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The Reagan Era Movies & TV

Love Is On the Air (1937)

Check out Ronald Reagan in his very first starring film role, as a straight-talking, muckraking, radio commentator. Can young Ronnie clean up local government, save his job, and get the girl?

Knute Rockne, All American (1940)

Ronald Reagan' finest Hollywood performance came in a supporting role in this fictionalized biography of Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach. Reagan portrayed one of Rockne's players, George "The Gipper" Gipp, who died a tragically early death after catching pneumonia. In the greatest scene of his film career, Reagan delivered Gipp's inspiring deathbed message to his coach: "Rock, sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they've got and just win one for the Gipper." Reagan himself carried the nickname, "The Gipper," for the rest of his life.

Kings Row (1942)

Some film critics cite Reagan’s performance as a wealthy playboy in this 1940s romance as his best. Reagan, himself, may have agreed that this role marked the height of his acting career; he used one of his most memorable lines from the script—“Where’s the rest of me?” —to title his autobiography.

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)

Ronald Reagan stars alongside a chimpanzee—yes, a chimpanzee—in this comedy. When Reagan left acting to pursue a political career, the film became fodder for his opponents, some of whom enjoyed noting that the chimp out-performed its human sidekick.

The Killers (1964)

Ronald Reagan's last Hollywood role came in The Killers, a 1964 remake of an earlier film based on the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name. Intriguingly, in The Killers Reagan portrayed—for the first and only time in his long film career—a villain. Following The Killers, Reagan abandoned Hollywood permanently for a career in politics.

WarGames (1983)

Three years before he starred in the blockbuster comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, young Matthew Broderick commanded his lead role as a tech-savvy teen in this exciting Cold War thriller. Two decades after the Cuban Missile Crisis, during the President Reagan’s first term, films like WarGames continued to draw on the public’s deep-seated fears of global nuclear war.

Top Gun (1986)

Forget Sarah Palin; Tom Cruise was the original “Maverick” in this blockbuster film about U.S. Navy fighter pilots in training. Featuring impressive performances from Val Kilmer (Tombstone and Alexander), Kelly McGillis (Witness and The Accused), Anthony Edwards (TV’s “E.R.”), and a fresh-faced Cruise, Top Gun remains the most popular military-themed film of the Reagan Era––so popular, in fact, that it helped increase U. S. Air Force and Navy recruitment.

Wall Street (1987)

Michael Douglas won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of buccaneering financier Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, director Oliver Stone's epic depiction of the supposed excesses of Reaganomics at full flood. While Douglas steals the show, the film's primary protagonist is really Bud Fox, a young stockbroker played by a fresh-faced Charlie Sheen. Bud is forced to decide between the old New Deal principles of his father (a union mechanic, played by Charlie Sheen's real-life father Martin Sheen) and the new Reaganite values of his idol Gordon Gekko (who infamously declares, "Greed is good," in the film's most famous scene).

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