POTUS at the Pictures: Who Are the Most Portrayed Presidents in Film?

Where does President Obama rank? And which leader is the only one never to have graced the silver screen?

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Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night party at McCormick Place, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago.

Now that President Obama has been re-elected, the predictions of statistics guru Nate Silver have been vindicated—but we don’t need complicated polling to predict the on-screen resident in any randomly selected movie: using IMDB’s list of character appearances, we charted which U.S. Presidents have been played by actors in the most movies, and the one with the top screen time is first by a landslide.

Not surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln has appeared in a whopping 153 movies—nearly 100 more than the second-place Prez, George Washington, who has only been in 65. Here’s the top ten:

1. Abraham Lincoln: 153

2. George Washington: 65

3. Ulysses S. Grant: 48

4. George W. Bush: 42 (tie)

4. Richard Nixon: 42 (tie)

6. Thomas Jefferson: 40

7. Theodore Roosevelt: 37

8. Franklin Roosevelt: 35

9. John F. Kennedy: 33

10. Andrew Jackson: 22

(MORE: TIME Cover: What Would Lincoln Do?)

President Obama nearly misses the top ten, squeaking into 11th place with 21 appearances—which is being generous: the “film” category also includes shorts, and Obama is largely confined to those movies rather than feature-length, big-screen ones.

And who wound up at the bottom? Poor Warren G. Harding, President from 1921–1923, our 29th, is the only American President never to appear as a character in a movie. The Ohioan died of a heart attack only two years into his term—but not before he could get involved with the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal, a case of bribery that has tainted the memory of his time in office…and, if you ask us, would make a great movie. The other bottom-ranking presidents, each with one single appearance, are Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover.

(MORE: Daniel Day-Lewis on Becoming Abraham Lincoln)

Click on the chart below to enlarge it and see the full 43. (Not 44: we only counted Grover Cleveland once.)

Image: Presidents Graph

Data via IMDB/Chart by Lily Rothman
3 comments
JacquesChicar
JacquesChicar

But what are the movies?  You might have linked to a list of titles.

DavidAbolafia
DavidAbolafia

Of course, Harding appeared as a character in "Boardwalk Empire."

LilyRothman
LilyRothman

@DavidAbolafia Yes, this is just movies -- if we counted TV the numbers would be off the charts! But it's nice to know that every President gets his moment of fictional fame.