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5 U.S. Presidents Worthy of a Biopic

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln sounds more “Oscar-y” than anything since Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher or Colin Firth as King George VI. 

What we’re saying is this: as long as there are Oscars to be given out, Hollywood will be making films about national leaders overcoming personal and political crises. With Lincoln expanding, we’re throwing out a few suggestions for the next great presidential biopic:


James Buchanan

With bitter partisans threatening to tear our great, but still young nation apart, the citizens turn to one man for guidance. Sounds like a plot description for Lincoln, no? It’s not, but rather one for its potential prequel — Buchanan

He’s often ranked among America’s worst presidents. After all, his inability to bridge the gap between the North and South ultimately led to the Civil War. Was there much Buchanan could have done? Should more blame lay with his predecessors? It’s something scholars would argue (if they cared much about Buchanan and his presidency). Still, a stirring portrait of a great man at the height of his ineffectiveness doesn’t sound half bad — as long as Daniel Day-Lewis was playing Buchanan, of course.

There are also theories that the unmarried Buchanan was America’s first gay president, so that certainly would make things interesting.


Woodrow Wilson

The actress cast to play Wilson’s wife Edith might as well start preparing her Academy Awards acceptance speech because roles this juicy don’t come along often. Now, by most accounts, Edith Wilson — who unofficially carried out many of her husband’s duties behind closed doors after he suffered a debilitating stroke — isn’t an evil woman. But there’s little doubt Hollywood would turn her into a modern-day Lady MacBeth, giving some lucky actress (probably Meryl Streep) the chance to go for the jugular. 

Edith isn’t the only reason a Wilson biopic would be interesting, however. The League of Nations was an ambitious project for post-WWI America, and the only thing more startling than its scope is the magnitude of its failure (Spoiler alert: war broke out not even two decades after its inception).


Harry S. Truman

The film opens with a stirring monologue at the death bed of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (let’s say … Tom Wilkinson). He passes, and his funeral plays in archival footage behind the opening credits. His vice-president is sworn in, and before he’s even familiar with the layout of the West Wing, he needs to make a painful decision to either drop the bomb on Japan or launch a full-scale invasion of the country. 

Truman is an interesting president because he left office with approval numbers lower than Richard Nixon when he resigned. History has been kind, however. Many would argue that the only reason the Cold War stayed cold was because he set a tone of cautiousness that even a lunatic like Stalin respected. He also rocked a bow tie better than any other president. 


Lyndon B. Johnson

Any president (or historical figure in general, for that matter) with a unique speaking-voice feels like Oscar fodder the Hollywood’s hungriest actors would relish the chance to sink their teeth into. No president had a drawl as strong and Southern as Johnson.

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons Johnson’s life and legacy would make for a good biopic. Like Truman, he ascended into office under tragic circumstances. Perhaps more intriguing, however, would be Johnson’s work on Civil Rights, which forever put an end to institutional racism in America and drastically changed the political landscape in ways that are still being felt today. 


Barack Obama

Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, his primary fight with Hilary Clinton, and both the 2008 and 2012 general election campaigns are obvious beats a filmmaker will want to hit. And there’s no doubt he or she will want to nail the healthcare debates of 2009 and the night Osama bin Laden was killed.

Plus, there are four more years (like it or not) for big, presidential (or decidedly non-presidential…we’ll see) moments to occur. Will it be more than a puff piece? Hard to say. It’ll almost certainly be more appealing than that nauseating anti-Obama “documentary” (2016: Obama’s America) that took red states by storm this summer. But prepare yourselves because it’s coming. The only questions are who and when.

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