Special Features – The Top Ten Movie Presidents

Jake Wardle selects his top ten movie presidents…

As the US of A nears the end of a near 2-year election campaign, they face a choice, an enormous, historic choice, between the charismatic, compassionate Barack Obama and the Tyrell Corporation’s most sophisticated android, Willard Mitt Romney. The polls point to a close result, but whoever prevails, they face a tough task – historic levels of Government debt, an unstable Middle-East, and the very real possibility of a hostile alien invasion. Still, if movies have taught us anything about American Presidents, it’s that they’re uniquely equipped to deal with the latter. Here then, to celebrate the 57th election for the President of the United States, are ten of the best movie presidents:

10. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) – Primary Colours

Buoyed by John Travolta’s terrific performance, ‘Charismatic Southern Governor’ Jack Stanton, a thinly veiled version of Bill Clinton, is a truly memorable screen president, despite not actually holding the position for most of the film. He’s great though, with Travolta perfectly capturing Clinton’s peerless political acumen, his ability to connect with the common man, and his ‘aw shucks, sorry I slept with the intern again’ smile. Who wouldn’t vote for him?

9. Andrew Shepard (Michael Douglas) – The American President

Before the West Wing, there was The American President, Aaron Sorkin’s first attempt at a fairytale alternative to the political reality. Like Jed Bartlett, Shepard is Liberal, principled and almost impossibly eloquent. Balancing a burgeoning romance with Annette Bening’s Lobbyist with his fight for re-election, Shepard battles with his conscience over a crime bill before ending the film with an impassioned speech on gun control. It’s all very unlikely, but exhilarating.

8. Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) – Nixon

It might seem unfair for Richard Nixon to be represented twice on this list, but Nixon fans (do they exist?) really have been spoilt for choice on the big screen. In the under-appreciated Nixon, Stone paints Tricky Dick as a Shakespearean tragic figure, hiding out in the fortress of his White House, erratically considering his impending downfall at first with anger, and then an eerie calm. It’s a credit to Hopkin’s performance that he can make such a cold figure (almost) sympathetic.

7. John Adams (William Daniels) – 1776

Ah 1776, when men were men, America was British and all political debate was done through the medium of song. History may have forgotten the stirring voice of John Adams, but 1776 didn’t. He may not have technically been president in the time-frame of the film, but look at him move!

6. Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) – Dr Strangelove

One of three roles played by Peter Sellers, President Muffley is, despite his best efforts, unable to prevent a global nuclear war after one of his generals ‘went and did a silly thing’ by bombing Russia. He’s proud, and never tires in his attempts to keep the peace, but he’s just not very good at his job.

5. Richard Nixon (again) – All the President’s Men

A cheat perhaps, but nobody could play Richard Nixon like Richard Nixon, despite the best efforts of Messrs Hopkins and Langella, among others. Appearing only in news footage and photographs, his shadow hangs over the entire film, his sweaty, nervous grin never letting up despite Woodward and Bernstein’s increasingly devastating discoveries. Creepy.

4. Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) – Deep Impact

Like many Presidents on this list, Tom Beck is forced to deal  with an unprecedented threat to the safety not only of the United States, but the world, and while most would lose their heads, or make irrational decisions, Freeman’s Beck is instead exactly the leader we would want in a crisis. Calm, strong and inspiring. He is a uniting figure, believing that the goodness of humanity will ensure their survival in the aftermath of the collision with an enormous meteor. ‘Life will go on, we will prevail’ he tells us, and you believe him.

3. Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) – Independence Day

His big speech may be cheesy, but it’s stirring, and it’d probably do the trick when humanity was about to take on a large-scale alien invasion. Points are also awarded for leading by example: getting in a fighter-jet himself, which for all his rhetoric, President Obama would probably never do.

2. The President (Henry Fonda) – Fail Safe

Faced with a similar conundrum to Strangelove’s President Muffley, Henry Fonda’s unnamed president does a far better job, and makes a near impossible call – allowing the Russians to bomb New York in retaliation for their accidental strike on Moscow. It’s a decision that saves the civilized world, which is a good days work by anyone’s standards.

1. James Marshall (Harrison Ford) – Air Force One

Like an infinitely less cheesy version of Independence Day’s President Whitmore, Harrison Ford’s President Marshall is no less tough, showing some real leadership skills by delivering some ‘Marshall’-Law (ha!) to the terrorists aboard Air Force One. Being a Vietnam veteran, Medal of Honor recipient and all-round badass, he’s exactly the commander-in-chief you’d want in this situation, but really he tops the list for kicking Gary Oldman out of a plane.


Who’s your favourite movie president? Feel free to let us know in the comments…

Jake Wardle

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  • Gab

    My fav President is David Palmer(starred by Dennis Haysbert) from 24.