Four Score and Seventeen Years of Abraham Lincoln in the Movies

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 5 2012 10:00 AM

Four Score and 17 Years of Lincoln in Film

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis is only the latest actor to play Abraham Lincoln.

Photo by David James, SMPSP © 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

2012 might be the year of two long anticipated portrayals of Lincoln (I refer to both the Oscar-baiting and vampire-hunting varieties), but it will hardly be the first time Old Abe has been portrayed on screen. From video essayist and Brow Beat contributor Kevin B. Lee comes this look back at the many portrayals of the Great Emancipator on screen, scored, appropriately, to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Perhaps the most striking revelation of Lee’s essay, from Fandor, is just how goofy so many of these depictions have been.  Long before Abe was chopping down the undead, there was “Dancing Lincoln,” Star Trek Lincoln, and, my personal favorite, Police Squad! Lincoln. Many of our greatest actors have taken a crack at the character, and some—from Frank McGlynn Sr. to, more recently, Hal Halbrook—have just about made a career of it.

Advertisement

So who’s the greatest on-screen Lincoln? When we asked leading Lincoln expert Harold Holzer earlier this fall, he told us his “favorite all time” was not Walter Huston or Gregory Peck but Sam Waterston. Of course, he also said that Daniel Day-Lewis’s embodiment “may eclipse all.” I might add that if Day-Lewis can’t deliver, the title of 2012’s greatest Lincoln could still go to Louis C.K.

Previously
Watch Louis C.K. as Abe Lincoln
Does Daniel Day-Lewis Sound Like Lincoln?
The Secret Histories of Other U.S. Presidents

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.