Presidents in movies and TV

As a result of a reader of the WHM Movies and TV page, I was prompted to consider how the US president is portrayed in movies and TV. I thought it would be a good discussion topic.


One thing that comes to mind is political party. Without studying it in depth, I think few movie presidents have actually been described as Republican or Democrat. They just don’t talk about it. Jed Bartlett of The West Wing TV show was a Democrat, tho.

I’ve also noticed that there aren’t many presidential marriages portrayed as happy. Notably, in the movies Dave and The Sentinel, the first couple were estranged, and in Murder at 1600 and Absolute Power, the president was cheating on his wife. In The American President, the president was widowed shortly before taking office. Real presidents get the benefit of the doubt, tho. In Nixon, the marriage seemed solid, for example.

I can’t think of any works that portray fictional presidents as really corrupt, altho I think the president murdered his mistress in Absolute Power. I can’t remember if we see much of Nixon in All the President’s Men. It’s actually surprising, now that I think of it, that pretty much all fictional presidents are portrayed as thoughtful, well-meaning, tough-minded, and kind-hearted, even when they’re ordering mass destruction (Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove).
The president takes forceful action in Independence Day and Air Force One.

In the new movie, Vantage Point, I believe the president uses a double who gets murdered. Dave also featured a double, but for the-prince-and-the-pauper comic effect.

Presidents are probably most often the target of assassination. In the Line of Fire and The Sentinel come to mind, as well as JFK. I think both Parallax View and Manchurian Candidate are about candidates for president.

Diversity is pretty important to Hollywood. Female presidents feature in 1964’s Kisses for My President (gotta see that one) and the TV shows Commander in Chief and 24. Black presidents feature in The Fifth Element and the TV show 24.

Even so, the great majority of fictional presidents are white, middle-aged, male, and of European descent, just like every president so far in real life. I can’t think of any fictional presidents from the South, however, and we’ve had a number of those. Their names are almost uniformly bland too: Bartlett, Shepherd, Marshall, Palmer, Taylor, Allen, McKenna, Ballentine, Neil, Mitchell. One exception is Dr. Strangelove’s President Merkin Muffley, and–of course–The Simpsons Movie’s President Arnold Schwarzenegger.

List of fictional presidents from Wikipedia (as usual, way overdone, including presidents in short stories).