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Movies the White House Is Watching: From “Mandela” to “High School Musical”

Pete Souza/The White House(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is getting a dash of Hollywood glamour Thursday night with a screening of the new Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Organized by the Weinstein Company, the film’s distributor, its stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, as well as Mandela’s daughters Zindzi and Zenani, are joining President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the screening.

“Knowing what a strong relationship President Obama has with President Mandela, it’s an honor for this film to be shown at the White House,” Harvey Weinstein said in a statement, acknowledging the honor of having the film shown at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The much-publicized screening could give the film a major push as Hollywood’s award season kicks off, with many already calling Elba a sure bet for a Best Actor nomination and the picture a possible underdog vote for Best Picture.

But it’s hardly the first time the Obamas have waded into Oscar waters.

Steven Spielberg stopped by for a screening of his Lincoln last year during the heat of awards season, following up a 2010 visit with Tom Hanks to screen the first episode of The Pacific, the HBO miniseries about Americans who battled in World War II’s Pacific theater.

The first family also hosted a screening and Q&A for the indie movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, which surprised many Oscar pundits with a Best Director nomination for first-timer Behn Zeitlin.

Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russell appeared for a screening of Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and discussed mental health issues with Vice President Joe Biden. And Michelle Obama even appeared, via satellite, at the Academy Awards to crown Argo the year’s Best Picture.

Though the White House has hosted plenty of political biopics and historical dramas, including HBO’s filming of Thurgood to honor Black History Month, the family isn’t afraid to shake things up with lighter fare.

The first family screened Julie and Julia, about the famous American chef Julia Child right around the time Michelle Obama was promoting her healthy eating initiative. At the screening was screenwriter and director Nora Ephron, and stars Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep, who famously told the press she “peed a little bit” after the first lady came up and told her she loved her.

And there’s been plenty of family-friendly movies on the family’s screening roster for Sasha and Malia. Along with High School Musical 3 and Bolt, the family invited Pixar animators for a Father’s Day screening of Monster’s University and brought military dads and their kids for a special showing of Cars 2.

But the Obamas also enjoy plenty of movies without the company of celebrities. Other films they’ve watched at the White House include Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Star Trek and even the rom-com He’s Just Not That Into You.

The White House movie theater, a cloakroom until it was renovated in 1942, has a long and well-documented history, thanks in part to former White House projectionist Paul Fischer’s records.

Eisenhower loved westerns, hated war movies and screened the 1951 version of Angels in the Outfield 38 times. Nixon loved Patton so much that David Frost later asked him if it influenced his war policy in Vietnam. The last movie 007 fan JFK watched before his assassination was the Bond flick From Russia With Love. And Johnson had a preference for a 10-minute documentary about -- himself.

But no one’s record holds a candle to Jimmy Carter, who watched 480 films during his one term, according to Fischer.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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