From 'Lincoln' to 'Frost/Nixon': 10 great movies about American presidents
As US politics continue to dominate the news, check out these movie biopics, thrillers and reimaginings about some of the most famous US presidents to have occupied the White House
If watching Joe Biden get sworn in as the 46th President of the US has left you craving more insights into the machinations of America's highest seat of power, not to mention the corridors of the White House, it’s time to scratch that itch with a spot of cinematic escape.
We’ve found 10 films that put various presidents, both real and fictional, at the heart of the action. Even if that action might take just a few liberties with the truth (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, anyone?).
Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th President of the US. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie is celebrated for focusing on Abraham Lincoln’s politics and political manoeuvrings rather than who he was as a man.
The series of meetings between British broadcaster David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) and former US president Richard Nixon (played by Frank Langella), which happened in 1977, is given the big-screen treatment by director Ron Howard. The meetings were famous for Nixon saying: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
‘Primary Colors’ (1998)
Although Bill Clinton isn’t explicitly named in this Mike Nichols-directed film, John Travolta, who plays the fictional Governor Jack Stanton, has admitted he based his politically ambitious character on the 42nd President. With the Monica Lewinsky scandal breaking in real life just two months before the film opened, Emma Thompson, who played Travolta’s wife, Susan, had a lot less to deal with than the real Hillary Clinton.
George W Bush got the Oliver Stone treatment in this biopic that portrays the life of the second Bush to take high office. Josh Brolin stars as "Dubya", alongside Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, in this take on Bush’s life which showcases a man Stone believed never wanted the big job.
‘The Butler’ (2013)
Lee Daniels's film features Forest Whitaker as White House butler Cecil Gaines, who served eight presidents during his career, and was front and centre to witness some of the biggest moments in world history. He had worked for Harry S Truman, Dwight D Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and in this film the likes of Robin Williams, John Cusack and Alan Rickman all pop up to portray the leaders of the free world.
‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ (2012)
When he wasn’t abolishing slavery, it seems that Lincoln was kept busy slaying creatures of the night in this very tongue-in-cheek depiction of the celebrated president. Benjamin Walker plays Honest Abe pretty straight given the subject matter.
‘Olympus Has Fallen’ (2013)
Scottish action man Gerard Butler stars as disgraced secret agent Mike Banning who happens to find himself in the White House when North Korean insurgents attack. Aaron Eckhart pops up as fictional US President Benjamin Asher, with Morgan Freeman as Speaker Turnbull.
‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ (2012)
Comic actor Bill Murray takes on the responsibility for portraying beloved president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in this biopic, which errs on the whimsical side of presidential bios. Olivia Williams stars as his wife, Eleanor.
CSI:NY favourite Gary Sinise dons a prosthetic nose to play Harry S Truman in this HBO film. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the 33rd president written by David McCullough, the film focuses on Truman’s rise to the White House, along with his world-changing decision to drop the first atom bomb.
‘Thirteen Days’ (2000)
John F Kennedy is the focus of this 2000 political thriller that stars Bruce Greenwood as the celebrated president. Focusing on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, it also stars Kevin Costner as White House aide, Kenneth P O’Donnell.
Updated: January 24, 2021 06:23 PM