Ranking Iconic Film and TV Presidents

While we await the final swing states to finish counting their ballots, let us turn our eyes from real politics. We’ve chosen seven of the most iconic fictional presidents from film and television and ranked them from “biggest nightmare” to “four more years.”

Don’t like the list? Well, don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.

Selina Meyer, Veep

There are some comedies out there that are too real to be funny for a certain audience. If you ever worked in a bureaucratic office environment, then Dundler-Mifflin might cut a little too close to home.

The incisive writing on Veep skewered politics in a way that’s both darkly funny and sets my teeth on edge. Especially now that we’re living in a post-satire era of politics. Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) ranks at the very bottom of my real-life presidents, merely because the thought of her existing in real life makes me want to reach for the Oreos. Or the vodka. Wait, could you dunk the Oreos in the vodka?

Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, Idiocracy

Hey, remember when this movie seemed like really broad satire? Those were the days. I would fully believe that, given the choice, a not-insignificant amount of people would vote for President Camacho (Terry Crews) in real life today. We don’t have to wait until 2505–after all, Kanye has promised to run again next election.

Claire Underwood, House of Cards (US)

The less said about real-life nightmare Kevin Spacey, the better. Instead, let’s look at his on-screen wife, played by the inimitable Robin Wright. Claire Underwood has a bit of a Margaret Thatcher vibe, with her steely ruthlessness. If she’s on your side, great! President C. Underwood will get things done. But if you oppose her, she’ll destroy you. Ideally, you want the leader of your country to have some degree of empathy to temper the ambition necessary to reach the Oval Office.

Dave Kovic, Dave

Would the charming, affable, but woefully unprepared Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) have been a good president in real life? Honestly, probably not. But his inherent goodness is so refreshing in a realm as cynical as politics. It’s the kind of “outsider perspective” that so many people claim to want in Washington. Of course, in real life, things turn out a little differently…

Let’s leave aside the fact that his romance with the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) gets weirder the more you think about it. At the end of the film, the former presidential impersonator does exactly what more of us ought to do: get involved in local politics. Remember to keep voting in those down-ballot races, folks!

James Marshall, Air Force One

In future elections, the candidates will need to wrestle a hijacker out of an airplane to prove their fitness for office.

But seriously, before his heroics, President Marshall was a strong president who could admit to his mistakes and do the work to make it right. He stood up to Russia (unlike some people) and pledged to confront a human rights crisis. Sure, he did so by wrestling terrorists on a plane, and that might not

Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

In terms of people you’d actually want in the White House, Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is probably the most realistic pick. Wise, moral, and fair, he’s the kind of steady hand that can guide this country through almost any storm.

Any storm except an alien invasion. For that, you need…

Thomas Whitmore, Independence Day

Is there anyone else you’d rather have lead you in a crisis than this man? Plenty of folks prefer Harrison Ford in Air Force One, and that’s fine. We can agree to disagree. But there has never been a more rousing presidential speech than the one President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) delivers in Independence Day:

Should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!’ Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

You just got chills, didn’t you?

Honorable Mention: Morgan Freeman

It’s the voice, right? When Morgan Freeman tells you something, you believe it. Maybe that’s why he keeps getting cast in leadership roles. He first played the President of the United States in Deep Impact, a disaster movie about a comet hurtling toward the earth. He’d go on to play Speaker of the House, then Vice President, and finally President Trumball in a series of action films beginning with Olympus Has Fallen.

Freeman also played South African President Nelson Mandela in Invictus. However, we’re only rating fictional US Presidents today, so that won’t count. Sorry, Morgan!