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In the past 50 or so years, there are few Presidents whose term in office has been as controversial, consequential, or even discussed as much as that of Richard Nixon. Ever since the 37th President of the United States left the highest office in the country after turning in his resignation on August 9, 1974, there have been dozens of films, television series, and documentaries dedicated to “Tricky Dick’s” presidency and legacy after leaving office. Critically acclaimed dramas like Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, and Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men come to mind, but there are so much more.
And so, as we live in a time where we are looking back on contentious presidential administrations more so than ever before, now might be a good time to look back on all the various film and television projects that best tell the story of Richard Nixon, his upbringing, infamous presidency, and what life was like for him in the 20 years between the end of his time in office and his death in 1994. Here are 11 titles that best tell the story of Richard M. Nixon.
Oliver’s Stone’s 1995 historical epic Nixon, which was released nearly 18 months to the day of the late president’s death, isn’t your typical biopic. Sure, it tells the story of Richard Nixon’s rise to power and fall from grace, but it has that “Oliver Stone” quality to it (non-linear storytelling, various film styles, grades, and tones) that really makes it stand out. And coming it at a whopping 192 minutes in length, this Academy Award-nominated political drama includes all of Nixon’s biggest moments.
Over the course of the movie, Nixon follows the 37th President of the United States as he attempts to cover up the Watergate Scandal before being forced to come to terms with the reality of the situation leading up to his 1974 resignation during a nationally-broadcast address. And other moments in his political career — serving as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower, his failed bid for the White House in 1960, winning the 1968 election, Vietnam — are all brought to life by Anthony Hopkins in an intense yet at times sympathetic portrayal.
One thing that sets CNN apart from the other 24-hours news channels is the network’s impressive, and expansive library of original documentaries. One of the better recent additions to that collection is the 2019 four-parter Tricky Dick, which tells the story of the one-day disgraced president starting with his humble upbringing in California and going all the way to his final moments in the White House before stepping down from the post.
Featuring never-before-scene footage which is this combined with recordings of Nixon (archival news clips and the president’s own secret recordings), Tricky Dick is one of the most comprehensive documentaries you will find about a former Commander in Chief. Fair warning, however, this documentary is far from family friendly and features some rather unsavory language, some of which has not withstood the test of time.
Stream it on HBO Max here.
All The President’s Men
The Academy Awarding-winning 1976 political drama All The President’s Men doesn’t actually feature a depiction of Richard Nixon, but it does follow dogged Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) as they successfully uncover the Watergate Scandal and bring down Nixon’s presidency in the process. Nearly 45 years after its release, All The President’s Men remains not only one of the best journalism movies you’ll ever see, but also one of the most important and influential films of all time thanks it part to William Goldman’s award-winning screenplay based on the book of the same name written by the two reporters who broke the story in the first place.
Nixon By Nixon: In His Own Words
By the time the HBO original documentary Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words was released in 2014, the history-obsessed members of the American populace had already heard everything they thought they could in terms of Richard Nixon’s secret recordings. Imagine the surprise when the documentary came out with new White House tapes that had just recently been declassified in the months prior to its release.
Don’t let the 71-minute runtime fool you, Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words is proof of the quality over quantity argument and features some of the most inflammatory and interesting recordings of the former Commander in Chief. The tapes reveal the peaks and valleys of Richard Nixon’s mental state throughout his presidency and the various stages of his relationships with some of his most trusted advisors like Henry Kissinger and Charles Colson.
Stream it on HBO Max here.
Based on Peter Morgan’s play of the same name, Ron Howard’s 2008 political drama Frost/Nixon recreates the famous conversations between Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and British journalist David Frost (Michael Sheen) that aired over the course of four nights in May 1977 (with one more in September of that year). The movie centers around the former President of the United States as he’s trying to repair his damaged reputation that still had not yet recovered from the fallout of the Watergate Scandal.
The film does a tremendous job of depicting Frank Langella’s Richard Nixon as a conflicted former statesman who is not yet ready to accept blame for the way he not only damaged his own reputation but that of the office of the President of the United States, all the while coming off as paranoid and thin-skinned.
Robert Altman’s 1984 one-man show Secret Honor isn’t like anything else you will see in terms of movies featuring a portrayal of Richard Nixon. This time around, Philip Baker Hall is the one playing the 37th President of the United States a few years removed from his 1974 resignation. Armed with a loaded handgun, a bottle of booze, a head full of twisted thoughts and paranoia, and a deteriorating psyche, this version of Nixon paces around his New Jersey study (fitted with CCTV cameras for some reason) and recounts his life in a fit of rage.
Over the course of the 90-minute dialogue, Philip Baker Hall’s version of the president does everything from deny the relevancy of the Watergate Scandal to bouncing around between admiration and hatred of John F. Kennedy. Through it all, Secret Honor’s version of Richard Nixon denies responsibility for anything bad that has happened to the country and most of all his own life.
Elvis & Nixon
There are countless photographs from Richard Nixon’s presidency, but few are as intriguing as the one of the president and Elvis Presley taken in the White House in 1970. The 2016 dramedy Elvis & Nixon tells the story (or at least some version of it) behind the famous photograph and the meeting that preceded it. Starring Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon, the movie follows the two icons of their respective worlds as they have an impromptu meeting to discuss everything from Presley’s hatred of hippies and drug culture (which is incredibly ironic) to issues that both men dealt with in their lives.
It is hard to say how much of what happens in Elvis & Nixon is what actually went down in the Oval Office that fateful December 1970 afternoon, but I’ll be damned if it’s not an entertaining piece of history.
Stream it on Amazon here.
ReMastered: Tricky Dick And The Man In Black
The 2018 Netflix documentary ReMastered: Tricky Dick and The Man In Black goes into great detail about Johnny Cash’s iconic April 1970 performance at the White House, one where Richard Nixon asked the country singer and man of the people to play certain songs that would help the president’s image and go against his own personal views. The once cordial relationship goes off the deep-end when the Man in Black goes off script and causes a stir, one that would unfortunately be overshadowed by Nixon’s exploits in the years to come.
Stream it on Netflix here.
Richard Nixon will forever be known for his habit of recording everything that happened in the Oval Office, but he wasn’t the only one documenting some of the biggest moments of his presidency. The 2013 documentary Our Nixon features rare footage of the 37th President of the United States as taken by three of his closest aids throughout his term in office. Drawing from 500 reels of Super 8 recordings, director Penny Lane constructs a movie detailing the rarely seen side of the controversial public figure through this rare footage and interviews and other historical materials.
Stream it on Amazon here.
The Final Days
Richard Pearce’s 1989 made-for-television drama The Final Days, shows, as the title suggest, the waning days of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Portrayed by Lane Smith (who received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance), the movie’s version of Nixon slowly begins to lost touch with reality as he continues to deny his role in the Watergate Scandal as well as the fact that it will bring down his presidency. And best of all, Smith does one hell of a Nixon impression, especially during the "I'm not a crook!" speech.
And then there is 1999 comedy Dick, which takes more than a few liberties in the retelling of how the Watergate Scandal blew up. In this political farce, Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams play two young girls who accidentally find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time and expose the infamous break-in, kicking off a series of events that find them at the center of the the intensifying controversy. The best part about this version of events: the girls accidentally give Richard Nixon (Dan Hedaya) pot-laced cookies that happen to influence major events but also lead to the president’s signature paranoia.
Rent it here.
Those are just some of the movies, documentaries, and specials that provide insight into the presidency and legacy of Richard Nixon. If your favorite Nixon documentary didn't make the list, sound off in the comments below.