5 great movies about American presidents

Last week we saw Joseph Biden become the 46th President of the United States of America. Biden has many challenges ahead of him; after taking the role of American president from Donald Trump after four divisive years, all that we can hope for Biden’s presidency is that it will be a long and boring one.

Unfortunately, that will most likely not be the case, as the institution that is the American presidency will always gain moments of great celebration and, at times, even greater tragedy. Although, a benefit that arises from this unfortunate truth is that it produces some amazing cinema.


The machinations of current U.S. politics are most definitely uncertain and filled with seemingly impossible obstacles that Biden’s presidency will have to overcome, so it is a good time to allow the film to remind us what the office of the President of the United States entails, and that it ultimately represents the will of the American people, not the American few.

Here are five great movies about the lives and complications of America’s most entertaining presidential stories, both historical and fictional.

Lincoln (2012)

This film explores Abraham Lincoln’s life in his second term as president, while he attempts to abolish the slavery of African Americans within the United States. Unfortunately, his decision ignites the war between the Northern States of America and the South in the process.

Directed by Hollywood goliath, Steven Spielberg, Lincoln expertly lifts historical figures from the annals of history, bringing them to life with their own complex identities and political motives.

Lincoln has become a massive figure in America, figuratively and literally, as his statue in the country’s capital stands at 30 feet. This film truly shows the man behind the legend, with Lincoln attempting to enact the ethical change that was much needed in America. Bu, he must fight the divisive structures of the American political institutions in his time.

The American President (1995)

One of many 1990s fictional presidencies, The American President stars Michael Douglas as a recently widowed president, overcoming not only the difficulties that come with his political office, but also with the dating scene.

Written by The West Wing expert screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, The American President is a lighthearted 1990s romcom that expertly uses Sorkin’s trademark flare of an idealistic Washington with his famous impromptu speeches, that turns out not only to have the ability to save the nation but seemingly the president’s relationships as well.

Vice (2018)

Possibly straying somewhat away from the article’s title of “movies about American presidents”, I can’t help but think Adam McKay’s 2018 Vice is too great not to include.

Vice is a deeply fascinating dark comedy/political satire that interestingly shows Dick Cheney overcoming many political challenges in his life to become an immensely powerful bureaucrat within Washington D.C, where he eventually obtains his most well-known political position, as George W. Bush’s vice-president, which allowed him to reshape the world in his own image.

Welsh actor, Christian Bale, plays the rather difficult lead role of Dick Cheney, where he had to undergo a massive body transformation to help prepare him both physically and mentally to transform into the former vice president. Christian Bale’s shapeshifting ability has been used in the past in roles, such as Batman or The Machinist, but this is the first time he had to really pack on the pounds, which he did expertly as Christian Bale’s Cheney no longer resembles the British actor at all.

Dave (1993)

Now, for a much more light-hearted affair, 1993s political comedy, Dave, directed by Ivan Reitman, who brought to life some of the most entertaining films of the 1980s, such as The Ghostbusters I and II, as well as Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Stripes, is a great comedy with a romantic and political twist.

In this comedy, an ordinary middle American called Dave is tasked to become the President of the United States’s body double, due to their uncanny likeness, as the real president recovers from an unannounced stroke, with, of course, both Dave and the president being played by Kevin Kline.

Although entirely fictional, Dave presents one of the greatest appeals of becoming the “leader of the free world,” the privilege to truly do what you want, while also enjoying the pleasure to improve people’s lives. This film might not be the most realistic interpretation of American politics, but it’s very entertaining in its own right.

Nixon (1995)

Nixon is a 1995 historical epic, directed by Oliver Stone, with lifetime award winner, Anthony Hopkins, in the title role of Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States.

Hopkins delivers a compelling realistic interpretation of Richard Nixon that brings to life the former president. Allowing him to be viewed as a complex, admirable, and deeply flawed man. The film perfectly recounts Nixon’s misuses of executive power that brought the eventual downfall of his presidency and political career.

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These films hold a reverence for the office of the President of the United States, a reverence that seems to have been lost sometime in the last four years. But, with time hopefully, that respect for America’s seat of power will one day return, but until that day comes, we can use movies as stepping stones into the past, where we can view those beliefs held in time through the lens of cinema.

Sean Barrett
Sean Barrett

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