Constitution Daily

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Lincoln ranks as second-best real-life presidential movie

November 25, 2012 by NCC Staff


Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and a look at critical and fan ratings show its on course to be an historical favorite, trailing only one presidential movie.


Publicity still from “Lincoln”

Constitution Daily has put together its own Electoral College of movie reviews, looking at critical and fan ratings from the movie website Rotten Tomatoes and viewer ratings from the Internet Movie Database.


Our index weighs all three factors evenly and looks at 16 theatrical movies that were about a United States president, including three movies that featured a president as a key element of a plot, but not an actor playing a president.


We screened out made-for-TV movies and films that feature fictional presidents, and real-life presidents in fantasy roles.


And Lincoln stacks up very favorably, trailing only All the President’s Men as an overall fan and critical favorite.


Of course, Lincoln could pass All the President’s Men once the awards season is over. The 1976 film from Alan Pakula won four Oscars, but lost in the Best Picture category to Rocky.


The film as well as Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Field seem set for Oscar nominations.


Here’s our five picks for the most highly regarded presidential movies about real-life events.

1. All The President’s Men

The Robert Redford-Dustin Hoffman feature was the most popular presidential movie on Rotten Tomatoes among critics and fans, and the second most popular on IMDb after Spielberg’s Lincoln.

2. Lincoln

The critics have given Lincoln a 90 percent positive rating so far, and that number should get higher in time. Several older movies (see below) had higher critical ratings, including a few films younger people have never seen. Among viewers, it was tied with All The President’s Men on Rotten Tomatoes and tops on IMDb.

3. Young Mr. Lincoln

A lot of younger movie goers have never seen John Ford’s 1939 Lincoln flick. It may look antiquated today, but Ford used Young Mr. Lincoln as a metaphor for political and social issues going on in the New Deal era. Spielberg is a big Ford fan, and Young Mr. Lincoln is considered one of Ford’s best films.

4. Frost/Nixon

The 2008 Ron Howard drama is a viewer favorite and received five Oscar nominations, including a Best Oscar nomination for Frank Langella.


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5. JFK

Oliver Stone’s 1991 conspiracy theory movie starring Kevin Costner isn’t loved by critics, but it remains a viewer favorite. It also features Tommy Lee Jones in a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination.


The Rest Of The Top 10

6. Give ‘Em Hell Harry!

The filmed version of the Broadway play earned James Whitmore an Oscar nomination.

7. Thirteen Days

The 2000 drama, again featuring Kevin Costner, bombed at the box office, but it has a popular following. The subject: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

8. Sunrise at Campobello

Another drama based on a play, the 1960 film is about Franklin Roosevelt’s battle with polio and his political comeback in 1924.

9. Abe Lincoln in Illinois

A second Golden Age of Hollywood drama about Lincoln, with a screenplay from legendary writer Robert Sherwood.


The filmed version of the musical 1776 isn’t highly regarded by critics, but it remains popular with the people. It’s also not historically accurate, but who can resist a singing John Adams and Thomas Jefferson?


And the worst film is …


Among the 16 films we rated with our index, Jefferson in Paris was a unanimous last-place finisher. The movie started Nick Nolte as Jefferson and was from the team of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant. Still, it flopped critically and financially.


Other worst film contenders were Oliver Stone’s W and the 1970s assassination thriller Executive Action.

Composite Score
All the President’s Men 4
Lincoln 8
Young Mr. Lincoln 11
Frost/Nixon 12
JFK 13
Give ‘Em Hell Harry 20
Thirteen Days 22
Sunrise at Campobello 24
Abe Lincoln in Illinois 26
1776 26
Nixon 27
The Wind And The Lion 31
PT 109 40
W 42
Executive Action 42
Jefferson in Paris 48

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