Movies and TV Shows Sponsored by the US Government

Movies and TV shows paid for by the US government range from Oscar-winning cinematic classics to modern-day action schlock. They involve everything from real FBI and CIA files to budgets subsidized by government agencies for propaganda purposes. In particular, CIA TV shows are dedicated to making the shadowy intelligence arm of the US military look good, even when news headlines about it aren't always complimentary.

TV series and movies sponsored by the government include everything from '70s procedurals with J. Edgar Hoover providing technical advice to modern political dramas like State of Affairs and Homeland. They almost always involve an exchange of access for a guarantee that the work will make the military or governmental branch in question look good. That's how you get active-duty Navy SEALs appearing in an action film, or authentic tanks and planes used in battle sequences. One hand washes the other, and everyone makes out like bandits.

Below you'll find examples of TV shows and movies that were either directly sponsored or supported in some way by the US government.

  • It might seem odd for the US government to officially sanction Black Hawk Down, given that it's about one of the biggest disasters of the post-Vietnam military. The Pentagon apparently wanted the story of the Battle of Mogadishu told accurately, because they provided training to the actors, authentic equipment, and technical assistance.

    However, they didn't want it told TOO accurately, because US military officials insisted the film's writers make one major change: removing Army Ranger John Stebbins, a company clerk drafted into combat, from the story. Why the alteration to the historical record? Because Stebbins is serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison for raping a child. Ewan McGregor wound up playing a version of Stebbins, but with a different name and backstory.

  • Zero Dark Thirty
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    The filmmakers behind Zero Dark Thirty had unprecedented access to the CIA files related to the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. The level of cooperation between the film's producers and the government ran from access to classified documents to expensive dinners with high-level operators to screenwriter Mark Boal attending a classified CIA ceremony as part of his research.

    But the military's cooperation came with a catch: the film had to portray torture as beneficial, effective, and crucial in the death of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. They also had access to the script and were able to veto or approve creative decisions. The back-and-forth led to a Justice Department investigation that was dropped the day after the 2013 Oscars, when Zero Dark Thirty didn't win any major categories.

  • Animal Farm
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    As part of its cultural offensive against Godless Communism, the CIA helped fund a British animated adaptation of the George Orwell classic. But they stipulated that any trace of heroism, intelligence, or sympathy be erased from the characters, lest the audience have too much affection for quasi-communists.

    As such, the ending of the film was radically altered from that of the book, with the cynical donkey Benjamin leading a revolt to retake Manor Farm - showing the triumph of the individual over collectivism.

  • Wings
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    Government involvement in military-themed entertainment isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes all the way back to 1927, with the Army Air Corps advising on the filming of World War I air combat epic Wings. When initial air combat scenes proved unsatisfactory, director William Wellman appealed to Washington for help making their elite pilots look good.

    The Army Air Corps, in turn, provided a large number of planes and pilots from its top fighter squadrons, many of whom appeared in the final version of the film. Though Wellman clashed with the military advisers provided for the film, the Army Air Corps was reportedly extremely pleased with the result. Hollywood was as well - Wings was a huge hit and won the first ever Oscar for Best Picture.