"All the President's Men" and "Advise & Consent" are quintessential films about Washington, but many celluloid celebrations of the District remain lesser known. More than 300 movies have been set in the city, dating as far back as Thomas Edison's 1897 short of Presidents McKinley and Cleveland walking toward the Capitol, and going up to this year's "Wedding Crashers," with its sentimental shots of the Washington Monument.
Not every filmmaker actually gets to take advantage of Washington's photogenic physiognomy, however. Only 200 or so movies set here were actually filmed in the area, due to budgetary constraints and issues of access. "Because of gas rationing and travel restrictions during World War II, you couldn't do a lot of location shooting," says Patricia King Hanson, a historian at the American Film Institute. "As a result, some films that took place in Washington were actually shot on back lots in Hollywood."
Whether they were made in the National Archives or on a soundstage, here are six movies set in Washington that you might have missed.
"BOB ROBERTS." Tim Robbins directed, wrote and starred in this 1992 Senate-campaign mockumentary that presciently forecasts the country's tilt to the right. Tonally aligned with "The Candidate" and "Wag the Dog," the film offers hard-edged satire in spades -- making it a welcome riposte to do-gooder governance fantasies such as "Dave." Robbins plays a wealthy, conservative content to manipulate any special interest shill, journalist or voter in order to beat his hoary opponent (Gore Vidal). The excellent cast includes James Spader, Peter Gallagher, Susan Sarandon and Alan Rickman -- and visuals feature the requisite shots of the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument. Rated R.
"D.C. CAB." Although director Joel Schumacher provides nifty Reagan-era views of Union Station, Dulles and then-new Freedom Plaza, he litters the cast of this 1983 comedy about a can-do taxi company with a questionable collection of "talent": Mr. T, Gary Busey, Irene Cara and a young Bill Maher (whose trademark snarkiness is better suited to his talk show). Every actor yells his or her dialogue, which doesn't make anything funnier, but at least their screams are quelled by Italian disco legend Giorgio Moroder's bubbling synth soundtrack. Rated R.
"EARTH VS. THE FLYING
SAUCERS." In the pantheon of D.C. sci-fi flicks, this 1956 film is no "The Day the Earth Stood Still," but Fred Sears's black-and-white B-movie still beats "Independence Day" any day. Inspired by the still-unexplained UFO sightings around Washington in 1952, this is a straight-ahead tale of American pluck repelling alien invaders. Stop-motion effects master Ray Harryhausen ("Clash of the Titans") makes the most of a non-existent budget: The images of a downed spacecraft in the Potomac and flying saucers slicing off the Capitol dome (revisited in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!") are iconic. Not rated.
"PROTOCOL." This 1984 spiritual cousin to "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" posits Goldie Hawn as Sunny Davis, a bubble-headed waitress who foils an assassination attempt on a visiting Arab dignitary. After receiving medical attention at GW Hospital, Davis charms so thoroughly at the ensuing press conference that she's named a federal liaison to the Middle East. Of course, she's manipulated by higher-ups into taking part in a guns-for-oil-type scandal (Sunnygate!), but she learns the value of democracy's first principles and becomes a cause celebre for honest government. Rated PG.
"WATCH ON THE RHINE." This largely forgotten parlor-room political thriller was a major hit in 1943, garnering four Oscar nominations. Paul Lukas snagged best actor honors for his role as Kurt Muller, a fugitive German anti-fascist who, at the prodding of wife Bette Davis, takes refuge in her ritzy childhood home, set in a never-named D.C. suburb (but filmed in California at the Warner Bros. "dream factory" complex). Will Muller's other housemates, including an impoverished Romanian diplomat who enjoys playing poker with Nazis, blow his cover? Not rated.
"THE WEREWOLF OF
WASHINGTON." What could have been a nice little Watergate-era satire about government corruption is instead 90 minutes of mindless, so-awful-it's-amazing fun. Almost. Dean Stockwell plays a reporter called up to the big leagues to be the president's press secretary. Problem is, he tends to eat people whenever a full moon's out. Clearly not shot in Capital City (poor stock footage and a hilariously bad set of the Oval Office give the game away), this 1973 film is nevertheless a time-capsule-worthy reservoir of Spiro Agnew gags. Rated PG.
-- Greg Zinman