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.

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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. 

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