Hail to the Chiefs: Metacritic's Best and Worst President Movies

  • Comments: ↓ 14 user comments
  • Publish Date: February 12, 2010

To celebrate Presidents' Day -- or Presidents Day (both versions are considered correct, although the proper spelling for those of you outside the United States is "Monday"), Metacritic's film editor has selected the best and worst movies in our database that feature a real or imagined American president in a major role or as a narrative focus of the film.

Metacritic's Best President Movies
    Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
1 Frost/Nixon 2008 80 7.5
The President: Richard Nixon (played by Frank Langella)
A 30-year-old series of televised interviews between British journalist David Frost and disgraced President Richard Nixon seems like an odd choice of material for a feature film, but Ron Howard’s Oscar-nominated drama had its origins in an acclaimed play of the same name by Peter Morgan. While critics praised the film in general, veteran actor Langella (reprising his stage role) earned the biggest raves for his performance as Tricky Dick. The critical acclaim didn't have much of an effect at the box office, however; Frost/Nixon grossed just $18 million domestically against a $25 million budget.
2 In the Line of Fire 1993 74 10.0
The President: [Unnamed] (Jim Curley)
Wolfgang Petersen's hit thriller (which grossed close to $177 million worldwide) depicts a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between a Secret Service agent and a would-be presidential assassin. While Clint Eastwood may have been a shoo-in to portray the president's protector, the role of his nemesis was offered to a wide selection of stars including Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall and Jack Nicholson. Eventually, John Malkovich earned the part (and an Oscar nomination) as the psychotic malcontent hellbent on assassinating the unnamed president.
3 JFK 1991 71 8.7
The President: John F. Kennedy (John F. Kennedy)
Oliver Stone’s “counter-myth” regarding the assassination of JFK had everybody in Washington a little paranoid. His production was closely scrutinized by the press, who denounced it vehemently months before it even hit theaters. But at 3 hours and 9 minutes (that's after 50+ minutes were cut out), the film presented a theory that was hard to ignore. It was also hard to ignore its performance at the box office -- JFK eventually earned over $200 million, thanks in no small part to Kevin Costner’s rising star power after the Oscar success of Dances with Wolves. Kennedy doesn't actually appear in the film (except via real archival footage), but a more recent Stone film uses another real-life POTUS as its central character.
4 Primary Colors 1998 70 8.0
The President(ial Candidate): Jack Stanton (John Travolta)
John Travolta stars as Jack Stanton, a silver-haired, silver-tongued, presidential candidate hailing from the South -- in other words, Bill Clinton in all but name -- in this playful political comedy based on the roman à clef infamously and anonymously penned by journalist Joe Klein. Critics raved about the film's deft preservation of the novel’s satiric tone, but the film’s biggest fan was Clinton himself, who enjoyed Travolta’s performance so much that he invited the actor to the White House as his on-screen persona.
5 The American President 1995 67 8.5
The President: Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas)
Ranked 75th on the American Film Institute's list of top American love stories, Rob Reiner's romantic comedy stars Douglas as a widowed president who woos an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Benning. While the Aaron Sorkin-penned film was generally well-received by critics, it is best known as the inspiration for Sorkin’s long-running television drama The West Wing, which borrowed dialogue, cast members, and even the Oval Office set from the film.
Metacritic's Worst President Movies
    Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
1 First Daughter 2004 31 5.6
The President: MacKenzie (Michael Keaton)
Directed by Forest Whitaker, this White House fairytale starring Katie Holmes was actually the second of two teen-oriented films (along with the Mandy Moore-starring Chasing Liberty) about the president's daughter released in 2004. First Daughter failed to charm critics or win over its demographic -- teen moviegoers voted for Moore's film, although neither one performed well -- and it earned Holmes a Golden Raspberry nomination for "worst supporting actress."
2 Welcome to Mooseport 2004 33 2.2
The President: Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman)
Apparently, not everybody loved Raymond in this 2004 political comedy about an everyman plumber (Ray Romano) campaigning against a former POTUS (Hackman) for the mayorship of a small New England town. The film was a disaster; made for just $30 million, it failed to earn back even half its production cost. And it serves as the final film for Gene Hackman, who, as President Cole, turns in a farewell performance that is sadly undermatched by his co-star. Perhaps it was the experience of being in such a lackluster film that caused Hackman to throw in the towel for good after 50 years in the business, but it was a smart move if it saved the world from a Return to Mooseport.
3 In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed 2004 39 8.2
The President: Ronald Reagan (Ronald Reagan)
Not every documentary receives a high metascore, as evidenced by Stephen K. Bannon's nonfiction feature about Ronald Reagan's battle against communism, based on the book "Reagan's War." The film was described by critics in terms of directions: while one reviewer called it "over the top," many found it leaning heavily to the right. More damning was the opinion held by several critics that the doc was simply dull and predictable, which doesn't make for a good movie in any format.
4 Man of the Year 2006 39 4.8
The President(ial Candidate): Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams)
Barry Levinson's film took a few favorite topics of the left -- Jon Stewart, dissatisfaction with the current political climate, and skepticism about Diebold electronic voting machines -- and attempted to meld them into a Robin Williams comedy. In it, Williams stars as a Stewart-like comedian/talk-show host who makes a serious run for the presidency in an election marred by irregularities. The only problem is that Man of the Year never decides whether it wants to be a thriller, a comedy, or even a romance, and ultimately fails on all counts.
5 Vantage Point 2008 40 5.2
The President: Henry Ashton (William Hurt)
Taking a cue from Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece Rashomon, this thriller recounts an assassination attempt on the president from eight different points of view (including those of Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver), replaying much of the same 25-minute period again and again while revealing new details each time. Despite an underwhelming response from critics -- who found the film too "gimmicky" -- Vantage Point enjoyed a lofty view after its opening weekend, collecting over $22 million in a first-place finish. The film ultimately grossed more than $150 worldwide.

The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

Bonus movies

Falling somewhere in between the top and bottom films mentioned above are these additional president-related films in our database (for any completists out there):

What did we miss?

Who is your favorite (or least favorite) big-screen president? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (14)

  • Marc Doyle  

    It was a little before Metacritic's time, but "Dave" is one of my all-time TBS/TNT faves (I think they had it running on a loop for a few years, along with Shawshank)

  • Denise  

    Absolutely agree with Marc Doyle. Dave, with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, was a pretty good movie. Another movie where a president has a bit of a significant role: The Fifth Element.

  • name  

    "Thirteen Days" is the best one. Duh.

  • Chad S.  

    Oliver Stone's willingness to poke fun at himself in his throwaway scene with Larry King was inspired. I always thought "Dave" was inspired by a "Flintstones" episode where Fred had to double as the King of Estonia. I also like Prince's utopian vision of a female black president in his 1994 music video "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World". "The Contender" could have been a contender had the filmmaker not pulled punches, since it turned out that the Joan Allen character wasn't the party girl covered with bodily fluids on the photograph. If a male president can survive a sex scandal, so should a woman. But to answer your question: The best president movie is Oliver Stone's "JFK". That's easy.

  • Will  

    Why "My Fellow Americans" is nowhere to be found on here boggles my imagination

  • A Well Wisher  

    How could you guys forget about Air Force One!?

  • Chris Johnson  

    "Dave" is great, but "My Fellow Americans" is great. I don't know how it was "received" by the critics, but I love it.

  • Anna  

    The only reason I saw Vantage Point was because of Matthew Fox. It wasn't a memorable film...

  • Dave  

    I'd say you should add Dave, My Fellow Americans (Jack Lemon, Dan Akroyd, James Garner), and a mini-series - Back Stairs of the Whitehouse.

  • jhhl  

    James Earle Jones is "The Man (1972)" - showing how hard it would be to have a black president in the early 70s.

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