Oval Office Appeal: Five Good Presidential Movies

It’s good to be the President, especially if you’re in the movies. Next Tuesday, Lincoln is released on video (do we even say “video” anymore? Streaming?) and not one but TWO movies about attacks on the White House will be gracing the big screen this year. Olympus has Fallen gets released tomorrow (March 22, 2013) and White House Down on June 28, 2013. So with that in mind, I thought it might be nice to take a look at some of the better films that highlight the Commander in Chief.

Thirteen Days (2000) and President John F. Kennedy: I’m not old enough to know but the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t seem like the funnest time in American history. For almost two weeks, the U.S. was on the brink of nuclear war. Good times. This movie is an inside(ish) look at the challenges JFK and his administration faced and the impact of those decisions. Canadian Bruce Greenwood does a pretty great job as Kennedy. And yes, that is Kevin Costner as an advisor and yes, his accent is pretty horrible.

The American President (1995) and fictional President Andrew Shepard: I bet there’s quite a few people who would love an actual president directed by Rob Reiner and wordsmithed by Aaron Sorkin. And I’m sure there’s quite a few people who would say that’s their biggest nightmare. Part politics, part romantic comedy: Michael Douglas plays an unbelievably charming president who’s equally charmed by an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening. Smart, witty, and fun. It’s also cool to see a pre-West Wing Martin Sheen as the president’s closest advisor.

Dave (1993) and fictional President Bill Mitchell: The “fish out of water” story is pretty common in the history of storytelling and they’re always looking at new ways of telling it. Replacing a president with an “ordinary guy” (Kevin Kline, who is the male rom-com equivalent of Meg Ryan) is a fun way to allow us, the audience, to get a sneak peak inside the white house. Hearing Charles Grodin as Kline’s accountant friend try to make sense of the U.S. budget is awesome: “If I ran my business this way, I’d be out of business.” It’s a star-studded flick with Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Laura Linney, Bonnie Hunt…and oh yeah, Ving Rhames with hair.

Air Force One (1997) and fictional President James Marshall: So do you like your president’s punching terrorists in the face? Just swear in to office Indiana Jones. It’s a straight up action flick but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It actually entertains with some decent action and acting. And, it helps when the terrorist is Gary Oldman.

The Contender (2000) and fictional President Jackson Evans: I come back to this movie every couple of years. I’ve always like Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges is a pretty great president. A political thriller about the nomination of a new Vice President, unfortunately she’s got a few skeletons in the closet. Gary Oldman is awesome in this as the resident witch hunter and it’s always great to see Sam Elliott in anything.

Does it say something that most of the good American President movies are about fake presidents? Why do think that is? Possibly:

1)   actors have a hard time believably portraying these real people

2)   fiction is more interesting than fact

3)   it’s easier to tell your point of view as a screen writer with out the confines of actual history

What’s your favourite presidential movie? And why do think the fake stories seem to be more compelling? I know, I know, lots of questions. Hey, I’m curious.

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