As far as movie and TV portrayals of real-life presidents go, few are kookier than Richard Nixon -- fleshed out with with more prostheses than any other commander-in-chief. This weekend, Kevin Spacey takes on the task in Elvis & Nixon, a charming little movie structured around the meeting of those marquee names. Impressions abound: as one review put it, "he’s mostly just Generic President."
Tricky Dick's been depicted by plenty of wacky actors over the years, so we revisited the best, worst, and weirdest of the bunch.
The head of Richard Nixon in Futurama
Is there a president whose head looks better in a jar? Probably not. In episodes like "A Head in the Polls" and "Decision 3012," the show proved that Nixon is still fun to kick around -- even over a thousand years since he left office.
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Ron Howard's slick adaptation of Peter Morgan's play turns presidential politics into a media slug match -- sounds familiar, right? Any of our current presidential candidates could probably take a few slimy lessons from Frank Langella's Nixon. Despite having left office in shame, he's still a cagey, clever manipulator of the press, and the movie's best scenes involve him outsmarting Michael Sheen's playboy newscaster. There's a reason they called him "Tricky Dick."
John Cusack in Lee Daniels' The Butler
A look at one black man’s tenure in the White House, threaded through the lives of several presidents, could be award-worthy material. For Lee Daniels, best known for creating Empire, it's the basis for camp. The Butler is exceedingly silly, and Cusack as President Nixon feels like trolling. The actor looks, sounds, and moves nothing like the guy. Whatever -- he’s crazy! American history’s more fun when everyone acts like Nicolas Cage in Con Air.
Robert Wisden in Watchmen and Mark Camacho in X-Men: Days of Future Past
If you need a politician to stand in for the ethical failures of American government, Nixon is your man! In Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s deconstructivist opus, a conspiratorial attack on New York City brings the U.S. together with Russia and counterbalances the spotty reputation of our 37th president (who is elected for a third term in this alternate timeline). X-Men: Days of Future Past piles on harder. The prequel story sees Nixon endorsing an army of robots that will control the mutant population. So much for ending the Vietnam War.
Brian Huskey in BoJack Horseman
BoJack needs a Nixon stand-in when he's filming the movie-within-the-show, Secretariat, and who better to play the prez than his illegitimate son, who also happens to be a security guard at the Nixon Museum? It's all too meta for words.
This offbeat teen comedy tracks two BFFs who literally stumble into a dog-walking gig for Checkers, the president's cocker spaniel. Dan Hedaya may or may not have been born to play Richard Nixon. He nails all of Dick's tics, and his gruff voice is spot-on. His Nixon grounds this goofy reimagining of history firmly in reality.
Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor
Robert Altman made a lot of films, so you'll be forgiven for missing this 1984 political drama that takes the form of a 90 minute monologue delivered by a distraught whiskey-drinking Richard Nixon, played by the great Philip Baker Hall. It's a stripped-down, stage-y affair in some ways, but Altman's direction and Hall's magnetic, wild-eyed take on Nixon make it essential viewing for both history and movie buffs.
Anthony Hopkins in Nixon
Anthony Hopkins doesn't really resemble Richard Nixon -- like, at all. And, depending on whom you ask, Oliver Stone's rich, Shakespearean take on the president's life isn't exactly a historically accurate representation of the period, either. But, like most movies Stone made in the '90s, it has a bouncing, kinetic energy to it that carries you through all 192 minutes of scheming, politicking, and questionable wigs. Plus, I mean, when else are you going to see Hannibal Lecter in the White House?
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