Your favorite films say a lot about you—what you find interesting, entertaining or provocative. One of my favorites, for example, is the David Lean masterpiece about a man coming to terms with his essential humanity, Lawrence of Arabia, which also turns out to be one of President Obama’s favorite films. Obama also likes the lauded wartime romance Casablanca and the epic Godfather series.
The Godfather is a film favorite he has in common with another famous person: President-elect Donald Trump. The Godfather follows the transfer of leadership in a powerful crime family and the violence that ensues as members of the family try to position themselves to their best advantage. There could be a deeper meaning behind this particular favorite: a clash between the father’s fading old values and the new ways, which may cause the son to do the thing he is most reluctant to do. Sounds a little like the transition between Obama and Trump, albeit with the younger leader ceding power to an older one.
Trump’s favorite film, however, is Citizen Kane, a true cinematic masterpiece that’s often the top of film critics’ best movies list. Filmed in 1941, it follows the rise and fall of media tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), a fictional character clearly modeled after William Randolph Hearst. In the film, Kane is completely self-absorbed; as his wealth grows, he becomes increasingly unaware of how others see him and how little respect his family has for his success.
Some pundits claim that Trump views this film as a parable, where success results from a combination of hard work and self-promotion, but that’s simplistic. Citizen Kane represents the tension in western culture of the virtue of working hard and the cost, and negative perception, of those who are successful. Strive to succeed, but beware success.
Another film in the Trump library is the 1997 thriller Air Force One, starring Harrison Ford. Given Mr. Trump’s recent critique of the cost associated with building the next generation presidential plane, there’s some irony that this film is on his favorites list, but it has the great virtue of being one of the few movies where the President of the United States is actually portrayed as a rough and tough politician. In the film, President Marshall (Ford) actually goes mano-a-mano with terrorist Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). Unfortunately for Trump, the film’s star, Harrison Ford, was less than pleased with Trump’s enthusiasm for the film. “Donald, it was a movie,” he said in an interview. “It’s not like this in real life. But how would you know?”
It comes as no surprise that there’s another action thriller that’s on Trump’s short list: the rather dated 1988 martial arts film Bloodsport, which is frequently the in-flight film of choice on Trump’s private jet. Bloodsport stars tough guy Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) as a soldier who leaves the military to compete in a martial arts tournament where fighters are frequently killed.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly from 1966, an iconic Western, is also on the short list. Starring Clint Eastwood as Blondie (The Good), it’s a sweeping epic about trust, relationships and rising to overcome great obstacles. Blondie has to form an alliance with wanted outlaw Tuco (Eli Wallach, playing The Ugly) to find a treasure in stolen gold before Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef, playing The Bad) gets there first.
One more on his list might not seem to fit—Gone with the Wind—but while you can view the 1939 film as a romance, it also touches on themes of self-reliance and the ability to face and overcome obstacles. The film isn’t really about Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), although she gets most of the attention; it’s about Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who famously responds to her complaints about her post-Civil War life with, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Looked at broadly, all of these films share similar themes: survival and success based on self-reliance, toughness, and the ability to face challenges head-on and overcome them through work, effort and resourcefulness, along with a splash of guile and wit. They’re all excellent films (well, except for Bloodsport) and all well worth viewing to understand what motivates and inspires our President-elect. As well, the values embedded in many of the films are in most cases good ones for a leader to emulate. Regardless of what Hollywood thinks of President-elect Trump, he clearly enjoys their work. Maybe it’s time for an Air Force One sequel?