Star Wars creator George Lucas was among those awarded the National Medal of Arts.
President Barack Obama presented Lucas with the award and spoke about impact of Lucas' special effects on the industry.
"There's a whole generation that thinks special effects always look like they do today," Obama said. "But it used to be you'd see, like, the string on the little model spaceships."
Musician Herb Alpert and playwright Tony Kushner were among those who were also awarded medals at Wednesday's ceremony.