The best U.S. Presidents in fiction

08 November 2016

By Pan Macmillan

Fiction can offer a much needed escape from reality, or can at least help to soothe anxieties.

From the silly to the sinister, here’s our pick of U.S. Presidents who are entertaining on screen but who we wouldn’t necessarily want in The White House. Unless Martin Sheen wants to run in 2020 that is. 

Alan Richmond, Absolute Power

David Baldacci’s villainous, sadistic but outwardly charming POTUS was gleefully portrayed by Gene Hackman in Clint Eastwood’s nerve-frying film adaptation. A gripping thriller with all the suspense, sex and corruption you’d expect from Baldacci, whoever enters the White House this month at least we can all be relieved it’s not this guy.



Frank Underwood, House of Cards

From the opening scenes of the very first episode of Netflix’s House of Cards it’s clear that Frank Underwood is one of the most villainous characters ever to grace the small screen. This stylish political drama may be packed full of double-crossing, slanderous snakes, but none can hold a candle to Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian anti-hero.



Josiah Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

One of the longest-serving and most popular fictional presidents in history, Martin Sheen’s Josiah Jed Bartlet from The West Wing. His quick wit, fierce stand on principle and stoic yet generally affable and honest demeanour earned both the character and the actor portraying him much acclaim.



Merkin Muffley, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

He might not be a particularly good President, especially in the face of impending nuclear annihilation, but Peter Sellers' clueless, bumbling POTUS is certainly one of the most entertaining on this list. In a film full of surreal and outrageous characters, it is arguably President Muffley who steals the show with lines such as ‘Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the war room.’



David Palmer, 24

A Democrat, family man and an idealist and capable of standing up to Jack Bauer, Palmer embodies everything that we would like to see in a president. Some analysts have even claimed 24’s casting of an African-American as President influenced the vote for Barack Obama, calling it The Palmer Effect.



Bill Pullman, Independence Day

Not the only president on this list to face an alien invasion but, as a former fighter pilot, he actually leads the attack himself. Exactly the sort of man you’d want around in an (intergalactic) crisis.



Selina Meyer, Veep

Like a likeable Frank Underwood, Meyer rises from Vice President, seemingly a position of complete futility and powerlessness, to the Oval Office. Far from the nail-biting suspense of House of Cards, it’s a complete joy to watch Mayer navigate the PR disasters, the scheming political climbers and endless awkward situations in Armando Iannucci's enjoyably silly sitcom.



Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon

Ok so Richard Nixon may not be technically fictional, but Frank Langella’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of ‘Tricky Dicky, drowning in confidence and self-deception, definitely deserves a mention. In choking close-ups Ron Howard’s film adaptation of the post-Watergate television interviews between David Frost and the former president allows us to see Nixon’s ghostly eyes, beads of sweat and faltering smile in all their compelling, uncomfortable detail.



A new 20th anniversary edition of Absolute Powerthe book that made David Baldacci a worldwide bestseller, is out now. Find out more

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