It’s April 1st, and you know what that means: it’s fictional president’s day! We mark the occasion by examining some of the most brave, intelligent, charismatic, or cowardly and incompetent presidents we have experienced in film. There’s plenty of ways to look at their work through civic policy or scandals, but today we will examine the history of Fake American Crisis.
I mean, it’s not like we have a crisis going right now in April of 2020! So sit back and we can examine how these Commander-in-Chiefs lead the United States of America and their respective place in history!
We’re going to rank them based on effectiveness under the crisis, to hopefully give future presidents something to aspire to. We start with the ones so incompetent or corrupt that they cultivate the crisis they’re in, then we get into politicians that facilitate the heroes needed to save the day, and we end with actual action movie presidents.
President James Dale: Mars Attacks (1996)
Type of threat: Martian invaders
Solution: Initially, make peace. Eventually, nuclear option. Finally, impassioned speech.
So, this one might be controversial. What could Dale have done? Professor Kessler was responsible for the initial escalation. Still, that was just one man that thought he could reason with Martians. Well, this might be a scenario where my red-blooded nationalism kicks in. Call me crazy, but massacre my people once, shame on you. Massacre my people twice, shame on me. President Dale’s not the only one to blame here, the leaders of all the other nations think negotiation is an option, but the lesson Dale teaches us is that whether it’s attacking an enemy you can’t understand or letting the enemy you can’t understand do whatever it wants in the name of peace, maybe your first priority should be knowing that enemy. Or else you’ll make an impassioned “Why can’t we all just get along?” speech and get a robot martian hand stabbing through your heart.
President John Harker and “President For Life” Jack Cahill: Escape From New York (1981), Escape From LA (1996)
Harker’s effectiveness: 3/10
Cahill’s effectiveness: 7/10, but 10/10 corruption
Type of threat: kidnapping from your own prison colony.
Solution: Force Snake Plissken to save the world.
I wouldn’t say these two John Carpenter-directed action classics paint an encouraging picture for America’s future, but at least Donald Pleasance’s John Harker is British! Wow, we’ve really diversified our old white men. Harker’s crisis is technically an “external threat”, but you really shouldn’t have Air Force One fly so close over the prison colony of New York. Rookie mistake there prez. His cold congratulations to Plissken at the end of the film isn’t particularly compassionate either. I can’t be too hard on the guy, he’s spent the entire time being a dart board for the Duke and his cronies. Yet, the Duke seems more presidential. I mean, he’s A-number one.
But we can all acknowledge that there’s nothing undemocratic about a “President for Life”! I mean, it’s not like he wants to pass the presidency through bloodlines, he pretty much wants his daughter murdered. I gotta say, though, congress and the supreme court really failed us with these checks and balances. In his administration all of these things became so illegal you had to go to the prison colony of Los Angeles (clearly, way worse than New York): tobacco, alcoholic beverages, recreational drugs, red meat, firearms, profanity, atheism, freedom of religion, and extramarital sex.
I do/consume all of those things. This is problematic for me. How did he even get the red meat one passed? The last time we got rid of alcohol, the entire country became a prison colony desperate for booze.
That’s not to mention his foreign policy. Harker tried to stop World War 3, Cahill wants to utilize a satellite program (definitely not like any conservatives in our own history) to disable other nations’ defenses and annex the world! This just isn’t realistic Mr. President-for-life. I like Presidents with clear visions for the future, but you’ve got yours in a hologram.
What I’m saying is: Snake Plissken for President. There’s a sequel hook for you.
President Merkin Muffley: Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Type of Threat: Mutually Assured Destruction
Solution: None to stop M.A.D, use shelters underground to protect some people.
So we voted in a man with perpetual sniffles as President of the United States. I get it, height of the Cold War, makes sense to hire somebody experienced in dealing with colds. He’s higher than the previous two because this wasn’t clearly his fault, he sought positive solutions (initially), and ultimately he probably was the most powerless (personality notwithstanding). That vulnerability and ignorance is also what brings him all the way down here. The actor Sellers is amazing at the role, listening to Muffley speak doesn’t command confidence; it commands all your little red flags in your heart to stand at attention. Muffley talks to the Kremlin with all the bravado of a 15-year-old virgin on his first date. When you don’t even understand your own nuclear presence and are going to listen to ex-Nazis for your basic strategies and exposition you have some major problems. What’s scariest about Muffley is how realistic the scenario was for the time, and how complex and cataclysmic nuclear escalation really was. Points for Muffley trying to communicate to the Soviets, but you also let a Soviet Spy in the War Room just to chill. Why is everyone shocked when he starts taking pictures?
I hope other presidents in this list resort to underground mines to prevent global destruction. Hmmm.
President Marcus Robbins and Vice President Sonia Buck: Sharknado 3 (2015)
Type of Threat: Sharknadoes.
Solution: Murder the sharks, send other people to murder the storm from space.
So America has been hit with the devastating reality that the world’s dumbest climate change metaphor (a tornado filled with living and violent sharks) is STILL not convincing enough to not vote Republicans into the White House. There’s been two of these movies and America put Mark Cuban and Anne Coulter in charge? This is definitely a “we made our bed” scenario. What’s even worse is they’re clearly not competent enough to handle a current sharknado, instead they’ve filled their cabinet with Bill Engvall and their secret service with Lou Ferrigno and Mark Mcgrath (no disrespect, I love Hulk and Sugar Ray.) Washington D.C. is immediately attacked. How could they not have foreseen this tragedy? Are sharknados just seen as inevitable truths in this universe? Is the sharknado a cold wet finslap of divine judgment?
For that, the Robbins administration will be seen as weak and ineffective. Robbins totally murders a bunch of sharks himself, so points for that. I think that’s not good enough for the history books though.
President Thomas Beck: Deep Impact (1998)
Type of threat: Meteor set to wipe out all life
Solution: Astronauts and nukes, tunnels underground for everyone else
We see a lot of Beck’s administrative policy and general cooperation with global entities. This is also a very harsh crisis: a meteor is going to wipe out most life on Earth and the only real plan they have is to stick winners of a lottery in tunnels and assume everybody else is screwed. That’s not very encouraging, but the scenario puts Beck in a very difficult position. At least the tunnel solution this time wasn’t developed by a Nazi, and at least it’s decided via lottery. Honestly, you could look at his administration and how much they kept the meteor a secret until the last minute as a major demerit, but I gotta have sympathy for the guy. Revealing the truth is major stuff, and just telling the people about this may lead to more damage for the actual solution. Thankfully, his presidency isn’t marked by a meteor murdering everybody. The astronauts go on a suicide mission to save the planet, and they should be the real heroes of this paragraph.
President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho: Idiocracy (2006)
Type of Threat: Complete national decline. Economic depression, dustbowls, food shortages.
Solution: Get somebody smart to solve the problem.
Okay, you may be shocked: Comacho isn’t a bad president. Yes, he’s not smart. Yes, he wasn’t the one that solved his country’s problems. The saving grace to Comacho is in recognizing his own limitations and hiring Bauers to solve the problems. That’s all it actually takes to be a good leader. I can actually complain about Idiocracy‘s eugenics another time, but in that world’s logic Camacho was born intellectually inferior. He is overcoming the anti-intellectualism that plagues his culture just by acknowledging Bauers. I don’t actually expect the President of the United States to be the smartest person in the country, I just want good leadership, and Camacho kind of did that. Do I want him as my president? No. Are we going to get a Camacho one day? Yes. Just be glad the film had a somewhat happy ending.
President Will Cooper: Pixels (2015)
Type of Threat: Alien Invasion.
Solution: Fight back, eventually broker a peace deal after the enemy starts losing.
So yes, Cooper’s plan to defend the nation from aliens pretending to be video game characters is unorthodox. Getting your best friend from childhood and a rag-tag team of military experts and disgraced video game professionals is a bizarre military strategy. I mean, there’s gotta be a better system to defend the nation than that right?
In Cooper’s defense, it worked. That’s what separates him from someone like President Dale. Cooper recognized the threat, assessed and understood the enemy, and created a unique strategy to handle the previously unknown threat. Good for him. Extra points for being on the team himself and taking matters into his own hands. Points deducted because I don’t want to be reminded of Paul Blart every time I look at my president.
President Thomas J. Whitmore: Independence Day (1996)
Type of threat: Alien invasion.
Solution: Well planned military assault.
We’re finally getting to the greats. If fictional presidents had a Mount Rushmore, they’d put him on it. When the enemy is an unapologetic evil alien race and you unite your people by recognizing the individual talents of everyone and give a rousing speech about the past and future of America, you’ve got one for the history books. This dude saved the world, and he wasn’t in the way of progress; he facilitated progress. When he is warned, in other movies people would be like “nah, an alien invasion is impossible!” Here, he recognizes threats when they appear and he takes decisive action. A house divided cannot stand, a house blown up by aliens need to be avenged, and he avenged.
President James Marshall: Air Force One (1997)
Type of threat: Russian terrorists hijack your plane to bargain in negotiations.
Solution: Tell them to get off your plane. Succeed.
I mean, if President Whitmore was fictional Rushmore’s Lincoln, we’ve got ourselves the fictional Rushmore’s George Washington. This threat isn’t other worldly beings, they’re terrorists that have taken over his plane. This might be the best argument for a U.S. President to have prior military experience. Harrison Ford embodies the ultimate action hero here and just takes down these Russian bad guys. When the rest of the world doubts him and his own staff urge to enact the 25th Amendment, he takes matters into his own hands and saves the day in spite of everything else around him. People say “Great Man History” isn’t real. That you can’t measure history through the achievements of an individual. Well, Marshall sure looks cool not achieving this history.