Joe Biden’s favorite movie is Chariots of Fire, a story about two men who run a series of close races with urgently high stakes. Donald Trump’s favorites can’t be narrowed down to one, but he likes old Hollywood classics… and Bloodsport.
It occurred to me last night, as ballot counting continued, how little I knew about the movie choices of the next potential leader of the free world, whose personal branding is all about sunglasses, ice cream, and Amtrak. Was Top Gun a Biden favorite movie? Murder on the Orient Express? I assumed some kind of dad movie, or grandad movie. Maybe The Irishman, set partly in his home states of Pennsylvania and Delaware?
Because of the intensity of the 2020 election — and the sense that we knew both candidates very, very well — the news media largely skipped the kinds of stories in 2020 that in other years have humanized the nominees and in some cases introduced them to the American public. There understandably weren’t a lot of lighthearted questions about candidates’ favorite TV shows or movies or music, and when there were, even those questions and answers were politicized. (Google “Kamala Harris favorite rapper” if you want to venture into clickbait aggregation hell.)
Biden’s Favorite Movie
A search for “Biden favorite movie” led to a 2008 CBS News interview, when he was a candidate for vice president, and the news media perhaps felt comfortable enough, despite the many problems of that year, to ask candidates a couple of softball questions. Biden came through with a thoughtful answer when Katie Couric asked him is favorite film.
“Chariots of Fire is, I think, probably my favorite movie. But the truth of the matter is the thing about it, there is a place where someone put personal fame and glory behind principles. That to me, is the mark of real heroism, when someone would do that,” Biden said.
The film is about two track athletes, one Jewish and one Christian, competing in the 1924 Olympics.
There are a series of close races in the film, not unlike the current presidential race. And the last one. Biden struggled with whether to enter the 2016 race, and ultimately didn’t because he was mourning the death of his son, Beau Biden. His struggle may make his comments to Couric, when she asked his favorite scene, feel like foreshadowing.
“I think the favorite scene is when he is making the decision and talking to his … about do I do this? What do I do? He so desperately wanted to run, but concluded he couldn’t.”
Trump’s Favorite Movie
Donald Trump once gave a longer list of favorite films, and most of them are great. His top choice was Citizen Kane, about a publishing mogul turned politician. ““It is one of the greats of all time. The acting, the story, the production values are all superb. The fact that it was Orson Welles’ first feature film is also impressive, and the mystery of Rosebud in the midst of a narrative about a business power play gives it further resonance. Hard to beat,” Trump told Movieline.
He rounded out his top five with The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (great choice), Gone With the Wind (more on this in a moment), Goodfellas, and The Godfather (great choices).
When Parasite won best picture in February, Trump objected, while acknowledging he hadn’t seen the South Korean film.
“What the hell was that all about?” Trump said. “We’ve got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of that, they give them best movie of the year. Was it good? I don’t know.”
He added: “Can we get like Gone with the Wind back please? Sunset Boulevard? So many great movies.”
Gone With the Wind was also the subject of a fight over representation and so-called cancel culture when HBO Max briefly removed it from its catalogue in June at the urging of Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley. A backlash ensued, and HBO Max restored it with a disclaimer acknowledging that “the film’s treatment of this world through a lens of nostalgia denies the horrors of slavery, as well as its legacies of racial inequality.”
The decision came at a time when many corporations, in response to the killing of George Floyd and other Black people in police custody, raced to remove anything potentially offensive from their services, whether or not anyone asked them to do so, in order to signal solidarity and avoid public embarrassment.
A 1997 New Yorker profile illustrated that Trump also has a fondness for ’80s action movies. At one point, on a short flight to Atlantic City, he popped in the Jean Claude Van Damme action film Bloodsport, calling it “an incredible, fantastic movie.” He had one of his sons fast-forward through the slow parts “to get this two-hour movie down to forty-five minutes.”
At one point, the New Yorker writer laughed.
“Admit it, you’re laughing!” Trump shouted. “You want to write that Donald Trump was loving this ridiculous Jean Claude Van Damme movie, but are you willing to put in there that you were loving it, too?”