Film and TV

Movie Presidents We Would Actually Vote for

All we're saying is that Harrison Ford would not have tweeted "covfefe" when he was riding the Air Force One.
All we're saying is that Harrison Ford would not have tweeted "covfefe" when he was riding the Air Force One. Joe Raedle/Getty
COVID-19 has thrown 2020 into chaos, and it just keeps on giving — there’s still an election to worry about in November.

The past month, in particular, seems to have been largely dedicated to the minutiae of how this election will proceed with mail-in and absentee voting, as well as thoughts on how the current administration’s handling of the crisis will swing voters.

The Democratic National Convention held this week served as a prime example of just how drastically American politics has shifted in the last four years. Having a reality show host as president has, at the very least, blurred the lines between politics and fantasy. The antics of fictional works are now rarely more dramatic than reality; the scary political maneuvering of the Underwoods on House of Cards or the humor of seeing a pro wrestler in the White House in Idiocracy now feel rather quaint in comparison with the daily news.

With many voters feeling less enthused about this election cycle, films can often bring a sense of hope and wish fulfillment. In many ways, these characters feel more suited for the Oval Office than anyone seeking to inhabit it. So, with that in mind, here are some movie presidents that we’d actually vote for.

President James Marshall, Air Force One
The definitive action movie president, Harrison Ford’s James Marshall, is best known for his iconic one-liner “Get off my plane!” uttered to Gary Oldman before he, uh, kicks him off his plane. In Air Force One, Marshall is returning with his family from a diplomatic mission to Moscow when terrorists hijack their ride, leading to the best “Die Hard on a plane” scenario in film history. There’s a lot of guns blazing, but Marshall also demonstrates the critical decision-making skills that we look for in a commander in chief, from lowering the fuel reserve in order to force a landing to taking a bullet for his cabinet members in danger, Marshall is determined not to leave any innocents in the fray. This is a president who avoids the escape pod to save those in need — no bone spurs would slow him down.

President Thomas Whitmore, Independence Day

Although often seen as one of the definitive movie presidents, Bill Pullman’s Thomas Whitmore starts off the sci-fi classic as a somewhat disappointing commander in chief who isn’t taken seriously by his administration. Unlike our current leadership, however, Whitmore is able to turn it around when a crisis hits, leading the United States (and later, the whole world), to organize a counterattack when aliens invade our planet. Far from a Washington insider, Whitmore places his faith in the common man (including Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith) and puts his own life on the line to destroy the alien mothership. No speech from a veteran political speechwriter will be quite as powerful as Whitmore’s iconic “Independence Day” speech, and there’s nothing that won’t get us to line up for Whitmore, other than Independence Day: Resurgence.

Dave Kovic, Dave
So maybe this one is technically cheating, as Kevin Kline’s titular Dave Kovic isn’t actually the president in Dave, but rather a lookalike who gets a gig pretending to be the head of state when the vile President Bill Mitchell suffers a stroke while having an affair (something that was relatively scandalous back in 1993). But Dave is up to the task and inspires a new reputation for the scorned President Mitchell by visiting homeless shelters and starting an initiative to defeat unemployment worldwide. Best of all? Dave isn’t power-hungry, as he ultimately decides to resign and lets his dutiful Vice President Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley), a veteran public servant with a strong human rights record, ascend to the highest office. Whether it’s Kline or Kingsley, Dave gives us an optimistic look at what American politics would look like with a little more compassion.

President Andrew Shepherd, The American President
Before Aaron Sorkin created The West Wing’s Jed Bartlett to be the ultimate example of a graceful, whip-smart idealist president, he explored the concept with director Rob Reiner in the beloved 1995 classic The American President. Michael Douglas stars as the titular “hot president” Andrew Shepherd, a hopeless romantic who mourns for his recently departed wife and ultimately finds new love with environmental activist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). Of course, being the world’s most famous bachelor has its drawbacks, as Shepherd is hounded by conservative media, but he manages to win Wade’s heart by means of roses and lowering the nation’s fossil fuels use by 20%. Classy.

President Benjamin Asher, Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen

The heir apparent to Air Force One’s James Marshall, Aaron Eckhart’s Benjamin Asher is another well-intentioned world leader whose attempts to combat global fascism put him in harm's way. While the “Die Hard in the White House” premise focuses more on Gerard Butler’s former secret service agent Mike Banning when it comes to the action shenanigans, Asher is more than just a POTUS-in-distress. Biding his time, he’s able to save the lives of his staffers and foil the terrorists’ plot to end a U.S. military operation, and ultimately joins Banning in the thick of the combat. Asher’s heroism only increased his popularity with voters, as his presidency continued in the follow-up film London Has Fallen.

President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho, Idiocracy
Maybe Terry Crews’s former-porn-star-turned-wrestler isn’t the president that we want, but in 2020, he feels like the president we deserve. In the anti-intellectual future of Idiocracy’s 2505, the presidency is determined by a radio contest, and Comacho is just the machine gun-toting hooligan who’s selected for the job. While illiterate and incompetent in nearly every regard, Comacho has some good intentions, particularly when he tasks Luke Wilson’s character Joe Bauers (the time-traveling “smartest man on the planet”) with feeding the hungry nation. Perhaps the sign of a great leader is knowing when to call in help? If so, Comacho is about the best we could hope for.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.