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Tags: dave | frost | lincoln | nixon

The Top 10 Movies About the US Presidency

hall of the presidents at disney world in the magic kingdom in orlando florida
(Jerry Coli/Dreamstime)

Michael Clark By Friday, 18 June 2021 02:11 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Movies about the most powerful men in the history of the free world are abundant but sadly, most of them are not very good and are certainly not worth your emotional, monetary, or time investment.

There are a scant few however which deserve your undivided attention.

The only titles on this list eligible are productions where a sitting U.S. president (real or fictional) is the main character or the principal plot is about the presidency in some form or fashion. Movies about men before or after they were president or those which have plots not related to the office are not eligible.

All titles are available on multiple streaming services:

1.) "Lincoln" (2012) — Directed by Steven Spielberg and loosely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” Tony Kirshner’s screenplay concentrates on Abraham Lincoln’s brief second term where he spearheaded the effort to pass the 13th Amendment. As the titular character, three-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis portrays a committed man with steely, unwavering resolve; determined to defy the heavy odds and begins healing the nation in the last days of the Civil War.

2.) "Dave" (1993) — Recalling Frank Capra, director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Gary Ross deliver an immediately engaging everyman story about Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline), a part-time presidential impersonator who secretly stands in for the genuine article during a medical emergency. At first a willing puppet, Dave starts butting heads with vile Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) and proves how effective an outsider with zero political experience can get things done. Sound vaguely familiar?

3.) "All the President’s Men" (1976) — Produced less than two years after the book it was based on was released, screenwriter William Goldman and director Alan J. Pakula’s true crime suspense thriller recounts the story most of America was sick of yet were able to make it surprising and fresh. Greenhorn Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) unravel one of the most unwieldy and damning events in U.S. political history.

4.) "Wag the Dog" (1997) — Co-writer David Mamet and director Barry Levinson’s blistering satire works so well because it comes so close to possible reality. After an unnamed and barely seen president seeking re-election is accused of impropriety in the Oval office with a minor child, a seasoned spin doctor (Robert de Niro) secretly teams with an egomaniacal Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) and other “marketing” professionals to create false diversion and subterfuge.

5.) "Parkland" (2013) — This overlooked and unfairly maligned low-visibility production (based on the Vincent Bugliosi book “Four Days in November”) approaches the assassination of JFK from four unlikely perspectives. The intersecting narrative includes the hand-shot film by Abraham Zapruder, the fallout levied on the family of Lee Harvey Oswald, the frustration of the Secret Service and ultimately the unenviable tasks of doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

6.) "Thirteen Days" (2000) — Virtually all of the of John F. Kennedy movies have included a sub-plot about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and while far from perfect, writer David Self and director Roger Donaldson’s nail-biter thriller best captures the essence and gravity of that possible doomsday event. Co-producer Kevin Costner stars as White House staffer Kenneth O’Donnell, a key advisor to JFK (Bruce Greenwood) and his Attorney General brother Robert (Steven Culp).

7.) "Frost/Nixon" (2008) — In adapting the stage play of the same name, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan take an overly-talky, two-man chamber piece and transform it into a cat and mouse game on the level of “Sleuth.” Reprising his stage role as Nixon, Frank Langella lends the part the optimum level of menace, greed, past glory, regret and paranoia. In the less showy of the leading roles, Michael Sheen holds his own as the unprepared TV host David Frost.

8.) "The American President" (1995) — The third fictional film on this list, "The American President" is less a success for director Rob Reiner and is more of a triumph for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Thankfully lacking Sorkin’s trademark thicket, rat-a-tat dialogue, the movie is more of a subdued romance where a widowed and guarded commander-in-chief (Michael Douglas) is able to become a better man and greater leader due to his traditional courtship with a lobbyist (Annette Bening).​ 

9.) "JFK" (1990) — From creative and technical perspectives, writer/director Oliver Stone’s magnum opus is an unqualified masterpiece. Mixing dozens of different film stocks and aspect ratios, it is a dizzying, yet exhilarating experience. As an historical account, Stone said it best by declaring, "it’s not a documentary." Including practically every known assassination conspiracy theory, the film is also a prime example of "revisionist history" and it never really presents a definitive conclusion.

10.) "Nixon" (1995) — Oliver Stone’s second presidential movie ("W" from 2008 being the third and last) is surprisingly sympathetic and even-handed and presents Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) as a tragic figure in the mold of Shakespeare’s "Richard III” or "King Lear." Like "JFK," it’s heavy on dread, atmosphere and informed conjecture. Perfectly cast in supporting roles are Joan Allen as Nixon’s wife Pat, James Woods as loyal aide H.R. Haldeman, and Ed Harris as E. Howard Hunt.

Honorable mention:

"John Adams" (2008) — Not a feature film, this seven-part, 501 minute HBO mini-series based on the mammoth book by David McCullough remains the most honored production of its kind ever made. Starring Paul Giamatti as the titular second U.S. president and Laura Linney as his wife Abigail, the series won a record-breaking four Golden Globe and 13 Emmy Awards. It is a classic in every sense of the word.

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.

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The only titles on this list eligible are productions where a sitting U.S. president (real or fictional) is the main character or the principal plot is about the presidency in some form or fashion.
dave, frost, lincoln, nixon
Friday, 18 June 2021 02:11 PM
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