The Top Seven Badass Movie Presidents
We haven't seen it yet, but we love the idea of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, a pleasingly extreme example of patriotic hero worship that claims that the 16th President of the United States also fought the supernatural in his spare time. In real life, POTUS has to deal with complex issues both foreign and domestic, and naysayers on all sides. In "reel" life, the President can sometimes be a total badass, not just leading the country but leading the way into battle, winning monumental court cases or just teaching the world not to replace water with Gatorade. As far as we're concerned, these are the Top Seven Badass Movie Presidents so far. We'll find out later this week if we can add Timur Bekmambetov's nosferatu slayer to the list.
President Richard Starkey, from The Postman (1997)
Most movie presidents are fictional, but a few don’t even exist in the movies themselves. That’s just one of the reasons why President Richard Starkey is so damned special. The other reason is because he’s Ringo Starr. In Kevin Costner’s heartfelt ode to the power of Kevin Costner, Kevin Costner accidentally saves a post-apocalyptic future by putting on a dead mailman’s uniform and convincing small towns that the American government has started up again.
The dumbest part is that Costner clearly knows who Richard Starkey is, but the other characters – some of whom are clearly decades older than Costner – have no idea whatsoever. Because “The Beatles” are relatively obscure in this universe, I guess? Maybe that’s why society went to hell in the first place. Well, fictional or not, Richard Starkey inspired a revolution… and it didn’t come easy.
President Tom Kimball, from Captain America (1990)
Imagine, if you will, a dark age when the only live-action Marvel comic book movie was Albert Pyun’s Captain America. Some of us lived there, kids. It’s a stupid movie, badly acted, and it sometimes plays like a “South Park” parody of itself. Check this out if you don’t believe me. But at least it had badass president Tom Kimball, played by former Robocop villain Ronny Cox. Kimball was a comic book nerd in the 1940s who grows up to be President of the United States and leaps at the chance to revive his favorite superhero after his frozen body is discovered in Alaska. Sure, the President of the United States only sends his childhood friend, now a reporter played by Ned Beatty, to rescue him (instead of, say, someone actually qualified), but at least he’s loyal to his buddies.
Eventually President Kimball is kidnapped by the Red Skull, but he gets to fight alongside Cap and even cap a few bad guys of his own, before somehow convincing the entire world to stop producing industrial waste, disposable plastics, and 90% of all solid waste within six months. Bad movie? Definitely. Badass president? Hell yes.
President Not Sure, from Idiocracy (2006)
President Not Sure isn’t just the leader of the free world, he’s also the smartest person on the planet. (And some people think Obama is elitist…) Not Sure, nee Joe Bauers (played by Luke Wilson), was cryogenically frozen at the turn of the century, only to awaken 500 years later and discover that only stupid people have been breeding, and although he has a mediocre intelligence by contemporary standards, that makes him Einstein to the people of tomorrow. He’s the one who suggests watering plants instead of Gatorade (or rather, “Brawndo”), and after a brief demolition derby winds up vice-president under President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, played by Terry Crews, and finally accepts the top office himself. He doesn’t stave off an alien invasion or fight anyone to the death, but President Not Sure (as he is renamed in this dystopia) is the right man for the job.
President Thomas J. Whitmore, from Independence Day (1996)
When aliens invade, there’s only one president we want on our side: President Thomas J. Whitmore, played by Bill Pullman in Roland Emmerich’s silly but beloved sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day. He’s young, he’s handsome, and he doesn’t give a crap if he’s abandoning the highest office in the land. He’s a pilot. He belongs in the air.
Yes, after giving the semi-iconic speech about “Today is our Independence Day” (which makes you wonder what kind of speech he’d have given on Secretary’s Day or Halloween), the President of the United States jumps in a fighter jet and fights the alien menace personally. It sounds cool, until you think about how incredibly irresponsible he’s being. Sure, Barack Obama would have been legendary if he’d invaded Osama bin Laden’s compound himself, but as President, he has an obligation to, you know, not die. A badass president for the ages, but he never seemed to be taking the post too seriously.
President John Quincy Adams, from Amistad (1997)
You’ve held the highest authority in the land for four, maybe even eight years. We’d completely understand if you just wanted to retire. Most presidents do. But John Quincy Adams, not generally considered to be the most illustrious of our nation’s leaders, performed his most badass feat after leaving office. Steven Spielberg’s maudlin period drama Amistad tells the story of a ship full of slaves that commit mutiny and kill their captors, and are put on trial in America. With the abolitionist movement on the rise in 1839, the fate of the slaves (led by a then-unknown Djimon Hounsou) was a key issue. The defendants won on a federal level, but President Martin Van Buren, fearing a civil war, sent the case to the Supreme Court in the hopes of quashing the potential conflict.
That’s where John Quincy Adams came in. Played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, he finally takes the case and delivers an impassionate and highly reasonable speech that convinces the Supreme Court that denying slaves the right to fight for their freedom pretty much takes a dump on the principles of this country. It didn’t lead directly to ending slavery in this country, but it was a major step in the right direction and an enormous slap in the face to one of America’s most ignorant traditions. What a badass.
President Tug Benson, from Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)
Somewhere between the events of Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux, Admiral Thomas “Tug” Benson was elected president. Back in the early 1990s, the idea of a buffoonish Commander-in-Chief was considered so ridiculous that only broad comedies would consider it. He’s a likable fellow, Tug Benson. The kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with, although he’d probably vomit on you afterwards.
But President Benson doesn’t turn legitimately bad-ass until the end of the second Hot Shots!, when the leader of the free world goes toe-to-toe with none other than Saddam Hussein in a swordfight to the death. “We’ll settle this the old Navy way. The first guy to die, LOSES!” Laugh at President Benson all you want, but don’t ever, ever piss him off.
President Abraham Lincoln, from Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
I’ve talked about this movie very recently, so I’ll try to be brief. Before he was President of the United States, and before anyone knew that he was a vampire hunter, Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer… and apparently a damned good one. John Ford’s classic legal thriller Young Mr. Lincoln tells a fictionalized account of a very true story, in which The Great Emancipator (played by a fantastic Henry Fonda) takes on an underdog homicide case and saves the day through sheer talent. He also, quite apocryphally, writes the classic folk song “Dixie,” but it’s understandable why the man who freed the slaves would be the subject of absurd hero worship. Not that we wouldn’t love to see James K. Polk: Leprechaun Wrangler, but it doesn’t seem to ring as true.
President James Marshall, from Air Force One (1997)
We complained that President Thomas J. Whitmore risked his irresponsibly risked his life in Independence Day, but President James Marshall, played by Harrison Ford (in what may turn out to be his last great action movie), doesn’t have a choice in the matter. His jet has been taken over by terrorists because of his staunch policies against dealing with terrorists, and he’s the only man who hasn’t been kidnapped. So off he goes, shooting up the joint and yelling catch phrases like, “Get off my plane!”
We don’t know much about President Marshall’s domestic policies. Maybe he’s not a great leader after all. All we know is that he’s the only president we want on our side in a firefight. That makes him a badass.
Who's your favorite badass movie president?