In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
On June 17, 1972, a security guard (Frank Wills, playing himself) at the Watergate complex finds an unlocked door being jammed with tape. He calls the police, who find and arrest five burglars in the Democratic National Committee headquarters within the complex. The next morning, The Washington Post assigns new reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) to the local courthouse to cover the story, which is considered of minor importance.
Woodward learns that the five men, four Cuban-Americans from Miami and James W. McCord, Jr., had bugging equipment and have their own "country club" attorney. At the arrangement, McCord identifies himself in court as having recently left the Central Intelligence Agency and the others also have CIA ties. Woodward connects the burglars to E. Howard Hunt, a former employee of the CIA, and President Richard Nixon's Special Counsel Charles Colson.
Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), another Post reporter, is assigned to cover the Watergate story with Woodward. The two are reluctant partners, but work well together. Executive editor Benjamin Bradlee (Jason Robards) believes their work lacks reliable sources and is not worthy of the Post's front page. Nevertheless, he encourages further investigation.
Woodward contacts "Deep Throat" (Hal Holbrook), a senior government official, an anonymous source whom he has used before. Communicating secretly, using a flag placed in a balcony flowerpot to signal meetings, they meet at night in an underground carpark. Deep Throat speaks in riddles and metaphors, avoiding substantial facts about the Watergate break-in, but keeps advising Woodward to "follow the money."
Woodward and Bernstein manage to connect the five burglars to corrupt activities around campaign contributions to Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). This includes a check for $25,000 paid to Kenneth H Dahlberg, who Miami authorities identified when investigating the Miami-based burglars. Still, Bradlee and others at the Post doubts the investigation and its dependence on sources like Deep Throat, wondering why the Nixon administration should break the law when the President is anyway likely to defeat his rival, Democratic nominee George McGovern.
Through former CREEP treasurer Hugh W. Sloan, Jr. (Stephen Collins), Woodward and Bernstein connect a slush fund of hundreds of thousands of dollars to White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman—"the second most important man in this country" — and the former Nixon Attorney General John N. Mitchell, now head of CREEP. They learn that CREEP used some funds to finance a "ratfucking" campaign to sabotage Democratic presidential candidates a year before the Watergate burglary, when Nixon was behind Edmund Muskie in the polls.
While Bradlee's demand for thoroughness compels the reporters to obtain other sources that will confirm the Haldeman connection, the White House issues a non-denial denial of the Post's above-the-fold story, the editor though keeps encouraging investigation.
At the subtle climax, Woodward again meets secretly with Deep Throat, who finally reveals that the Watergate break-in and cover-up was indeed masterminded by Haldeman. Deep Throat also claims the cover-up was not to just to camouflage the CREEP involvement but to hide "covert operations" involving "the entire U.S. intelligence community", which includes the FBI and CIA. He warns Woodward and Bernstein that their lives, and others, are in danger. When the two relay this to Bradlee, he urges them to carry on despite the risk from Nixon's re-election.
In the final scene, set on January 20, 1973, Bernstein and Woodward type out the full story, while a television in the foreground shows Nixon taking the Oath of Office, for his second term as President of the United States. A montage of Watergate-related teletype headlines from the following years is shown, ending with Nixon's resignation and the inauguration of Vice President Gerald Ford on August 9, 1974.
Unlike the book, the film itself covers only the first seven months of the Watergate scandal, from the time of the break-in to Nixon's second inauguration on January 20, 1973.
The film introduced the catchphrase "follow the money", which did not appear in the book or any documentation of Watergate.
Robert Redford bought the rights to Woodward and Bernstein's book in 1974 for $450,000 with the notion to adapt it into a film with a budget of $5 million. Ben Bradlee realized that the film was going to be made regardless of whether he approved of it or not and felt that it made "more sense to try to influence it factually". The executive editor of the Washington Post hoped that the film would show newspapers "strive very hard for responsibility".
William Goldman was hired by Redford to write the script in 1974. He has said Bob Woodward was extremely helpful to him but Carl Bernstein was not. Goldman has written that his crucial decision as to structure was to throw away the second half of the book. Goldman delivered his first draft in August 1974 and Warners agreed to finance the movie.
Redford said he was not happy with Goldman's first draft. Woodward and Bernstein also read it and did not like it. Redford asked for their suggestions but Bernstein and then-girlfriend writer Nora Ephron wrote their own draft. Redford showed this draft to Goldman, suggesting there might be some material they could use; Goldman later called Redford's acceptance of the Bernstein-Ephron draft a "gutless betrayal". Redford later expressed dissatisfaction with the Ephron-Bernstein draft, saying, "a lot of it was sophomoric and way off the beat". According to Goldman, "in what they wrote, Bernstein was sure catnip to the ladies". He also says a scene of Bernstein and Ephron's made it to the final film, a bit where Bernstein outfakes a secretary in order to see someone—something which didn't happen in real life.
Alan J. Pakula was then hired to direct and requested rewrites from Goldman. Redford and Pakula held all-day sessions working on the script. The director also spent hours interviewing editors and reporters, taking notes of their comments. Claims that Pakula and Redford rewrote the screenplay have been debunked, however, after an investigation into the matter by Richard Stayton in Written By magazine. Stayton compared several drafts of the script, including the final production draft, and concluded that Goldman was properly credited as the writer and that the final draft had "William Goldman's distinct signature on each page".
Dustin Hoffman and Redford visited the Post offices for months, sitting in on news conferences and conducting research for their roles. The Post denied the production permission to shoot in its newsroom and so set designers took measurements of the newspaper's offices, photographed everything, and boxes of trash were gathered and transported to sets recreating the newsroom on two soundstages in Hollywood's Burbank Studios at a cost of $200,000. The filmmakers went to great lengths for accuracy and authenticity, including making replicas of phone books that were no longer in existence. Nearly 200 desks at $500 apiece were purchased from the same firm that sold desks to the Post in 1971. The desks were also colored the same precise shade of paint. The production was supplied with a brick from the main lobby of the Post so that it could be duplicated in fiberglass for the set. Principal photography began on May 12, 1975, in Washington, D.C.
The billing followed the formula of James Stewart and John Wayne in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), with Redford billed over Hoffman in the posters and trailers and Hoffman billed above Redford in the film itself.
All the President's Men grossed $70.6 million at the box office.
The film received near-universal acclaim, currently holding a 93% "fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 54 reviews; the consensus reads: "A taut, solidly acted paean to the benefits of a free press and the dangers of unchecked power, made all the more effective by its origins in real-life events."
In 2007, it was added to the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) list at No. 77. AFI also named it No. 34 on its America's Most Inspiring Movies list and No. 57 on the Top 100 Thrilling Movies. The characters of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein shared the rank of No. 27 (Heroes) on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list. Entertainment Weekly ranked All the President's Men as one of its 25 "Powerful Political Thrillers".AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes
"Follow the money." – Nominated.
Sundance Productions, which Redford owns, produced a two-hour documentary entitled "All The President's Men" Revisited. Broadcast on Discovery Channel Worldwide on March 24, 2013, the documentary focuses on the Watergate case and the subsequent film adaptation, simultaneously retelling how the Washington Post broke Watergate and how the scandal unfolded, going behind the scenes of the film and answering such questions as how Watergate would be covered in the present day, whether such a scandal could happen again and who the real Richard Nixon was. The revelation of W. Mark Felt as Deep Throat was also covered.
Footage from the film is used, as well as interviews with not only central characters and actors such as Woodward, Bernstein, Redford, Hoffman, Bradlee and John Dean but also media stars such as Tom Brokaw, Jill Abramson, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. The documentary earned a 2013 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special.