Total Recall: U.S. Presidents On Film

With Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hitting theaters, we run down some memorable movies featuring historical commanders-in-chief.

Movie Presidents

He worked his way up from his humble log cabin roots to become an entrepreneur, a lawyer, and finally the President of the United States -- and now Abraham Lincoln is an action hero, courtesy of this weekend's supremely silly-sounding Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In honor of Honest Abe's return to the big screen, we decided to take a look at some other films about real-life Presidents -- and although none of them feature commanders-in-chief slaying the undead, we think you'll still find a few classics in the bunch. Hail to the Total Recall!

Abe Lincoln in Illinois

80%

Abe Lincoln in Illinois was a Pulitzer-winning hit on the stage before it arrived in theaters, and the film adaptation did right by its source material, earning a pair of Academy Award nominations -- including a Best Actor nomination for Raymond Massey, who reprised his stage performance as Honest Abe on his way to the White House. (Fun trivia note: Ruth Gordon, who went on to win an Oscar for her performance as Minnie Castavet in Rosemary's Baby, makes her screen debut here as Mary Todd Lincoln.) "It's a grand picture they've made from Robert Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize play of two seasons back," enthused Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times. "A grand picture and a memorable biography of the greatest American of them all."

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Dick

70%

With a pair of bikini-topped girls on the poster, the involvement of someone named Deep Throat, and a title like Dick, you might expect something other than a cheerful political parody from director Andrew Fleming's 1999 release. But all winking aside, Dick is actually a fairly clever re-imagining of the Watergate scandal, with a pair of teenage girls (played by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) who stumble into jobs as White House dog walkers after unwittingly ruining the break-in -- and subsequently wind up altering the course of the entire administration. Mused Sue Pierman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The film is such a delight not only because it's clever, but because it so perfectly captures the era."

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Frost/Nixon

92%

Ron Howard's best-reviewed film in ages, 2009's Frost/Nixon adapts the Peter Morgan play that dramatized British broadcaster David Frost's (played by Michael Sheen) efforts to secure and sell a series of TV interviews with the politically exiled former president (portrayed by Frank Langella). Although plenty of pundits took umbrage at the way Morgan's screenplay took liberties with the actual events that inspired the film, for the vast majority of critics, Frost/Nixon's flaws seemed pretty minor when weighed against the script, direction, editing, completed picture, and Langella's performance -- all of which received Oscar nominations. For the Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea, it all added up to "A must-see for political junkies, history buffs, and folks still fascinated by the paranoia-fueled follies of the twitchy, sweaty, decidedly uncharismatic 37th president."

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Give 'Em Hell, Harry!

100%

Samuel Gallu's hit play came to the screen with this 1975 film, which used nine cameras to capture a tour de force performance from the show's one-man cast. James Whitmore earned Best Actor nominations from the Academy Awards as well as the Golden Globes for his portrayal of Harry S. Truman, which revisited highlights from the 33rd President's career -- and benefited greatly from post-Watergate America's yearning for leaders they could trust. Roger Ebert captured this feeling in his review, praising Give 'Em Hell, Harry! for its "nice, wicked partisan spirit sure to delight Democrats and inspire Republicans to wonder glumly why Richard, Dwight, Herbert, Calvin and Warren, not to mention Gerald, don't seem to lend themselves to this treatment."

Jefferson in Paris

33%

Could Thomas Jefferson have projected Nick Nolte's air of rumpled insouciance in a mugshot? We'll never know for sure, but we do know Nolte is capable of pulling off a pretty solid facsimile of our nation's third president. The evidence: 1995's Jefferson in Paris, which imagines what may have transpired during his French ambassadorship during the years leading up to his eventual election -- specifically, his alleged affairs with Maria Cosway and Sally Hemings. Directed by James Ivory and featuring a terrific cast that included James Earl Jones, Thandie Newton, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Jefferson seemed like critical catnip; alas, most scribes turned up their noses at the finished product's sluggish pace and scattered screenplay. James Berardinelli of ReelViews acted as a voice of dissent, arguing, "Though it may be occasionally slow-moving and perhaps a half-hour too long, this film is put together with care and a mindfulness of quality."

JFK

85%

A two-time Oscar winner and controversial smash hit for director Oliver Stone, JFK reconstructs John F. Kennedy's assassination and then spends most of its epic 189-minute length sifting through the wreckage, treating the killing as a murder mystery that New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) doggedly attempts to solve at any cost. With an impeccable supporting cast that included Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gary Oldman, as well as a screenplay that challenged long-held assumptions about Kennedy's death, JFK reignited interest in the assassination, eventually leading to new legislation that ordered a reinvestigation and promised that all documents related to the killing would be made public by 2017. And while many critics agreed that the movie could have benefited from a more rigorous approach to the facts, it remains, in the words of the Washington Post's Desson Thomson, "A riveting marriage of fact and fiction."

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Nixon

75%

Part of the Tricky Dick trifecta on this list, Oliver Stone's Nixon gave us Anthony Hopkins as the disgraced former president and Joan Allen as his wife Pat -- and while the 192-minute political epic failed to generate much heat at the box office, both Hopkins and Allen received Oscar nominations for their work in the film, which follows a non-linear path through Nixon's life and career, taking viewers from his California youth through his resignation. "What it finally adds up to," argued Janet Maslin of the New York Times, "is a huge mixed bag of waxworks and daring, a film that is furiously ambitious even when it goes flat, and startling even when it settles for eerie, movie-of-the-week mimicry."

Comments

D Ray

D Ray

Check out the PBS movie "The Missiles of October". Simply the best dramatization of the Cuban Missile Crisis you'll ever see.

Jun 20 - 05:02 PM

jimmyl3241

James Livolsi

Thirteen Days with Kevin Costner is excellent. Cuban Missile Crisis movie.

Jun 20 - 10:11 PM

Christopher Hellinger

Christopher Hellinger

I don't know if it's right to include JFK as the film wasn't really about the president so much as it was about the attempt to uncover a conspiracy in Kennedy's assassination. Though, if those kind of films are fair game, then I think it's a shame that All the President's Men wasn't included, especially considering the recent anniversary.

Jun 20 - 05:28 PM

Adam Baum

Adam Baum

The list is "U.S Presidents on Film." JFK was depicted on film in JFK.

Jun 22 - 12:40 PM

Jeffrey Jackson

Jeffrey Jackson

Was he? I know they used the Zapruder film (which was actually JFK) but I don't recall him appearing otherwise.

Jun 23 - 10:57 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Just one shout out for Brian Keith's incredible preformance of Teddy Roosevelt in "The Wind and the Lion". And I'm very relieved that no one mentioned "1776". Dodged a lead bucky on that. Hopefully Bill Murray and Daniel Day-Lewis will join these ranks later this year.

I really like both of the Oliver Stone films (I also think "JFK" is a stretch), "Nixon", with an awesome supporting cast and performances all around, and "W", more great acting and that ball that never dropped. The perfect metaphor for that imbecile.

Jun 20 - 05:55 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I forgot to mention it earlier but Dan Hedaya is inspired casting for Richard Milhouse Nixon. Better than either Anthony Hopkins or Frank Langella, and it's not their fault. Hedaya has the scummy essence in his blood like a wellbred hound. Also good is Bob Gunton who played a great Nixon in the unfortunately little-seen "Elvis Meets Nixon", a small forgotten gem.

Jun 20 - 07:59 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Another great Nixon: James McManus in "Black Dynamite". Poor Dan Aykroyd. The very best Nixon can only be seen on original SNL DVDs.

Jun 20 - 11:38 PM

Matt John

Matt John

Dude, stop replying to yourself!

Jun 23 - 11:46 PM

Aaron Yovanovits

Aaron Yovanovits

I was enjoying his conversation tbh

Jun 24 - 01:11 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Where is this internet rulebook with all these etiquette laws I'm violating?

Jun 24 - 06:29 PM

ap sirius

karl anderson

If your looking for something thats not very good, but interesting none the less, try The Kidnapping of the President.... A young and thin William Shatner has to rescue the president, played by Hal Holbrook, who is being held for ransom in an armoured car. For those who are fans of the Resident Evil films, you'll recognize the set of the films finale is Toronto Canada city hall, the same set that is used in the second R.E. film.

Jun 20 - 06:38 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Well, I'd like to see a "Best Fictional President" list. Donald Pleasance in "Escape From New York", Henry Fonda in "Fail Safe", Peter Sellers in "Dr Strangelove", Harrison Ford "Air Force One", Richard Belzer "Species II", Terry Crews "Idiocracy". I'm sure there are many many more possibilities.

Jun 20 - 07:51 PM

Christopher Kulik

Christopher Kulik

Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho 2012

Jun 20 - 10:12 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Edward Albert from "Dreamscape". Ronald Lacey from "Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" (Lacey is better known as the creepy Toht from "raiders of the Lost Ark"). Jack Nicholson from "Mars Attacks".

Jun 20 - 11:36 PM

CFM

'schak Attack

Bill Pullman in "ID4". Morgan Freeman in "Deep Impact". Danny Glover in "2012". And the best ever on-screen fictional president: Tom "Tiny" Lister, Jr. in "The Fifth Element".

Jun 21 - 08:39 AM

CFM

'schak Attack

TV Time... Madam President from "Battlestar Galactica". President Palmer, and his sleezy yahoo successor, and his chick successor, from "24".

Jun 21 - 08:49 AM

I fight for the users

Ian Fastert

Does President Schwarzenegger from The Simpsons Movie count?

Jun 22 - 07:11 AM

Theo Koskoff

Theo Koskoff

If TV counts then Martin Sheen from "The West Wing"

Jun 23 - 03:16 PM

Deepak Menon

Deepak Menon

Lloyd Bridges - Hot Shots Part Deux, case closed!

Jun 21 - 01:42 PM

Banra Purk

Banra Purk

all the presidents' men?

Jun 20 - 07:12 PM

Ben Barnard

Ben Barnard

You know that no President actually APPEARS in All the President's Men, right? It's ineligble.

Jun 21 - 08:03 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Well, I'd like to see a "Best Fictional President" list. Donald Pleasance in "Escape From New York", Henry Fonda in "Fail Safe", Peter Sellers in "Dr Strangelove", Harrison Ford "Air Force One", Richard Belzer "Species II", Terry Crews "Idiocracy". I'm sure there are many many more possibilities.

Jun 20 - 07:51 PM

Christopher Kulik

Christopher Kulik

Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho 2012

Jun 20 - 10:12 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Edward Albert from "Dreamscape". Ronald Lacey from "Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" (Lacey is better known as the creepy Toht from "raiders of the Lost Ark"). Jack Nicholson from "Mars Attacks".

Jun 20 - 11:36 PM

CFM

'schak Attack

Bill Pullman in "ID4". Morgan Freeman in "Deep Impact". Danny Glover in "2012". And the best ever on-screen fictional president: Tom "Tiny" Lister, Jr. in "The Fifth Element".

Jun 21 - 08:39 AM

CFM

'schak Attack

TV Time... Madam President from "Battlestar Galactica". President Palmer, and his sleezy yahoo successor, and his chick successor, from "24".

Jun 21 - 08:49 AM

I fight for the users

Ian Fastert

Does President Schwarzenegger from The Simpsons Movie count?

Jun 22 - 07:11 AM

Theo Koskoff

Theo Koskoff

If TV counts then Martin Sheen from "The West Wing"

Jun 23 - 03:16 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I forgot to mention it earlier but Dan Hedaya is inspired casting for Richard Milhouse Nixon. Better than either Anthony Hopkins or Frank Langella, and it's not their fault. Hedaya has the scummy essence in his blood like a wellbred hound. Also good is Bob Gunton who played a great Nixon in the unfortunately little-seen "Elvis Meets Nixon", a small forgotten gem.

Jun 20 - 07:59 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Another great Nixon: James McManus in "Black Dynamite". Poor Dan Aykroyd. The very best Nixon can only be seen on original SNL DVDs.

Jun 20 - 11:38 PM

Matt John

Matt John

Dude, stop replying to yourself!

Jun 23 - 11:46 PM

Aaron Yovanovits

Aaron Yovanovits

I was enjoying his conversation tbh

Jun 24 - 01:11 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Where is this internet rulebook with all these etiquette laws I'm violating?

Jun 24 - 06:29 PM

Jacob Miller

Jacob Miller

Where is Bill Pullman in Independence Day!

Jun 20 - 08:08 PM

CFM

'schak Attack

He protrays a fictional president. This list is about dudes that portray real Presidents.

Jun 21 - 08:47 AM

William Crane

William Crane

You obviously didn't see Nixon or JFK. Talk about fictional!

Jun 22 - 12:16 PM

Christopher Kulik

Christopher Kulik

I wrote a review on ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS for DVD Verdict a couple of years ago. Very underrated film, directed by John Cromwell; his son, actor James Cromwell, was born only a month after ABE LINCOLN'S release in theaters. Massey was so good at Lincoln that he portrayed the President in all other movies and TV shows up until 1962's HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Another interesting trivia bit is the only other actor aside from Massey to make the transition from stage to screen was Howard da Silva as a ruffian who Abe tangles with near the beginning. Silva may be best known as the empathetic bartender in Billy Wilder's THE LOST WEEKEND, however I think his finest role was as Benjamin Franklin in 1776, the most underrated musical ever made.

Jun 20 - 10:09 PM

William Van Gieson

William Van Gieson

Howard Da Silva was a very underrated actor. Take a look at his performance in 'The Blue Dahlia'. I met him once in an elevator in NYC. A charming and pleasant man.

Jun 21 - 05:57 AM

Lynn Stuart

Lynn Stuart

Loved his Benjamin Franklin!

Jun 22 - 01:15 PM

jimmyl3241

James Livolsi

Thirteen Days with Kevin Costner is excellent. Cuban Missile Crisis movie.

Jun 20 - 10:11 PM

Christopher Kulik

Christopher Kulik

Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho 2012

Jun 20 - 10:12 PM

Adam Lee

Adam Lee

No George W. Bush in Harlod and Kumar?

Jun 20 - 10:25 PM

Adam Baum

Adam Baum

Why are you asking? Reread the list. It's not on there.

Jun 22 - 12:41 PM

Lynn Stuart

Lynn Stuart

That wasn't nice. It was his way of commenting...

Jun 22 - 01:17 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Edward Albert from "Dreamscape". Ronald Lacey from "Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" (Lacey is better known as the creepy Toht from "raiders of the Lost Ark"). Jack Nicholson from "Mars Attacks".

Jun 20 - 11:36 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Another great Nixon: James McManus in "Black Dynamite". Poor Dan Aykroyd. The very best Nixon can only be seen on original SNL DVDs.

Jun 20 - 11:38 PM

Matt John

Matt John

Dude, stop replying to yourself!

Jun 23 - 11:46 PM

Aaron Yovanovits

Aaron Yovanovits

I was enjoying his conversation tbh

Jun 24 - 01:11 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Where is this internet rulebook with all these etiquette laws I'm violating?

Jun 24 - 06:29 PM

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