It’s President’s Day, and we all know what that means: ditching the alarm clock, taking the day to relax, and of course, getting some much-needed movie time in. On a day when we look back on the American presidential history, we like to take the extra step and remember our most beloved movie presidents of all time.
While many recent titles like Lincoln (2012) and Vice (2018) have featured incredible portrayals of actual former US presidents, we have devised this list to pay homage to the fictional US presidents who took office on the big screen, ranging from Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks! (1996) to the iconic Harrison Ford in Air Force One (1997).
10. Allan Trumbull
Morgan Freeman, Angel Has Fallen (2019)
Some of you may not be surprised that this is not the only time Freeman will appear on this list, but his role in Angel Has Fallen is a believable, grounded approach to a presidency in this alternate-reality America. After being the target of an assassination attempt, Trumbull spends a majority of the movie in a coma. Maybe if he was conscious for a bit more screen time, he would have made it up higher on the list!
9. President James Dale
Jack Nicholson, Mars Attacks! (1996)
Jack Nicholson plays a naive caricature of a world leader who tries to be diplomatic with the invading Martians and, ultimately, fails miserably. After delivering a well-intended speech of peace and understanding, all hell breaks loose when the aliens suddenly turn hostile. Meeting his grim demise at the business end of the Martian leader’s ray gun, President James Dale was the perfect match for this bizarre, Tim Burton sci-fi fantasy.
8. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho
Terry Crews, Idiocracy (2006)
Former professional wrestler and adult movie star Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho has taken up the POTUS title in the (not-so) distant future where the average IQ of the general population is well below the double digits. Delivering an over-the-top, vulgar State of the Union address, President Camacho has made it clear that the country is in shambles. Though he may not know how to run the country, Crews has provided us with one of the most hilarious on-screen presidents to date.
7. President Jack Stanton
John Travolta, Primary Colors (1998)
With his mannerisms, gestures, and voice reminiscent of former US President Bill Clinton, it is clear where Travolta took inspiration for his role as President Jack Stanton. In fact, these traits are what makes Stanton so interesting and profoundly human, showing a side to the presidency that we don’t typically get to see often in a public figure.
6. President Merkin Muffley
Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Peter Sellers delivers not one, but THREE separate characters in Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy, Dr. Strangelove—of the three, his role as President Merkin Muffley takes the (yellow) cake. On the brink of a nuclear holocaust, Muffley negotiates by phone with the Soviet premier from a Pentagon bunker to prevent every world leader’s worst nightmare: accidental nuclear warfare. In his defense, Muffley does call to apologize to the USSR after inadvertently lobbing a bomb their way, but it doesn't seem to have the effect he hoped for. Well, at least he tried.
5. President Tom Beck
Morgan Freeman, Deep Impact (1998)
Making his second appearance on our list, we welcome back Morgan Freeman in his Presidential debut as Tom Beck! With a barrage of other countries looking to him for guidance when a “seven-mile-wide comet weighing 500 billion tons” is hurtling towards Earth, Beck remains calm, cool, and collected (as Freeman does) to help save the planet from extinction. As an actor who has portrayed a US president (three times), Nelson Mandela, and even god, we can’t help but wonder what role Morgan Freeman will take on next.
4. President Dave Kovic
Kevin Kline, Dave (1993)
When the apathetic, self-centered, arrogant, First Lady-cheating-on, President William Mitchell suffers a stroke, presidential impersonator Dave Kovic takes up the mantle as Commander-In-Chief in an effort to keep the public unaware of the President’s death. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for people to take notice. But when Kovic proves to be a much better leader than his predecessor, we are shown the stark contrast between the ego-centric elected officials and the politicians who actually care for their country.
3. President Andrew Shepherd
Michael Douglas, The American President (1995)
While he sits at number 3 on the list, Michael Douglas’s President Andrew Shepherd gets our vote for most eligible Presidential bachelor. When Shepherd is blindsided by a romance with lobbyist Sydney Wade, his chances for re-election are put in jeopardy. When the press comes after him and Wade, he is offered a moment of redemption as he owns up to his passivity in the office and rectifies an environmental bill, securing his victory.
2. President Thomas J. Whitmore
Bill Pullman, Independence Day (1996)
If nothing else, the “we will not go quietly into the night” speech was enough to launch Bill Pullman’s interplanetary war president from Independence Day up to the top of our list. As retired Gulf War pilot, Whitmore does not back down in the face of a threat, climbing into the cockpit of a fighter jet to battle alongside his troops in a manner we haven’t seen in a president since Teddy Roosevelt. With all life on Earth facing complete annihilation, we rally behind our fearless leader President Thomas J. Whitmore!
1. President James Marshall
Harrison Ford, Air Force One (1997)
No surprises here, as Harrison Ford’s President James Marshall comes in as number one on our list of favorite movie Presidents! With all of the high-octane, no-nonsense action that we’ve come to expect from Ford, this soldier-turned-president combines the perseverance of The Fugitive's Dr. Richard Kimble with the suave-savviness of Han Solo when he takes charge and fights back against a band of Russian terrorists (headed by Gary Oldman). The nail-biting action throughout is only superseded by the delivery of Marshall’s iconic line, "Get off my plane."