Top Five Abraham Lincoln Movies

Movies impact and shape our culture. They make us think. They communicate iStock_000014812449Smallmessages 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.

  One thought on “Top Five Abraham Lincoln Movies

  1. February 22, 2013 at 10:50 am

    PS Last week I saw the film Killing Lincoln (made from Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book) on the National Geographic channel. Excellent Lincoln film. It would definitely make my list.

  2. Richard
    February 26, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Ken, let me also recommend the latest book by Allen Guelzo on the Civil War, “Fateful Lightning.” Guelzo is a superb Civil War historian, and this book is a terrific summary of the War and its causes and of Lincoln himself.

  3. February 27, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Hopeful the best on your list is: “The Holy Bible”
    God breathed those holy inspired scriptures in all 66 books.
    This best book will tell you why you are here and give you a choice for your destiny when time is no more. You have spent alot of time reviewing movies and books. The best time you ever spend will be in the pages of the Holy Bible. He wrote the book. Gen 1:1 He created the scene. Without a Doubt you can know where you will spend eternity. John 3:16

  4. February 28, 2013 at 11:26 am


    I find it strange that you frame my intellectual pursuit of wisdom, truth, and knowledge (all given from God) as somehow neglecting Scripture or at odds with God’s written Word. Actually my motivation for pursuing truth in all spheres of life is motivated by my love for God and my dedication to Scripture.

    The Bible teaches me that “all truth is God’s truth” and that God reveals himself in Two Books (the figurative book of nature and the literal book of Scripture [Romans 1 & 2]).

    Through responding to the Gospel message of Scripture I am assured of my salvation in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-10). But while I am living this temporal life I am attempting to love God with my entire being (and that includes my intellectual life as a scholar and as an American citizen).

    I view the Bible as the only inspired and inerrant Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but it is not the only book worth reading.

  5. February 28, 2013 at 11:28 am


    Thanks for the recommendation on the Guelzo book.

    Best regards.

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