When it comes to portraying the American president in movies, it turns out Abraham Lincoln has received the most screen time. That is, if you only count an actor playing the president, and not real footage incorporated into films.
This is according to an unofficial online tally of imdb.com results, which puts George Washington second and Ulysses S Grant third (it’s all those Westerns, you must understand).
It’s easier to make it up as you go along with the presidents from a previous century as there is no actual footage of what they looked or sounded like, but when it comes to award-nominated portrayals, look no further than Richard Nixon.
Considering his downfall played out amid intense media coverage, Tricky Dicky is still a plum role, and one of the most memorable renditions is Oscar-nominated Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, which took as its cue the interviews conducted by David Frost.
While the film has been castigated for sensationalising events surrounding the interviews, both leads have been praised for their accurate portrayals.
Also, Anthony Hopkins was nominated for an Oscar for portraying the same character in Oliver Stone’s Nixon.
While John F Kennedy’s assassination receives more screentime (Stone’s JFK has the dubious distinction of working in several conspiracy theories at the same time, not just one), he has been depicted at other times in his life, like the Cuban missile crisis in Thirteen Days or his wartime experience in PT109 (the first theatrical release inspired by a sitting president).
Josh Brolin received almost universal praise for his portrayal of George W Bush in Stone’s W, even if critics panned pretty much everything else about the surprisingly sympathetic biopic.
Which just goes to show, the further back the president, the greater the chance the critics and the box office will like your effort, because there’s not as much reality to compare it to. At least, reality as we know it on the big screen.