Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Hollywood brings you 'The State of the Union'

Story highlights

  • Several movies and TV shows have featured the State of the Union address
  • Others have used the title, but the annual address never makes an appearance

The State of the Union address is held in the U.S. House chamber, where lawmakers, Cabinet officials and Supreme Court justices crowd the floor. Dignitaries and other invited guests pack the balcony. Still more stand along the back and down the aisles.

The hall is smaller than imagined. The din ahead of the annual event is broken when the main doors to the ornate room swing open and the sergeant at arms booms: "Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States."

Dating to George Washington, there are few ceremonial moments like it in Washington, and the historic moment has never been lost on Hollywood.

The address -- or the floor of Congress -- has been a character, title or storyline in several films and TV shows over the years.

Remember the final scene in the movie Dave? Or the opening of Episode 13, Season Two of "The West Wing?" But you won't find the actual State of the Union address in the 1948 Frank Capra movie called, well, "State of the Union."

Some appearances of the State of the Union addresses or dramatic speeches before Congress include:

    "State of the Union" (1948)

    One would think that a movie named "State of the Union" would include an actual State of the Union address. Nope. Maybe director Frank Capra was our nation's first ironic hipster. Either way, the film does deal with the politics of running for president and Spencer Tracy apologizes to the woman he loves and to the American people through a radio address.

    "Dave" (1993)

    In the 1993 film, the President of the United States falls into a coma after an embarrassing incident. So White House insiders scramble to look for someone who looks like him and keep up the charade. They find Dave. Played by Kevin Kline, Dave is an average Joe -- honest and kind -- who wants to actually help people. But the political powers want him gone and accuse him of corruption. In the key scene, Dave faces a joint session of Congress and the American people to address the accusations. After that speech, he's not the president anymore. Life's tough.

    "The American President" (1995)

    While many would've thought the climatic speech in this Rob Reiner-directed film featured Michael Douglas as president speaking before the joint session of Congress, the most dramatic and most quotable part of the movie was when Douglas, as president Andrew Shepard, spoke to a packed White House briefing room. Douglas defends his relationship with Annette Bening's character and in the process, talked about gun control and climate control.

    "The West Wing" -- Season 2, Episode 13 (1999)

    Played by Martin Sheen, Josiah Bartlet was the ideal president. His speeches were both passionate and pragmatic. In the episode "Bartlet's Third State of the Union," he speaks before the American people while dealing with a hostage situation in South America. The entire episode was built around the speech. Political jargon? Check. Melodramatic walk-and-talks? Check. An Aaron Sorkin-induced speechwriting masterpiece? Well, almost.

    "The Contender" (2000)

    Jeff Bridges plays a shrewd President Jackson Evans and in the pivotal speech of this 2000 drama, he goes before Congress during the State of the Union address to speak out against sexism, challenging them to confirm the first female vice president. It's a moving speech near the end of the movie, and you'd be surprised how it turned out.

    "Head of State" (2003)

    Sure, many of us would love Chris Rock as our president. In the 2003 comedy "Head of State," Rock runs for president and as expected, strikes a chord with the American people before hitting a few speed-bumps along the way. In the big scene, his character, D.C. alderman Mays Gilliam stops arguing with his opponent and instead speaks directly to the American people, touching on issues of foreign policy, crime, and even the pseudo-imperialism of American exceptionalism. But alas, while the setting looks like the chambers of Congress and the State of the Union, it's not.

    "XXX: State of the Union" (2005)

    This 2005 movie starring rapper Ice Cube is chock-filled with loud guns, loud hip-hop and really bad acting. But the actual State of the Union address does show up in this film, although it's where terrorists kidnap the president.

    "Commander-in-Chief" -- Season 1, Episode 1 (2005)

    We have had the first Catholic president, the first African-American president and, yet, we still haven't had the first woman president. On the small screen, Geena Davis played the part as President MacKenzie Allen in 2005. In the opening episode of this ABC drama, the first woman president goes before Congress and talks of hope and aspirations and of American being a force for good across the globe.

    "State of the Union" (2008)

    Another head-fake. Despite the title, there is no actual State of the Union here, either. Just a series of sketches performed by the experienced comedian Tracey Ullman, where she skewers American culture. Watching this 2008 comedy series on Showtime, though, was probably more fun than watching an actual State of the Union.

    "W" (2008)

    Of all the movies on the list, this one clearly feels the most surreal. An Oliver Stone creation, it's hard to judge whether the movie is actually a biography of George W. Bush as young collegian and as president. Josh Brolin does a fine job of portraying the 43rd president. In the film, Brolin convinces the country to go to war with Iraq. Interestingly, the speech that Brolin gives in the movie is an actual speech given by Bush while persuading the country to go to war, with the song

    "What a Wonderful World" in the background and actual footage of real audience reaction weaved into the movie.

      2013 State of the Union

    • WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy and said, "It?s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth".  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

      The heart of President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday was the same focus that's driven every State of the Union of his presidency.
    • Obama shakes hands with House Speaker John Boehner before delivering the address.

      President Barack Obama launched three days of campaign-style speeches with a visit to a manufacturing plant that he said epitomized his proposals for job creation.
    • President Barack Obama is greeted before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, February 12.

      CNN asked viewers to post a #tweetoftheunion on Twitter summarizing Obama's State of the Union speech.
    • As with any State of the Union address, President Barack Obama had several audiences and there were multiple aims for the White House.
    • sotu2013 gop response rubio entire_00124817.jpg

      Claiming Barack Obama thinks a "free enterprise economy" is "the cause of our problems" -- not, as he sees it, the solution -- Sen. Marco Rubio argued that the president's proposals would hurt middle class citizens more than help them.
    •  	SPANISH FORK, UT - NOVEMBER 24: A car makes it's way up U.S. Highway 6 as several 2.1 mega watt wind powered turbines owned by Edison Mission Energy, sit a the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon November 24, 2008 in Spanish Fork, Utah. Each turbine is 300 feet tall, with three 150 foot blades. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, Michael D. Olsen, said the potential for production of wind energy on public lands in the West is 'tremendous,' with the alternative energy source already accounting for the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. Last year the U.S. saw a 46 percent increase in wind capacity and $9 billion in new investments, he said. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

      President Barack Obama talked up alternative energy. Not only did he tout the solar and natural gas industries' recent gains, he also talked up the amount of wind energy that's now fueling the country.
    • sot nixon 1974 dkg sotu_00001914.jpg

      From the Great Society to the Axis of Evil, here are historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's top State of the Union moments.
    • First Lady Michelle Obama, center, is recognized by the audience and special guests surrounding her before President Barack Obama's 2013 SOTU. Front row, left to right: Sgt. Sheena Adams, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendelton, Michelle Obama, Menchu de Luna Sanchez and Jill Biden. Second row, left to right: Governor John Kitzhaber, Deb Carey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amanda McMillan, and Lieutenant Brian Murphy.

      Earlier presidents delivered a written message to be read to Congress before the tradition became at TV event.