Our Last Nine Presidents, and the Stars Who Played Them

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Election Day is tomorrow! Let's celebrate by looking back at the nine most recent American presidents who have been portrayed on screen by famous actors. I'm not including all the various Saturday Night Live performers and sketch artists who have lampooned our Commanders in Chief. These are just the bona fide film and TV stars.

  1. George W. Bush. No Obama biopics to speak of yet, but Oliver Stone dove right in with his own feature film W., starring Josh Brolin as the 43rd President. But let's not forget Bush dead ringer Timothy Bottoms, who starred in the short-lived TV comedy That's My Bush!
  2. Bill Clinton. Dennis Quaid played the old rascal in the TV movie The Special Relationship, about Clinton's work with Tony Blair. (The movie was written by The Queen and Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan.) Interestingly, Quaid also played a decidedly Bush-like "President Staton" in the middling 2006 parody American Dreamz. Speaking of slightly fictionalized presidents, I should also mention John Travolta as "Jack Stanton" (an obvious stand-in for Clinton) in 1998's Primary Colors.
  3. George H.W. Bush. "Poppy" Bush should be grateful that Oliver Stone made a movie about his son, because that's the only way this mediocre president has made it to the screen so far, as played by James Cromwell in the same movie.
  4. Ronald Reagan. Wags may say that the actor most famous for playing "Ronald Reagan" is Reagan himself. But looking beyond that, there's a treasure trove: Josh Brolin's father James Brolin has played the Gipper, as have Alan Rickman, Richard Crenna and Rip Torn, among many lesser names.
  5. Jimmy Carter. I almost didn't include Carter here, because the "renown" of the actors who have played him is iffy at best, as are the mostly-forgotten films and TV movies that included him as a character. Best I can give you is the tired celebrity impersonator Fred Travalena in the 2008 right wing "comedy" An American Carol. Though special notice should be given to the little-known Walt Hanna and Ed Beheler: between them, they portrayed Carter on screen in no fewer than eight different productions.
  6. Gerald Ford. It's almost comical to think that the unremarkable Ford would have been played at all, but there he is in the 1987 TV movie The Betty Ford Story (the First Lady got her own movie, but not the President himself!), played by prolific character actor Josef Sommer. Corbin Bernsen played a pre-presidential Ford in the 2003 indie drama The Commission, about the investigation into JFK's assassination.
  7. Richard Nixon. Got an hour? Because there are loads of notable thespians who have portrayed Tricky Dick. And why wouldn't they? He's our very own Richard III, tailor-made for high drama. Among the Nixons: Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella, John Cusack, Danny Huston, Dan Hedaya, Beau Bridges, Philip Baker Hall and Rip Torn. Did I say John Cusack? I did - in the upcoming film The Butler. Also note that Torn has now played two presidents.
  8. Lyndon Johnson. Did I say Rip Torn only played two presidents? Why, he played three, including LBJ! What's up with this guy? James Cromwell - he who brought Bush Sr. to the screen - played this Texan president as well. As did Liev Schreiber and Randy Quaid.
  9. John F. Kennedy. As you can imagine, if there are legions of villainous Nixons, there are equal numbers of movie-star handsome JFKs. The best known include Greg Kinnear, James Marsden, Bruce Greenwood, Martin Donovan, Tim Matheson, Patrick Dempsey, Martin Sheen, William Devane, and Cliff Robertson.