We are currently living in a golden age of scripted television series. Prestige television and the multitude of outlets have allowed for niche productions with more specific audiences in mind to bloom. While outlets like War on the Rocks have compiled another (excellent) list of books to read over the holidays, I thought it would be interesting to ask scholars of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute to offer their recommendations on what shows or movies to watch over the holidays that have a national security bent. The reasons for this are simple: (1) while reading is great, sometimes you need to take a break from it, and the winter chill in the Northeast, at least, makes this an opportune time to do so, especially with additional days off for the holidays, and (2) fiction offers a useful way to examine or reexamine issues. We hope that you find this list useful.
Happy holidays and cheers!
Michael P. Noonan, Ph.D.
Director, Program on National Security
Nada Bakos, Templeton Fellow @nadabakos
The Crown (Netflix). Based on an award-winning play (“The Audience”) by showrunner Peter Morgan, this lavish, Netflix-original drama chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) from the 1940s to modern times. The series begins with an inside look at the early reign of the queen, who ascended the throne at age 25 after the death of her father, King George VI.
Documenting Hate (PBS Frontline). In the wake of the deadly anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, FRONTLINE and ProPublica present a new investigation into white supremacist groups in America—in particular, a neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, that has actively recruited inside the U.S. military.
The Honourable Woman (Netflix). A 2014 British political–spy thriller television miniseries in eight parts, the show “operates on two levels: as a high-stakes, geopolitical chess match and as an intimate look at the messy personal lives of the people playing it.”
Felix Chang, Senior Fellow
Avengers: Infinity War (Netflix, coming December 25).
Deadpool 2 (Amazon Prime Video; PG-13 version in theaters).
Colin Clarke, Senior Fellow @ColinPClarke
’71 (Amazon Prime Video). This thriller is set in Northern Ireland and centers on the story of a British soldier who becomes separated from his unit during a riot in Belfast at the height of “The Troubles.” The movie does a great job of setting the scene for tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast during an incredibly tumultuous point in Northern Ireland’s history. There are a lot of other movies made about the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), but this is one of the best.
A Most Wanted Man (Amazon Prime Video). Starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, this movie, based on a novel of the same name by John le Carre, is about an escaped militant’s attempt to claim an inheritance, which provides an agent of Germany’s security services with the opportunity to lay a trap for a well-regarded Muslim scholar who is suspected of financing terrorists. The movie takes place in Hamburg, a German city with major connections to the terrorists involved in 9/11.
Robert Murray, Fellow
Eye in the Sky (Starz On Demand). This sci-fi thriller provides a keen insight into one of the key dilemmas in modern warfare—the risk of over-reliance on drone technology and military leaders’ increasing need for video to make battlefield decisions. The acting is superb and the plot riveting—a must-see!
Terminator (free on YouTube or GooglePlay). An oldie but goodie sci-fi classic that serves to remind us of the foreboding nature of AI and the lessons of SkyNet. It’s Arnold at his best and a perfect classic for the holidays!
Michael P. Noonan, Director, Program on National Security @NoonanFPRI
Nobel (Netflix). The best way to describe this Norwegian show is to imagine if The Ugly American met a murder mystery met special operations forces in the 21st century. The show deals with members of Norway’s Forsvarets Spesialkommando who cause an issue on a deployment to Afghanistan which then follows them home. Its aperture ranges from the strategic to the tactical levels and offers some interesting insights about civil-military relations, strategic communications, and the perspectives of smaller members of coalitions whom have different military-societal connections in its one season.
Patriot (Amazon Prime Video). A dark comedy, this show revolves around an intelligence community contractor who undertakes a non-official cover (NOC) assignment to try to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. Two seasons have been completed and are available for streaming. The cast is excellent with a range of “that guy/gal” appearances. Come for the intrigue, stay for the amusing songs.
Mackubin T. Owens, Senior Fellow and Editor, Orbis
Seven Days in May (Amazon Prime). An all-star cast in a film that examines the possibility of a military coup in the United States. Once again, a Marine saves the Republic!
Doctor Strangelove (Amazon Prime). A dark comedy that lays bare the absurdity of Cold War nuclear strategy.
Thomas J. Shattuck, Research Associate and Editor, Geopoliticus
The Expanse (Amazon Prime Video). Set in a future where humans have colonized Mars and have a presence throughout the Solar System, the show incorporates often-discussed IR topics like the security dilemma, but instead of state actors, it uses Earth vs. Mars (which are on the brink of escalating a cold war to a hot one) and lasers and a mysterious alien molecule!
The Last Kingdom (Netflix). Set in 9th century England, the show chronicles Alfred the Great’s quest to unite England under one crown and to fight off an invasion by Viking Danes. Demonstrating the importance of personalities and key figures in dire times, the Last Kingdom shows how one person can make all the difference.
Ann Toews, Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor USMC Fellow, @_AnnToews
The Guardians (Amazon Prime Video). Take a break from an action-filled lineup and sink into this quiet 2018 film about French women who sustained life on the homefront during World War I. It dramatizes, without sentimentality, the sacrifices that often occur out of sight, beyond the battlefields and corridors of power.
A Private War (In theaters). This biopic tells the harrowing story of the late war correspondent Marie Colvin as she reports from some of the world’s most dangerous places. It underscores the importance of immersive journalism in a chaotic world while graphically depicting the real perils reporters face in keeping us informed.
Wojtek Wolfe, Senior Fellow; Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University – Camden
Die Hard (Netflix). (Editor’s note: Just as a hot dog is a sandwich, pineapple belongs on pizza, that one dress is white and gold, and it is Yanny not Laurel, Die Hard is a Christmas movie! What is more important is that the 1988 wisecracking classic was well ahead of its time in regards to the terror-crime nexus and deception operations! MPN)