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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Presidential portrayals: The Oval Office commander in chief has ruled the big and small screen

Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis star in Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning "Lincoln" (2012).  (Dreamworks Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox)

No matter where they fall on the political spectrum or how long their term, many U.S. presidents have been immortalized on the big or small screen after their time in office. Some, especially the earlier presidents, might only have one or two mentions, while others get called on time and time again. In honor of President’s Day, which is Feb. 15, here are a look at notable films and TV shows with depictions of U.S. presidents.

‘John Adams’

John Adams, the second president of the United States, doesn’t get as much screen time as some of his fellow presidents, but critics and viewers alike were clamoring for Adams upon the release of the 2008 miniseries “John Adams,” which was based on the 2001 biography by David McCullough. The series, which starred Paul Giamatti as Adams, covered much of Adams’ political career as well as the first 50 years of the United States. “John Adams” received four Golden Globes and 13 Emmys, more than any miniseries in history. A 1976 miniseries, “The Adams Chronicles,” was also well-received, with George Grizzard as Adams.


Though the focus of the 1997 film was the plight of Mende tribesmen enslaved on La Amistad, who can forget Anthony Hopkins’ turn as the sixth president, John Quincy Adams? The events in question took place after Adams left office and returned to work as a lawyer. In “Amistad,” Hopkins makes an impassioned plea in support of the tribesmen’s release when the case is presented to the Supreme Court. For his role, Hopkins earned best supporting actor nominations from the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. In the film, Nigel Hawthorne portrayed then-President Martin Van Buren.


The list of actors who have portrayed Abraham Lincoln is about as long as the 16th president was tall. Walter Huston, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Hal Holbrook, F. Murray Abraham and Sam Waterston have all portrayed the president, but many likely think of Daniel Day-Lewis when thinking of Lincoln on screen. In the 2012 Steven Spielberg-directed film “Lincoln,” Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln during the last four months of his life. The film was nominated for seven Golden Globes and 12 Academy Awards, winning two for best production design and best actor (Day-Lewis). Robert V. Barron portrayed Lincoln in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” and Benjamin Walker took on the role in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

‘Night at the Museum’ series

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, has had quite the ride in Hollywood. He was portrayed by Brian Keith in 1975’s “The Wind and the Lion” and Tom Berenger in the 1997 miniseries “Rough Riders,” to name a few. In more recent years, Roosevelt, portrayed by the late Robin Williams, has gotten screen time courtesy of the “Night at the Museum” series. In the films, 2006’s “Night at the Museum,” 2009’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and 2014’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” a wax model of Roosevelt befriends Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), a security guard, when the museum exhibits come to life.

‘Hyde Park on Hudson’

Another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, the 32nd president, has also received a lot of screen shout-outs since his time in office. Edward Hermann played FDR in the 1970s miniseries and movie “Eleanor and Frankie” and voiced the president in the 2014 Ken Burns documentary “The Roosevelts.” Christopher Plummer, Jon Voight and Kenneth Branagh have also portrayed Roosevelt through the years. In 2012, Bill Murray played the president in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” earning a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Ralph Bellamy has practically made a career of playing FDR, portraying the president in the play “Sunrise at Campobello” and its film adaptation, the 1983 miniseries “The Winds of War” and its 1989 continuation “War and Remembrance.”

‘Killing Kennedy’

Hollywood has a difficult time staying away from the charisma, triumph and tragedy of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president. The long list of Kennedy portrayals includes Martin Sheen in the 1983 miniseries “Kennedy,” Bruce Greenwood in the 2000 film “Thirteen Days,” “Greg Kinnear in the 2011 miniseries “The Kennedys” and Rob Lowe in the 2013 film “Killing Kennedy.” Sheen, Kinnear and Lowe all received acting award nominations, and Greenwood won the Satellite Award for best supporting actor in a motion picture for his performance.


Richard Nixon’s presidency was practically made for Hollywood. In two notable films, 1995’s “Nixon” and 2008’s “Frost/Nixon,” Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella, respectively, took on the role of the 37th president. Both were nominated for best actor at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Langella took home a few awards for his portrayal of Nixon in the play of the same name on which “Frost/Nixon” is based.

Honorable Mention

Speaking of plays, many a president has been portrayed, or at least mentioned, on stage. Check out “Hamilton” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” especially for new takes on the presidents, historical figures and history you thought you knew.