With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week, it's a good time to reflect on the history of our nation's esteemed leaders. The more influential a leader is, the more eyes are focused on the films and books that cover his or her tenure, and that is never truer than with a biopic. A great biographical movie can inspire hopes and dreams, while a bad one can tarnish the subject's reputation.
Today we'll look at my picks for the top 5 biopics of American leaders, in no particular order.
1. . Last year's behemoth biopic featured as our sixteenth president during his quest to repeal slavery in 1865. Although not a biography of Lincoln's entire life, the film captured Lincoln's mannerisms, grace, and attitude regarding not just politics, but also parenting and marriage. We got a deeper look at this complicated man and it should give us all a deeper meaning for reflection when we celebrate President's Day going forward.
2. . 's 1992 biography of the civil rights activist Malcolm X has everything a good biopic needs. Strong acting by , a great story of struggle (Malcolm's childhood was devastatingly difficult and ended up in foster care) and a tale of redemption after the title character found a turning point in his Muslim faith that helped him embrace all races. The bio beautifully shares details from Malcolm X's entire life, including his religious conversion and marriage, and Spike Lee's portrait of the leader comes off very multi-dimensional.
3. . Most of us believe that everybody dislikes war--the soldiers, the politicians, and the generals who have to lead men into battle. What Patton does is inform us that this is a fallacy--not only did General Patton willingly head into World War II with victory on his mind, he loved every second of it. Being a general wasn't just his vocation, it was his entire life, and masterfully portrayed that in this film. There are so many amazing quotes that came from Patton, but my favorite was when he said "By God, I actually pity those poor bastards we're going up against, by God, I do."
4. . This isn't the first lengthy film on my list, and it isn't the first starring Denzel Washington--but it is one of my favorite movies of all time. Until this film came out, many of us never considered the fact that during the Civil War, as the North was fighting to end slavery, that some of the Northern soldiers were, in fact, black. The film shows the inception of the idea that the two races should fight side-by-side on the battlefield to work toward their shared goal, and beautifully allows us to see the new soldiers (including and ) and their commanding officers ( and ) learn a bit about humanity from one another.
5. . Technically, this was a miniseries, but it was an incredible portrayal of our second president, and allows us to see that Adams has much more historical significance than merely being the president sandwiched between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Adams was very crucial to the founding of the United States, and was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Paris in 1783. If you've ever wondered why Adams isn't held up with the same sort of esteem as Jefferson, this film will show you how he was often underappreciated in his own time, but demonstrates that he didn't deserve to be.
And this list begs the question, why haven't we had a transformative movie about Martin Luther King, Jr.? Well, we might get that chance. Oliver Stone has reportedly cast Jamie Foxx in the lead role of , which hopefully means we'll get to see such a biopic sooner rather than later.
Images courtesy of Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, MPTV, TriStar Pictures, and HBO.
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