The 2,000+ Films Watched by Presidents Nixon, Carter & Reagan in the White House


Many of us keep a record of the movies we watch. Few of us, how­ev­er, lead the free world. As the reli­able sales num­bers of pres­i­den­tial biogra­phies (no mat­ter how thick) attest, the actions of the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, no mat­ter who that Pres­i­dent may be and no mat­ter what sort of actions that Pres­i­dent takes, always draw inter­est. For instance, you may have seen that Pale­o­fu­ture’s Matt Novak recent­ly went through Jim­my Carter’s diaries to draw up a list of every sin­gle movie Carter watched dur­ing his Pres­i­den­cy.

“Part of my fas­ci­na­tion with the movies that pres­i­dents watch is just cheap voyeurism,” Novak writes. “But the oth­er part is an earnest belief that pop­u­lar cul­ture influ­ences things in the real world. Pres­i­dent Nixon was obsessed with the film Pat­ton dur­ing the Viet­nam War. Pres­i­dent Rea­gan urged Con­gress to take com­put­er secu­ri­ty seri­ous­ly after see­ing War Games in 1983.” And you can learn what else they watched by pulling up What Nixon Saw and When He Saw It by Nixon at the Movies author Mark Feeney, and the list of films Mr. and Mrs. Rea­gan viewed from the Ronald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Library.

Nixon watched sev­er­al depic­tions of hard-bit­ten heroes (and anti­heroes) tough­ing out their trou­bles: not just Pat­ton, but Bul­littTrue GritIce Sta­tion ZebraOur Man in Havana, The Trea­sure of the Sier­ra MadreSpar­ta­cus, and Lawrence of Ara­bia — with the occa­sion­al Paint Your Wag­on or Aun­tie Mame thrown in there as well. Carter hewed a bit clos­er to the over­all Amer­i­can cin­e­mat­ic zeit­geist, watch­ing such era-defin­ing films as RockyNet­workStar WarsAir­port ’77Annie HallAni­mal HouseThe Last Pic­ture ShowApoc­a­lypse Now, Alien, and 10. 

Rea­gan, famous­ly a film actor him­self, watched all sorts movies, though his list shows a cer­tain pref­er­ence for mil­i­tary-themed spec­ta­cles like Gal­lipoliInchonDas BootFire­foxRed DawnIron Eagle, and Top Gun, as well as sports pic­tures like Break­ing AwayThe Win­ning Team, and even Knute Rockne, All Amer­i­can, in which he him­self por­trayed foot­ball play­er George Gipp, a role that anoint­ed him with the nick­name that would stick until the end.

The Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion act assures us that we’ll have the chance to study the in-office view­ing habits of many pres­i­dents to come. Novak, in fact, has already put in a request for the lists from George H.W. Bush, Bill Clin­ton, and George W. Bush: “They said I can expect the list in 46 months.” Well, the wheels of gov­ern­ment do grind slow­ly, after all — we’ve learned that from the movies.

Below you can find a list of the first 10 films each pres­i­dent watched upon tak­ing office. The dif­fer­ence in their cul­tur­al sen­si­bil­i­ties imme­di­ate­ly leaps out.

Nixon (list of 528 films here):

  • The Shoes of the Fish­er­man 
  • The Sound of Music 
  • The Sand Peb­bles
  • Play Dirty 
  • Doc­tor Zhiva­go 
  • Where Eagles Dare 
  • Camelot 
  • A Man for All Sea­sons
  • May­er­ling 
  • Twist­ed Nerve

Carter (list 403 films here):

  • All the President’s Men
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 
  • Net­work
  • Rocky 
  • The God­fa­ther 
  • The Mag­ic Chris­t­ian 
  • Buf­fa­lo Bill and the Indi­ans 
  • The Bad News Bears
  • The Shoo­tist 
  • Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid 

Rea­gan (list of 363 films here)

  • Trib­ute
  • Nine to Five
  • Black Stal­lion
  • Break­ing Away
  • Oh God, Book II
  • Tess
  • Being There
  • The Com­pe­ti­tion
  • Blood­line
  • The Mir­ror Crack­’d

via Pale­o­Fu­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Por­traits of Vice Pres­i­dents with Octo­pus­es on Their Heads — the Ones You’ve Always Want­ed To See

Watch a Wit­ty, Grit­ty, Hard­boiled Retelling of the Famous Aaron Burr-Alexan­der Hamil­ton Duel

Pres. Oba­ma Releas­es a Free Playlist of 40 Songs for a Sum­mer Day (Plus 6 Books on His Sum­mer Read­ing List)

Lyn­don John­son Orders New Pants on the Phone and Requests More Room for His … John­son (1964)

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.