First Ladies
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13 Actresses Who Did a Bang Up Job Playing the First Lady of the United States

January 6, 2017 2.2k votes 505 voters 22.8k views13 items

List RulesDo your patriotic duty: vote up the best portrayals of FLOTUS in movies and TV.

Some of Hollywood’s finest actresses have played first ladies in film and television. One of the loudest Oscar buzzes of 2016 is for Natalie Portman as Jackie Onassis in Jackie. Critics across the board have lauded the Academy Award winning actress’s depiction of the iconic first lady in the days following husband John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Portman is not the first actress to receive critical praise for her performance as a first lady. Here are 13 of the best performances in television and film by an actress playing a real-life first lady.

Many of the movies and shows on this list feature the first lady as a secondary character to her president husband. However, some of the items are straight up first lady biopics. Jackie, The Betty Ford Story, and The Magnificent Doll all focus on the FLOTUS and her dramatic arc. Portrayals of historical characters in movies and TV are all over the map, but these women knocked it out of the park. 

American audiences have always been fascinated by historical characters in movies and television. Legends like Patty Duke and Sally Field are just a few of the renowned actresses who have portrayed America’s most iconic first ladies. If your favorite actresses to play a first lady is missing, let the world know in the comments section below.

  • Greer Garson at Eleanor Roosevelt
    Video: YouTube

    Film: Sunrise at Campobello (1960)

    Greer Garson was the first actress to be nominated for an Academy Award (her seventh nomination; her lone win came in 1942 for Mrs. Miniver) for portraying a first lady. She lost the Best Supporting Oscar trophy to Elizabeth Taylor but took home the Golden Globe in 1961 for her portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt.

    Sunrise at Campobello (Campobello Island straddles Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, and is believed to be where FDR contracted polio) tells the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt's (Ralph Bellamy) first days of his battle with polio and how his family managed his grave, sudden illness. Garson became unrecognizable in her portrayal of Eleanor, with false teeth and a distorted voice; it's considered one of the actress's best performances. 

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  • Joan Allen as Pat Nixon
    Video: YouTube

    Film: Nixon (1995)

    Joan Allen earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Pat Nixon in Oliver Stone's biopic about President Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins). The film details the 37th president's life as a young boy to his rise to president and his disgraceful resignation. Allen took on the character, known by many as "plastic Pat," with an enormous amount of sympathy and subtlety.

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  • Cynthia Nixon as Eleanor Roosevelt
    Video: YouTube

    TV Movie: Warm Springs (2005)

    HBO's Warm Springs is just as much about Eleanor Roosevelt dealing with the infidelity of her husband, helping him overcome polio, and turning herself into a political activist, as it is about FDR's (Kenneth Branagh) early battle with his crippling disease and search for a cure. Nixon earned both a Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe for her portrayal of the longest-serving first lady of the United States.

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  • Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy Onassis
    Video: YouTube

    TV Mini-Series: The Kennedys (2011)

    This ten-part mini-series takes an inside look at the Kennedy family from the early days through JFK's (Greg Kinnear) assassination. The crux of the narrative is the turbulent events surrounding Kennedy's presidency, including the Civil Rights Movement, Bay of Pigs invasion, and Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Holmes takes on the iconic first lady again in the 2017 TV mini-series The Kennedy's After Camelot. This production focuses on Jacqueline Kennedy's life in the aftermath of her husband's assassination and the story of how the internationally famous first lady becomes Jackie O. Several publications have already written about Holmes's uncanny resemblance to the real-life Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

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