From one extreme to the other, last year the box office was dominated by Abraham Lincoln and now it's possible this month's Oscars could be as well! While Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter may not be among this year's contenders, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is certain to make some major waves on Hollywood's biggest night. Now in honor of President's Day here's a look back at some of the most memorable on-screen portrayals of some of our country's most memorable commanders in chiefs.
Daniel Day Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln (2012)
Daniel Day Lewis initially turned down the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's bio-pic about our nation's 16th president. However after much prodding by family and friends, the two-time Oscar winner re-considered and the movie-loving world is very grateful he did! Day Lewis is known as a method actor and it's been widely reported he stayed in character all during filming, even being addressed throughout the shoot as Mr. Lincoln or Mr. President. No matter his style, the actor gave a stunning portrayal of The Great Emancipator during the final months of his life. It seems like an almost certainty he'll be adding a record, third Best Actor Oscar to his mantel before the month is over!
Based on the 2007 Tony winner play of the same name, Frost/Nixon was a fascinating retelling of the legendary interviews between British journalist David Frost and former President Richard Nixon post-Watergate scandal. Both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprised their Broadway roles for the film, which was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture. Langella was also singled out as a Best Actor nominee for his superior portrayal of the disgraced former commander in chief. While the award ended up going to Sean Penn (for his role in Milk), there was no doubt Langella commanded the screen and gave one of the year's best performances.
While Kevin Costner was the lead actor in this dramatization of the White House's planning during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bruce Greenwood got a lot of the attention for his role as President John F. Kennedy. Originally an Oscar contender, Thirteen Days quickly fizzled and was shut out of the Academy Awards race. Still, the movie was well received by critics and also featured strong performances from Steven Culp as JFK's brother Robert and Dylan Baker as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Nick Nolte, Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Political scandals are nothing new to history or to cinema; however those that happened before the rise of television and similar mediums aren't as well documented. In Jefferson In Paris, Nick Nolte took on the role of our nation's third president who, while in Paris (prior his presidency), falls for the country and one of its artists, but at the same time also starts a relationship with a slave that as the story goes, resulted in the birth of a child. While the film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it didn't fare well stateside and quickly fell off the radar.
Lincoln may be Steven Spielberg's most recent film featuring a former president, but it certainly wasn't his first. In 1997, Spielberg helmed Amistad, which focused on the 1839 uprising on the slave boat of the same name and the trial the ensued following the crew's capture. The film earned Anthony Hopkins an Oscar nomination for his role as former President John Quincy Adams, but Spielberg and the film were both shockingly snubbed in the other top categories. Still Hopkins is one of the industry's finest actors and he's always a treat to watch on screen.
Jeff Daniels, George Washington, The Crossing (2000)
In 2000, A&E tried their hand at long-form original fare with the made-for-TV movie The Crossing. Starring Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) as George Washington, the film followed his attempt to cross the Delaware during the Battle of Trenton. While the movie earned a prestigious Peabody award and won high marks from critics and audiences, it was still blanked in all the top award races.
Fred Ward, Ronald Reagan, The Farewell Affair (2009)
Our American presidents have also been popular with foreign filmmakers as evidenced by the 2009 French film The Farewell Affair (aka Farewell). Here Hollywood familiar face Fred Ward (Naked Gun 33 1/3, Road Trip) portrays Ronald Regan in a drama about foreign spies during the time of the Cold War. However the movie was not released domestically and many audiences may not even be aware it exists.
No matter what role Robin Williams takes on, it's fairly apparent he'll go into it full tilt! For Night at the Museum, he portrayed the wax figure of President Theodore Roosevelt, who along with the rest of the exhibits at the National History Museum came to life at night during this 2006 release. With his typical, over-the-top, trademark style Williams stole a number of scenes from lead Ben Stiller and then went on to repeat that feat three years later in the sequel.
While the 2001 action drama Pearl Harbor got slammed by critics, many enjoyed it for what it was meant to be; a summer tentpole release. With Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett as the leads, this Memorial Day box office entry focused on a love triangle set against World War II. Of course, with every war film there has to be a strong actor playing the president and this time it was Jon Voight as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Oscar-winning actor was a great choice to portray one of our nation's most recognized commanders in chief and also ended up putting his own spin on FDR's famous speech proclaiming December 7, 1941 to be "a date which will live in infamy."
Gary Sinese, Harry S. Truman, Truman (1995)
HBO has long been known for their award-winning made-for-TV movies and in 1995 that included one based on President Harry S. Truman. Starring Oscar nominee Gary Sinise, (CSI: New York, Forrest Gump) as Truman, the bio-pic focused heavily on the president's World War II decisions. Sinise won a Golden Globe for the role and was also nominated for an Emmy. Incidentally, he would be nominated (and win) in the same category again three years later for playing George Wallace.
James Cromwell, George H. W. Bush, and Josh Brolin, George W. Bush, W. (2008)
Originally W., Oliver Stone's film about President George W. Bush was expected to be an Oscar contender, however the movie was met with a mixed response by critics and all awards talk eventually subsided. Still, moviegoers were impressed with Josh Brolin's portrayal of Bush the second and James Cromwell's performance as Bush Sr. W. also marked Stone's third film about a president (JFK, Nixon) and remains the only movie about a president released while he was still in office.