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The 7 Best and 6 Worst Depictions of Politicians in Film and TV

The pre-campaign campaign for Hillary 2016  has officially begun, and, meanwhile, in TV land, NBC has announced that a Clinton biopic miniseries is slated for the fall, starring Diane Lane as the former first lady. But portrayals of politicians and public figures are notoriously difficult to pull off. In that spirit, we’ve compiled a list of seven successes that deserve to be commended and six that fell flat.


Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis gave an Academy Award–winning performance in the 2012 movie Lincoln about the sixteenth president’s final months in office.

Josh Brolin as George W. Bush, W.

While the movie itself received mixed reviews, critics generally deemed Josh Brolin as George W. Bush a success. 

Paul Giamatti as John Adams, "John Adams"

Paul Giamatti played John Adams in the biographical HBO miniseries by the same name.

Dan Hedaya as Richard Nixon, Dick

The 1999 movie Dick offered a slightly different take on who leaked the details of the Watergate scandal to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—as well as a surprisingly convincing portrayal of President Richard Nixon.

Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon

Frank Langella’s performance in the 2008 movie Frost/Nixon presented a slightly more serious take on Tricky Dick, and earned the actor an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Kenneth Branagh as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warm Springs

The 2005 made-for-television movie Warm Springs documented Franklin D. Roosevelt’s struggle with polio and return to the political scene, casting Kenneth Branagh as the thirty-second president.

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Milk

Critics praised Sean Penn for his his portrayal of the charismatic politician, the first openly gay person elected to public office.


Billy Campbell as Abraham Lincoln, Killing Lincoln 

Killing Lincoln may have garnered National Geographic’s highest viewership numbers since the channel’s launch, but Billy Campbell’s portrayal of Honest Abe in the Bill O’Reilly book-turned-TV-movie was generally poorly received.

Victor Slezak as John F. Kennedy, Timequest

Victor Slezak’s performance as John F. Kennedy in the 2002 science fiction film Timequest imagined a world in which a time-traveller prevented the president’s assassination.

Timothy Bottoms as George W. Bush, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis 

Before being cast as the forty-first president, Timothy Bottoms played George W. Bush in the Comedy Central show “That’s My Bush.” His comedic experience didn’t quite translate for the film, which came out two years after the tragic 9/11 attacks and received mixed reviews.

Fred Armisen as Barack Obama, “Saturday Night Live”

Not among the more successful of "Saturday Night Live"'s political impersonations: Fred Armisen’s take on Barack Obama.

Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy, "The Kennedys"

Katie Holmes may have resembled former first lady Jackie Kennedy, but there was little else to recommend her performance.

Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio’s take on FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s distinctive personality in the 2011 movie J. Edgar received mixed reviews at best.

Lede image via Shutterstock.