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Best Libertarian films?

Reason TV recently did a light-hearted piece on Libertarian movies.  I thought it somewhat wide of the mark and so I present some personal choices for great films with Libertarian themes, and of course I invite you to do likewise.  You have to be sick of the mandatory but un-watchable Christmas offerings, right?

First is the 1960 classic “Spartacus”  Apart from some giants of the screen, Olivier, Douglas, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov there is much to love about this one.  Epic battle scenes, beautiful sets, some censor-busting stuff about oysters and snails, great dialogue, casting a black man as a hero (Woody Strode) and of course the eternal struggle between slaves and those who would oppress them.  Quite beautiful.

The we have “The Outlaw Josey Wales”  You knew there would be an Eastwood film in there somewhere right?  The refusal to bow down to corrupt murdering authority and general manliness of Eastwood is something to behold.

Looking at the classics I love “Gone with the wind” Is there a better character in all of Hollywood than Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler?  You love the blockade running and the great line to the effect “Cause? I believe in Rhett Butler, he’s the only cause I care about” Great stuff.  That and I seem to have a weakness for beautiful, slender but emotionally unstable dark women*

Then we have another Maverick from Hollywood’s golden era “Casablanca” Sure Rick gets a bit selfless at the end but for most of the movie he is a tough, wise-cracking individualist, even at the end he had paid off the police more or less so we can forgive him that one.

That’s my take, what warms the cockles of your liberty-minded hearts?

* You may guess Mrs SAoT does not read this blog


  1. Michael says:

    Lawless (2012) based on the historical novel The Wettest County in the World. Tom Hardy plays a bold entrepreneur whose business thrives despite meddlesome officials with their rolls of red tape (to wit, prohibition).

  2. Robert Edwards says:

    I agree re. all of those with the possible exception of “Casablanca” – holes in the plot which would swallow a truck. Actually, anything directed or written by Eastwood fits the bill. “The Outlaw Josey Wales” might also be the best Western ever made.

    I’d also nominate “Million Dollar Baby”, “Mad Max” and “The Duellists”.

  3. Simon Cooke says:

    ‘Logan’s Run’ fit the bill for me.

  4. VftS says:

    Of course Casablanca’s full of holes. It was being rewritten all the way through filming. And it’s pure corn. Doesn’t stop it being a great movie to wallow in, though.

  5. Fred Thrung says:

    @Robert Edwards. Agree most but not “Exception of Casablanca”? Sorry, but plot holes don’t matter when you have such terrific acting.

  6. TinySherpa says:

    Interesting choice of Spartacus. Koestler had used the rebellion as an allegory (based on his own experiences) of the Left’s utopian metamorphosis. A good read.

  7. John Galt says:

    For me it would be Terry Gilliam’s surrealist dystopian masterpiece “Brazil”, a perfect caricature of the bureaucratic system that is slowly strangling us all, mindlessness of propaganda and the fact that ultimately a state will stoop to any level and execute its own subjects to sustain itself.

    If the UK has a future, it is “Brazil”.

  8. Bucko says:

    Not a film for me, but a series. The 1975 series, “Survivors”. A virus has wiped out most of the population and the few survivors learn to fend for themselves.

    There are many parts in the series where various groups try to form some sort of government and others want society to carry on without leaders.

    (An interesting contrast, in the 1975 original, all the characters were armed with shotguns and rifles they had picked up from abandoned farms. There was a 90s remake and in that one there wasn’t a gun in sight apart from one that was used by a gang leader in one episode)

  9. John Galt says:

    On another note “V for Vendetta” has a good libertarian theme, but is not a particularly good film.

    I personally found the original comic to be better (I have the collected edition), but requires some suspension of disbelief as the comic itself was written during the early-to-mid 1980’s. As with many of Allan Moore’s comic artworks, it does not translate well outside of its original medium.

    I do not possess a “V for Vendetta” style Guy Fawkes mask as that whole look has been completely ridiculed by the edgy children from Anonymous and 4Chan. I leave them to their fantasy of anonymity.

  10. JuliaM says:

    What, no-one for ‘Firefly’?

  11. Sam Duncan says:

    Brazil gets better every time I watch it.

    A friend bought me the Firefly boxed set last Christmas. Bloody hell, it’s good. But it’s not a movie. I haven’t got round to Serenity yet.

    It doesn’t exactly push a libertarian message, but I’m All Right, Jack is a terrific satire on some of the alternatives.

  12. Simon Jester says:

    As per JuliaM and Sam, Serenity. In particular:
    “I’m going to grant you your greatest wish. I’m going to show you a world without sin.”

  13. Simon Jester says:

    Oh, and of course the greatest film that Tim Minear hasn’t quite got around to making, yet…

  14. RAB says:

    Definately The Outlaw Josey Wales for me, one of my top five all time great movies, and it’s got Wales in the title, perfick! 😉

    Brazil is brilliant. I haven’t seen Firefly (no Sky) but I saw Serenity on the tellybox not long ago and found merely average, can’t see what the fuss is myself.

    But I will plump for TV series too. The original Prisoner, not the diabolical re-make, and funnily enough, The Darling Buds of May; If the Larkins arn’t Libertarians, then who is?

  15. Michael says:

    Moderator, you haven’t seen Lawless have you? Go see it, then you might happily include my earlier submission.

  16. Bod says:


    Serenity wasn’t *great*, but the episode structure for Firefly as a series works about right. In any case, who can complain about an early-20’s Christina Hendricks playing a femme fatale in 2 or 3 of the episodes, backed up with Morena Baccarin playing a working girl.

  17. Umbongo says:

    I’m surprised John Gault didn’t opt for “The Fountainhead” starring Gary Cooper: not strictly libertarian I’ll grant you but certainly individualistic. As for Casablanca, wasn’t Rick a bit of a lefty? He ran guns to the Republicans in Spain after all. I reckon “Passport to Pimlico” was vaguely libertarian: whatever, it was a refreshing “up yours” to the statists then in power.

  18. Umbongo says:

    Should be Galt of course

  19. APL says:

    Maybe not libertarian movie per se but definitely individualistic, I nominate GATTACA.

  20. Catherine in Athens says:

    Another vote for ‘Brazil’ from Athens, Greece. Merry Christmas!

  21. Simon Jester says:


    can’t see what the fuss is myself.

    Blasphemy! Burn the unbeliever!! 😉

    A significant part of the film’s appeal is that it wraps up a lot of loose threads from the TV series (which only ran for 14 episodes – you can get the whole lot on Amazon for a tenner).

    It also helps that it shows what happens when utopians try to redefine human nature.

  22. Tim Newman says:

    Yup, Serenity for me, and Firefly as well. Loved both of them, brilliant in so many ways.

  23. bloke in spain says:

    Another vote for Serenity. And the entire Firefly series. As compulsory viewing from age 10, 5 nights per week. And another series. Or movie.

    Why the fanatical enthusiasm.

    Because it shows libertarianism, not only as something “worth fighting for” but as something to be actively fought for.

    Because the world has quite enough intellectual libertarians who will quite happily suckle at the corporate state’s teats, whilst they discuss the finer points of Ayn Rand in measured tones. And far too few who are willing to go out & make it reality.

  24. Jesus Green says:

    Many of C.E.s films either as actor or director seem to me to have a libertarian theme and ‘Josey Wales’ is a great example. But Clints best film in a libertarian vein has to be ‘Gran Torino’ Check it out if you haven’t seen it.

  25. RAB says:

    Bleedin hell guys, all I said was I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. I have seen many movies which have similar all for one, one for all buddy bonding, and a mystic chick thrown in. Perhaps I wasn’t enough attention. I’ll give it another go when they repeat it. It’s bound to be, everything on Freeview gets repeated at least a dozen times.

  26. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Whatever one might think about Firefly, its creator, Joss Whedon, is no friend of libertarians.

  27. Mr Ed says:

    Terry Gillam’s ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ 1989, a clear attack on the ‘modest’ functionaries of revolutionary France and their politics of reason, the hero having to cope with the internal and the external enemy, with a supremely brave and noble hero.

  28. Simon Jester says:

    @PST: Whedon is certainly no friend of capitalists, though it could be argued that he’s a certain type of left-libertarian. (There was a post on Samizdata a while back, where PdH argued that such categorisation was a category error.)

    Firefly’s political orientation is said to owe more to Tim Minear, than to JW.

  29. Jesus Green says:

    ‘Gran Torino’ Clint Eastwood again.

  30. John Galt says:

    As an addendum to this list, I’ve just seen “Cloud Atlas” which is one of the weirdest and most amazing films I’ve ever seen and runs to 2 and 3/4 hours.

    Got “Freedom” running through it like the letters in a stick of Blackpool Rock and some truly memorable scenes. Going to have to watch it again to see I can follow the numerous interconnections.

    You’ve got to see it. Bloody. Amazing.

  31. Laird says:

    I’ll toss in a vote for Firefly, too. Serenity was, in many ways, disappointing, and I can understand perfectly why someone not already familiar with the series would ask what the fuss is about. Don’t despair, RAB, and don’t bother watching Serenity again (yet), just get ahold of the boxed set of the TV series. (Incidentally, although only 14 episodes were aired, 16 were made, and one of the two which was never broadcast is among my favorites).

    Also a nod to The Prisoner and V for Vendetta.

  32. Paul Marks says:

    All good films – in the post and the comments.

    I would add “Cash McCall” with James Garner.

    Once one sees past the Hollywood love plot – this is a defence of an “asset stripping capitalist”, showing that this businessman does good (not evil) and is also a good man.

  33. Paul Marks says:

    I should add that I do not mean that he “does good” by charity – he does good by his BUSINESS ACTIVTIES (the very thing that people are taught to hate).

  34. Most of the choices here seem to range from violent to hugely violent. There is one shining non-violent example no one has mentioned. I think there has been a film, although I haven’t seen it. My suggestion is based on the books and on the TV series.

    I’m talking about the Pop Larkin stories of H E Bates. Just read them – pure joy and a shining example of being free by acting free.

  35. Sorry missed RAB’s nomination of Pop Larkin.

  36. RAB says:

    You’re forgiven ian.

    The books are a damn sight raunchier than the TV Series too. I would include the Trotters in there as well, no income tax, no VAT… Our kind of people! And Brenda has made David Jason a Knight in the New Year’s Honours List, Brill!

    And not only can Jason act, but he is the eating man’s actor. Have the rest of you noticed that he is always eating in all of his shows, especially Frost? He can eat and act at the same time, one up on Gerald Ford. :-)

  37. PeterT says:

    “Hunger Games” has an ‘anti-power’, if not a libertarian theme. This gets stronger in the second and third books. I won’t ruin it for you if you’ve only seen the movie of the first book. Some lefties claim the series is anti-capitalist, though can’t see it myself.

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