Media effects research has generally ignored the possibility that popular films can affect political attitudes. This omission is puzzling for two reasons. First, research on public opinion finds the potential for persuasion is highest when respondents are unaware that political messages are being communicated. Second, multiple studies have found that entertainment media can alter public opinion. Together, this suggests that popular films containing political messages should possess the potential to influence attitudes.
We develop a laboratory experiment where subjects were randomly assigned to watch a control movie with no political messages, a movie with subtle political messages, or a movie with strong and explicit political messages.
We find that popular movies possess the ability to change political attitudes, especially on issues that are unframed by the media. Furthermore, we show such influence persists over time and is not moderated by partisanship, ideology, or political knowledge.
Our key findings suggest that a renewed scholarly interest in the political influence of popular movies is clearly warranted.