PHOTOS: The History of Abraham Lincoln on Film

The 16th president has been a Hollywood star and box office attraction since the earliest days of Hollywood

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Everett Collection

Abraham Lincoln, 1930

Walter Huston
(Everett Collection)
In the first major historical film of the sound era, director D.W. Griffith cast Walter Huston, father of director John Huston and grandfather of actress Anjelica Huston, as Lincoln. The worshipful (and somewhat wooden) portrait chronicles events from every period of the president's life. "Abraham Lincoln," Griffith said, "is not to be thought of as a statue. Lincoln was a complex, many-sided personality."

Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939

Henry Fonda
(© 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, TM & Copyright / Courtesy Everett Collection)
In Henry Fonda, director John Ford found an actor who conveyed Ford's vision of Lincoln's humanity. The touching film focuses on the Springfield years, when the newly minted lawyer found his way in the world. "Everybody knows Lincoln was a great man," Ford said, "but the idea of the picture is to give the feeling that even as a young man, you could sense there was going to be something great about this man."

Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1940

Raymond Massey
(Everett Collection)
In the film adaptation of novelist Robert Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Raymond Massey reprised his stage role as Lincoln. The spellbinding performance won him an Oscar nomination.

Lincoln, 1988

Sam Waterston
(Everett Collection)

For the television adaptation based on Gore Vidal's historical novel, the superb Sam Waterston owns the title role. "Lincoln was both 'Honest Abe' and this terrible, sneaky, wild cracker-barrel politician," Waterston said. "There is a place where those two things...meet. He was honest in his intent and wily in his practice."

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 2012

Benjamin Walker
(© Twntieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved / Courtesy Everett Collection)

The Lincoln legend is subjected to campy excess in producer Tim Burton's historical-fantasy genre mash-up. Benjamin Walker is an ax-wielding Abe, battling the undead.