Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fictional Movie and TV Presidents

1. Tom Beck in Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman). America gets a black president. World ends.
2. David Palmer in "24" (Dennis Haysbert). America gets a black president who spends all of five minutes worrying about civil liberty violations, making him a vast improvement over real president.
3. "Jed" Bartlett in "The West Wing" (Martin Sheen). America gets a Nobel laureate whose policies seem strikingly Clintonian, except that he's a lot more fun to listen to.
4. James Marshall in Air Force One (Harrison Ford). America gets a neocon president who, personally, kicks Russian terrorist ass. (Bonus: fascinating opening sequence in which special ops kidnap evil post-Soviet dictator fools with moral sense.)
5. James Land in Mars Attacks! (Jack Nicholson). America gets Randle Patrick McMurphy. Must have been a lot funnier on paper.
6. Unnamed in The Rock (Stanley Anderson). America gets a nonentity with noname who spends 15 seconds thinking about killing 50 unnarmed civilians in order to save San Francisco.
7. Unnamed, McKenna, and Unnamed in X-Men, X-2, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (David Black, Cotter Smith, Josef Sommer). America gets three nonentity presidents. Makes sense that America would search out bloodness figures with zero screen presence in near future where everyone hates and fears rise of charismatic, sexy mutants who walk around in tight leather.
8. Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day (Bill Pullman). America gets uncharismatic dude who can't deliver a halfway decent speech as aliens destroy world. Choice of people calls into question human race's right to exist in the first place.
9. Bill Mitchell in Dave (Kevin Kline). America gets complete dick, eventually saved by likable dude who looks just like complete dick.
10. Andrew Shepherd in The American President (Michael Douglas). America gets....aww, that's sweet. He's rediscovering love as a middle-aged man, meaning that even someone as lowly as the American president can find someone.


Jeffrey said...

Congraulations Paul: you just wrote the best post yet to grace this blog.

Matt K said...

Great post, I agree. But what about my all-time favorite cinematic president: the George H.W. parody in "Clear and Present Danger." According to IMDB, the actor's name is Donald Moffatt, but I swear, he looks just like the dude from "Babe." After ordering covert military action against a drug lord who bears a disturbingly vivid resemblence to Rafael Palmeiro (the movie is full of look-alikes), the President confronts Harrison Ford in what is probably the greatest Jack Ryan scene ever filmed:

The President: How dare you come in here and lecture me!

Jack Ryan: How dare *you*, sir!

The President: How dare you come into this office and bark at me like some little junkyard dog? I am the President of the United States!

I wonder if H.W. was this forceful with John Sununu after he took all those private vacations with government money...

Paul Morton said...

I actually left out quite a few other fictional presidents. Here are three classic ones from 60's films:

Peter Sellars' president in Dr. Strangelove comes across as a little Carter-esque, but he really doesn't have a good corollary in the real world. He's his own wonderful creation.

It's doubtful that any real president would ever make the fatal decision Henry Fonda's commander-in-chief does in Fail-Safe.

Franchot Tone in Advise and Consent is an older craggier version of Eisenhower, but he doesn't seem to fit with our own image of the bland figure who was weirdly uninterested in partisan warfare.

Other than Bartlett, who began life in the Clinton-era, and Palmer, who was probably conceived while Clinton was still in office, it's interesting to note that there haven't been that many fictional presidents to appear in films during the Bush II era, other than direct parodies of George W. Bush himself, at least not as many as appeared in the Bush-1 and Clinton years. Has GWB redefined the nature of the office in such a way that makes it harder to imagine another grand figure in his place?

One other question to consider:

If Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton should be elected president, will we see fewer fictional black or female presidents? (I forgot to mention Geena Davis' recent role.)

John said...

I always thought Sellars' Murkin Mufley was an Adlai Stevenson parody.


Wikipedia backs me up on this, saying that Sellars said he based the character on Stevenson.

There's a number of other presidents in 24:

President John Keeler (Geoff Pierson) won the election when Palmer decided to stand down over some picayune thing I don't really remember. Then his plane got shot down by terrorists and he got replaced by his VP,

Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) was a Nixonesque schemer who was actually the main bad guy in Season 5. He was pretty awesome, actually. Forced to resign for his evil scheming, iirc, and replaced by

Hal Gardner (Ray Wise, aka Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks) was Logan's VP, and presumably became president after Logan resigned, although I don't think we actually see him as President. We thought he was evil at first, but then he turned out to be decent. Presumably he was defeated in his bid for reelection by

Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside), David Palmer's brother, who's been on this season, which I haven't watched.

There've also been two VPs who served as Acting President under the 25th Amendment:

Jim Prescott (Alan Dale) was David Palmer's VP, who took over when Palmer wouldn't order an immediate attack on "several Middle Eastern countries" after a terrorist attack. And apparently this season we've had Wayne Palmer's VP,

Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe), who did, according to wikipedia, something similar, although I can't describe it.

So that's a ton of fictional presidents.

I'll also add to the list the unnamed Reaganesque pedophile president in Wag the Dog, a movie based on the ridiculous premise that anything would convince the media not to focus on credible allegations that the President molested a 12 year old girl; Alan Alda's likewise unnamed president in Canadian Bacon, who starts a war with Canada to boost his approval ratings; and the two presidents who have appeared in Prison Break, the amiable, possibly unnamed, elderly lame duck who is president at the beginning, who is murdered by his evil, incestuous VP Caroline Reynolds (Patricia Wettig), one of the main villains of the series.

and yes, I know I watch too much television.

Didn't Dennis Quaid play a G.W. Bush parody in that American Dreams movie?

Paul Morton said...

Let's open this up more. I just remembered E.G. Marshall's president in Superman II. He's more or less central casting but he does get this wonderful exchange:

President: Oh, God.

Zod: No, Zod.

So let's think of all the other made-up commander-in-chiefs. John mentioned Dennis Quaid's GWB parody in American Dreams, but I want to avoid direct impersonations. This would also disqualify John Travolta's Clinton in Primary Colors.

John said...

Apparently Stanley Anderson played the (unnamed) president in Armageddon.

The Day After Tomorrow, appropriately for a movie that came out in 2004, does not have a president, but rather an evil, Cheneyesque vice president. Evil fictional Vice Presidents have become rather common in the Bush years - in addition to this, there's the aforementioned incestuous Caroline Reynolds of Prison Break, and any number of scheming veeps in 24. I'm not sure of anything beyond that.

Does the kid on that awful Jack and Bobby show from the WB a few years back, who was destined to become president, but who was, for the whole life of the series, a young boy in an Everwood type drama, count?

Apparently there is a fictional former president played by James Cromwell (aka, the dude from "Babe") on the West Wing, as well as Jimmy Smits playing the guy who ultimately succeeds Bartlett. The most recent episode of Heroes featured a trip to the future in which the character Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) was President.

How about that movie where James Garner and Jack Lemmon played feuding ex-presidents, with Dan Aykroyd as the current president? My Fellow Americans was apparently the title.

Wikipedia, sadly, already has an article on this subject at

John said...

Apparently My Fellow Americans also features John Heard as the VP who briefly becomes President after Dan Aykroyd is forced to resign in disgrace. So that's four presidents in one film, all of them relatively well-known actors.

Getting back to the movie Dave, mentioned by Paul, Ben Kingsley plays the VP, who, iirc, eventually accedes to the presidency at the end of the movie.

John said...

oh, and Jeff Bridges apparently played the president in that movie with Joan Allen, The Contender. Madness.