Movies impact and shape our culture. They make us think. They communicate messages and worldviews, sometimes unintentionally. In light of the significance of film (and television), I along with RTB colleagues Krista Bontrager and Dave Rogstad spent time discussing how to approach movies “worldviewishly”—specifically from a Christian worldview—in a two-part podcast series entitled “How to Watch a Movie.” With the Oscars coming up this Sunday, now may be a good time to consider how and why we watch the movies we do.
With Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln up for multiple Academy Awards, I’ve decided to identify my top five movies about my favorite American president, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). All of these films are worth watching. They serve to educate and entertain while paying homage to one of the most important and controversial political leaders in history. Plus, they present an opportunity to practice viewing movies through the worldview lens.
This list includes motion pictures, TV movies, and documentaries about Lincoln that, in some cases, focus more broadly on the events of the American Civil War. These films are listed in order of release dates.
1. The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns (1990)
Arguably Burns’ best documentary, this DVD covers virtually all aspects of the great and terrible American Civil War (1861–1865). While many critical figures are highlighted, Abraham Lincoln receives a lot of attention. An actor whose accent likely reflects that of the Kentucky-born president reads some of the greatest lines from Lincoln’s speeches.
2. The Day Lincoln Was Shot (1998)
This TV movie depicts Lincoln’s fateful assassination. The actors playing President Lincoln (Lance Henriksen) and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth (Rob Morrow), do a great job of bring the characters to life. I intentionally watched this movie before visiting the historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln was shot.
3. The Lincoln Assassination (2004)
Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated. This DVD carefully explores the historical events surrounding the shocking murder. This informative program aired on the History Channel and is an A&E production.
4. The Conspirator (2010)
This motion picture was directed by Robert Redford and explores the legal prosecution of those who were charged with conspiracy to murder President Lincoln. The film focuses particularly on Mary Surratt who ran the boarding house in which the conspirators met to plan the assassination. Questions remain about whether Surratt, who was sentenced to death, was actually an innocent woman.
5. Lincoln (2012)
This outstanding film provides a fresh portrait of Lincoln. Most movies about the sixteenth president, as we saw above, generally focus upon his leadership during the Civil War or examine his tragic and shocking death. Spielberg’s Lincoln presents both a real man and a skilled political leader. Actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ extraordinary performance makes you feel as if you are actually in the presence of Abraham Lincoln.
I hope you will enjoy these movies and the informative perspectives they present on President Lincoln. I never tire of reading books or watching movies about the great events of American history—so I’ll be rooting for Spielberg’s Lincoln on Oscar night.