10 Films That Were Blatant Propaganda

Remember when Rocky solved the Cold War?

Rocky IV Poster
MGM/UA Entertainment Company

"Propaganda all is phony." Bob Dylan practically screeches those words in one of many explosive verses of "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." And it's the same kind of punk rock sentiment that engendered much of Dylan's youthful writing. It's also a relatable idea.

For in days past, we ate up some of the most obvious, transparent attempts to sway general public opinion.

The most flagrantly obvious example that still haunts screening rooms of cinema classes is Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith's adaptation of Thomas Dixon Jr.'s novel The Clansman. At the time, President Woodrow Wilson described the film as "writing history with lightning" (It's worth noting, however, that he added that "my only regret is that it's all terribly true.")

Today, we like to think we're less susceptible to naked propaganda, or even the more insidious kind, though that won't stop politicians and filmmakers from trying. There have been occasions, however, when the political or social objective of a picture was far from accomplished. Worse, other films have been rendered moot once their usefulness has expired due to shifts in foreign policy.

Whatever the case, here are a few that didn't sell.

10. Reefer Madness

Rocky IV Poster
Roadshow Attractions

Everything you've heard so far about Reefer Madness' reputation, particularly in an age when the drug is well on its way to legalization, is well-earned and worth seeing. Every absurd D.A.R.E. officer story, everything Nancy Reagan preached is on full, campy display. And it's made all the better that there is no running joke commentary through the film, though you could easily purchase or download a Rifftrax of your choice. The film, on its own, is played completely straight.

It started when a church group began funding a film they intended to call Tell Your Children, warning parents about the dangers of cannabis. Said dangers include a hit and run accident, manslaughter and attempted rape, according to Reefer Madness, which the producer titled it after he re-cut it and sent it around the exploitation market.

Of course, anyone who had ever tried the drug knew its effects were not at all as depicted. The film's popularity only grew and by the 1970s it was a regular on the Midnight Movie Circuit.

In a roundabout way, Reefer Madness gave birth to A Nightmare on Elm Street, as it was the film producer Bob Shaye used to sell around campuses to fund New Line Cinema.

But if the question is whether or not Reefer Madness accomplished its goal of sending parents into a frenzy, the answer is resounding no.


Kenny Hedges is carbon-based. So I suppose a simple top 5 in no order will do: Halloween, Crimes and Misdemeanors, L.A. Confidential, Billy Liar, Blow Out He has his own website - thefilmreal.com - and is always looking for new writers with differing views to broaden the discussion.