Friday, November 9, 2012

The Top 10 Fictional Movie Presidents of All-Time

 In the spirit of President Obama's re-election, Matt Domino presents the Top 10 Fictional Movie Presidents of All-Time.

Some of you may have noticed this, but on Tuesday, Barack Obama was re-elected as the President of the United States of America (POTUS). There has been a lot going on in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area over the past two weeks, what with an historical super storm and then an add-injury-to-insult nor’easter destroying homes, knocking out power, making mass transit more complicated and causing sirens of all different kinds to incessantly wail on the streets of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

Obviously, the historical nature of Sandy, the importance of Obama’s second term, and the general civic and moral unrest going on each day in New York and New Jersey has led me to do a lot of thinking—a lot of drinking and a lot of thinking. However, I am going to spare you from one of my metaphysical posts (for now!) in favor of doing something a little more fun.

I know Obama has already been voted in as president and that election/campaign season is just about over. However, November is an oddly patriotic month*—what with Election Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving each gracing its thirty sunrises and sunsets every year—so I figured I’d cash in on the overarching atmosphere (and SEO trends!) by posting a classic, vintage, and absurd Domino list.

(*Editor’s Note: Actually, a lot of months are somewhat patriotic now that I think of it. February has President’s Day and the Lincoln/Washington birthdays. May has Memorial Day. July has The Fourth of July. And September has Labor Day. Plus, you could even make arguments for June (Flag Day) and October (Columbus Day) even being slightly patriotic. Man, what a country we live in. I actually feel a little dirty about all this patriotism.)


As per usual, this list completely reflects my strongly biased, somewhat illogical opinions on the subject I am focusing on—in this case, it is fictional presidents (POTUSES?) in motion pictures. Some of the criteria that factor into these choices are: a. How I felt at the age I first saw the movie; b. How I feel right now as I’m writing this; c. How I felt watching one of these movies on TBS while groaning with a hangover on my couch, and; d. How I can try to piss off some of my friends by making up a stupid argument.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the list*.

(*Editor’s Note: I know this list is completely white. However, blame that on the standards set by Hollywood and America. Though, I know there are a lot of people who stand by Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in “Deep Impact.” The problem is that I didn’t see that movie and that Freeman’s portrayal doesn’t have as strong a reputation as another presidential portrayal that appears on this that is from a movie I didn’t see. Plus, Tom Beck is an awful name for a president.)

10. Jack Nicholson as President James Dale in Mars Attacks (1996)

When it comes to Top Ten Lists measuring movies and acting, Jack Nicholson doesn’t usually end up at the bottom of the list. However, when you are talking about his performance as President James Dale in Mars Attacksone of the most cameo-filled movies of all-time, replete with awful CGI aliens and terrible jokes—then you do have to make sure he ends up at the bottom of the barrel. I saw this movie when I was in sixth grade with my friends Dan and Jeremy at a crappy movie theater in Coram, Long Island called Movieland Theaters. We also went with this guy Greg Weisman we used to be friends with. I’m not quite sure what Greg is up to these days, but I’m pretty sure we’re friends on Facebook.

In any event, back in 1996, going to the movies every Friday was life’s most important ritual. So, we went and watched as Jack Nicholson made jokes about Meatloaf (“Two out of three branches of the government are still running. And two…out of three…aain’t baad) that we didn’t understand, ineptly handle the Martian invasion and eventually get killed by the Martians.

I’m not a big fan of scary movies or movies with weird melty kinds of violence. However, I’m not sure what disturbed me more after watching Mars Attacks: the sticky floors at Movieland Theaters, the creepy aliens and their guns that disintegrated humans, or Jack Nicholson’s performance as a fictional POTUS.

9. Lloyd Bridges as President Thomas “Tug” Benson in Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)

One of my favorite movie genres that has really fallen off over the past ten to fifteen years is the “spoof.” Now, I know that is a broad term, but you know the type of movie I’m referring to: the comedies that are rooted deeply in the Airplane! aesthetic; the ones where the jokes come fast, punny, full of slapstick and such exceeding stupidity that you almost feel exhausted at certain points. I’m talking about Naked Gun, Spaceballs, and Loaded Weapon 1. I’m talking about Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux.

The great thing about Lloyd Bridges’ President Benson is that in the first Hot Shots! he actually played an army commander, so the writers really stuck with a traditional presidential “script” of having a former military man make the transition into politics and eventually become the Commander in Chief. Also, realism aside, Bridges is perhaps one of the best comedic actors of all-time. I mean the man basically trademarked the Airplane! aesthetic and carried it around with him in a briefcase. So to see him use those fantastic talents in the role of president was truly a treat.

What happens in the movie? I don’t know I haven’t watched it in about a year or two and I get the first one and the second one all mixed up. I seem to remember an over-the-top sex scene filled with all kinds of puns (steam, role reversals); the famous “chicken arrow” scene; some more bad sight gag jokes; and, oh yeah, President Benson walking out of a roaring fire and then having a lightsaber duel with Sadaam Hussein. What a great film.

8.  Leslie Nielsen as President Harris in Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4 (2003, 2005)

Perhaps the main reason that the “spoof” movie has fallen off in recent years is due to the Scary Movie franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first Scary Movie; it had plenty of weed, black, boob, sex and gay jokes for everyone. It even had the energy guy from Dead Man on Campus! However, as the franchise wore on, it began to tarnish the legacy of “spoof” movie classics such as The Naked Gun and Airplane!.

Well, Leslie Nielsen is perhaps the “Godfather” of the “spoof” movie, so it feels right to put him alongside Lloyd Bridges on this list. Sure, they both played the President of the United States in “spoof” movies that were far inferior to the movies they starred in that initially captured the minds of each and every wannabe comedian weirdo as well as all the regular, general weirdos out there. But we can’t hold that against them.

You could say that it was below Leslie Nielsen to sell jokes about Signs and M. Night Shyamalan while playing the President of the United States. But why would you? No, you wouldn’t. And do you know why? Because he’s Leslie Nielsen and he has always had white hair and he played the President of the United States in a comedy franchise where character or reality don’t matter in the slightest.

Plus, I think he even smoked weed in one of them.

7. Tim Robbins as The President in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1997)

Tim Robbins’ role as the President in the original Austin Powers often gets overlooked—he’s only in the film for about a shade under two minutes after all. However, to forget about Robbins’ portrayal of the Leader of the Free World would be criminal because, as one YouTube commenter put it, it was “one of [his] best performances.”

To put it bluntly, Robbins looks the damn part. He’s got an excellent sixties, Henry Francisesque coiffe going and, hell, I’d say he comes off very presidential. Besides that, he participates in one of the Top Five iconic moments in a comedy full of iconic moments. That’s right, it’s the “ONE MEEELION DOLLARS” scene!

Take another look. Watch how well Robbins sells those laughs when Dr. Evil asks for one hundred billion dollars! He is the president and he is laughing at this comical tyrant! It doesn’t get any better than a self-aware line like, “Dr. Evil, its 1969. That amount of money hasn’t even been invented yet!” Now, that’s the kind of razor sharp, meta-wit that I want out of my fictional presidents!

After Austin Powers came out in 1997, kids (read: Me) spent the next two years doing the “ONE MEELION DOLLARS!” voice and pinky. Little did they know that they were paying homage to one of the best fictional portrayals of the POTUS!

6. Jim Curley as The President in In The Line of Fire (1993)

Now, I bet you’re saying, “Who the hell is Jim Curley? Domino’s lost it! He’s got some crazy rationale just so he can mention an Eastwood flick!” Well, just because Jim Curley isn’t a household name doesn’t mean that he didn’t play a damn good president or that I’m crazy!

That being said, you’re kind of right—this is a bit of a stretch pick. However, bear with me for a second. Look, Curley doesn’t have a ton of screen time playing the president in In The Line of Fire, however he is the focal point of the entire film. Clint Eastwood has to track down John Malkovich in order to prevent him from assassinating Curley’s POTUS. This all culminates in the famous scene where Eastwood jumps in front of a bullet that was intended for Curley’s president.

By that logic, Curley playing the president was the most important role in the movie; just as the president is the most important role in this movie we like to call AMERICA! There is a certain realism to Curley’s portrayal that must be respected and admired by all.

5. Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (1995)

A couple things are certain in this life:

1. The Eagles will never win the Super Bowl
2. There will never be another Beatles.
3. Michael Douglas has great hair.
4. Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time.
5. Matt Domino is a sucker for romance.

Now those aren’t the top five certainties by any means, but by just looking at that list you should be able to see where I’m going here.

Douglas absolutely looks the part of the president in this movie. He’s got that good mid-90’s haircut (a more distinguished look than his longer, Pat Rilier, renegade smooth vibe from the 80’s) and hair volume and he’s got a good “gravel” in his voice. You definitely want a good gravel in the voice of fictional president. In our real presidents, we like a slight twang, an imitable Boston accent, and unique cadences. These are important distinctions. Plus, he gets to play pool with Martin Sheen.

But the real kicker for Douglas is that he’s a romantic. In the end, he must choose the love of Annette Bening (never quite sure why everyone was in on Bening, but she does have a great name) over his political agenda to have his crime bill passed in Congress. Instead, he helps Bening get her environmental bill passed (timely!) and in the process proves just how much he loves her and values their relationship.

C’mon, like you wouldn’t vote that guy in for a second term?

4. John Travolta as President Jack Stanton in Primary Colors (19968

This is somewhat of a trick entry on the list because Stanton/Travolta spends much of the movie as a governor who is running for president. SPOILER ALERT: He eventually wins.

I don’t think I really need to explain this ranking. It’s pretty simple: you have a post-Pulp Fiction Travolta feeling revitalized. He’s getting interesting roles again and he has some semblance of understanding how to be a leading man in a good movie. America is in the middle of Clinton’s second term and right in the middle of his sex scandal. So, what do we do? We cast Travolta as “Clinton” in a movie based on a book that was a fictionalized account of Clinton’s campaign in 1992. Genius. Genius because you get to see Travolta do things like this.

Maybe Travolta as President Jack Stanton should have been number one.

3. Harrison Ford as President James Marshall in Air Force One (1997)

This entry gets points because “James Marshall” really does sound like an actual president that we could have had back in the period from 1820-1860. However, it loses points because—controversially—I have never seen Air Force One.

Yes, I know that makes me Un-American. Yes, I know that this role was probably Harrison Ford’s last good movie role and that Air Force One was his last good movie in general. And, yes, I know that, “Get off my plane!” was most definitely the precursor to “Give me back my family!” I totally understand why I’m in the wrong.

However, we can’t change facts, and the fact is that I haven’t seen this movie so I can’t fully comment on it. I know that Ford plays a bad ass version of the POTUS; he plays a POTUS that ties into all of our deepest American fantasies—a leader that is not only a smart diplomat and skilled rhetoritician, but that can also kick the shit out of any terrorist “bad guys.”

Air Force One was one of the biggest movies when I was in seventh grade, but I didn’t see it then and I still haven’t seen it to this day. However, I’ll take the people’s word on Ford and his President Marshall.

2. Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day (1996)

First of all, “Thomas J. Whitmore” is a shining example of a fictional presidential name. I mean that name just exudes Commander-in-Chief.

Second, Pullman’s Whitmore is perhaps the most iconic movie portrayal of a non-real POTUS in the history of film.  Let’s set aside the fact that Pullman had to pull the Earth through the threat of being destroyed by psychic, violent aliens from another part of universe. Whitmore was a fantastic speaker! “The Independence Day Speech” ranks right up there in cadence and emotion with the “Gettysburg Address” or any other presidential speech you want to throw out there.

There’s no third point. Pullman just plays the hell out of this role. He overacts, but the entire movie is so larger-than-life that his portrayal just feels right. Every little detail is spot on. From the fact that he got into a fight with a super-smart, rebellious Jewish scientist (Jeff Goldblum) over a woman when they were both younger; to his dealings with a drunk (Randy Quaid); to his respectful interactions with a handsome, confident, funny pilot (Will Smith); to the fact that his own government and staff were hiding Area 51 one from him; and finally to his insane heroism in flying a plane against the aliens in a last ditch effort to bring down their ships and actually landing the first hit once the force field was broken by the Jewish scientist and the cocky pilot in space.

This president loses his First Lady because of an alien attack. His daughter’s life is put in danger because he loves America and the planet Earth so much that he has to get right in the line of fire of the interstellar foes. President Thomas J. Whitmore faced tragedy and willed himself to greatness. He made a fictional 1996 America believe that our destiny was to always remain free—free as human beings and free from alien overlords!

Now who could possibly top that?

1. Kevin Klein as President William Harrison Mitchell/Dave Kovic in Dave (1993)

Only the best movie premise in the history of film could top a president like Thomas J. Whitmore!

Any of my friends will tell you that Dave is one of my favorite movies of all-time. I saw it in the theaters when I was a kid and definitely didn’t understand half the jokes, but it’s one of my earlier and more idyllic movie memories so the movie has always stuck with me. Dave was right in Ivan Reitman’s Golden Age* and Kevin Kline was arguably at the peak of his powers playing nice guy Dave as well as dickhead president Mitchell.

 (*Editor’s Note: Let’s take a look at that golden age: Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Twins (1988), Ghostbusters II (1989), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Dave (1993), and the very underrated Junior (1994). Hell, let’s toss Space Jam (1996) in there too, if only for the Billy Murray/Larry Bird interactions.)

If you don’t know the premise, I’ll briefly give it to you. Dave Kovic is a known nice-guy in Washington D.C. who runs a temp agency. He also looks exactly like President William Harrison Mitchell who is an unlikable president who has lost his political moral compass and is cheating on his wife. When Harrison has a stroke while having sex, the White House has to cover up, so they get Dave. However, Dave slowly becomes more than a puppet and turns out to be a shrewd leader, creating some enemies on the hill.

This is a fucking great movie. It hits all the right notes: Kline looks presidential; William Harrison Mitchell sounds like a  president’s name; Sigourney Weaver is an excellent First Lady; Ving Rhames is a perfect secret service guy who first doesn’t like Dave but then comes to love him; Frank Langella is a sublime bad guy; and Ben Kingsley is a clutch choice to play the very pious and principled vice president.

Basically, Dave contains aspects of every other presidential portrayal on this list. Dave is a romantic, he’s funny, he’s enthusiastic, he stands up for what’s right, and he has a bodyguard that will take a bullet for him. Kline absolutely nails the role with his great “glasses serious face” as well as his “charming smiley face.” Plus, he wears a damn good early 90’s baseball cap. I’ll sum this up by saying, that I have a dream. And that dream is that hopefully one day the movie Dave happens to us as Americans.

Sorry, Barack, I like you and all, but America deserves to have a regular nice guy that looks exactly like the president stand in for the president and then actually become a better president. That’s a change I can believe in.



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