Historical person with most movie and/ot TV portrayals

Other than Hitler and Jesus, who can you think of who has had the most different roles in movies and made-for-TV productions?

Do you know of an authoritative source for numbers of roles by historical personage?

Some candidates off the top of my head:

Queen Elizabeth I
Henry VIII
Wyatt Earp
Robert E. Lee
George Washington
Julius Caesar
Ted Bundy
Jack the Ripper

I tried a search here but the terms I felt were important to use didn’t produce significant results. Have there been other threads with similar issues?


You didn’t even read five words into the OP, did you?

Abraham Lincoln maybe.

Guilty. I just read your list. Sorry.


Checking IMDB,

Jesus Christ: 302
Hitler: 265

Julius Caesar: 116
George Washington: 124
Abe Lincoln: 215
Elizabeth I: 72
Cleopatra: 88
Henry VIII: 50
Jack the Ripper: 47

It’s not even my list. :slight_smile:

Moses only has 45.

Of course, IMDB may not be the best way to figure this out.

I’m thinking Armand-Jean du Plessis Richelieu might be up there, both as a powerful political figure during the 30 Years War and as a character in movie adaptations of the books by Alexandre Dumas.

The IMDB character search function has a disclaimer that is troubling as far as authoritativeness goes:

“The content of this page was created by users. It has not been screened or verified by IMDb staff.”

With that in mind, the number of items in each of these folks’ lists goes:

Jesus 302
Hitler 265
Abe 215.

I have yet to check others in my off-the-top-of-my-head list, so if you want to “validate” your guess(es) at IMDB, just be aware that the counts there may be iffy at best.

I’d be happy just to see some historical people whose movie roles I’d be surprised with, and it’s mostly “just for fun” anyway.

Some others to see about:

Mata Hari
Billy the Kid
Joan of Arc
Davy Crockett

Unfortunately this does not distinguish, I think, between cameos and a title role.

Some surprises from the IMDB counts so far:

Napoleon 323
Elvis 156
Billy the Kid 88
Joan of Arc 62

Others I have listed are puny by comparison.

Wouldn’t it be great if the historical person with the most portrayals turned out to be some flunky or behind-the-scenes type?

Vlad The Impaler (aka Dracula) 219. He counts as a historical character, even if the vampire stuff is fictional.

Queen Victoria 96

Wong Fei Hungabout 140

That would be just one of several potential drawbacks to the IMDB character search. I see no real issue with the size of the role as long as the person being portrayed is the real person from history. Size of role ought not matter as long as the portrayal is based mostly on fact.

A good counter-example would be the character in “The Natural” played by Joe Don Baker (The Whammer) which is obviously a ripoff of Babe Ruth but clearly not intended to be The Babe himself.

An amusing instance that makes the disclaimer all the more pointed is that the character of Ben Hogan as played by Glenn Ford in the 1951 movie “Follow the Sun” doesn’t even appear on a character search for Ben Hogan. So it’s obvious that Ben Hogan wasn’t a big enough deal even to create a page for the Glenn Ford characterization of him.

It’s a bit disappointing to find these skimpy details:

Jesse James 74
Al Capone 47
Rasputin 42
Brutus 31
Alexander the Great 26
Genghis Khan 32
Attila the Hun 22

Wonder which Bad Guy comes closest to Adolf…

Mark Twain 55
Benjamin Franklin 70

The character Dracula isn’t Vlad the Impaler any more than Sherlock Holmes is Joseph Bell.

Well, yes, but I imagine Lincoln and Hitler and Elvis (not usually combined in one sentence I’m sure) to have lots of very short appearances, in some cases even simply archive footage. Whereas Caesar usually is one of the lead characters.

But your requirement for facts may be a bigger problem. For starters, these characters are bound to be divided in saint, hero, enemy, and degenerate roles.

You make good points. Perhaps if I offer the origin of my curiosity over this issue it might help clarify what I’d like to be able either to find online or to generate right here on Straight Dope for future reference.

Surely by now most people have seen some variation of clips like this one: Usain Bolt Breaks 100m World Record and Hitler Reacts

I passed one of these along to a buddy in email and his reaction was to wonder what movie that was based on. When I went to IMDB to be sure it was the Bruno Ganz movie about Hitler in the bunker during his last days, I was struck by how many Hitler portrayals there are. I was also aware that Jesus has had many such attempts to capture his essence. So I went looking, by way of a Yahoo! search, for some listing of roles by historical person.

The rest is here to see. I’m impressed that Napoleon (at least as far as IMDB character searches can determine) has had more shots taken at him than either Jesus or Hitler, and I’m to the point of wondering who could have even more than that.

As for the historical person being in archival footage or in cameo or walk-on roles, I would hope the list (if we can find one – or build one) would distinguish such things.

Thanks for pointing out some pitfalls to avoid if we determine this task is worthy of Dopers to pursue.

And – in the spirit of the OP – who can top Napoleon now?