We celebrated the best historical depictions of US presidents, now it’s time to get fictional.
Sure, playing Abraham Lincoln may be the serious actor’s dream job, as well as a tidy way to secure yourself an Oscar. Deep down, though, I think we all know that playing a made-up president and getting to kick a terrorist out of a plane while dropping one-liners is infinitely more satisfying.
On that note, we round up our favorite fake movie presidents. Since we don’t have easy comparisons like “these five guys all played Nixon,” we decided to use our game show format and break them down by genre. We also decided to go back to the old school tradition of awarding the vice presidency to the guy who came in second place. Enjoy.
Best Movie Presidents: Fictional
Fictional President in a Dramatic Film.
Nominees: President Richmond (Gene Hackman, “Absolute Power”), President Evans (Jeff Bridges, “The Contender”), President Lyman (Fredric March, “Seven Days in May”), President Stevens (Charles Durning, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming”).
Winner: President Richmond (Gene Hackman, “Absolute Power”)
This category was a bit thinner than I anticipated. It seems if you’re not playing a historical president for a drama, the Commander in Chief needs to be either an action hero or presiding over the apocalypse. A straight drama doesn’t get made often.
That being said, the winner was easy. Gene Hackman plays a delightful antagonist here, powerful and malevolent while not straying into the territory of being a cartoonish baddie. He’s got layers…they just all happen to be corrupt and despicable.
Vice President: President Lyman (Fredric March, “Seven Days in May”)
Fictional President in a Comedic Film.
Nominees: President Mitchell (Kevin Kline, “Dave”), President Muffley (Peter Sellers, “Dr. Strangelove”), President Gilliam (Chris Rock, “Head of State”), President Camacho (Terry Crews, “Idiocracy”), President Dobbs (Robin Williams, “Man of the Year”).
Winner: President Muffley (Peter Sellers, “Dr. Strangelove“)
Comedy, on the other hand, is a bumper crop. Nearly every entry had a viable path to the nomination, and several candidates in lesser films (like Alan Alda in Canadian Bacon) nearly made the ticket.
Peter Sellers takes the honors, presiding over one of the deftist comedy satires of all time. Not only does he play three roles, he nails all of them. His president Muffley plays the perfect straight man: as the people around him become more and more unhinged facing a looming nuclear war, he remains polite and prosaic. Sellers gently chiding his Soviet counterpart about having built a world-destroying nuclear device without telling anyone is pure comedy gold.
Vice President: President Camacho (Terry Crews, “Idiocracy“)
Fictional President in an Action Film.
Nominees: President Marshall (Harrison Ford, “Air Force One”), President Moore (Samuel L. Jackson, “Big Game”), President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, “…Has Fallen” series), President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx, “White House Down).
Winner: President Marshall (Harrison Ford, “Air Force One”)
No brainer. Sam Jackson may have dealt with a plane-full of snakes, but Harrison Ford deals with his entire coach section being full of murderous terrorists. Pres. Marshall escorting Gary Oldman off his plane, via a parachute and broken neck, is legendary badassery.
Vice President: President Moore (Samuel L. Jackson, “Big Game“)
Fictional President in a Dystopian/Disaster Film.
Nominees: President Beck (Morgan Freeman, “Deep Impact“), President Harker (Donald Pleasence, “Escape from New York”), President Palma (Andy Garcia, “Geostorm”), President Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, “The Purge: Election Year“).
Winner: President Harker (Donald Pleasence, “Escape from New York“)
This is another category with a lot of cross-over. Dr. Strangelove definitely could count, but we tried to keep any one president from winning two terms.
Our winner here may seem like just a small role in a packed film, but Donald Pleasance makes up for it by acing every scene. He gets your sympathy as The Duke’s bargaining chip hostage and then steals Snake Plisken’s thunder by lighting Isaac Hayes up with a tommy gun while spitting Duke’s own catchphrase back at him.
Vice President: President Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, “The Purge: Election Year”)
Fictional President in a Science Fiction Movie.
Nominees: President Whitmore (Bill Pullman, “Independence Day”), President Dale (Jack Nicholson, “Mars Attacks!”), President Hathaway (Stephen Colbert, “Monsters Vs. Aliens”), President Wilson (Danny Glover, “2012”.)
Winner: President Whitmore (Bill Pullman, “Independence Day”)
Another landslide victory. Independence Day’s jingoism may not have aged well, and it’s legacy has been sullied by a crappy sequel, but Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore remains magisterial. The former flying ace takes the fight to the alien invaders, but leaves his most memorable mark in a rousing speech that real politicians constantly try to steal from to this day. That’s a strong presidential legacy.
Vice President: President Dale (Jack Nicholson, “Mars Attacks!”)
Honorary Award: President Skroob (Mel Brooks, “Spaceballs”)
We restricted our entries to movies with fictional US presidents…but we didn’t forget the craziest president of them all. Mel Brooks, in multi-roll performance like Peter Sellers, shows George Lucas how he should have handled space diplomacy in Star Wars by tearing it to a satirical shred.
The imperious and imbecilic Chief Executive of Planet Spaceball puts the Emperor to shame with his antics. Whether huffing canned air, getting his ass on backwards, or just forgetting the combination to his luggage, he really puts the balls in Spaceballs.