Written by Kirk BairdWith Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, coming to theaters Nov. 9, it’s worth noting the popularity of the 16th president in film. Some of the more notable examples:
Abraham Lincoln (1930): D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation) explores the life and turbulent times of Lincoln’s presidency in a series of episodic vignettes, with Walter Huston as the president. While certainly not the best work of this pioneering director, Abraham Lincoln does mark Griffith’s first use of sound in film.
Young Mr. Lincoln (Criterion) (1939): John Ford directs and Henry Fonda stars in this decade-long look at the life of Abraham Lincoln — years before he made a name for himself — as he moves from a Kentucky cabin to Springfield, Illinois, to begin his law practice. In the course of the film he takes on the biggest court case of his career, endures the death of his girlfriend, courts future wife Mary Todd, and jumps into politics.
Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940): A year after Young Mr. Lincoln was released, director John Cromwell (Since You Went Away, The Prisoner of Zenda) similarly explores the early days of Lincoln’s life, while expanding his film to include all the major events leading up to his election as president.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012): Seth Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay based on his graphic novel about Lincoln’s sworn vengeance as a boy against a menacing band of vampires roaming the countryside and what he’s willing to do to protect his family and his nation against the threat, even as president. Grahame-Smith’s work impressively blends real history with fiction-as-commentary, and Tim Burton’s influence is felt, even as just a producer.
The Conspirator (2010): While not a film about Lincoln per se, this Robert Redford-directed drama examines his assassination and those who plotted it. The film stars Robin Wright as Mary Surratt, who was hanged for being a co-conspirator in the assassination, and James McAvoy as Frederick Aiken, the attorney reluctantly given the task of defending her. Through the course of Aiken’s investigation, he comes to believe in Surratt’s innocence and fights desperately to save her.