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The Best Fictional Presidents In Movies

Politicians in real life rarely, if ever, live up to our expectations or demands. They're flawed like the rest of us to begin with, but then elevated to positions where it's all too easy to let special interests and personal ambition supersede whatever benevolent motivations they might've once had. Luckily, we can escape in the movies, where wizards can ride dragons and presidents don't have to completely suck

We've compiled a list of the best ever fictional U.S. presidents from the world of film. Some of them are hilarious doofuses in goofball comedies. Others are action heroes in a suit and tie. Others still are inspiring wartime leaders, or the voices of reason and wisdom we wish our actual elected officials were in times of crisis, or simply people who seize the opportunity to make a difference. Whatever the case may be, we've got the best of the best right here. Some are more realistic than others, but either way, Washington: take note. This is how it's done. [Warning: Spoilers ahead].

Baxter Harris (Leslie Nielsen) in the 'Scary Movie' series

Easily one of the best parts of the (largely hit or miss) Scary Movie franchise is Baxter Harris, Leslie Nielsen's offensive buffoon of a President who never helps and rarely understands what's going on. You can usually find him at odds with alien invaders, but his greatest enemy, by far, is himself. 

When aliens attack in Scary Movie 3, he mistakes a room full of disabled citizens at a press conference he himself gathered for extraterrestrial spies, and proceeds to assault them with his bodyguards. "Have you gone completely insane?" One of his advisers asks, after Harris punches a Girl Scout. The president taps his forehead: "Like a fox." In the next film, he claims his engineers at the "Pentagram" have reverse-engineered an alien weapon so it can be used against the invaders. He then discovers that the opposite of a beam that vaporizes you and leaves your clothes isn't one that vaporizes aliens, as expected, but one that vaporizes your clothes and leaves you. Oh, and it happened at a UN conference, now filled with screaming, nude diplomats from all over the world. Sadly, we can only rate President Harris for pure entertainment value. But that's better than nothing. We think. 

James Dale (Jack Nicholson) - 'Mars Attacks'

Mars Attacks (based on a cult trading card game of the same name) is an absurd 1996 Tim Burton spoof/celebration of so-bad-they're-good 1950s sci-fi flicks. It plays out more or less how you'd expect, assuming you've seen literally any alien invasion movie ever: Martians arrive on earth, negotiations collapse, war breaks out, landmarks are destroyed, the good guys hide, and then someone discovers a ridiculous, easily exploitable weakness in the invaders that kills them all. Think of it as being an even sillier version of War of the Worlds or that same year's Independence Day. 

Jack Nicholson, of all people, plays President James Dale. None of his efforts at negotiating a peace with the Martians work, although some briefly appear like they might, and he's among the (presumably millions of) dead by the time someone figures out that Slim Whitman's song "Indian Love Call" makes the aliens' heads burst like balloons. So despite his best efforts, he wasn't really part of the solution, but he was committed to peace and tried hard to see the best in the invaders. It wasn't enough, and it might've been misguided from the get-go, but it was something.

Jack Stanton (John Travolta) - 'Primary Colors'

John Travolta's career is littered with gleeful camp and cornball overacting that makes you wonder if he's aware of how utterly ridiculous he looks onscreen, or if he really thought Battlefield Earth was a good idea. Every once in a while, though, he stumbles into a solid role. Four years after revitalizing his career with 1994's Pulp Fiction, Travolta joined the Primary Colors cast as Jack Stanton, a charming Southern governor turned Democratic presidential hopeful (and totally not a comedic take on Bill Clinton, why do you ask?) who's seeking his party's nomination for the top job. 

Problem is, he has more than a few skeletons in his closet: Stanton is revealed to be a serial womanizer who may or may not have fathered children he's never met. Fearing a media pile-on, Stanton engages in severely unscrupulous campaign tactics to keep his polling numbers above water. Since this is a heartwarming comedy first and foremost, he's ultimately rewarded with the Presidency after seeing the error of his ways and changing; the final scene shows him dancing and shaking hands at the Inaugural Ball. It's more growth than politicians seem to go through in real life, so we'll take it. Rated for having the humility to change.

Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews) - 'Idiocracy'

Idiocracy is an absurdist satire from Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill, Office Space) that predicts a dystopian future if we don't get a handle on corporate overreach and militant anti-intellectualism before it's too late. There's no shortage of wacky characters in the movie (it's Mike Judge, after all), but it's hard to beat Terry Crews' out of control performance as Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (yes, really), President of the United States 500 years in the future. 

President Camacho is a manic, man's man body builder with a child's IQ who recognizes the genius of Luke Wilson's Joe Bauers (who is, in reality, of only average intelligence in 2006, when he was frozen) and appoints him to solve America's Dust Bowl problem. Turns out crops are dying because they're being "watered" with a surgary sports drink called Brawndo. If only real-life problems were this easy to solve. Stupid or not, though, President Camacho's decision to ignore the unreasonable demands of the corporate sector and appoint a man of (relative) intelligence to solve a crisis proves he has at least some admirable traits. After all, leaders are only as good as the advisers they surround themselves with. Rated for his ability to choose the best person for the job, and listen to reason once in a while. 

Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) - the 'Fallen' series

Aaron Eckhart's Benjamin Asher is perhaps the unluckiest fictional president in movie history. He survives the events of 2013's Olympus Has Fallen, but not before losing his wife in a car accident and later getting shot in the stomach by North Korean kidnappers who'd stormed the White House. 

Things don't improve. In 2016's London Has Fallen, his plans to peacefully attend the funeral of the British Prime Minister are thwarted when even more terrorists, this time disguised as Metropolitan Police, attack the proceedings, kill several world leaders, cause Marine One to crash-land with him on board, and force him to stomp through the London sewers with security head Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) before being kidnapped again. He's saved seconds before being decapitated on live TV. Throughout it all, though, he never betrays American interests or negotiates with terrorists, and that courage earns him a spot on this list. That doesn't mean his regularly scheduled kidnappings didn't take a toll, of course: apparently sick of all the fun and games, the character does not appear in 2019's Angel Has Fallen.

Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) - 'Dave'

Ivan Reitman and Gary Ross's Dave (1993) is the fulfillment of a fantasy entertained by every political armchair quarterback who's ever mumbled, while watching politicians on the news, "Hell, I can do better than that." The movie's titular Dave (Kovic) isn't a politician at all when the movie begins; he runs a temp agency and moonlights as an impersonator of actual president Bill Mitchell. To cover up the president's extramarital affair, the Secret Service demands Kovic make an appearance as the president for a single event. Unfortunately, President Mitchell suffers a debilitating stroke, removing him from the picture entirely. Kovic is then asked to indefinitely extend his little ruse. He agrees, but rather than simply waving to the crowd a few times a week, he embraces the powers of the office and spends his time actually improving the lives of the American people (unintentionally raising Mitchell's approval ratings) and thwarting nefarious attempts to seize power by the villainous Chief of Staff, Bob Alexander. President Mitch — er, Kovic — lands on the list for recognizing that while the office of the presidency may have its perks, its primary function is to serve the people.

Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) - Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb'

Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, easily one of the greatest comedies ever made, follows an attempt by a rogue U.S. Air Force general to nuke the Soviet Union and bring about a nuclear apocalypse. It also tracks the government response, wherein Peter Sellers' President Merkin Muffley and his staff try to thwart the attempt and prevent all-out war. Things get complicated when the Soviet premier, warned by Muffley's staff of the impending and unauthorized attack, reveals the existence of a world-ending nuclear doomsday device set to annihilate all life on Earth in the event the USSR is attacked. The film is far more absurd and hilarious than we've made it sound here (seriously, check it out if you haven't yet), but it's also an essential satire on war hawk policy and Cold War hysteria. Muffley himself, played brilliantly by Sellers, makes the list for putting peace before death and reason before madness, even if it means having embarrassing conversations with your enemies. 

Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) - 'Angel Has Fallen'

Benjamin Asher was courageous and tough, but it was Speaker of the House (in Olympus Has Fallen) turned Vice President (in London Has Fallen) Allan Trumbull, played as coolly as ever by Morgan Freeman, that held things together behind the scenes in both movies. Without Trumbull's quick thinking and strong leadership, Mike Banning would never have been able to save the day as often, or as spectacularly, as he always did. Therefore, it only makes sense that Trumbull has ascended to the presidency itself by the time the franchise's third film, Angel Has Fallen (2019), rolls around. Sadly, whoever's president in this franchise appears to be a magnet for James Bond-level terrorist scheming. This time, it's the Vice President himself, working with a private security company, that puts Trumbull in a coma with a drone strike and frames Banning for the attempted assassination. A whole lot of bullets later, the good guys have regained control. Banning himself offers to resign for failing to see all this coming or prevent it, but Trumbull promotes him instead. So there's yet another reason he makes the list: he's not only a formidable leader, but a good judge of character. 

Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) - 'Independence Day'

Independence Day is a silly movie. Alien invasions are silly. Laser beams blowing up the White House are silly. Killing the aliens by flying into those laser beam in an F16, and uploading a mid-'90s computer virus to their city-sized mothership via Macintosh, is more than a little bit silly. But we dare you to not leap off the couch and pump your fists when Bill Pullman — AKA US President Thomas J. Whitmore — begins his speech before the final battle. 

"The Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday," he says to his assembled fighter pilots. "But as the day when the world declared in one voice, 'We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on. We're going to survive.' Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!" He then leaps into a jet himself, against the (probably wise) advice of his aides, and joins the battle. He earns this spot not only for his oratory skills, or even for being an inspiring uniter in the face of a common threat, but also for being willing to do what he's asking his men to do. Now that's leadership. 

Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) - 'Deep Impact'

It's easy to think leadership doesn't matter when we're staring down the barrel of an apocalypse and nothing more can be done. But when a last-ditch effort to blow up the Big Bad Asteroid actually succeeds, and Earth gets away with only a few nuclear strike's worth of damage, it seems to vindicate President Tom Beck's decision to lead on into the night with steadfast courage and nightly wisdom, even when things looked hopeless and grim. The movie itself is more than a little bit silly, as most films dealing with killer asteroids being blown up by scrappy spacemen often are, but Morgan Freeman simply can't help but be the steady hand in the room. President Beck easily earns a spot on the list for embracing his office's sacred responsibility to comfort a grieving, terrified nation (and the world at large).

Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) - 'The American President'

Think of Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) as being the blueprint for The West Wing's Josiah Bartlet. Both are flawed but brilliant center-left presidents. Both struggle to balance the competing priorities of their their once-cherished ideals and their anemic approval ratings. Both are supported by loyal Chiefs of Staff, and both speak exclusively in the kind of rapid-fire, witty banter that's since come to define the style of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. 

This Rob Reiner film is actually a love story as well as a political drama: Shepherd, a widower, falls for an environmental lobbyist while trying to pass a crime control bill to boost his approval ratings. When he loses her for not championing her bill instead, he makes the bold decision to toss the weak crime bill and pick up an even stronger environmental package. It's a decision that wins her over, inspires his supporters, and reminds him why he got into politics to begin with. It's a Sorkin story, of course, so all it takes for good to triumph is for the protagonist to learn a simple lesson and give a nice speech while the orchestra plays and the bad guys hang their heads in shame. It's a fantasy, in other words, albeit one boosted by sharp writing and mature themes, but it's impossible not to get swept up in the sap and cheer him on anyway. Shepherd earns a spot here for political savvy and commitment to his ideals. 

James Marshall (Harrison Ford) - 'Air Force One'

And there he is: the king of, well, fake presidents. James Marshall, as gruff and out of patience by default as the man playing him, spends much of Air Force One sneaking around the titular aircraft, taking out the terrorists who'd seized control of it one by one. Not every innocent person on board survives. But Marshall's quick thinking, resourcefulness, and sharp aim with a submachine gun see to it that most of them do, and that Egor Korshunov's (Gary Oldman) plan to kidnap the president (along with his staff and family), and extort the US government into releasing a Kazakh warlord, are decisively thwarted. 

But neither that nor Ford's thoroughly cool "Get off my plane" line, sneered at Korshunov before strangling him with a parachute and tossing him out of the hangar, are what land him at the top of the list. The Kazakh dictator at the center of the story is only imprisoned at all because Marshall had ordered his capture in the beginning of the film. Afterwards, he refuses to accept the praise that's heaped on him by regional allies, citing his failure to act sooner and save countless lives. "It's time for you to be afraid," he says to dictators everywhere, summarizing his new zero tolerance approach for human rights abusers. And that's why he's here: for recognizing that America is at its best when it stands up to tyrants. Hail to the chief.