Didn't Abraham Lincoln do enough as the 16th president of the United States? Between the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves to his assassination in the Ford Theater and his likeness being carved in marble in the Lincoln Memorial—not to mention having his face on our currency—you'd think the real President Lincoln was pretty legendary. Yet in the action fantasy Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, now playing in theaters and based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Benjamin Walker plays Abe as a lanky, ax-swinging killing machine who leads a secret life as a vampire hunter after witnessing his mother being bitten and killed by one.
Although there have been numerous depictions of real presidents in movies, it's the outrageous fictitious ones that leave a lasting impression long after they leave office—the box office, that is. Consider Peter Sellers's unforgettable performance as President Merkin Muffley in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. President Muffley often seems confused, questions his own policies during a nuclear threat, and takes under the advisement of Dr. Strangelove a plan to keep several thousand attractive people underground for breeding after a nuclear disaster.
Morgan Freeman, as President Tom Beck in Deep Impact, also wants to take an elite group of people underground as a comet hurls on a collision course with Earth. But despite this blatant display of elitism, who wouldn't want Freeman as their president? Whether he's contemplating the universe's mysteries on TV's Through the Wormhole or just reading anything aloud, his deep, calming voice could sell us on the idea that everything was going to be OK despite all evidence to the contrary.
As Americans often suspect in real life, sometimes an imposter would do a better job balancing the budget than the guy in the Oval Office. This is what happens in Dave, in which Kevin Kline plays both President Mitchell and his lookalike, Dave Kovic. When the real president suffers a stroke during an extramarital affair and lapses into a coma, Dave is called in to appear as the president so that the vice president doesn't assume control. While in office, Dave and his accountant friend balance the entire federal budget in one night.
Is there a more kick-ass president than Harrison Ford's James Marshall in Air Force One? We think not. It's established that this president is a Vietnam veteran, but we also know he is Han Solo and Indiana Jones. When Russian terrorists hijack Air Force One, it's only a matter of time before the president gets all Indy on them, growling "Get off my plane!" at one after wrapping a parachute cord around his neck and letting the wind yank the terrorist out of the plane with a broken neck. Mr. Ford, the American people have a request: Please run for office in 2016.
No discussion of American presidents in movies would be complete without mentioning Bill Pullman's President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day. A former Persian Gulf War fighter pilot, this president jumps into the cockpit for real (sorry, Dubbya) and leads an attack on the aliens that are obliterating Earth's major cities. Sure, he cheeses out with his inspirational speeches ("We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!"), but at the end of the day—and with the help of a Macintosh computer that can inexplicably upload a virus to an alien spacecraft—this president neutralizes the world-ending threat and all but locks in a second term.