5 Presidential Movies that Make Guys Cry

DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“Presidential Movies”

As America gets ready to celebrate President’s day this Monday, my thoughts float towards our history of great films portraying the President. There’s the reality and gravity of what the POTUS is, but when cast in a film Hollywood tends to inject a little humor, some testosterone, and swagger that makes for a more exiting and engaging movie. What films come out the other end of this meat grinder are not documentaries of actual past leaders (though those have value as well) but fictional aspirations of what they could be if they truly represented the American ideal. Presidents with testosterone to spare, swagger and wit, and able to throw a punch when need be. To watch these films is to view what the American people wish they could get from a leader, and sometimes that means shedding a tear or two.

1. The American President
The role of President has to represent the values of the American people, and since family values are so important, it’s expected the President have a family. This movie explores what would happen if a President became a widower during his presidency, and how he would go about dating. Michael (old Ant-Man) Douglass wants to pass a crime bill, but Annette (who cares) Benning wants to pass an environmental bill. They fall in love, which immediately threatens his reelection and both pieces of legislation? t’s political intrigue mixed with romance, and when he has to choose his bill over hers and she gets fired for failing as a lobbyist, oh it stings.

What makes him The American President is he’s a Democrat who can’t get anything passed because Republicans don’t want to work with him. Regardless of the applause he gets during his speech, that’s still the case both in the film and reality. It’s incredibly frustrating to see him destroy his relationship just to get one ineffectual bill passed, and then change his mind because of love. Honestly I don’t want my president making political moves for the nation based on what his girlfriend wants. Boooooo.

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2. Air Force One
“Get off my plane” is the immortal line that we got from this film. Harrison (every role you like) Ford plays a president mixed with John McClane, which honestly is a fantastic idea. Several recent films have tried to have a secret service agent macho-McClane his way to saving the President, but it’s so much cooler when the Commander in Chief is punching baddies himself. The entire film is about the titular airplane being commandeered by terrorists, and Ford being so awesome that he protects his family and gets to utter that wonderful one-liner before literally kicking a terrorist off his plane. It’s just…so patriotic. I would vote for anything that man proposed after knowing what he did.

If there’s one thing in this movie that gets me, it’s that a President courageous enough to stay aboard a hijacked plane with terrorists also has to worry about the loyalty of his own bodyguards and his own administration. During the fracas, the Vice President considers invoking the 25th Amendment, which would nullify Ford’s authority as President due to his being incapable of leading. That’s so messed up to do while the guy is busy beating up Russian extremists

3. Dave
This is somewhat insulting to the actual President if you think about it: the real President is in a coma and they get an actor to take his place. The actor does a better job than the real President, hence the suggested insult. That being said, it’s a comedy directed by Ghostbusters Ivan Reitman, so it’s all good! Kevin Klein is hilarious as a guy trying to pretend to be the president and realizing pretty much everyone in power is either evil or horrible. He gets a personal accountant to balance the federal budget instead of the professionals, and ends up stealing the real president’s wife (the guy dies and it’s Sigourney Weaver, so I don’t blame him!)

As goofy and satisfying as this film is, there are somber moments. Think about this: Klein looks so much like the President that he fooled the President’s wife at point blank range, for a time. Then the President, her husband, dies and she ends up falling in love with Klein. Same body, different personality. Tell me he’s not going to feel compared to her ex-husband forever.

4. Frost/Nixon

Yes Nixon was an actual President, but a play was written about him and then a movie was made about the play and at that point we’re dealing with a fictional characterization. This is a movie about a talk show host/journalist who interviews Nixon after Watergate, and his internal battle of whether to be a talk show host or a journalist during the interview. Does he throw softball questions and try to make Nixon look good, or does he grill the crook (shut up Nixon, yes you were)? A great movie with tons of suspense, and a humanizing portrayal of Nixon by Frank Langella. I would also recommend this film to any journalist who has forgotten that it’s their role to investigate and find the truth, rather than be mouthpieces of the subjects they are interviewing.

The part of this film that might get you in tears is actually Nixon. The night prior to the final interview session, Nixon calls Frost while drunk and claims these interviews will ruin Frost’s career and Nixon will come out on top. Later Nixon doesn’t even remember making that phone call. There’s this wonderful introspective moment where Nixon isn’t sure whether he’s spiraling so far that he can’t even recall all the sinister things he’s done, or perhaps he’s slipping into senility. Either way, a man who thought himself immune from all scrutiny realizes he’s defeating himself.

5. Independence Day

Do you remember the President from this film? Do you remember his amazing speech? OF COURSE YOU DO! This is by far the culmination of what a fictional idealized version of the American President should be. In all other movies the President can be witty, or punch the bad guys, but the opposition is always human so there’s a limit. In this film the enemy is not only alien but diplomacy is tried and denied unambiguously. They used to call WWII “A good war” because the enemy was evil and their intentions were not shades of grey. This fictional interstellar war is the same way, and thus the President gets to be as macho and cowboy and amazing as he wants to be. He flies a jet and shoots things! I’m super stoked that he’s returning for the sequel that in no way will be bad, shut up.

For every awesome President you have to have a moment that hardens them. This film hands those moments out like candy. Have a wife, Mr. President? Aliens killed her. Like the American people? Aliens killed most of them. Have thoughts of repopulating? Better not choose Texas, cause you just needlessly irradiated it. Doom and gloom for Bill Pullman.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.