Everybody needs a hero, a person in a position of power who isn’t afraid to wield it. There are scores of film and television American presidents to draw inspiration from. They often help drive the plot of many excellent stories examining social or geopolitical issues for either commentary or pure entertainment purposes.
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A listing on Ranker has revealed their users’ most admired allegorical chief executives. Several are portrayed in the modern era of American history while others take up residence in the genre of science fiction. Regardless, their common denominator is the same, steering their nation or race in the right direction and protecting them from harm.
10 Tom Kirkman – Designated Survivor
Tom Kirkman is the Designated Survivor of the government following a horrific terror attack at the US Capitol. Charged with rebuilding the government, Kirkman must manage several national and personal crises including the possibility the event that put him in office was an inside job. He must also contend with government officials and pundits who question his fitness on a daily basis.
Kirkman is the ideal person to lead the free world. His desire is to maintain independence from the legislative and judicial branches, bridge the gap between warring parties and bring a sense of transparency to the voters. He finds out quickly these goals are easier said than done.
9 Laura Roslin – Battlestar Galactica
Laura Roslin was the Secretary of Education of the Colonial government on Caprica in Battlestar Galactica when the robotic Cylons unleashed a nuclear war against humanity driving nearly 50,000 survivors into exile aboard a few dozen spaceships. As the only surviving cabinet member, she assumed the presidency of the 12 colonies of Kobul over the objection of Colonial military Commander William Adama.
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If there’s a constant in presidential fiction, they’re either born to run or have their fame thrust upon them. Throughout the show’s four seasons, she found herself frequently challenged by ethical and moral conundrums whilst battling terminal cancer. Despite her political inexperience, she stood up to Adama, lead scientist Baltar, and Cylon agents on a daily basis.
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8 Allan Trumball – Olympus Has Fallen
When President Benjamin Asher and his Vice President are under duress during a siege at the White House in Olympus Has Fallen, Speaker of the House Allan Trumball assumes the duties of the office as acting president under the 25th amendment. Surrounded by advisors in a secure location, he is pressured to authorize a counter-offensive to retake the castle.
In his short stint as commander-in-chief, Trumball is calm, collected, and authoritative when stressed but the geopolitical stakes are often overwhelming. To protect the hostages, he capitulated to the terrorist’s demands to recall US naval and ground forces from the Korean Peninsula to buy time for Agent Mike Banning to eliminate the remaining hostiles.
7 Dave Kovic – DAVE
Dave Kovic is an ordinary citizen hired as a body double for the President. When the true President suffers a stroke, his chief of staff concocts a plan to manage Kovic as the commander-in-chief indefinitely. When Dave starts embracing the job and suggesting real policy initiatives, Alexander attempts to sabotage his efforts.
While the plot of Ivan Reitman’s Dave is fantastical at best, as president, Kovic takes it upon himself to actually fulfill the duties of his office like balancing the federal budget for example. Furthermore, prior to his predicament, he ran a temp agency helping clients find jobs so naturally, he wanted to start a national jobs program much to the dismay of Alexander, a corrupt bureaucrat.
6 Tom Beck – Deep Impact
President Tom Beck reveals to the world in Deep Impact that a large comet is on a collision course with Earth. He has known this for roughly a year. Luckily, he used that time to formulate a plan to send a team of astronauts, including an Apollo veteran, to plant small nuclear bombs on the comet to break it up. When the mission fails, he must help a nation face the unthinkable, that many Americans won’t survive the comet’s impact, and some will be randomly selected to rebuild after.
Beck toed the line between secretive and pragmatic by keeping knowledge of the comet secret. He bargained with a reporter instead of suppressing the story. He projected confidence in his plan to deal with the crisis but was honest when it failed, recognizing that logically some needed to live for civilization to continue.
5 Andrew Shepherd – The American President
Andrew Shepherd is a widowed chief executive juggling two major pieces of legislation he wants passed by the annual State of the Union address. When he meets a lobbyist named Sydney Wade, they hit it off at a state dinner and become the daily gossip inside the beltway, complicating their relationship, and putting both bills in jeopardy.
Aaron Sorkin’s portrait of a college professor turned chief executive is a thoughtful one. Shepherd is a progressive with the reduction of gun violence and fossil fuel usage as his top priorities. His fault might be just being human as he falls in love with a strategist from his own party and her resume leads fellow politicians and pundits to paint a weary picture, but he is smart enough to point out the system is responsible and real leaders step up and fight.
4 David Palmer – 24
David Palmer succeeded in becoming the first African American president thanks to Jack Bauer intervening to stop his assassination during the campaign in season 1 of 24. As commander-in-chief, he faced two apocalyptic crises, first a nuke under terrorist influence and then a weaponized virus released in the City of Angels as part of a revenge plot by an ex-British intelligence officer. In both instances, he charged Bauer with defusing the threat.
Being the first minority president put every decision Palmer made under a microscope. His goals were to always be truthful and transparent. This made him a threat to the establishment which sought to undermine him on several occasions. His faith in Bauer’s abilities often led to positive results and vindication.
3 Thomas J. Whitmore – Independence Day
Thomas Whitmore ascended to the presidency on the back of his military service record from the 1991 Gulf War. His youthful energy and idealism won him few points prior to an alien fleet taking up positions above every major Earth city before subsequently destroying them. Whitmore’s dogfighting prowess inspired fellow pilots, scientists, and citizens to take up arms against the invaders crying “we will not go quietly into the night…” as he led the charge into the final battle against the mother ship.
In act one of Independence Day, Whitmore is slow to react to the alien visitors’ arrival. However, when David Levinson reveals his doomsday calculations, he quickly acts to issue evacuation orders for the cities. After the initial attack, he calls forward Americans’ Fourth of July spirit to rally the world and lead his fighters into battle.
2 Josiah Barlett – The West Wing
Josiah “Jed” Bartlett weathered two terms (7 seasons) in The West Wing while battling Multiple Sclerosis, the hyper-partisan governing style of the Congress, and separate crises in the middle and far east. In his darkest hour, he invoked the 25th amendment when his youngest daughter was kidnapped by extremists. His last act was to support his would-be successor, the first Hispanic candidate for president.
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Bartlett had the intellectual prowess afforded to an Ivy League graduate with an economics degree. He was also proficient in general American and world history which often gave him the upper hand in negotiating with difficult heads of state, distinguished guests, and partisan politicians. Off the clock, he smoked cigarettes, played cards, and acted as a fatherly figure with his senior advisors.
1 James Marshall – Air Force One
James Marshall’s victory lap from deposing a brutal dictator in Kazakhstan is disrupted by minions of the despot when they hijack “the most secure aircraft in the world.” Hiding in the bowels of the plane, Marshall strategically sabotages key systems to draw out the terrorists before executing a daring rescue culminating in one of Harrison Ford’s most iconic movie quotes: “Get off my plane!”
Marshall was a Vietnam War veteran which he used to his advantage to get the drop on the Russian operatives occupying Air Force One. He stuck to his policy of no negotiation with terrorists even with his family at gunpoint. When the opportunity to escape came, he thought only of his subordinates escorting them to the parachute deck and remaining behind to finish off the remaining hijackers.
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