The shades of US presidents, real and imagined, have always weaved in and out of Hollywood films. This year, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln might be the best film ever about a US president, and Argo depicts one of President Carter’s hidden secrets that might have rescued his presidency for a second term. And then there is Zero Dark Thirty about the raid on Bin Laden, which is the only film that is somewhat related to President Obama, other than HBO’s Game Change. I suspect there will be many more to come.  It’s hard to imagine our attentions being anywhere but on these three films heading into the race, given the current political climate. But the news cycles pretty quickly. Who knows what awaits us in a few months.

Great presidents and terrible presidents inspire filmmakers. There are films about the electoral process, about the rise and fall of presidents – sinister takes on our government and idealistic ones.

The presidents with the most influential on Hollywood in recent history would be JFK, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Of those, there are two heroes and three villains, by Hollywood’s standards. This, because Hollywood is usually liberal. Republicans are villains, for the most part, which is why any major player in Hollywood with conservative beliefs is run out of town on a rail, unless their work is beyond reproach, like Clint Eastwood.

Why is Hollywood liberal? Because it is, despite its greed, corruption and lust for fame it is a compassionate bunch of misfits who made good. Misfits tend to grow up more compassionate, therefore they believe in looking out for the other guy. Republicans believe in individualism – which liberals think of as selfish and short-sighted.

That’s how I see it anyway.  To that end, most of the films about Republicans tend to depict bad guys and the films about liberal presidents tend to depict good guys. But not always. Some films  hover somewhere in between. There was great internal conflict about President Clinton because, though he was one of the most popular two-term Democrats to come along since JFK, he was dogged every day of his presidency by Republicans. No, they didn’t have the racist flag to wave but they went after both Bill and Hillary Clinton over everything. They only tripped him up once and of course, because they had nothing better to do with our tax dollars, they went after Clinton’s private sexual tryst. Because she was an intern, because Clinton lied under oath, he was then going to be impeached. It’s silly to think of it now, isn’t it? The Clintons held their marriage together (because like most realistic grownup marriages they know it isn’t just about the sex), the economy was thriving — and the only fallout was a distracted president being dogged by the republicans created a vulnerability that may have facilitated an Al Qaeda attack with box cutters. Sidebar: imagine if 9/11 had happened under Obama?

Clinton inspired many good and bad films. Eastwood made Absolute Power about him, more or less, where Gene Hackman slept with a woman who fought him during a violent sex encounter and then was killed for threatening the president.  The theme of personal life being more important than the job came up in Rod Lurie’s exceptional The Contender, where Joan Allen (thank you, Rod, for being one of the only filmmakers to make a movie about a woman in charge) is on trial for things that happened long ago in her past. Back then, you heard the word “character” a lot. That meant you didn’t have affairs. The sex thing is big in our silly government. Character, so called, was such a big deal for Clinton that he was told not to campaign for Al Gore in 2000.  A very close election that came down to a handful votes and our Supreme Court deciding the election for us.  A close election like that cost us dearly in the next eight years: two unnecessary wars that killed 6,000 US soldiers and countless innocent women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What happened to our economy, the collapse of our financial system, the subsequent bailouts and entitlement bonuses to bank executives left this country emptied out. So what did the good ol’ boys in the Republican party do? They tried to sabotage the newly elected Barack Obama, no stranger to Wall Street, but definitely someone who was not going to slip into the pocket of the power elite like his predecessor. Block Obama became their strategy and it came at  significant cost. Their plan might very well have worked, too. The American people might really have been fooled into thinking that President Obama is the reason the economy is in a recession.

Or, smarter Americans who read the news might see through the charade and see a man who has stood up to the power elite and the corrupt good ol’ boy network that controls our government. Hey, there’s a reason Potter has all the money and George Bailey is still the richest man in town.

I suspect that President Obama, should we be lucky enough to have him for a second term, will inspire many a movie about the corruption he fought against, and the racism still too hot to touch here in America. This election pits whites against blacks like no other since probably Abraham Lincoln.  The polling data suggest a major division with Romney supporters being mostly white and Obama supporters being everyone else. Romney is trying to take America back to the 1950s while Obama has his high mud boots on and is trudging forward.

The films about presidents, directly or indirectly, real or imagined that have stuck with me over the years are:

John Adams (John Adams)


All the President’s Men (Nixon)

The Candidate (Nixon/Carter)

Nixon (Nixon)

Primary Colors (Clinton)

An American President (Clinton)

The Contender (Clinton)

Wag the Dog (Clinton)

Ides of March (Clinton, Bush, Obama?)

The Manchurian Candidate (Bush)

Recount (Bush v. Gore)

Fahrenheit 9/11 (Bush)

Fair Game (Bush)

W. (Bush)

The Hurt Locker (Bush)

In the Line of Fire (JFK, indirectly)


Game Change (McCain, Obama, Palin)

Taxi Driver (Carter maybe, Reagan, indirectly, in retrospect)

Dr. Strangelove

There are plenty more films about US presidents, like Hyde Park on Hudson, The Special Relationship and more. But these are the ones that have made a deeper impact on me over the years. Today is the day we decide which direction our country will now head in. To me, there is no question about which leader is better suited to the task. But living in America means being tolerant of our differences. That’s the beauty and the horror of it all.


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  • I love Bill Clinton so much and enjoyed watching ‘The War Room.’ However, in my new documentary, Disconnect, we paint him as a “bad guy” or at least look down at some of the choices he made during his Presidency such as signing the Telecommunications Act of 96, which deregulates cell phone companies and allows them to place cell towers any where they please regardless of the health or environmental impacts. This bill causes a lot problems considering how the World Health Organization now considers this type of radiation “possible carcinogenic.”

  • Bryce Forestieri

    Z, JFK, Nixon, W., Battle of Algiers, The Official Story, Election, All The President’s Men, Good Night & Good Luck, No (2012), The Fog of War, and if I can include Dr. Strangelove and The Killing Fields in the genre of “political” films. Maybe even The Conformist and Discreet Charm qualify? La Haine and The Class? I better stop!

    Obama has it in the bag…

  • Jon

    No love for DAVE (1993)?????
    I have said this before on this blog, as someone who studied Presidential history in college and worked at a Presidential home for two years, I think every single man who has become President of the United States has a fascinating story to be told. Yes, others may be more interesting, but the fact remains that only 44 men have served in that position. Each of them are fascinating in their own way – yes, even William Henry Harrison who only served for a month.

    I have also said that the grand daddy of all President films hasn’t even been made yet, which is the Theodore Roosevelt story. I personally do not know what the hold up is with this film. It has absolutely everything to not only make for a grand motion picture but also one that I always felt audiences would flock too. I have said this before and will say it again, if a feature film about Theodore Roosevelt’s life (or even a part of his life, pre, during, and post-Presidency) was made and done accurately and well, it would be a lock for a Best Picture win (and probably Actor). That is how good his life lends itself to a film or films.

  • Terometer

    Romney and Clinton are both liars. There is no excuse for that.

  • matthewpd

    OT: Some first tiny pics of the August: Osage County film, if it hasn’t already been shared.

    I still can’t get over how good Game Change was…almost feeling for Palin? I bow to Julianne Moore.

  • ^
    glad you can’t vote. we already have enough people brainwashed into false-equivalency laziness.

    you have no idea what you’re taking about. NO idea. but thanks for playing.

  • The German

    Its nice to see Sasha admit that a) any individual in Hollywood who doesn’t tow the Leftist/Democrat line gets run out and b) that the Left believes individualism is selfish. I appreciate the honesty. The current Democrat Party, along with several Republicans, are militant progressives. They don’t believe in the limits on government within the constitution. They hate the amendment process. And how they get by this is through appointments of activist judges on the court. It works.
    The best book to read to get insight into this mentality is Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Even if you disagree with Alinsky’s main thesis, its informative how he instructs the Left to defeat their opponents. These are very effective tactics in the political arena. Their P.R. campaign is second to none. This is what kills the Right. They tend to ignore this and attempt to stay above the fray by reefusing to engage in gutter politics. They are dealing with a group who has no moral compass to speak of. In addition, these Coercive Utopians truely believe social engineering works on a macro level, when empirical reality says otherwise. The denial of human nature will be there downfall.

  • kjbacon

    ^ Calling yourself The German (nor your spelling) doesn’t help your argument

  • keifer

    For all you youngsters out there, I hated Nixon (the President and the man).

    And I hated “Nixon” (Oliver Stone’s movie). But not for reasons you would suspect ordinarily. I didn’t liek the movie because the character in the film wasn’t the Nixon I remembered. Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Nixon was fairly likeable in that film – which I felt was not a realistic portrayal of the real man.

    But, eh, Hopkins got a Best Actor nomination out of that film.

    Much better, and most deserving, was Joan Allen’s performance as Pat Nixon. She should have got the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actress.

  • SeattleMoviegoer

    i still love Gore Vidal’s THE BEST MAN from Franklin J. Schaffner with Henry Fonda and an all star cast. great, biting, clever, smart dialogue. good insight into the ways of politics, conventions, egos, etc.

  • Tony

    Ryan, your Kentucky might be the first state to be called (Romney).


  • Tony

    My last comment until it’s all over:

    Interesting how AOL/HuffPo called Kentucky (R) and Vermont (D), but unlike others, hasn’t yet called Indiana (R).

  • Tony

    OK, will break my rule once. AOL/HuffPo called South Carolina for Obama (unlike everyone else). ROFLMAO.

  • Seriously? Nuts. America OffLine.
    Be patient with AOL. They’re still buffering

  • JamesCEO

    But this is where liberals are wrong: yes they may not believe in individualism and may think that is selfish but their way of going about that is to FORCE others by law to act that way instead of giving them the liberty to be who they are as long as they don’t infringe on an other’s liberty. This is not to say I’m for Republicans. They do the same thing in social areas. They are both wrong to use force, as in gun to your head force, on things that reasonable people can disagree on. Force is the worst evil of both parties. Force is for murderers and crooks using fraud force against a normal person. It’s to defend from attack (not to go on the offensive as with Iraq and the military in general, no matter the good intentions). It’s not to vote for people to give other people money. That’s stealing. Let people CONVINCE others not FORCE them. Liberty is NOT up for a vote. It’s stupid same sex couples have to have other people vote for them to get married when there is no natural logic to say they’re any different (religion is NOT natural logic . . . has nothing to do with nature’s patterns and reason). It’s the FORCE. The F-word. That’s the bad part. No one should be chained to others at birth by vote. It’s sick and what was “fought” against (not endorsing the use of military force there) during the misery of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, “being nice” is not as cut and dry as some people want to think and forcing people to be nice is NOT NICE at the most cosmic level. So let the churches talk crap about gay marriage. But ads recognized by the law, it shouldn’t even be up for a vote, it should just be because it is only restrictive not to do so and is public domain, unlike the churches. (though I understand at this point it must break through in this way)

    –Gay classical liberal, lawyer from Ohio (not the modern U.S. liberal)

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