American elections are always a test, a taking of the temperature of the nation – will it care more about big business or middle class poverty? Will it choose to build walls, or break them down? Will the values of the cities or the rural areas be the guide to policy for the next four or eight years?
As we teeter on the brink of a decision that has scarcely looked bleaker, we recently looked at five terrible fictional Presidents of the USA. But we’re geeks – that’s an inherently optimistic, forward-looking position, so let’s take a look at ten fictional US Presidents who inspired, led the nation and the world and gave us all hope.
10. Jack Nicholson…as Jack Nicholson
Jolly Jack makes our list of great on-screen presidents on a bit of a wild card, not really because of his performance as President James Dale in Mars Attacks! – clearly his attempt to tug the heartstrings of alien visitors doesn’t go that well.
But more because of a moment of logic from one of comedy’s finest, who visualised a day when Jack Nicholson himself held the reins of power.
Can you just imagine President Jack? It’d be like Trump with balls and a brain. C’mon folks, Nicholson For America, 2020.
9. Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Wait, what? The murderous, egomaniacal scorched-earth cynic from House of Cards makes it onto our list of great fictional Presidents?
Yes, yes he does, and for reasons more pertinent now than ever before. In an election where it is actively arguable that both candidates with a chance of winning are driven more by their own ego than the needs of the American people or the world, Frank Underwood shines a light. You need a certain amount of ego to think of putting yourself at so great a service to the country and the world, but even if, like Frank, you’re driven by a sense of self-aggrandisement and ego, you can do things that have a lasting, positive effect on people – or a lasting, negative effect. If you are driven by ego to get into the history books, you can think creatively about how to get there, to deliver projects, programmes, laws that might have been unthinkable just a generation earlier. Think Frank Underwood never did any good for others while striving only to serve himself? Check out America Works.
8. Geena Davies as Mackenzie Allen, Commander In Chief
Mackenzie Allen became President suddenly, on the ‘one heartbeat from the Oval Office’ principle, and, like Commander In Chief itself, she had fewer and fewer good days as time went on, but on her day, Allen stood up, both at home and abroad, for the kind of values that America – and the Western world – claims to espouse when it talks of being the ‘free world.’ Oh yeah – and she kicked ass doing it.
7. Martin Sheen as Josiah Bartlett, The West Wing
Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlett was the liberal President half of America yearned for during the Bush Junior League years, but it’s worth remembering that, outside the bubble of liberal policy-lust, he was a deeply flawed President – hiding a long-term serious illness from the American people (can you just imagine hiding MS in the current political climate?), taking a censure from Congress, failing to pass some of his key policy initiatives. But again, on his day, and with the words of Sorkin and Schlamme to help him out, Jed Bartlett could make you punch the air, dismiss the notion that everyone’s opinions were equally valid, and give you hope for a future politics that included leaders like him.
6. Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepherd, The American President
While we’re talking Sorkin and Sheen, let’s take a moment to appreciate Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepherd.
As we come to one of the most personal, bitter, mud-slung, fact-light elections we’ve seen in modern times, Andrew Shepherd gives us both a lesson in civics and in personal character, defending someone important to him from personal attack for political gain, committing to tackling the problems of global warming, and – in a move that would probably get any real President assassinated these days, actually promising he was ‘going to get the guns.’
5. Morgan Freeman as Tom Beck, Deep Impact
Let’s be honest – we live in scary times. There’s uncertainty at home, and there is danger abroad. But in such times as these, you need a President whose presence, whose resolve, whose very voice can give you hope of a bright new day. Step forward, Voice of God Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck, who, faced with a global catastrophe, helped minimise panic even as inevitable destruction beckoned, and who, at the end of the movie, helped you feel alright about the destruction of millions of people because you’d survived.
That, geeks and nerds alike, is the terrible, wonderful burden of the Presidency.
4. Aaron Eckhart as Benjamin Asher, Olympus/London Has Fallen
To be the President of the United States takes more than speeches. It takes more than huge crowds chanting your name. When the chips are down, you have to stand for something, to be able to eschew the art of the deal and say ‘This far and no further, you can kill us if you dare, but you can never break us.’
Aaron Eckhart as President Benjamin Asher in both Olympus and London Has Fallen shows that strength of purpose when he’s personally kidnapped and held by those whose grander plan is to humiliate America and hold the western world to ransom. In Olympus Has Fallen, he holds out, even to the point of letting those around him pay the ultimate price, and being willing to do so himself, to stop those who would blackmail America from getting what they want. And in London Has Fallen, he even instructs Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning to shoot him dead, rather than give terrorists what they want, the symbol of his slaughter. That’s a President with a genuine belief in the America he leads, and in the dignity and seriousness it takes to lead that nation.
3. Tea Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, Madam Secretary
Number 1, yes, she becomes Acting President at some point, so nehh, and number 2, c’mon, who are we trying to kid here? This is essentially a fictionalised version of the Clinton Secretaryship. Elizabeth McCord shows one important thing as Madam Secretary – some days, there are no good choices when you sit in one of the biggest chairs in the world. Some days, no matter what you do, there’s no way to win. Wars have to be fought. People have to be killed, and sometimes, yes, people have to die who don’t deserve it. But McCord never stops fighting to find a way to a good day, and that’s important in the Presidency – use every resource you have, every idea you can, to get the best result.
Tea Leoni brings humanity, humour and toughness to the role of Secretary of State (and Acting President), but McCord’s use of lateral thinking, back channels, diplomacy, brinksmanship and, when necessary direct action make her one of the safest pairs of hands to steer America and the world through complex international waters.
2. Harrison Ford as James Marshall, Air Force One
When it comes to crunch time, sometimes you need a President who’s not afraid to go toe to toe themselves with the forces that would try and destroy America (NB – destroy is not the same as change. Change is good, evolution is good, fairness and equality – all good). Our top two fictional Presidents, while not by any means gung-ho, are prepared to stand up against threats to ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy,’ expanding those concepts to universal human rights. James Marshall in Air Force One, having declared a kind of quiet war on terrorists, puts his life where his mouth is. You’re gonna want to get off his plane.
BUT, let’s be clear about this – all these Presidents are fictional, and should not be taken to be more than that by anyone who actually gets the job.
1. Bill Pullman as Thomas J Whitmore, Independence Day
And finally, let’s give it up for President Thomas J Whitmore, who, faced with the end of the world, not only determined to give the last measure of public service himself alongside those he sent to fight, but restated and redefined American values in one classic speech.
America and the world needs a President who can see beyond people’s differences and bring them together, not judge them and pull them apart. Vote, America. Vote as though we were facing a global threat, because we are – not aliens in spaceships, but poverty, division, hatred, climate change. Whoever you vote for, you’ll make tomorrow’s history.
Make it count.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk