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The Best Movies Set In Washington DC, Ranked

Washington, DC is the epicenter of American politics, as well as a thriving location for some of the finest business, education, and museums the country has to offer. As the capital of the United States, its influence spans far throughout world history, growing more storied every day. Throughout film history, both fictional and realistic stories have stemmed from this incredible city, which shows just how vast it can be. With such a wide array of cultural and historical importance here, it’s no wonder it’s been home to some of the most popular movies of the past several decades. Here’s our list of the best movies set in Washington DC, ranked.


10 Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde (2003)

A scene from Legally Blonde 2.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde objectively serves as an excellent sequel to the original Legally Blonde, bringing the signature aesthetic of the first movie back to enchant audiences. Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods makes her way to Washington DC to fight animal testing after discovering where the parents of her Chihuahua, Bruiser, live – a laboratory. While the first film brings her to the pursuit of law school, this one sees her intelligence and skills in full action.

9 Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian.
Twentieth Century Fox

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is another great second installment in a nostalgic film series, which takes Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) to one of the most significant museums in the world. As all kinds of iconic exhibits come to life under the moonlight, the adventure takes viewers all across the nation’s capital. Landmarks and tourist destinations come into the forefront, like the Lincoln Memorial and multiple Smithsonian buildings. According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, this film marked the “first time ‘Smithsonian’ [was] allowed in the title of a feature film.”

8 Miss Sloane (2016)

Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane.
Relativity EuropaCorp Distribution (RED)

Miss Sloane stars Jessica Chastain as Elizabeth Sloane, a DC lobbyist whose passion and grit take her where her true loyalties lie. Facing division with her colleagues about their clashing opinions on gun control leads her to strike out against them, instead, shocking those around her. Sloane leads with tenacity and speaks up in favor of background checks on firearms; this subject matter alone makes the movie an important one to watch, given the heartbreaking spikes of gun violence in the United States.

Related: Best Jessica Chastain Movies, Ranked

7 Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Steve-Rogers-Sam-Wilson-On-Your-Left-Winter-Soldier (1)
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Keeping Steve Rogers’ story going from Marvel’s initial Captain America movie in 2011, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was excitedly anticipated by lovers of the Avengers. Bringing Cap to the capital of the United States feels necessary enough based on his character and personality alone, and the film points out various DC points of interest, too, especially in its beginning. In several senses, it appears to be one of Marvel’s most immediately patriotic movies. The story also tilts towards a personal angle when the identity of the Winter Soldier himself is revealed.

6 Mars Attacks! (1996)

Mars Attacks
Warner Bros. Pictures

Mars Attacks! remains funny and memorable in the film world, but would be a true nightmare if it really were to happen. After all, the film was directed by Tim Burton. A cast full of stars, led by Jack Nicholson as President James Dale, intercepts a group of aliens who come to Earth from Mars. After arriving in Washington DC, the Martians meet some of the most powerful American players as they reveal their true mission in an anticipated change of attitude.

5 Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Akeelah And The Bee

Akeelah and the Bee is one of Keke Palmer’s most memorable performances from her youth. The story follows her character, young Akeelah, and her journey from her difficult family circumstances in Los Angeles to competing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in DC. The film also stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, and received different critical honors, including two NAACP Image Awards, a Christopher Award, and several Black Reel awards.

4 National Treasure (2004)

A scene from National Treasure.
Buena Vista Pictures

National Treasure is an unforgettable 2000s flick, and as the first in the series, it deserves recognition for its cultural impact alone. Of course, the main (and often meme’d) mission within the plot is to steal the Declaration of Independence, which leads its characters to the titular treasure. The story is naturally centered in America’s capital, taking viewers through the District of Columbia; for example, National Archives and a number of visual landmarks make an appearance.

Related: National Treasure: Update on the Third Film in the Franchise

3 Minority Report (2002)

Tom Cruise as Chief John Anderton, Precrime program commanding officer
20th Century Fox

In Minority Report, even just conceptualizing a potential crime can get you convicted. The futuristic society that DC has become in this story utilizes psychic senses to sniff out illegal activity before it’s even committed, which one day comes back to bite Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise). As an interpretation of author Philip K. Dick’s novel, the film oozes with important commentary, thrilling progression, and an excellent science fiction atmosphere.

2 Lincoln (2012)

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Lincoln is one of the most critically accomplished biopics, receiving 12 Oscar nominations and winning two for Best Actor and Production Design. With Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role and Steven Spielberg directing, the film was bound to stand out. The story follows the 16th American president’s advancement towards the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War. Naturally, Washington DC acts as the background of one of the most impactful decisions in history, although we know now that the decision didn’t free all enslaved people – which is why Juneteenth is celebrated.

1 The Exorcist (1973)

A priest walks into a bar, er, a house in The Exorcist
Warner Bros.

Without a doubt, The Exorcist is one of many landmark horror movies. It also famously happens to take place in Washington DC – the “Exorcist Steps” seen in the film can be found on Georgetown University’s campus. Though the movie’s production process and internal content have both been called out as problematic over the years, its overall impact on the horror genre still remains important to acknowledge. It may be one of the most famous pieces of media to ever come out of the capital of the United States.

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