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.
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.