Being the president of the United States is not an easy gig. Whether he’s fighting off a team of Russian hijackers, defending the world from hordes of evil aliens, or simply trying to meet the right woman, the president’s job is never done.
From Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact to Geena Davis in Commander in Chief, a wide variety of actors have portrayed the head of state over the years. Here is a look at some of the best (and worst) fictional presidents to appear on television and film.
President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) in Air Force One
In the film, Air Force One, President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) and his family and staff are taken hostage when Russian terrorist Ivan Korshunov hijacks Air Force One, the president’s personal aircraft. Indiana Jones—er, President Marshall, does not take this threat lying down and chooses to fight off the hijackers instead of fleeing. While we don’t learn much about the president’s stance on foreign policy or the economy in the film, we do see that the POTUS can seriously kick ass.
President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in The West Wing
The West Wing followed President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and the many obstacles he and his administration must face—such as an assassination attempt, a hostage crisis in Africa, or when his wife decides to cut his tie with a pair of scissors seconds before a presidential debate. President Bartlet’s crew scrambles to find him a tie before he walks on stage and, replacement ties aside, Bartlet goes on to humiliate his opponent in the debate.
President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) in Dr. Strangelove
Peter Sellers was incredibly busy in Dr. Strangelove, as he took on three separate roles, including that of President Merkin Muffley. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, President Muffley calls the president of Russia and attempts to warn him about an attack that the U.S. has accidentally ordered on his country. However, while attempting to smooth things over, President Muffley gives the Russian president the authority to shoot down U.S. planes. Needless to say, this probably isn’t one of the better executive orders to come from the head of state.
President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in The American President
Michael Douglas plays the widowed President Andrew Shepherd in the romantic comedy The American President. While preparing for reelection, President Shepherd becomes smitten with an environmental lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), much to the dismay of his cabinet. President Shepherd appears to be very popular with the American people, but he seems much less focused on his presidential responsibilities and more on special interests, like his love life.
President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact
In Deep Impact, mankind is doomed when scientists discover a large meteor on a crash course for earth. A team of astronauts inadvertently turn the large meteor into two large meteors in a botched rescue mission, and while they successful destroy one, the other strikes the Atlantic Ocean and causes major damage to the East Coast. Despite the devastation, President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) puts his amazing voice to use and gives a stirring speech that urges the American people to move forward.
President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) in Independence Day
Much like Harrison Ford’s President Marshall in Air Force One, Bill Pullman’s President Thomas J. Whitmore proves that he is not scared to fight for what he believes in. But instead of hijackers, President Whitmore is faced with aliens who intend to wipe out mankind. Not only does the president give a rousing speech to his troops as they prepare to fight for their lives, but he earns the title of commander in chief as he jumps in a fighter jet and rides alongside his men.
President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) in Mars Attacks!
President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) squares off against aliens intent on global supremacy in Tim Burton’s extraterrestrial satire, Mars Attacks! However, he isn’t as courageous as some of the other presidents on this list. When confronted by the Martian ambassador, President Dale attempts to reason with the creepy aliens and asks the simple question, “Can’t we all just get along?” The Martians appear to be to be touched by the president’s words as they shed a tear after his moving speech … but their attitude quickly changes as they vaporize President Dale on the spot. So much for getting along.
President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) in Commander in Chief
After President Teddy Bridges dies from a brain aneurism, Vice President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) steps in to become the first female president in ABC’s short-lived drama series, Commander in Chief. Despite many staff members resigning and resentment from Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton, President Allen proves she has just as much cojones as the men opposing her.