One of the most talked about films this holiday season is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln about the last days of the 16th President of the United States. According to the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) this is merely the 303rd movie or television production to feature Honest Abe, making him the most depicted figure in American history on the big or small screen.
The names of actors who have played the president include such notables as Henry Fonda, Raymond Massey, Walter Hudson, Gregory Peck, Tom Hanks and most recently Daniel Day-Lewis. Arguably, the most famous and most popular actor to play the president is Hal Holbrook who played the Kentuckian in about a half dozen made for television movies and miniseries during the 1970s and 1980s.
Likewise the directors who have brought Lincoln to the screen have also included some notable names like John Ford, D.W. Griffith as well as Spielberg.
Regardless of who played the president or directed the film, there have been some consistencies in all the films. As a rule Lincoln is shown to be a clever, simple, good hearted backwoodsman, often ignoring the fact that at the time he was elected president, Lincoln was a very successful lawyer, living in a nice Springfield, Illinois house. His wit and good natured personality is often shown as well as his deep feelings for justice. Some even show the fits of depression that Lincoln tried to hide with his frontier sense of humor.
While most Lincoln films treat the president with reverence, there have been times when Lincoln has been shown to be something different. This past summer we saw Lincoln taking on vampires (Sadly, none of them from the Twilight films.) In the 1980s he traveled through time in a phone booth with Bill and Ted, while in the 1960s he fought a Klingon and Attila the Hun alongside Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
One other constant with Lincoln films, is that despite the popularity his life has with film makers, Lincoln films generally have not done well at the box office, a trend that does not appear to be changing soon. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, released in the summer of 2012, was a box office disappointment while Lincoln has fared worse than expected at the box office to date.