As the United States of America nears the point at which voters will decide whether or not to elect possibly the worst human being in the country to the highest office in the land, it feels pertinent to consider the worst fictional US presidents offered up by Hollywood over the years.
Here are the five worst movie Presidents, in chronological order:
Peter Sellers as Merkin Muffley in Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick's salient satire of bureaucratic insanity edges closer to being a cautionary tale every time Trump chimes in on nuclear weapons.
The ineffectual Muffley demonstrates basic competence here and there, although as it's only one of three roles Sellers plays in the film, the character becomes somewhat conflated with the other two, which includes the titular Nazi scientist.
Preferable to Donald? Yes. If George C. Scott is in the room.
Martin Sheen as Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone (1983)
We only see get to see glimpses of President Stillson's tyrannical reign via the psychic premonitions of Christopher Walken's Johnny Smith, who takes it upon himself to prevent this awful future. Johnny Smith: we need you now more than ever. The half-Spanish, half-Irish Sheen played John F. Kennedy in a mini-series the same year, tapping into the actor's natural presidential qualities, which are used to chilling effect in David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's book. Sheen's work here also lent an interesting edge to his otherwise cuddly President Bartlet in The West Wing.
Preferable to Donald? Yes. Stillson's intentions may be positively apocalyptic, but at least he projects statesmanship.
Jack Nicholson as James Dale in in Mars Attacks! (1996)
In just one of the ways Tim Burton's tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the 1960s trading cards references Dr. Strangelove, Nicholson plays two roles: a boozy Vegas land developer and a president who royally fudges up our first contact with Martians. Although the odds were perhaps stacked against him, considering the Martians involved. Mars Attacks! remains Burton's most underrated work, and has only gotten more interesting in the wake of the movies he's churned out since.
Preferable to Donald? Yes. Going down with Jack's ship seems infinitely preferable to a Trump presidency.
Gene Hackman as Allen Richmond in Absolute Power (1997)
When we meet Hackman in this thriller adapted from a book by David Baldacci, the John Grisham of politics, his character is shown getting violent during a tryst, leading to the young woman's death. It is only after this heinous act that he is shown to be the President, a reveal this thriller hangs most of its drama on. He then goes about silencing the man who saw it all: Clint Eastwood, who was hiding in the closet the whole time. Hackman later played a slightly less murderous president in the Ray Romano comedy Welcome to Mooseport (2004), his final onscreen role before retiring.
Preferable to Donald? This is a tough one. Can we take the guy from Welcome To Mooseport?
Warren Beatty as Jay Bulworth in Bulworth (1998)
This is a cheat because Bulworth is actually a Senator, but he's clearly a future candidate, and the way he is presented here aligns with the way the American media presents its presidents. The plot sees the corrupt Bulworth take out a hit on himself, then get mixed up with a street gang, becoming, as is said now, woke to the realities of modern politics. Dismissed as an atonal flop upon its initial release, (Beatty raps in the movie), Bulworth is a fascinating political satire that constitutes a rare overlap of disaster art and profound precience. Beatty has long displayed more than a passing interest in politics, and its hard not to see Bulworth as his direct commentary on the topic - he's angriest about campaign finance reform, apparently. Fair enough.
Preferable to Donald? As he is at the end of the film, definitely. Additionally, I'd vote for Beatty. He once said he couldn't run for office because his salacious past wouldn't hold up to scrutiny. Such concerns seem so quaint now.