The 10 best TV shows and movies about Abraham Lincoln

Yoshiko Yap

There’s a reason Presidents Day was designated to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and not, say, Millard Fillmore and Martin Van Buren.

We’re especially obsessed with the 16th president, which explains why Hollywood keeps churning out films and TV specials examining his life. Here are three new documentaries to check out as well as gems from the past:

‘Abraham Lincoln’: If the only thing you know about Lincoln is that his mug wound up on the penny, this is a good place to start. Doris Kearns Goodwin leads an all-star team of historians offering a thorough, but fairly basic, bio over the course of three nights, covering everything from Lincoln’s hard-scrable childhood to the assassination’s impact on the country. The only surprise here is how easily former President Barack Obama slips into the role of fanboy. 7 p.m. Sun.-Tue., History Channel

‘Lincoln’s Dilemma’: If the History Channel project is a primer, then “Dilemma” is the advanced-placement class. Jeffrey Wright narrates these four episodes that take a more nuanced approach to the president’s war strategy and political thinking. It also spends time examining how the issues that triggered the Civil War remain unresolved. The results are not nearly as rah-rah as other offerings. Apple TV Plus

‘Frederick Douglass — In Five Speeches’: You can’t tell Lincoln’s story without examining the contributions of the most famous Black man of the 19th century. Several of today’s most promising young Black actors, including “Lovecraft Country” star Jonathan Majors, recite excerpts from Douglass’ most famous speeches while historians look back at how the civil rights leader pushed and prodded Lincoln. It’s a powerful hour. 8 p.m. Wednesday, HBO

The classics

‘Abe Lincoln in Illinois’ (1940): If you get past the fact that a Canadian, Raymond Massey, was cast as the Great Emancipator, the movie is an involving look at the pre-presidential years. Massey is a bit stiff but Howard da Silva is terrific as Jack Armstrong, who fought Honest Abe during his brief flirtation with amateur wrestling. Massey would play Lincoln again, in the 1962 epic “How the West Was Won.” Amazon Prime

‘Lincoln’ (2012): Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Oscar in the title role and he’s the main reason to see Steven Spielberg’s stiff, unwieldy biopic. The revelations are the high-pitched voice Day-Lewis uses (inspired by historical accounts) and the doubt and grief that dogged Lincoln, who was in physical pain — his son Willie died soon after he became president. Amazon Prime, Apple TV Plus

‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915): Both a cinema landmark and a racist screed, D.W. Griffith’s film should be taken with a boulder of a salt. It’s notable, though, as it was one of the earlier movie portrayals of Lincoln and made just 50 years after his death. Lincoln was a hero of Griffith’s. Amazon Prime, Fandor

‘Young Mr. Lincoln’ (1939): John Ford took a break from making epic Westerns to helm this intimate portrayal of the future president trying to prove his mettle in the courtroom. Was wide-eyed, sincere, tall Henry Fonda born to play the title character? His affecting performance here says “Yes.” Amazon Prime, Apple TV Plus, Tubi

Just for laughs

‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989): “Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!” is the sage advice Lincoln (Robert V. Barron) offers in the beloved comedy, which features yet another demo of Lincoln’s wrestling skills. At first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, he’s one of the historical figures who help the title characters on their mythic quest. Lincoln’s also a good sport when they complain he’s too tall. HBO Max

“The Lego Movie”: Put away your Lincoln Logs. Here, that log cabin is made of the plastic blocks invented in Denmark. When hero Emmet says, “A house divided against itself … would be better than this,” it doesn’t sit well with this action-hero version of Lincoln (voiced by Will Forte), who spends more time butt-kicking than on the Gettysburg Address. Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube

“Drunk History”: Lincoln wasn’t known to be a heavy drinker, but you wouldn’t know that by the way he’s portrayed at least three times in this Comedy Central series in which comics look at the past through beer goggles. Stephen Merchant is among the actors donning the stovepipe hat as inebriated narrators misreport on everything from Lincoln’s early legal career to the assassination. Hulu, YouTube

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