Corleone gets gunned down in the street, leaving his three sons to fill the power vacuum. In The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable, scholars John Hulsman and Wess Mitchell posit that this exemplifies the main schools of American foreign policy thought today. Tom is the liberal institutionalist, Sonny is the cowboy neoconservative, and Michael is the hard power/soft power blended realist. 

Honorable Mention

This Cold War-era comedy, Alan Arkin's first film, shows what happens when superpowers collide on a quiet New England island. It helps show that, national interests aside, there were real people on the other side of that Iron Curtain – and sometimes a little non-governmental diplomacy is all it takes to warm things up.

Weigh in: What movies do you think we could learn from in the world of international relations?