As we enter the final days of the 2012 race for the White House, what better time to expose curious kids to some political films? No, we're not talking about highly polarizing documentaries like "'Bowling for Columbine" or "2016: Obama's America," we're advocating for more bipartisan-friendly offerings that all families -- no matter how they vote -- can rally for this election season.
In honor of the third and final Presidential debate, here are seven movies worth watching and discussing with your aspiring voters.
<strong>Best For: Kids 8 & up</strong> This historical musical is an exploration of the Founding Fathers’ debate over secession from Great Britain and the Declaration of Independence. Highlights: William Daniels' pompous John Adams, and 'Molasses to Rum,' a thought-provoking explanation of the triangle slave trade and the shared complicity of the North and the South in slavery at America’s founding.
<strong>Best For: Kids 8 & up</strong> One of the best political dramas of all time is also one of the most straightforward for kids to follow. Jimmy Stewart's titular Mr. Smith is a naïve Junior Senator appointed to finish a dead Senator's term. When he arrives in DC with optimism and pluck, he quickly realizes how corrupt and immoral politicians can be and winds up going head-to-head with a powerful Senator.
'Young Mr. Lincoln' (1939)
<strong>Best For: Kids 8 & up</strong> Director John Ford's black-and-white classic is a perfect way to celebrate one of the United States' most beloved presidents as an idealistic and inexperienced Illinois attorney. Once you've seen Fonda's young Lincoln, your teens will be ready to see Daniel Day-Lewis' turn as our 16th president in Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' (out Nov. 9), which chronicles the final months of his legendary life.
'All the President's Men' (1976)
<strong>Best For: Tweens and teens</strong> Made just two years after the worst presidential crisis in American history, this film showed how it all went down: from the second-rate burglary of the Watergate building, to Deep Throat, to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, starring as legendary journalists Woodward and Bernstein, following the money all the way to Nixon’s resignation.
'The American President' (1995)
<strong>Best For: Teens</strong> It seems like just another rom-com, but this is also a political movie with smart dialogue (written by 'West Wing' creator Aaron Sorkin), and a surprisingly educational plot. OK, maybe the part about a popular widowed President (Michael Douglas) falling for an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening) isn't a civics lesson, but there is a look at how insiders lobby politicians to favor their causes.
<strong>Best For: Teens</strong> If you’ve ever wondered what kind of ruthlessly driven, slightly disturbed personality would ever want to be president, 'Election' has your answer in student-council candidate Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). Driven by ambition, untroubled by conscience, willing to employ every dirty trick in the book -- Tracy squares off against a teacher's pick for the highest office in a midwestern school.
'Thirteen Days' (2000)
<strong>Best For: Older Teens</strong> Once your teen is ready for an honors-history-level drama about presidential politics, you should watch the excellent account of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Not only are the three central performances outstanding (Bruce Greenwood is President Kennedy; Dylan Baker is Robert McNamara; and Steven Culp is RFK), but the docudrama makes for an ideal discussion of the tough decisions every president faces.