The Politics of the Oscars

The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, and Lincoln, a movie about an Illinois politician has been nominated in 12 categories, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. 

We thought we’d take a look at how political movies have fared in the past. Since democracy is a recent innovation in human history, we included kings and queens as political figures. Only three movies about politics have won Best Picture, and two of those -- The Last Emperor and The King’s Speech -- were about monarchs. The third, Gandhi, was about a political activist who never held office.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a 1-50 favorite to win Best Actor for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Day-Lewis is the second actor nominated for playing Lincoln, after Raymond Massey (who played Lincoln before he was president). He’s the fourth actor nominated for playing an American president. Alexander Knox played Woodrow Wilson, and Frank Langella played Richard Nixon.
The only peformer to win for playing an elected official is Meryl Streep, who portrayed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
Here’s a rundown of how movies about politics have fared at the Oscars.
Gandhi 1982
The Last Emperor 1987
The King’s Speech 2010
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
The Great Dictator 1940
Wilson 1944
Julius Caesar 1953
The Lion in Winter 1968
Anne of the Thousand Days 1969
Nicholas and Alexandra 1971
All the President’s Men 1976
Reds 1981
JFK 1991
The Queen 2006
Frost/Nixon 2008
Lincoln 2012
Charles Laughton, King Henry VIII, The Private Life of Henry VIII 1932/33
Ben Kingsley, Mohandas Gandhi, Gandhi 1982
Colin Firth, King George VI, The King’s Speech 2010
James Stewart, Sen. Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
Charlie Chaplin, Adenoid Hynkel, The Great Dictator 1940
Raymond Massey, Abraham Lincoln, Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1940
Alexander Knox, President Woodrow Wilson, Wilson 1944
Laurence Olivier, King Henry V, Henry V 1946
Marlon Brando, Mark Antony, Julius Caesar 1953
Laurence Olivier, King Richard III, Richard III 1956
Peter O’Toole, King Henry II, Becket 1964
Peter O’Toole, King Henry II, The Lion in Winter 1968
Kenneth Branagh, King Henry V, Henry V 1989
Richard Burton, King Henry VIII, Anne of the Thousand Days 1969
Frank Langella, former President Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon 2008
Helen Mirren, Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen 2006
Meryl Streep, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady 2010
Norma Shearer, Queen Marie Antoinette, Marie Antoinette 1938
Genevieve Bujold, Anne Boleyn, Anne of the Thousand Days 1969
Vanessa Redgrave Mary, Queen Mary, Mary, Queen of Scots 1971
Janet Suzman, Empress Alexandra, Nicholas and Alexandra 1971
Robert Morley, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette 1938
Basil Rathbone, King Louis XI, If I Were King 1938
Harry Carey, President of the Senate, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
Claude Rains, Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
Jack Oakie, Benzini Napaloni, The Great Dictator 1940
John Ireland, Jack Burden, All the King’s Men 1949
Robert Shaw, King Henry VIII, A Man for All Seasons 1966
Jeff Bridges, President Jackson Evans, The Contender 2000
Alan Alda, Sen. Owen Brewster, The Aviator 2004
Tommy Lee Jones, Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln 2012
Jason Robards, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, All the President's Men 1976
Maureen Stapleton, Emma Goldman, Reds 1981
Judi Dench, Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare in Love 1998
Sally Field, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln 2012
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