In case you have been living under a rock, today is Election Day. So, what a better way to celebrate your tail getting out to the polls and casting your vote than to admonish the top fictional presidents ever.
Throughout the years in Hollywood, whether TV or movies, there have been some amazing fictional presidents created for our amusement. And then, there have been some who create the impression of haplessness and couldn’t lead a people the way to the local Starbucks.
Take this time, think hard, and cast your vote for the best fictional president in Hollywood.
10. David Palmer, 24 (2001-2010)
What a better way to start a list of great fictional presidents than here. Before he was branded into perpetuity as “The Allstate Guy,” Dennis Haysbert was a respected and realistic actor. From Major League to Heat, the dude can do it all. But for eight seasons on FOX’s smash hit 24, he was President David Palmer. And he was fantastic.
Unabashed in the face of fear. Unreserved in the face of anger. And unrelenting in the face of an enemy. Talk about acting “presidential” or having a “presidential tone.” Damn. That was David Palmer talking to Jack Bauer all day long.
9. Tom Beck, Deep Impact (1998)
Imagine if the President sounded like Morgan Freeman. “The State of the Union” addresses would be must-see television. The man could get an Oscar nomination doing a cereal commercial, so when it his opportunity to become Commander-in-Chief for Deep Impact, naturally people wanted to see it. And to think, a decade later, the real thing happened with Barack Obama.
The man has to be on a list of the best fictional presidents because he acted as a leader, a hero, and oh yeah…it was Morgan Freeman. An “Extinction-Level Event” or not, nothing faded him. When America needed someone to keep us out of the Stone Age, we got a man who played God to be President.
8. Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove (1964)
It’s the late 1960s. The Vietnam conflict is causing national angst. And Hollywood wants to get into the mix with…Stanley Kubrick. Yeah, nothing can go wrong here. If you don’t recognize this guy among great fictional presidents, this is President Muffley. That’s Peter Sellers. Yes, the “Pink Panther” himself.
To make this film even more unlikely, we have Stanley Kubrick directing … a comedy?! And among all topics for slapstick hijinks, it’s the impending outbreak of global nuclear war. But. ask the AFI, it’s considered one of best movies of all time. Why? Watch it and you’ll see Peter Sellers at his dorkiest best (and what earned him a Best Actor nomination).
And if you plan on searching that first name, do so incognito. Just sayin’.
7. The Underwoods, House of Cards (2013-2018)
As hard as it is to admit, there will always be fans of The Cosby Show, Entourage, and even House of Cards, despite the ills of the lead actors. And you cannot talk about fictional presidents without thinking of both Francis (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Both sociopaths and bat-ess crazy about becoming Commander-in-Chief.
The silver lining of this unprecedented TV series is they both made it to the Oval Office, and both were great at it. Francis and Claire Underwood freaked out the nation at the thought of what may be really hiding inside Capitol Hill. Considering today, some would say it’s not too improbable.
6. James Dale, Mars Attacks (1996)
Yes, Jack effin’ Nicholson. Many forget him among a list of fictional presidents, but if you appreciate the absolutely ridiculous and sublime of Hollywood, you know about Mars Attacks! This is an alien invasion gone fantasy dopiness. And it’s directed by Tim Burton.
“Isn’t the universe big enough for the both of us?” That’s right, President Dale. We can all just get along, even with cerebral exaggerated freaks like that. And the first daughter? Natalie Portman. Got your attention yet? Hail to the Chief.
5. Dave Kovic, Dave (1993)
Among the most respected comedic actors, Kevin Kline is usually neglected off the list. His films rank well among many genres, such as The Big Chill, A Fish Called Wanda, Sophie’s Choice, and Silverado. But, as the doppleganger to President Bill Mitchell, a philandering wretch in a coma, Dave Kovic is excellent. And ends up being a much better president and husband to Sigourney Weaver.
Likewise, among a list of best fictional presidents, Dave may not have come to mind, but don’t sleep on this early ’90s feel-good comedy. If you want to see what can be accomplished when people in power can do when they stop talking and start working, look no further than Dave.
4. Andrew Shepherd, The American President (1995)
Michael Douglas is such a versatile actor and this rom-com-drama proves. In The American President, Rob Reiner directs an Aaron Sorkin script (more on that later) to create one of the most empathetic fictional presidents ever. He’s a widower and single parent trying to re-elected and then, he meets this totty environmental lobbyist (Annette Benning) and gets smitten in the ass by Cupid’s bow.
This truly was Sorkin’s coming-out party because the script is magical. We get a prelude of what’s to come with Martin Sheen as the VP and communications director played sublimely by Michael J. Fox. If you haven’t seen it, this is the film to get you lathered up for the festivities of Election Day.
3. James Marshall, Air Force One (1997)
Who better to kick off the Top 3 fictional presidents ever than this guy? He’s a tactical genius (part Dr. Richard Kimball) and a guy who don’t take ish from anyone (part Han Solo). Put them together and you get Harrison Ford as former decorated soldier turned President James Marshall. He’s captive on his plane trying to find a way to rescue his country, staff, and family from the evil ire of Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman).
With a bad woman by his side as Veep (Glenn Close), what could possibly go wrong? Then, through an underrated action movie of thrills and some spills, we get the climatic line, “Get off my plane.” Yeah, take that you damn Ruskies! Because ‘Murica…and Harrison Ford!
2. Thomas J. Whitmore, Independence Day (1996)
If we are ever faced with an enemy swooping down on us and our allies (shout out to Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, and other friends), we need to pray we have a president like Bill Pullman. The one thing about the top few fictional presidents on this list is they all took the fight to the bad guys.
Aliens? Shoot. President Whitmore cracked open a tall boy and addressed an entire mobile trailer park about our “Independence Day!” There he is, cheering on the military and RV drivers to battle murderous aliens. And no worries if the speech didn’t work. It’s only the end of the world. Meh. Well, it did. Man’s game, Tommy.
1. Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing (1999-2006)
Is there really any question about this? Among the pantheon of Hollywood’s best-ever fictional presidents, Martin Sheen from The West Wing showed us all how to lead, be flawed, navigate through a crisis, and still be respected. If Aristotle and one of Jesus’ disciples were to mold a president out of clay, it would be Josiah Bartlet.
Aaron Sorkin was at his absolute best when creating for The West Wing. Every episode is a masterclass in dialogue, characterization, plot development, and overall storytelling. And if you watch The American President and the first few episodes of Season One of The West Wing, you’ll see and hear a few similarities. (For example, listen for “A Proportional Response.”)
This is one of the most revered TV series of all time without a question, and most of that allegiance from fans is because of the president. “Decisions are made by those who show up.” You damn right, Jed. Say that!