"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!" Our Favorite Fictional Presidents

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We’ve kind of been in a presidential mood over here at The Peorian lately, primarily for two reasons. One was seeing Daniel Day Lewis take home the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of President Lincoln. The other was watching The Peorian editor, Paul Gordon, get into character for his performance as President Nixon in Corn Stock Theatre’s production of “Frost/Nixon”, something he took a little too seriously at times.*

And that got us thinking about our favorite presidents in film and TV. Not actors portraying REAL presidents (like Daniel and Paul), but fictional presidents. So we asked our murder of writers to tell us about their favorites for this week’s Our Favorite Things list: Our Favorite Fictional Presidents.

*He took the last cup of coffee claiming that the Constitutional principle of executive privilege extended to caffeinated beverages.


President Merkin Muffley
“Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
By Matt Richmond
When the world is on the brink of doomsday, the last thing you want to do is forget your manners. The fact that President Merkin Muffley – one of three characters played by Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove – keeps things courteous when a rogue U.S. air commander’s actions threaten to trigger an all-out nuclear war makes him the greatest fake president in fake U.S. history.

His phone conversation with the Soviet premier, Dmitri Kissov, is a highlight. (“Well it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine. … I agree with you, it’s great to be fine.”) President Muffley also gets one of the quintessential lines in the movie, summing up the paradoxical thinking that defined Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”

The incredible improvised phone conversation between President Muffley and the Soviet premier:

No fighting in the war room!:

President Muffley discusses the Doomsday Machine with Dr. Strangelove. You might say he’s talking to himself:


President Thomas J. Whitmore
“Independence Day”
By Terry Towery
My favorite fictional president would have to be Bill Pullman’s President Thomas J. Whitmore in the 1996 sci-fi flick “Independence Day.” I don’t pick Whitmore because Pullman is a great actor (he’s not bad, just not great). No, I pick him for one simple reason: Pullman’s character delivers the greatest cheesy patriotic speech in movie history. I swear to God. The speech makes me laugh AND break out in goose bumps each time I hear it. And best of all, once “President Whitmore” finishes his totally awesome cheesy speech, he climbs into a fighter jet and heads out to blast a few space invaders. Seriously, could one ask for more in a president?

By Shaun Taylor
Bill Pullman looked like a president, had the name of a president and sounded like a president. He gave an awesome rallying cry/monologue to get a young, brash Will Smith and others to beat the hell out of a throng of invading aliens. He even dusted off his pilot's wings to fly one final combat mission against the angry extra-terrestrials. I remember walking out of the theater thinking, "Man, that guy that played the President in Independence Day should run for President when Bill Clinton’s done." The ignorance of fourteen year old I guess. But hey, Ronald Reagan did it! 

Here's the best version of the film version of the speech we could find:

Bill Pullman performs an alternate version of the speech:

Then there’s this guy doing the speech in NYC:

And finally some other guy performing it for an unsuspecting Florida crowd:


President James Marshall
“Air Force One”
By Tim Wyman
Knowing me means knowing that I'm a political junkie. While I've learned with age to keep most of my opinions to myself, I'll happily share who is my all-time favorite fictional president. There have been some good ones, but the best, in my humble opinion, was Harrison Ford in "Air Force One." The writing of his character and the story made him everything that we want in a politician. He was intelligent, self-assured, and did what was right even though it wasn't politically expedient. Then he kicked the ever-living-crap out of terrorists using brains, brawn and guts just to save his wife and daughter. And if that weren’t enough, he recaptured the plane and made a daring escape at the end. Talk about re-assuring your re-election! It was a great popcorn movie with a little bit of intelligence and a lot of action that put you on the edge of your seat more often than not. Plus really, he's Indiana Jones, right? How could he NOT be my favorite?

Getting all presidential in his speech:

Getting the terrorists off…his…plane:


President James Dale
“Mars Attacks!”
By Ken Zurski
I’m going with Jack Nicholson as President James Dale in Mars Attacks! not only because he died at the "hand" of an alien – literally. But also for this classic line: “I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad.”

“Isn’t the universe big enough for the both of us?”

They come in peace:


President David Palmer
By Tim Cundiff
The story of Jack Bauer would not have been as much of a success if it weren’t for President Palmer. Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, managed to save the U.S., the world, nay the universe from disaster after disaster. 24 had an intensity unlike any other program or movie. The pace, the plots, the stories were a recipe for success on this show. President Palmer ruled with confidence, trust and comfort for Americans during several tragic times in fictitious U.S. history. He was a solid character in an amazing show. Often associated with the booming voice from the Allstate Insurance commercials, the voice of reason and the voice of America was so perfectly cast as President. And I cannot forget to mention that Haysbert also played the role of Pedro Cerrano in the baseball classic Major League. A man of many talents, for 24 fans Haysbert wins the election for the greatest U.S. President. To conclude this piece, simply picture a black screen with digital clock numbers counting down…tick, tock, tick, tock.

A President Palmer tribute. Apparently, he had a bad day:

Did you know Hitler gave the order for President Palmer’s assassination?


The President
“Fail Safe”
By Kevin Kizer
I was contemplating two contenders of the comedic variety – Mel Brooks as President Skroob in “Spaceballs” and Terry Crews as President Dwayne Elizondo Camacho in “Idiocracy” – when I read young Matthew’s submission and selection of the serious-yet-apologetic President Muffley (“I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri. Don’t say that you’re more sorry than I am because I’m capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we’re both sorry.”).

This move by the Richmond boy drew me to another president in a movie that’s closely linked to “Dr. Strangelove” and was, in fact, sued before release by Kubrick for plagiarism. The movie is “Fail Safe” and it stars Henry Fonda as Mr. President. No time for first name/last name crap in this movie because American planes are on their way to deliver a nuclear attack and…well, it IS the exact storyline as “Dr. Strangelove” (incidentally, they were produced at the same time by Columbia Pictures – and the lawsuit was settled with the agreement that “Dr. Strangelove” would be released FIRST). The difference is that “Fail Safe” is an intense drama.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, Fonda plays a reasonable-yet-commanding President who has to make some very hard decisions – like bombing New York in self-retaliation for accidentally bombing Moscow. While the story is well-known now, at the time, it was a bombshell (pun very much intended) that left audiences stunned and terrified.

It includes an all-star cast of young talent – Larry Hagman as the President’s English-to-Russian translator, Walter Matthau in the dramatic equivalent of the Strangelove role (heartless nuclear expert minus the wheelchair and Nazi background…although there is another character in the movie on crutches) and Pillsbury Dough Boy-ish Dom DeLuise as a young sergeant.

Spoiler alert! This is the end of the movie so don’t watch unless you want to be spoiled. I say go for it:

A nice montage of key scenes:

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.