Are you a Romney fan or do you love Obama? Yes, it’s time for the US presidential elections, as millions of American voters go to the polls to decide who they want to run the country for the next four years. While both contenders have their appeal, wouldn’t we rather Americans were voting for President Thomas Whitmore, who can save the world from an alien attack, or President James Marshall, who’s so tough he can face off terrorists while on a crashing plane? Don’t know who those guys are? Well, sit back and let us fill you in.
The Contender (2000)
The former film writer and critic Rod Lurie wrote and directed this sharp political drama in which Jeff Bridges stars as the second-term President Jackson Evans. The thriller focuses on the political machinations as Evans has to choose a new vice president - will it be Governor Hathaway (William Petersen), recently hailed a hero for an attempt to save a drowning girl, or Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), a talented politician who has an enemy in the powerful congressman Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman)? While it's Joan Allen's movie (she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar), Bridges is superb as a president who is easy-going on the surface but ruthless when he needs to be. No wonder Barack Obama said Bridges/Evans was his favourite fictitious movie president in 2008.
Deep Impact (1998)
With that rich, instantly recognisable voice and natural air of authority, it was only a matter of time before someone cast Morgan Freeman as the president (and no surprise that five years later in Bruce Almighty he also got to be God). In this disaster movie, he's the commander-in-chief faced with the world's imminent destruction (thanks to a pesky comet), who has to deal with such mega-decisions as who will be the lucky 800,000 people who get to survive the disaster by hiding out in specially built caves in the desert. Not your average day at the office, then.
Air Force One (1997)
Who wouldn't want a president who can kick some terrorist butt? President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) does just that when he stands up to the bad guys (led by Gary Oldman with a dodgy foreign accent) after they take over his plane in this Die-Hard-with-wings adventure. As well as thumping a few baddies, our hero - handily a skilled Vietnam vet and pilot - gets to fly the plane, come up with an escape plan and work out which of his trusted team is actually a traitor, while on the ground his vice president (Glenn Close) prepares to take over the country if he fails. Pah! Doesn't she realise it's Indiana Jones up there?
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Tim Burton's bonkers sci-fi comedy - about bubble-headed Martians who come to take over the planet - is a kitsch, star-studded treat with Tom Jones, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J Fox, Glenn Close, Annette Bening and Pierce Brosnan among the cast. It's Jack Nicholson who steals the show, however, as the useless President Dale, who wants everyone to get along, even after the aliens wipe out congress and start an attack on the White House. He may not be the cleverest of world leaders, but he is one of the funniest.
Independence Day (1996)
"We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!" So sayeth Bill Pullman's tough but fair President Thomas Whitmore as he rallies the world to fight back against the alien invasion at the heart of this blockbuster movie. It's cheesy stuff, but thanks to some top special effects and macho performances from Pullman and Will Smith (as the army captain who gets to punch an alien in the face and fly one of their spacecraft), it's still the most entertaining of the director Roland Emmerich's "end of the world" movies (he also made 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and Godzilla).
The American President (1995)
Written by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin and directed by When Harry Met Sally's Rob Reiner, this is a political romantic comedy that's sharp, witty and just lovely, and also boasts a president we would all like to have (Michael Douglas's adorable widower Andrew Shepherd) at the helm. He falls for the lobbyist Sydney (Annette Bening) and all hell breaks loose when his rival Senator Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) finds out. This has superb performances from a cast that also includes Martin Sheen and Michael J Fox (as Shepherd's advisers) and a quotable script that will have you cheering when Douglas argues against the sleazy Rumson: "My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the president."
Hot Shots! Part Deux! (1993)
Lloyd Bridges's slow-witted but loveable Tug Benson - an admiral in the first Hot Shots! film - is now the president in this comedy that spoofs numerous action, adventure and war movies, in particular Sylvester Stallone's macho Rambo films of the late 1980s. Charlie Sheen is the action hero Topper Harley, who's called back into service to shoot bad guys and kiss the girl (Valeria Golina), while much silliness happens around them. Watch out for his real-life dad Martin Sheen turning up in a cute nod to his classic performance in Apocalypse Now.
The average guy Dave (Kevin Kline) impersonates President Bill Mitchell (Kline again) at local supermarket openings, but gets the job offer of a lifetime - actually pretending to be the president to the world - when the real leader becomes indisposed. Only two White House staffers know he's not the real deal - although the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) begins to suspect it because the "new" Mitchell is much nicer (and makes better political decisions than the real deal) in this sweet comedy from Ghostbusters' Ivan Reitman.
Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick's satire on the nuclear threat has Peter Sellers in multiple roles, including that of President Merkin Muffley (surely one of the best movie names ever), who attempts to stop an attack on Russia from his war room at the Pentagon (an impressive set designed by Ken Adam) after one of his less stable commanders "went and did a silly thing" by sending a bomber to nuke the Russkies. Packed with memorable, witty dialogue, this film features Sellers's best movie performance(s) and is undeniably a classic political comedy.
Honourable Mention: 24 (2001 - 2010)
While 24 is a TV series (to which the current critical darling Homeland owes a great debt) rather than a movie, it does deserve a mention for boasting not one, but two memorable US presidents during its nine-year run. Dennis Haysbert was cool, calm, just and true as President David Palmer, who helps agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) whenever he can, while Gregory Itzin's Charles Logan was just the opposite - scheming, devious and dastardly (he has Palmer murdered), and with an unstable wife (the wonderful Jean Smart as Martha) to boot.