On this day back in 1947, President Harry S. Truman became the first US president to give an official address on television, asking the American people to cut back on their use of grain in order to help starving Europeans. It was the beginning of a complicated and occasionally contentious relationship between the White House and the moving image.
This week, another image of the American presidency — a fictional one, this time — hits multiplexes in the form of George Clooney, whose new film The Ides of March concerns a handsome governor running for the highest office in the land (with the help of equally dreamy staffer Ryan Gosling). In commemoration of this significant date in presidential mass media history, and with Clooney’s Mike Morris aiming to join the ranks of cinematic commanders-in-chief, let’s rank ten of the most memorable movie presidents from worst to best. (And to clarify: we’re ranking them as presidents, not as enjoyable movie characters). Check out our rankings after the jump, and let us know if you agree in the comments.
President Merkin Muffley ( Dr. Strangelove ) PLAYED BY: Peter Sellers IN A NUTSHELL: In Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy classic, President Muffley takes America to the brink of nuclear war. And then over it. KEY QUOTE: “Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The *Bomb*, Dmitri… The *hydrogen* bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ahm… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?”
President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho ( Idiocracy ) PLAYED BY: Terry Crews IN A NUTSHELL: In Mike Judge’s futuristic satire, the commander-in-chief is a former porn star and wrestler whose solution to the country’s crippling famine and economic woes is to get a smart guy to solve the problem, or he’ll kick him in the nuts and send him to prison. KEY QUOTE: “Now I understand everyone’s shit’s emotional right now. But I’ve got a three-point plan that’s going to fix everything.”
President Max Frost ( Wild in the Streets ) PLAYED BY: Christopher Jones IN A NUTSHELL: This counterculture satire centers on rock star Frost, who harnesses his considerable popularity with the nation’s youth to first get the voting age lowered to 14 (by spiking the Washington water supply with LSD), then to get himself elected president. Once in office, he lowers the retirement age to 30, with everyone over 35 rounded up into “re-education camps.” KEY QUOTE: “I have nothing against our current president… that’s like running against my own grandfather. I mean, what do you ask a 60-year-old man? You ask him if he wants his wheelchair facing the sun, or facing away from the sun. But running the country? Forget it, babies!”
President Thomas J. Whitmore ( Independence Day ) PLAYED BY: Bill Pullman IN A NUTSHELL: The commander-in-chief of Roland Emmerich’s dopey blockbuster has got the youth and charisma of a Clinton, but with fighter pilot experience thrown in, allowing him to lead the strike against the invading aliens with a faux-inspirational speech that shows how far we’ve fallen since Capra. KEY QUOTE: “I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.”
President Miles Gilliam ( Head of State ) PLAYED BY: Chris Rock IN A NUTSHELL: This 2003 Rock vehicle (which he also wrote and directed) explored the comic possibilities of an African-American president. Can you imagine such a thing? KEY QUOTE: “America is the richest, most powerful country on earth. If America was a woman, she would be a big-tittied woman. Everybody loves a big-tittied woman!”
President Tom Beck ( Deep Impact ) PLAYED BY: Morgan Freeman IN A NUTSHELL: Actually, five years before Rock’s comedy, Morgan Freeman played the head of state — and nobody batted an eyelash. KEY QUOTE: “Cities fall, but they are rebuilt. And heroes die, but they are remembered. We honor them with every brick we lay, with every field we sow, With every child we comfort, and then teach to rejoice in what we have been re-given. Our planet. Our home. So now, let us begin.”
President Jackson Evans ( The Contender ) PLAYED BY: Jeff Bridges IN A NUTSHELL: The Dude himself plays second-term President Evans as a likable charmer who delights in the flexibility of the White House kitchen. KEY QUOTE: “Laine Hanson has asked that I allow her to step aside. She asked me to do this because she wants my presidency to end on a note of triumph and not controversy. Understand, those of you who worked to bring Laine Hanson down, that she asked to have her name withdrawn from consideration, not because she isn’t great, but because she isn’t petty. Because those two forms of leadership traits could not live in her body or her soul. Greatness. It comes in many forms — sometimes it comes in the form of sacrifice. That’s the loneliest form.”
President James Marshall ( Air Force One ) PLAYED BY: Harrison Ford IN A NUTSHELL: A tough Vietnam vet and Medal of Honor winner who single-handedly retakes Air Force One from Russian nationalist hijackers. KEY QUOTE: “GET OFF MY PLANE!”
Dave Kovic, aka President William Harrison “Bill” Mitchell ( Dave ) PLAYED BY: Kevin Kline IN A NUTSHELL: Mitchell is a stiff and unpopular president who is replaced by his stand-in Dave Kovic (also played by Kline) after a less-than-presidential passing. Good-natured Kovic, a temp-agency manager, becomes the kind of affable, common-sense president the country needs. KEY QUOTE: “If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.”
President Andrew Sheperd ( The American President ) PLAYED BY: Michael Douglas IN A NUTSHELL: President Sheperd, a widower, finds his character questioned and tested for the first time when he starts dating a lobbyist — and ends up finding his true political backbone. KEY QUOTE: “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life… and you go on television and you call her a whore. Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.”