International affairs, also known as international relations, are the interactions between sovereign states. It’s a broad field, which means anything concerning economic partnerships, security fears, cultural exchanges, multinational businesses and more all fall under “international affairs.” Human rights, the climate crisis, and global health are also part of the complex web. That makes the field an interesting topic for movies, especially when political conflict, international espionage and war are centered. In this article, we’ll describe 14 movies about international affairs.
|Fire At Sea
|The Constant Gardener
|Eye in the Sky
|The Killing Fields
|Letters from Iwo Jima
|The Imitation Game
|Bridge of Spies
#1. Human Flow (2017)
Director: Ai Weiwei
Filmed in 23 countries over one year, this film explores the human stories behind climate change, conflict, famine and war. We’re facing displacements and forced migration on a scale never seen before, and Human Flow seeks to show just some of its impacts. Filmed with drones, cameras, and smartphones, the movie seeks insights from refugees and experts. As climate change worsens, more and more people will be forced to move, making this topic one of the most urgent international affairs issues today.
#2. For Tomorrow (2022)
Director: An Tran
This documentary about grassroots innovators features people working to build a sustainable future. There’s an engineer, self-taught, who created a solar-powered car, as well as a young woman with disabilities who focuses on making subways more inclusive. The film features three other innovators all harnessing their skills and ideas to make the world better. A lot of films about international affairs focus on war or political conflict, but international affairs can also be about the good things people around the world are doing. For Tomorrow is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video in several countries or on YouTube.
#3. Thirteen Days (2000)
Director: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp
In 1962, the US discovered that the Soviet Union was placing nuclear weapons in Cuba. President Kennedy and his advisors immediately began developing a plan while facing pressure on all sides. Thirteen Days, a political thriller, follows the perspective of the US leadership, including the president, the top White House assistant and the secretary of defense. Experts have since said the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world has ever gotten to nuclear war. As long as there are nuclear weapons, they will have a huge impact on international affairs.
#4. Fire At Sea (2016)
Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Fire At Sea captures the stakes at the heart of Europe’s growing influx of refugees. Because Lampedusa is the first European land reachable from North Africa, it’s been called “the gateway” to Europe. Every year, thousands of people travel on overcrowded boats. Thousands die, although exact numbers are unknown as some boats that sink are never accounted for. In the film, viewers get to know some of the residents of the island, including a doctor who has been treating migrants for years, and a young boy from a fishing village. Fire at Sea was critically acclaimed.
#5. Babel (2006)
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Brad Pitt, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza
This psychological drama features an international cast and stories woven together in Morocco, Mexico, Japan and the United States. While it’s not explicitly about international affairs as a political concept, it uses relationships and seemingly random events to show just how connected the world is. Because international affairs are complicated, it’s easy to forget all the players involved are people, too. Babel was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
#6. Blood Diamond (2006)
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou
The Sierra Leone Civil War was fought from 1991-2002. Set in 1999, Blood Diamond follows Vandy, a fisherman, who is captured by a warlord. He is forced to harvest diamonds, which are sold to fund the war effort. Just as Vandy finds a huge pink diamond, troops raid the area and Vandy is imprisoned. He meets Danny, a smuggler, and they decide to go in search of the diamond. While Blood Diamond is fictional, blood diamonds – which are diamonds mined in war zones and sold to fund war – are real. Many major jewelry companies have been complicit in the blood diamond trade.
#7. Dirty Wars (2013)
Director: Rick Rowley
Based on the book of the same name, Dirty Wars follows journalist Jeremy Scahill as he journeys to Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries affected by the United States’ War on Terror. The impact of government cover-ups and covert wars has become even clearer in the 10+ years since this documentary. Dirty Wars received mostly good reviews and received a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.
#8. Argo (2012)
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin
In 1979, 66 embassy staff members are taken hostage in Iran. Another six staff members manage to escape, but they need to be extracted from the country. The U.S. State Department calls in a CIA expert, who proposes a unique – and risky – plan: they should pretend to be Canadian filmmakers scouting locations in Iran. Argo, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, contains some historical inaccuracies, but it’s an interesting watch for anyone curious about how complicated international affairs are and what lengths states go to.
#9. The Constant Gardener (2005)
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston
Ralph Fiennes plays a British diplomat based in Kenya. He marries a woman who works for Amnesty International, but when she’s killed while investigating a series of deaths related to a drug trial, the diplomat goes on a dangerous journey uncovering corruption and greed. The film is based on a John le Carre novel. While it’s a fictional thriller, The Constant Gardener explores real-life questions regarding topics like capitalism, international development and ethics in healthcare.
#10. Eye in the Sky (2015)
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman
A multinational team is carrying out a drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. However, when they learn the targets are planning a suicide bombing, the team is told to take them out. As an American pilot prepares to use a drone strike, a child walks into the kill zone. An international dispute breaks out. Drone warfare has been a feature of modern warfare for decades, but it’s difficult to comprehend its full impact. According to a 2021 Guardian article, US airstrikes killed at least 22,000 civilians since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Eye in the Sky, which was critically acclaimed, introduces viewers to just some of drone warfare’s moral questions and the complexity of international affairs.
#11. The Killing Fields (1984)
Director: Roland Joffe
Starring: Haing S. Ngor, Sam Waterston, John Malkovich
From 1975-1979, Pol Pot and his regime carried out a state-sponsored genocide that led to the deaths of almost 2 million people. The mass grave sites became known as “The Killing Fields.” Based on a true story, the film The Killing Fields chronicles the friendship between two journalists, one Cambodian, the other American, during the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975. Like the journalist he portrays, the actor Haing S. Ngor survived the Cambodian genocide. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields. The film was nominated for seven other Academy Awards and is considered one of the best British films of the 20th century.
#12. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major military campaign between the United States and Japan during World War II. It led to the US capturing the island of Iwo Jima, an event portrayed in a famous photograph of six Marines planting a U.S. flag. Letters from Iwo Jima explores the battle from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers. It was filmed almost entirely in Japanese and was very well-received by Japan. Many films about WWII either dehumanize Japanese soldiers or fail to pay close attention to accuracy, but Letters from Iwo Jima is considered one of the better Hollywood films about this era.
#13. The Imitation Game (2014)
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Based on a 1983 biography of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game explores the story of cryptanalyst Alan Turing as he and his team work to crack the Enigma machine, which the Nazis rely on to send coded communication back and forth. Turing, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is the film’s main focus, but it also addresses themes related to war, power, perseverance and politics. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.
#14. Bridge of Spies (2015)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union shoots down a plane and captures the American pilot. New York lawyer Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) gets recruited by the CIA to get the pilot released. How? They’re hoping for a prisoner exchange. What makes the story even more interesting is that the Soviet Union wants to swap for Abel, a Soviet spy Donovan himself defended. The film is based on a true story and covers themes like negotiation, diplomacy, integrity and justice.