Over the years many great actors have stepped into the Oval Office and tried their respective hands at portraying the commander-in-chief. Some portrayals are forever etched in cinema history, while less successful attempts have been forgotten.
One of the best depictions, Bill Pullman as President Whitmore in Independence Day, stands out nearly two decades after the film’s release. Luckily for fans, director Roland Emmerich announced via Twitter last week that Pullman would reprise his role in the upcoming sequel.
With this in mind, we’ve decided to rank the nine most memorable fictional presidents ever to grace the big and small screen. Here they are, in no particular order.
President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho
On the surface foul-mouthed President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho may appear pretty ridiculous, but when you dig a little deeper…he’s still pretty ridiculous. In his defense, President Camacho was elected 500 years in the future by perversely stupid Americans.
And what makes a politician appealing in director Mike Judge’s dystopian future? President Camacho is not only a former wrestling champion; he’s also a porn superstar.
President Bill Mitchell
In the 1993 comedy Dave, Academy Award winner Kevin Kline plays Dave Kovic, a lovable temp agency owner and presidential impersonator who must become the actual head of state when President Bill Mitchell unexpectedly slips into a coma.
While standing in for the President Mitchell, the kind-hearted Kovic uses a common sense approach to cut $650 million in government waste and balance the budget. He also manages to pass a jobs bill, which isn’t bad for a presidential doppelgänger.
President Tom Beck
Deep Impact (1998)
Stoic and reassuring, Morgan Freeman’s turn as President Tom Beck makes our list because he manages to put American citizens at ease despite a catastrophic impending comet-strike.
Freeman is also the only actor on our list to also play a foreign president. He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of South African President Nelson Mandela in Invictus.
President Thomas J. Whitmore
Independence Day (1996)
The only acting president since George Washington to see military combat while in office, President Thomas J. Whitmore makes our list for battling aliens in 1996’s blockbuster movie Independence Day.
Confronted with a shortage of pilots, President Whitmore, played by Bill Pullman, personally leads a squad of fighter pilots against alien invaders. And what’s more, President Whitmore also delivers one of the most inspirational speeches in action movie history. Watch the memorable scene above.
Pullman also played the POTUS in the short-lived NBC sitcom 1600 Penn.
President Andrew Shepherd
The American President (1995)
President Andrew Shepherd is a man of many talents. Not only is he a widower struggling with single-dad duties, he’s also up for reelection and trying to get his comprehensive crime bill passed. On top of that, the charming president (skillfully portrayed by Michael Douglas) has also re-entered the dating scene.
Interestingly, The American President served as a major influence on The West Wing. The film’s writer Aaron Sorkin would go on to create the popular political drama four years later. Additionally, Martin Sheen, who played White House Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney in the movie, went on to be promoted to president in The West Wing.
President Jackson Evans
The Contender (2000)
In The Contender, President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) attempts to shatter the glass ceiling by nominating a woman for vice president following the death of the current VP. Echoing the current political landscape, President Evans’ nomination is blocked by Republicans who attack the personal character of nominee Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen).
The only actor on the list to earn an Oscar nomination for their presidential portrayal, Bridge’s speech to Congress at the end of the film is one of the actor’s finest moments.
In 2008, President Barack Obama told Entertainment Weekly that Evans was his favorite movie president.
President James Marshall
Air Force One (1997)
Long before Jamie Foxx defended the Oval Office as President James William Sawyer in White House Down, Harrison Ford’s President James Marshall was fighting off terrorists in Air Force One.
Just in case the idea of a sitting president single-handedly fending off a group of Russian terrorists seems unrealistic, it’s worth noting that President Marshall is a Vietnam veteran, a former USAF ARRS helicopter pilot, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He also uttered one of the most recognizable quotes in action movie history: “Get off my plane!”
President Merkin Muffley
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
The best film on our list, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb features legendary comedic actor Peter Sellers in three roles – one of which is President Merkin Muffley.
An anti-nuclear war leader, President Muffley is perhaps best remembered for the line: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
A satirical look at the Cold War, Kubrick’s black comedy is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
President Jed Bartlett
The West Wing (1999-2006)
The only television president to make our list, President Jed Bartlett is also the only president listed to be a Nobel Prize winner. Although The West Wing was initially supposed to focus on Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Martin Sheen’s standout performance as President Bartlett led to his character’s role being expanded – thus changing the trajectory of the series.
During his tenure in office, President Bartlett was known for his intelligence, quick wit, and integrity. The Democrat also battled multiple sclerosis and a Republican-dominated congress over the series’ seven seasons.
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