The favourite films of US Presidents past and present provide powerful insight into their characters and the type of leaders they became, according to new research.
On the eve of the 57th Presidential election, LOVEFiLM – Europe’s largest subscription service instantly streaming film and TV series over the internet and sending DVDs and games by post – worked with Dr Tomas Chamorro, a leading expert in film psychology from University College London, to analyse the movies choices (1) of five US Presidents plus White-House-hopeful Mitt Romney.
For President Obama epic Lawrence of Arabia strikes a chord. The film is regarded as one of the most influential in the history of cinema. Its epic length and emotional storyline indicates that President Obama has a well developed appreciation for great film.
According to the research, his choice is also a sign of his intellectual capacity, with people who love the movie tending to be sophisticated and intellectually curious. “Fans of Lawrence of Arabia are philosophically inclined and understand the complexities underlying human behaviour,” says Dr Tomas. “Compassion and the ability to empathise are essential leadership characteristics and will have certainly been behind some of the decisions made by President Obama throughout his administration.”
For George W Bush, sentimental all-American sports drama Field of Dreams was reputedly among his favourites. The film is notable for its nostalgia for the past and traditional American values. It also deals with the supernatural as the central character is visited by ghosts of long-dead baseball players.
There are parallels between the film’s themes and Bush’s own character. Like Bush the protagonist Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) believes in higher-order powers and at times appears to be driven by inner spirituality and faith. The movie highlights the quintessential American conviction that Bush extolled throughout his Presidency, that by following one’s convictions and beliefs the world will be a better place.
Bill Clinton was said to have screened western High Noon more than 17 times at the White House. The marshal in the story is almost run out of town but returns to face his enemy.
The film’s themes struck a chord with Clinton. “It is easy to understand why Clinton identifies with the character at the centre of the movie, who was both courageous and unafraid to be the hero,” says Dr Tomas. These characteristics may have contributed to Clinton’s popularity and he left office with one of the highest popularity rankings of any President since World War II. However Clinton’s preference for this film may also hint at narcissistic personality traits as the film was widely criticised upon its release for glorifying the individual rather than encouraging shared endeavour.
Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of a man saved from despair by an angel and was rumoured to be one of Ronald Reagan’s favourite flicks. At the heart of the story is a hard-working, no-nonsense American family man, who falls on hard times and is rescued from the brink of despair. “It is a sentimental choice for a President who is said to have fundamentally transformed the American political landscape,” says Dr Tomas. “The fact it appealed to Reagan is interesting though because according to biographers he valued hard-work, patriotism and family values – all evident within the movie.”
Gone with the Wind reportedly proved irresistible to Jimmy Carter. Rhett Butler’s progressive, opportunistic and realistic attitude towards the changing Deep South proved an inspiration to Carter who favoured a new way of doing things.
The research shows that people who identify with Gone with the Wind tend to be rebellious, passionate and impulsive. This streak of rebellion was notable in some of Carter’s choices. Famously Carter walked up the road to the White House after his election and carried his own luggage onboard Air Force One.
On the eve of the US election LOVEFiLM worked with Dr Tomas to evaluate what Mitt Romney’s choice – the Cohen brothers’ satire O Brother Where Art Thou which follows three escaped convicts in search of their fortune – says about his character.
The film’s central theme is about searching for fortune and its central characters are determined but somewhat hapless. “The fact this appeals to Mitt suggests that he believes in the serendipitous power of opportunism,” said Dr Tomas. “Out of all presidents and candidates examined, Mitt Romney’s movie preferences are perhaps the most surprising as they reveal a sense of irony not previously highlighted by biographers, supporters or critics.”
Fliss White, Head of Brand Marketing at LOVEFiLM, commented:
“Our research reveals that whether subconsciously or unconsciously, the films that the Presidents were most drawn to echo some of the values and beliefs applied to their own lives. The same can be said for film fans everywhere – not just those living in the White House. Our Presidential Collection is a great introduction to our vast range of some of the finest films ever made and the arrival of Ides of March on our service adds an appropriately political flavour.
“Film fans can enjoy the Presidential Collection and get a feel for the campaign trail with Ides of March available to stream instantly via LOVEFiLM Instant for as little as £4.99 per month.”
The LOVEFiLM Presidential Collection is as follows:
1. Barack Obama: Lawrence of Arabia
2. Mitt Romney: O Brother Where Art Thou?
3. George Bush: Field of Dreams
4. Bill Clinton: High Noon
5. Ronald Reagan: It’s a Wonderful Life
6. Jimmy Carter: Gone with the Wind