As the world is doubtless aware, Donald J. Trump is now the current President of the United States, and is likely enjoying his first few nights sleeping in the White House. As far as the world of cinema and television is concerned, though, there have been at least as many fake presidents as there have been real ones in the real Oval Office.
While it would be easy to look to Harrison Ford's portrayal of President James Marshall in the thriller Air Force One or the affable President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in The American President as examples of some of the best presidents that cinema had to offer, it can be entertaining to also look at some of the worst. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. President Francis Underwood, 'House Of Cards,' 2014–Present
Kevin Spacey plays bad guys with delicious glee, and his take on Underwood is no exception. While House Of Cards is a Netflix offering, it's an excellent take on the theme of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Underwood doesn't let anything stand in his way as he pursues the nation's highest office, whether it's notions of democracy being unnecessary or putting some pressure on people to ensure he gets in the White House. Interestingly, Spacey will also play President Richard Nixon in the upcoming movie Elvis & Nixon.
2. President Snow, 'The Hunger Games,' 2012–2015
The Hunger Games is undoubtedly the movie that put actor Jennifer Lawrence — one of the most beloved celebrities in Hollywood right now — on the map, but it will no doubt be remembered for the pure, slimy viciousness that was President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Symbolically, he's always seen wearing white (the symbol of the good guy), but everything he does is not necessarily good.
He might seem to be trying to be reasonable, but Snow is a man who loves the power he has, and he loves that he can rule Panem with an iron fist — that is, until Katniss joins the Hunger Games and suddenly becomes a symbol of a revolution. Snow manages to strike at the very heart of everything that Katniss holds dear, showing that he understands the power that Katniss holds as the symbol of the uprising that happens and that he will stop at nothing, including brainwashing Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to do his bidding. Besides, any president who sanctions an annual competition in which kids go head to head in a competition to the death might have a few issues, no?
3. President William Haney, 'My Fellow Americans,' 1996
While Dan Aykroyd seems to be a heck of a nice guy, the characters he portrays are often the guys you might see in your bowling league instead of leading your country. In the case of President William Haney in My Fellow Americans, we have an affable sort of fellow running the country, but underneath the friendly smile lies something of a sleazeball. Haney attempts to pin a kickback and money-laundering scheme on the former president, portrayed by Jack Lemmon. Is this the sort of man we could see running the country, even on the cinematic front?
4. President Merkin Muffley, 'Dr. Strangelove,' 1964
Peter Sellers of The Pink Panther fame is at his absolute best (or would that be worst?) in Dr. Strangelove. One of Muffley's rogue generals fires missiles at the Russians, and Muffley feels that this error could be simply resolved with a phone call. It should be noted that Dr. Strangelove came out just two years after the Cuban missile crisis, so tensions about the probability of nuclear war were still probably quite high.
Dr. Strangelove was promoted as a comedy. Peter Sellers specialized in playing bumbling sorts of characters, and Muffley was no exception. To think that you can simply apologize for nuclear missiles being fired at another country is a sign of incompetence that no one could accept in their president.
Most remarkable about Dr. Strangelove is that Peter Sellers was in three main roles: the President, Dr. Strangelove himself, and RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. Sellers playing three roles was a stipulation of the movie company; he was originally supposed to play four roles, but ended up getting injured and was unable to work in the small confines of the space his character was supposed to be in.
5. President Will Cooper, 'Pixels,' 2015
Whomever thought it would be a great idea to have a president with a past as an adept video gamer should have reconsidered the notion behind this movie. While the idea of old video game characters such as Pac Man and Galaga attacking Earth is somewhat interesting, it's important to note that most people don't look at video game skill when selecting a world leader.
While belief can be suspended somewhat in movies in order to allow for an enjoyable viewing experience, trying to swallow Kevin James, a man known for his roles playing lovable goofs, as the United States President is a little bit much. He plays the part as the stereotypical and likable buffoon, but again, that is not the quality we look for in the leaders of our countries.
6. The President, 'Superman II,' 1980
What sort of president abdicates control of the planet to aliens? The President in Superman II, the 1980 sequel resoundingly praised for the late Christopher Reeve's performance, was a fearful man, believing that life would be so much better and easier if he just handed off power to the all-powerful General Zod and the other aliens from Krypton. When E.G. Marshall as "The President" took to the airwaves and abdicated power, he also put in an aside for Superman to help — sneaky, but it happened.
7. President Mackenzie, 'First Daughter,' 2004
In this Katie Holmes vehicle, Michael Keaton plays President Mackenzie, a man about whom the audience knows very little. This is unusual — given the movie is about the First Daughter of the United States, one might expect that there would be greater interest in developing something about her relationship with her dad, or what he's like (even a little bit) as President of the United States.
Instead, the audience is given very little to care about. President Mackenzie effectively seems more like the doting dad than he does a president interested in serving his people. Interestingly, he's consumed with thoughts of re-election, though his platform is never made clear.
8. President James Dale, 'Mars Attacks!,' 1996
While this is a film that landed with a dull thud at the box office, this was also noteworthy with the way that President Dale (Jack Nicholson) dealt with these aliens. It's a stark contrast from how President Thomas J. Whitmore stood and represented the American public — and really, the world — in Independence Day and Independence Day: Resurgence. Instead of immediately rallying the troops in order to protect the world, President Dale instead blames the invasion on a cultural misunderstanding. Of course, he meets the business end of a ray gun later in the movie, but maybe that represents another custom we are unfamiliar with?
9. President Asher, 'Olympus Has Fallen' (2013) And 'London Has Fallen' (2016)
Ah, President Asher. While Aaron Eckhardt — the man behind the presidency — has the earnest, handsome face many have come to expect from cinematic presidents, his President Asher seems tough, while in reality, seems to squirm in situations when he should be able to stand up and fight. He asks Gerard Butler to do him in should his captors opt to kill him, and in London Has Fallen, he is on the run from terrorists instead of fighting. While the man does have a security detail, shouldn't he be able to stand his ground and fight if necessary?
How Will President Trump Stack Up?
While these are some of the worst presidents on television and in the movies, one can only hope that newly-minted President Trump will soar far above these candidates.
Which fictional president do you think America deserves most?