LBJ opens in theaters today (November 3), featuring an almost unrecognizable Woody Harrelson as the so-called “accidental President” forced to assume office in 1963 when his predecessor John F. Kennedy is assassinated.
Yep, that’s Woody from Cheers in that pic. We promise.
He’s just the latest actor to stake his career on playing one of the most unmistakable men in our history, with some finding more success than others. We’ve put together a list of some of the best presidential performances committed to celluloid, which represents (not uncoincidentally) a rundown of some of the best movies in recent years too.
10. All the Way (2016)
Woody isn’t the first on-screen LBJ by any stretch, with Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston winning a Tony Award in 2014 for his portrayal of the 36th president in the Broadway play All the Way. An HBO adaption of the play aired in 2016.
9. Thirteen Days (2001)
This riveting thriller centers around thirteen extraordinary days in October 1962, when the world seemed on the brink of a nuclear World War III as Russia installed missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida and within striking distance of 80 million Americans. Frequent president impersonator Bruce Greenwood plays John F. Kennedy, with Kevin Costner playing his advisor Kenny O’Donnell in a tense political game that’ll have your heart pounding.
8. The Butler (2013)
Not one, but EIGHT, presidents appear in this historical drama by filmmaker Lee Daniels about the life of a White House butler called Cecile Gains (Forest Whitaker). Through his eyes we see Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Richard Nixon (John Cusack), and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), with Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama depicted in archive footage, as the film tracks the changes in American society from the Civil Rights Movement to the present.
7. Primary Colors (1998)
Silver-haired President Jack Stanton (played here by John Travolta) never existed of course, but nevertheless he’s mighty familiar. That’s because this smart comedy drama from Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson’s War) is a fictionalized account of President Bill Clinton‘s life and 1992 presidential campaign, which also manages to sneak secret Brit Adrian Lester and not-so-secret Brit Emma Thompson onto the team.
6. Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
This historical comedy-drama depicts the close relationship between Margaret Daisy Suckly, played by the masterful Laura Linney, and her cousin President Franklin D. Roosevelt, played by Bill Murray, who manages to capture both the president’s charisma and melancholy. Oh, and watch out for Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, whose daughter she’ll now be playing in The Crown.
5. Frost/Nixon (2008)
There is a theatrical intensity to Ron Howard‘s retelling of David Frost‘s series of interviews with Richard Nixon in 1977, which makes sense when one discovers it is based on a play by The Crown creator Peter Morgan. Masters of Sex star Michael Sheen is tenacious and quick-witted as Frost, while Frank Langella plays a taut, cornered Nixon… and the results are spellbinding.
4. John Adams (2008)
Paul Giamatti plays the second President of the United States in this seven-part TV miniseries from The Danish Girl director Tom Hooper. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by historian David McCullough, it tells the story of the respected lawyer who played a crucial role in American history and the first 50 years of the United States.
3. All the President’s Men (1976)
Richard Nixon plays Richard Nixon in this Oscar-winning film about Watergate, as real-life footage of the 37th president is used in the background as two reporters for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman respectively), investigate the scandal that led to his resignation.
2. Nixon (1995)
If you’re picking up on a Nixon theme, with this being the fourth film on our list dramatizing the 37th president, then you are not wrong. In addition the above, he also attracted the attention of filmmaker Oliver Stone. Stone has a particular interest in the upper echelons of power, with 1991’s JFK and 2008’s W exploring the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush respectively. Nixon, however, is his most ambitious, endeavoring as it does to reveal a personal side and create empathy for its flawed subject. Sir Anthony Hopkins excels in his depiction, which doesn’t so much impersonate Nixon as suggest him, and went on to score an Oscar for his efforts.
1. Lincoln (2012)
By no means a biopic, Steven Spielberg‘s critically acclaimed historical epic instead focuses on the final months of President Abraham Lincoln‘s life as he sought to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in the closing chapter of the Civil War. Daniel Day-Lewis‘ picked up his third Oscar for his depiction of the president frequently voted America’s greatest, a performance so compelling and meticulous he even managed to pull off that stovepipe hat.
Who do you think hit the mark best with their dramatization?