Celebrating Presidents in Movies

Kurt Thurber


President’s Day, or February 18th as the good people residing in Bhutan may call it, is a second-tier holiday. Most get the day off, a few buy a mattress and everyone else is looking for ways to kill the time on a winter day. No parades, no festival of lights, or even sparklers. What better way to honor the men (sorry ladies) that have served as the lone executive to the United States and spruce up the holiday than watching a movie with a President in the starring role?


Sure, movies can be ranked by “quality” and “entertainment value.” For this list, let’s go with the movie President’s “electability.” Many can run but only one can win. Let’s throw in fictional Presidents and portrayals of actual Presidents and see who wins.


First, these are the movie Presidents did not survive the primaries:

Man of the Year with Robin Williams – No.


W. with Josh Brolin – Eight years was enough, no need for one more day.


Deep Impact with Morgan Freeman –No, whether Black, White, Asian or Babylonian, having the Earth get smashed by a giant meteor is not a good re-election strategy.


Independence Day with Bill Pullman– See above, anytime aliens are allowed to occupy airspace over every major city while the President dithers and then decides to nuke Houston (there goes all of Texas’ electoral votes) not inspiring. Also, the speech gets lamer every year.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer with some guy not named Daniel Day Lewis – To channel Eli Cash, well, everyone knows there were no vampires in the Civil War. What this movie presupposes is… maybe there were? Also the acting is stiffer than Lincoln’s corpse (too soon?)… Josh Brolin’s W. should get more votes…



Now onto the contenders who will spend the election cycle posturing until that faithful Tuesday in November when all their hopes and dreams come down to voter turnout in Cleveland and retirement communities in Florida.


12. Absolute Power – Gene Hackman plays an adulterous, abusive President whose lecherous actions causes his secret service detail to gun down a millionaire donor’s wife while a cat burglar, played by Clint Eastwood watches the whole thing after committing breaking and entering. That is some serious first-world problems.


11. Thirteen Days – Bruce Greenwood portrays President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. While this movie is not without its flaws, Greenwood’s portrayal of Kennedy shows the President’s command of history and political savvy that avoided nuclear war with the Soviet Union.


10. Frost/Nixon – Frank Langella channels a vanquished Nixon post-Watergate with all his personal psychoses and political instincts that led to his rise to the highest office in the land and to be thrown out of office. Ron Howard gets the most out of what sounds like a boring premise.



9. Mars Attacks! – This silly Tim Burton movie really isn’t any good, however, when Jack Nicholson is the President that means democracy works.


8. Head of State – Another movie whose punch lines fall short for most of its duration, then again, Chris Rock plays an African-American President who does not let the Earth get hit by an asteroid.


7. Idiocracy – This is like gettingtwo Presidents in one election, first Terry Crews, one of The Expendables, portrays President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in a future United States where I.Q. is no longer valued. Luke Wilson, eventually becomes President No One, and America keeps on trucking.  



6. Young Mr. Lincoln – Henry Fonda plays Abraham Lincoln without a high-pitch voice, weird. He captures the singular genius of Lincoln as he becomes a self-taught lawyer and not a single vampire was killed in the film, seriously weird.


5. The American President – Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepard. Annette Benning plays Sydney Allen Wade, the world’s greatest environmental lobbyist. President Shepard buys her ham, they fall in love. Then some Republican Senator (Bob Rumson played by Paul Dreyfus) who wants to be President starts to slander Sydney Allen Wade instead of running on issues.  Then President Shepard gives the greatest press conference ever, wins back Sydney Allen Wade and saves the environment… sounds about right Hollywood.


4. The Wind and the Lion – Brian Keith’s Theodore Roosevelt’s captures the complexity and energy of not only of history’s great Presidents and historical characters. After Candace Bergen and her family are kidnapped by North African tribesman, Roosevelt makes the decision to send in the Marines, a big decision at the time as the United States was not the world power it is today. Standing in the way for the mission to be success, the North African tribesmen’s leader has a Scottish accent, that’s right, Sean Connery. It gets real.


3. Lincoln – Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis was great as Abraham Lincoln. Yes, there is no doubt that Daniel Day-Lewis became Abraham Lincoln. The script was smart.  The problem is that four score and seven years from now the ending will still be eye-rolling tacky.


2. Dave – Anytime Charles Grodin can solve America’s budgetary problems in less than 48 hours, then it is a gem of a film.  Kevin Kline plays a guy who looks just like the President and then becomes the President and hijinks ensue. This movie is sweet without being sugary and has a re-watch factor on cable television that ranks up there with Top Gun and Road House.


1. The Contender – The Vice Presidency is available and, gasp, Jeff Bridges’ President Jackson Evan wants to pick a woman (played by Joan Allen) to fill the vacancy. Political intrigue and dramatic hearings run amok. Christian Slater plays a Congressman from Delaware (that wasn’t a joke). None of it matters; Jeff Bridges still has a contact high from The Big Lebowski. President Evans is more concerned with trying to trip up the White House kitchen staff, he is thwarted at every turn, and they even deliver a sword-fish sandwich. It is a given that Bridges found a rug that tied the whole White House together. The Dude abides and so does America.


Happy President’s Day America, and enjoy a movie with loved ones on the only day of the year when James Buchanan, Calvin Coolidge and Millard Filmore are on equal standing with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.


Author Bio:

Kurt Thurber is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. 

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