Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-Partisan

There are times in America’s political life when a crisis becomes bigger than the White House itself. Mark Fraser revisits 10 instances when the besieged US President looks neither Republican nor Democrat.

10. Machete Kills (Robert Rodriguez, 2013)

THREAT: Nuclear Terrorism

Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-PartisanIt’s not until the movie’s second half that it becomes clear why the appropriately named President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen AKA Carlos Estevez) is so cool – during his first term he legalised pot! Whatever one might think about the HIV positive Sheen/Estevez – whose off-the-rails behaviour since 2011 has garnered him much negative publicity – it’s obvious the “tiger blood” brew he’s been drinking has done him some good given he still looks pretty trim.

9. Seven Days In May (John Frankenheimer, 1964)

THREAT: Military Coup

Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-PartisanThe stoic, but unpopular President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) is lucky he has Colonel Martin Casey (Kirk Douglas) on his side to help counter a military coup d’état which is being cooked up by disgruntled four star general – and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – James Scott (Burt Lancaster) after Lyman’s signing of a nuclear disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union. Putting this in a contemporary context, it begs a possible question: Will the current crop of Republicans eventually resort to military intervention to circumvent the sanction-lifting deal Democrat President Barack Obama recently made with Iran?

8. Deep Impact (Mimi Leder, 1998)

THREAT: Giant Meteor

Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-PartisanUnlike Obama, who became the first African-American commander-in-chief 10 years after the release of this doomsday movie, the statesman-like President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) ultimately delivers on his message of hope and change, albeit against a vastly different set of circumstances.

7. Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964)

THREAT: Nuclear War

Sidney Lumet's Fail SafeThis straight talking (and unnamed) US President (Henry Fonda) faces a mind blowing crisis when he has to decide how to avoid an all-out nuclear confrontation with the Soviets after a computer malfunction inadvertently launches an American airstrike on Moscow. In the end he is forced to use New York City as a bargaining chip, knowing full well his wife will be there when it is to be nuked by an American bomber. Fonda also played the leader of the free world in Ronald Neame’s 1979 disaster opus Meteor.
Discover More: Top 10 Films of Sidney Lumet

6. Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996)

THREAT: Alien Invasion

mars-attacks-jack-nicolson-diesPoor President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) is getting it from both sides – on the one hand he is expected to lead the world against a Martian invasion, while on the other he has to cope with his annoying wife (Glenn Close) and temperamental teenage daughter (Natalie Portman). Despite delivering a rousing (not to mention naively optimistic) speech in the face of intergalactic adversity, Dale is callously wiped out by the cruelly mischievous spacemen. If anything, this is what Bill Clinton might have been like had he remained monogamous – frustrated and angry.

5. Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)

THREAT: Political Impotence

Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-PartisanAs the influence of President “Bobby” (Jack Warden) starts waning following the death of one of his key power brokers (Melvyn Douglas), some of the other men-behind-the-throne begin seriously discussing a possible replacement – the idiot gardener “Chauncey Gardiner” (Peter Sellers). While many may argue this film was kind of prescient given another supposed clown, Ronald Reagan, became the Republican presidential candidate the year after its release, one must remember that Dutch was no fool. After all, not only did he briefly hit Hollywood’s acting A-list in the early 1940s, but he was also the governor of California for a full two terms (1967-75). Even disgraced Republican commander-in-chief Richard Nixon didn’t come anywhere close to achieving this impressive milestone.

4. Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Robert Aldrich, 1977)

THREAT: Nuclear Terrorism

Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-PartisanWhile his inner Cabinet looks Republican – and his administration seems set to finally pay the price for some of the Grand Old Party’s (read Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s) disastrous Vietnam War strategies – President David Stevens (Charles Durning) talks like a Democrat, addressing his African-American man servant (Bill Walker) as “Mr Willard” and expressing absolute indignation after discovering that US foreign policy really does suck. Although Stevens boldly decides to reveal the military’s underhanded South East Asian indiscretions to the public, he only does so after being blackmailed by railroaded army general Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) who, along with some other home grown terrorists, has escaped death row and taken over a nuclear missile silo in Montana. Eventually the besieged president surrenders himself as a hostage to this group of desperados – an ill-fated mission he carries out with valour.

3. Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996)

THREAT: Alien Invasion

Top 10 Films Where The US President Appears To Be Non-PartisanAfter delivering one of the most awe-inspiring calls to arms in Hollywood’s history, President (and former fighter pilot) Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) leads an all-out air assault on a massive alien spaceship that is hovering above the Nevada Desert. This is one commander-in-chief who truly fulfils his public service brief.

2. Air Force One (Wolfgang Petersen, 1998)

THREAT: Terrorism

Harrison Ford, Plane Crash, Air Force One, Top 10 Films,It may or may not have crossed his mind, but had Harrison Ford run as governor of California (under either a Republican or Democrat banner) following the release of this film, it’s possible he could have pushed Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the gubernatorial arena and eventually become his party’s national front runner. As US President James Marshall, Ford shows he has what it takes to tackle some dangerous terrorists who have hijacked the titular plane – even when it involves firing machine guns at 40,000 feet.
Discover More: Top 10 Harrison Ford In Peril Films

1. Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

THREAT: Nuclear War

dr-strangelove-phone_kubrickSo, it was finally up to an Englishman (Peter Sellers) to deliver one of American cinema’s greatest satiric performances by playing the most powerful man on Earth (US President Merkin Muffley) as he hilariously tries to avoid an atomic showdown with the Russians. How strange.
Discover More: Top 10 Films of Stanley Kubrick

Written and compiled by Mark Fraser

Over to you: what are your fave films from this list? Who’s the best US President in film?

Discover more writing on film by Mark Fraser
“Salvador” Is More Revolt Than Revolution | “The Deer Hunter” Remains An Adult Fairy Tale | “The Train” Still One Hell Of A Ride | “Barry McKenzie Holds His Own” Maintains Its Irreverent Grip | Umberto Lenzi’s “Eaten Alive” Is A Hard Act To Swallow | William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” Is A Curiously Mistreated Masterpiece | “To Catch A Thief” Shows Hitchcock Dabbling In Blandness

About the Author
Mark is a film journalist, screenwriter and former production assistant from Western Australia.

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  1. Callum Reply

    I always think of film presidents as being Republican do the film’s democrat writers/directors can point the finger at then. As this top 10 shows, that’s not always the case.

    Gotta love Dr. Strangelove, can’t think of a better number one on most lists.

  2. Lee Hicks Reply

    Great selection of films. There’s been some great films about US Presidents and I must say I get bored of seeing them presented as heroes all the time. There’s a few in the list above but some actually do have flaws and I love the satire in Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks.

    I think Kevin Kline as Dave would be a nice addition – he’s just a nice guy given the keys to the castle. I think his political allegiances are pretty much void when it comes to simply being a man of the people.

  3. gamer Reply

    Dr strangelove has never felt so prescient.

  4. Callum Reply

    Imagine Trump being the commander-in-chief during an attack like the one seen in Air Force One. He’d be in the escape pod quicker than you can say Melania!

    • Dan Reply

      And Melania would be left on board!

  5. Rory Reply

    Put Rathcock in charge!

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