It’s Presidents Day again. While we sorely needed this three-day weekend to come to the realization that February is almost over, we are still watching some great and fun films in celebration just like our Founding Fathers would have wanted.
Consider this list of 12 must-see movies and TV shows as my Mount Rushmore of the presidential film genre.
If there are films that you think should have made the list but didn’t, let us know what films those are in the comments below. But, let’s get into it.
12 Must-Watch Presidents’ Day Films and TV Shows
There have been many great movies made about US presidents over the years. Here are ten movies, in no particular order, that I believe are some of the best:
1. All the President's Men (1976)
This drama film based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward tells the story of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The film follows the investigation conducted by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), who uncovered the truth behind the scandal and exposed the corruption at the highest levels of the US government.
The movie highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in government, two key values that are central to American democracy. It serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers of unchecked power and the need for a robust system of checks and balances to prevent abuses of power.
Overall, All the President's Men is a timeless and compelling film that is as relevant today as it was when it was first released, and it serves as an important reminder of the values and principles that our country was founded upon.
2. JFK (1991)
This Oliver Stone film examines the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent investigation. This powerful and thought-provoking film presents a complex and controversial portrayal of the assassination and the subsequent investigation, raising important questions about the role of government, the media, and the American people in shaping our understanding of history.
The film's exploration of conspiracy theories and government cover-ups also raises important questions about the relationship between the government and the American people, and the need for transparency and accountability in our political system. It reminds us of the importance of holding our leaders accountable for their actions and ensuring that the truth is never buried or obscured.
Overall, JFK is a compelling and thought-provoking film that challenges us to think deeply about the role of government and the power of the American people to shape their own destinies. It is a fitting movie to watch on Presidents' Day, as we reflect on the legacy of our past presidents and the challenges that lie ahead for our country.
3. Mars Attacks! (1996)
This science fiction comedy film directed by Tim Burton depicts an invasion of Earth by Martians, and how a group of humans, including the President of the United States (Jack Nicholson), try to fight back. While it may not be an obvious choice for Presidents' Day, there are a few reasons why it could be a fun and lighthearted movie to watch on this holiday.
The movie offers a satirical and irreverent take on the office of the President and the power dynamics of the White House, which can be a fun and entertaining way to spend the day. The themes of patriotism, sacrifice, and courage in the face of otherworldly threats show us how a great leader and his advisors can encourage a nation to stand together in times of crisis.
Mars Attacks! is a fun and entertaining movie that can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. Its quirky characters, colorful visuals, and humorous approach to science fiction make it a great way to spend a few hours on a holiday meant to celebrate the accomplishments of our nation's leaders.
4. Primary Colors (1998)
A political drama film based on a novel by Anonymous tells the fictionalized account of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. The movie offers a glimpse into the high-stakes world of presidential politics and explores the personal and political struggles of those involved in a presidential campaign.
Watching this movie on Presidents' Day can be an opportunity to reflect on the complexities and challenges of presidential politics and the personal and ethical dilemmas that can arise in the pursuit of power. It also highlights the importance of authenticity and integrity in political leadership and the role of the media and the public in holding our leaders accountable.
The film's exploration of the inner workings of a presidential campaign also raises important questions about the nature of democracy and the power dynamics between candidates, their advisors, and the electorate. It can be a reminder of the importance of citizen engagement and the role that individual citizens play in shaping our political system.
5. The West Wing (TV series, 1999-2006)
The West Wing is a political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin and is considered by many to be one of the greatest television shows of all time. The show is set in the White House and focuses on the inner workings of the President's staff, as they navigate the complex and often challenging world of American politics.
Watching The West Wing on Presidents' Day can be a great way to celebrate the office of the President and the many individuals who have worked tirelessly to support and advise our nation's leaders. The show offers a fascinating and insightful look into the lives of those who work in the White House, and the many challenges they face on a daily basis.
The show also explores important issues and themes related to American politics, such as campaign finance, foreign policy, and social justice, and provides a nuanced and thought-provoking look into some of the most pressing issues of our time. The show's emphasis on strong dialogue, compromise, and collaboration also serves as a reminder of the importance of civility and cooperation in the political process.
The West Wing features a diverse cast of characters, including strong female leaders and characters from a variety of backgrounds, highlighting the importance of representation and inclusion in our political system. The show's nuanced and complex portrayal of the presidency and its many challenges can also serve as a reminder of the importance of leadership and the impact that individual leaders can have on our country and the world.
6. Thirteen Days (2000)
This film depicts the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Starring Kevin Costner as White House advisor Kenny O'Donnell, Thirteen Days offers a gripping and suspenseful account of the crisis and the decisions that were made by the President and his advisors during this critical moment in American history.
The film allows us to reflect on the role of the President in times of crisis and the difficult decisions that must be made in the face of great adversity to ensure the safety of the country. The film offers a fascinating look into the inner workings of the White House during a time of intense international pressure and highlights the complex and challenging nature of presidential decision-making.
Thirteen Days is a gripping and thought-provoking film that offers a fascinating and suspenseful account of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the tension building as the threat of nuclear war creeps in on the decisions of the US President and his team.
7. The Tripper (2006)
The Tripper is a horror-comedy film that centers around a group of young people attending a music festival in the woods, where they become the target of a deranged killer dressed as former President Ronald Reagan. While the film is not typically associated with Presidents' Day or politics, it does feature a satirical and irreverent take on American political culture.
The film's inclusion of Ronald Reagan as the central antagonist can serve as a reminder of the complexities and controversies surrounding his presidency even though the film is heavily layered with the anxieties of the Bush era of the 2000s and the political and social divides that continue to shape American culture. It can also provide an opportunity to reflect on the role of popular culture and media in shaping our understanding of American politics and the presidency.
Watching the darkly humorous and over-the-top portrayal of American politics and the president on Presidents' Day could be a fun and offbeat way to celebrate the holiday. The film's satirical elements can provide a lighthearted and entertaining commentary on the often serious and weighty issues of American politics and can offer a playful and subversive take on the role of the presidency in American society.
8. Frost/Nixon (2008)
A film adaptation of the play by Peter Morgan tells the story of the interviews conducted by British television host David Frost with President Richard Nixon after his resignation. The film offers a compelling look at the tense and dramatic encounter between the two men and the way that this confrontation came to symbolize a key moment in American political history.
The film offers a nuanced and complex portrayal of the presidency, exploring both the personal and political dimensions of this critical role. It highlights the importance of honesty and transparency in political leadership, as well as the need for rigorous and critical journalism to hold those in power to account.
Frost/Nixon provides an intriguing window into the political and social context of the 1970s, a time of great upheaval and change in American society. It can serve as a reminder of the impact of key events and figures in shaping the trajectory of American history, and the way that the presidency has played a crucial role in this story.
9. Lincoln (2012)
Would it be a holiday movie if Steven Spielberg wasn’t involved?
This biographical drama film directed by Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln centers around the efforts of Lincoln to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which would abolish slavery in the United States. The film offers a powerful and moving portrayal of Lincoln's leadership and his struggles to overcome political opposition and achieve this critical goal.
The legacy of one of America's most iconic and revered presidents is undeniably front and center in the films as it explores the values and ideals that Lincoln embodied. The film offers a compelling portrayal of Lincoln's leadership style, his commitment to justice and equality, and his ability to inspire and unite people in the face of great challenges.
In addition, Lincoln provides an insightful and historically accurate depiction of the political and social context of the Civil War era, a time of great turmoil and conflict in American history. It highlights the difficult decisions and trade-offs that political leaders must make in order to achieve their goals and the way that political institutions can be harnessed for the greater good.
10. The Butler (2013)
The Butler is a historical drama film that tells the story of an African American butler (Forest Whitaker) who served in the White House during the presidencies of eight different US presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan. The film offers a powerful and poignant exploration of the complex and often fraught relationship between race and power in American society, as well as the broader themes of family, service, and sacrifice.
The film provides an intriguing and historically accurate depiction of the inner workings of the White House and the ways in which presidents and their advisors grapple with the key issues and challenges of their times, as well as a compelling and nuanced portrayal of the African American experience in the United States that has been shaped by the presidency and the wider social and political context.
Overall, The Butler is a powerful and thought-provoking film that offers a unique and insightful perspective on the presidency and the African American experience in the United States. It is a great choice for viewing on Presidents' Day, as we reflect on the legacy of our past presidents and the ongoing struggle for justice and equality in our society.
11. Vice (2018)
A biographical comedy-drama film directed by Adam McKay tells the story of Vice President Dick Cheney (Christain Bale) and his rise to power in the George W. Bush administration.
The satirical film offers a unique and entertaining take on the life and political career of former US Vice President Dick Cheney as he exerted immense influence and power during his time in office and offers a critical examination of the role of the vice presidency and the broader political landscape of the United States.
Watching Vice on Presidents' Day can be a great way to reflect on the complex and often controversial nature of American politics, and to explore the challenges and trade-offs that come with wielding power at the highest levels of government. The film captures the unique and often overlooked role of the vice president in American politics and the challenges and opportunities that come with serving in this position of power.
Vice is bold and unconventional while constantly paying attention to details that make this story both absurd and grounded. The film uses the medium to challenge the audience and make a statement regarding how the audience knows what is and isn’t true through storytelling techniques. Overall, Vice is a fun yet educational watch for filmmakers looking to make a political satire.
12. Gaslit (2022)
Gaslit is a political drama series that premiered in 2022 and is based on the real-life events surrounding the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of former US President Richard Nixon. The series explores the complex and often secretive world of politics and power in the United States and offers a compelling and insightful examination of the forces and individuals that can shape the course of history.
The series provides a fascinating and in-depth look at the Watergate scandal while offering a nuanced and complex portrayal of the individuals involved in the Watergate scandal, including the journalists who broke the story, the government officials who worked to uncover the truth, and the Nixon administration officials who sought to cover up their involvement. The series provides a compelling exploration of the various motivations and personalities at play in this historic moment and highlights the importance of perseverance, integrity, and truth-seeking in the face of political power.
Gaslit is a great example of a series that delves into the intricacies of historical events while being entertaining and delivering stunning and accurate visuals that shine through the series’ cinematography.