In troubled times, countries look to their presidents for inspiration and hope. Of course, this being real life, we don’t always get it—but that’s what fiction is for! Here’s a look at some of the best presidents to grace TV and movie screens—we may still think of ourselves as red and blue America, but these characters could all teach us a few things about bridging the partisan divide:
1. Merkin Muffley (Dr. Strangelove)
The feckless, eggheaded Muffley was likely a riff of then-presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, but he’ll be better remembered for that seminal quote: “Gentleman, this is the War Room! You can’t fight in here!”
2. James Dale (Mars Attacks!)
Jack Nicholson’s sleazeball politician was as hammy as they come, and he reveled in his over-the-top delivery.
3. Laura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica)
What, did you think I only meant U.S. presidents? Mary McDonnell’s tough-as-nails take on Laura Roslin would have earned an Emmy, if there were any justice in the world.
4. Dwayne Elizando Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Idiocracy)
In the world of Idiocracy, the U.S. President is a hulking, machine-gun toting former pro-wrestler and porn star. Which goes a long way in explaining why they water their plants with a sports drink.
5. Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Simpsons Movie)
“I was elected to lead, not to read!”
6. James Marshall (Air Force One)
You don’t want to get caught on his plane. The guy is not only a close-quarters-combat expert, he has an intimate knowledge of wiring and electrical systems.
7. Thomas Whitmore (Independence Day)
Bill Pullman in the role of his life. It’s not likely that a president would actually fly a fighter jet into battle if there were a full-on alien invasion, but it does make for some nice, incoherent speechifying.
8. Josiah Bartlett (The West Wing)
Always with a bit of fatherly wisdom or a trenchant quip at the ready, Martin Sheen’s long-running role as Josiah Bartlett only made us wish that real-life presidents could be so adroit and heartwarming. So much so that, during the last election cycle, Sheen had to turn down rumors that he was mulling a presidential bid.