The Character of the President

Today marks a month into one of the most salient transfers of power in America’s recent memory. What a month full of news it’s been! This President’s day, in particular, is a perfect opportunity to look at films that depict the character of the American President. Take a break from your news feed and feed yourself some fiction. 


We hold the President of the most influential country in the world under intense public and media scrutiny. That, coupled with the pressures of deciding for the American population with ramifications across the world makes the Presidency one of the most demanding and intriguing positions in the world. As the American people and American history can attest, some Presidents handle it better than others. It almost always makes for an interesting story. 

On this President’s day, we’ve put together a list of films that showcase the U.S. President as a man dealing with the unique internal and external pressures that his job entails. Join us as we take a look at five films that depict the different characters holding and surrounding the Presidency. See if you can’t watch any of these presidential movies and relate their themes or tone to our current president in some way.

The American President (1995)

This film is a romantic comedy that depicts the fictional President (Michael Douglas) as a single father who begins dating an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening). Despite being more of a story about love and family than about politics, this film has some of the best political dialogue you can find. This is something you can come to expect from the film’s writer Aaron Sorkin (West Wing). Among those lines include this wonderful quote discussing the relationship between the governor and the governed:

“We’ve had Presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand, because they’re thirsty. They drink it because they don’t know the difference.”

 It also has one of the best moments on film captured in the fictional White House Press Room:

You can watch The American President on Amazon Prime.

Dave (1993)

The inner-workings of political systems can seem daunting to most, therefore a lighthearted spin is rarely applied to the Presidency. Not so in Dave. Kevin Kline portrays Dave, an ordinary person hired to be a stand-in to the president. The actual President is put into a coma (also played by Kline). Dave is put through a political training program and displays a certain level of innocent ignorance about some political activities (i.e. fixing the budget). In a spirit reminiscent of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the story ends up being about and an honest guy who becomes a force for good against a corrupt system.

Watch this paradoxical clip of  Frank Langella’s chief of staff character attempting to tell the stand-in President “You’re Fired.”

You can watch Dave on Amazon Prime.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Frank Langella makes another appearance on our list, this time as former President Nixon. As the most famous public figure in an entire nation, the President must keep a good reputation. In

As the most prominent public figure of the in a whole nation, the President must keep a good reputation. As many of you know, this was difficult for Nixon. In Frost/Nixon, former President Nixon is giving an interview with British talk-show host David Frost (Michael Sheen). The way Frost coaxes answers out of Nixon that contrast with the ideal views of a country’s leader conveys the moral struggle that Presidents undoubtedly go through: that of doing the right thing for yourself, or for the people you serve. This film is ever more poignant as our own President faces the same type of legal questioning and ethical concerns.  

Watch this clip, when Frost prompts the infamous Nixon line “when the President does it, it’s not illegal.”

You can watch Frost/Nixon on Amazon Prime.

The Ides of March (2011)

Centering on the life of a presidential campaign staffer with a good moral compass (Ryan Gosling), this film delves into issues of corruption at the election level. George Clooney plays the Gosling’s  seemingly ideal Presidential candidate. He along with Paul Giamatti and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman make the film’s casting reason enough to watch. 

While Gosling’s character truly believes that his man is the best man for the job, pressures from the rival campaign and revelations about his candidate combat his will. Thus, the age-old question of victory vs. virtue comes into play. 

Watch as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character explains that loyalty is the only currency in politics:

You can watch Ides of March on Amazon Prime.

Lincoln (2012)

Centering on his life during the Civil War, Lincoln focuses on the Honest Abe’s struggle to emancipate the slaves during a time ripe with prejudice. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the legendary performances that have garnered him an Academy Award. He and Spielberg have managed to depict one of our nation’s most legendary men as a human dealing with issues of injustice and morality.

Watch perhaps one of the most famous and affecting moments of the film, where Lincoln explains that no politics can be done without first “curing” the country of the immense moral injustice of slavery and ending the war:

You can watch Lincoln on Amazon Prime.

Each of these films approaches the Presidency with a unique tone, but all of them display the moral ideals we all have when it comes to the highest office in our land. Did we miss one of your President’s day favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Mia Lepe contributed to this article. 

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