YouTube HOF: Presidential Performances
Editor’s note: This week, some guy named Benjamin Walker joins a long, distinguished line of cinematic presidents in Timur Bekmambetov’s new historical drama Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Here are some of our other favorite fictional POTUSes from film and TV. (If you don’t see the videos, please try another browser. We put them in, we promise.)
Jeff Bridges, The Contender
Tess Lynch: Jeff Bridges is really serious about food: childhood hunger, animal style everything, beans (allegedly), and of course, shark steak sandwiches. I like a president who orders confidently, risking mercury poisoning and national Muenster shortages — who knows what he wants and isn’t daunted by a challenge. Thinking fast, inspiring entree envy, throwing something crazy on rye: That’s a leader.
Bruce Greenwood, Thirteen Days
Dan Silver: Unfortunately, this film is mostly forgotten, or if remembered, it’s always “the one where Kevin Costner has that awful New England accent.” In reality, Thirteen Days is probably one of the better thrillers made in the last 20 years, only made better by its ability to keep the audience on the edge of their seat even when they know how the story ends. Much of the credit is and should be given to director Roger Donaldson’s execution and subtle use of historical melodrama, but the performances of the three leads (minus the accent) should not be overlooked — specifically, Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of JFK. He plays the caricature of Kennedy we all have in our heads, but he doesn’t resort to hyperbolic actor tricks, and instead plays the iconic POTUS with a perfect balance of stillness and forcefulness (thus avoiding the “It all just sounds like Mayor Quimby” pothole). It’s a JFK as we could believe him to be in the Oval Office and not in front of the cameras. A real human dealing with extraordinary circumstances. No joke — I watch this film once a year and I never get tired of it.
Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove
Chris Ryan: Hard to say what I like more about this: Peter Sellers’s “Of course I like to speak to you!” Or George C. Scott’s reaction shots throughout the scene.
Dennis Haysbert, 24
Rembert Browne: All I’m asking Obama to do is simply make one statement admitting that he was influenced by President David Palmer from 24. I don’t ask for much, Barry. Just be honest with us. It’s OK.
Martin Sheen, The West Wing, “The Indians in the Lobby”
Sarah Larimer: That was excellent. We should do that once a week.
Bill Pullman, Independence Day
Robert Mays: Despite my newfound obsession with The West Wing, I still point to President Whitmore from Independence Day as the best fictional president of all time. He had everything you want in a commander in chief — compassion, humility, and above all, an incredible badassery quotient. This is the greatest speech ever delivered by a president — fictional or not. Instead of rolling with another one of these for Game 4 tonight, I vote that the Heat just throw this on. WE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT! WE WILL NOT VANISH WITHOUT A FIGHT! TODAY IS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY! (They could tweak the end, I guess. Whatever works.)
Amos Barshad: Before finding the scene on YouTube just now, I’d never noticed the bit in the beginning where Bill Pullman looks around and tells his grizzled general buddy that the ragtag crew of pilots that’s just been scrambled together to wage an impossible battle against monolithic alien invaders with far-reaching superior technology are “a little young” and “look a little nervous” before he hops up on that platform to give the greatest speech of all time. See, the implication here, that I’d always missed, is that President Pullman looks around, realizes the boys need some pepping up, and just rips into a goosebump epic. But off the top of the dome? I know he wasn’t reading off note cards, but I always thought he’d prepared these remarks.
Bill Pullman, Independence Day Redux
Bill Barnwell: Bill Pullman’s parody of his legendary speech from Independence Day is lovely.
Terry Crews, Idiocracy
Sean Fennessey: Too late to add Terry Crews to the Romney ticket?
Lil B, “Bitch I’m Clinton”
Alex Pappademas: The Andrew WK Kaufman of blog-rap channels America’s first black president on this characteristically-semiotically-garbled cut from his 2010 mixtape Red Flame. Rapping in the first person as the first chief executive known for his rapper-ish qualities — burning trees, receiving oral, and being loved in spite of great sleaziness/hated in spite of great accomplishments — is actually a fairly trad move for Lil B, a master of the semi-topical non sequitur who’s written far stranger songs equating his swag to that of Frasier, Matlock, and J.K. Rowling. But there’s still a dreamlike Based God logic at work here. As the music waffles between broken-keyboard drone and game-show sprightliness, Lil B chants “White House, White House, White House” — he says it 16 times, while someone else interjects “Swag!” every few seconds — and then turns “Bill Clinton” into an all-purpose adjective. His swag? Bill Clinton! His car? Bill Clinton! His house? Bill Clinton! Bill Clinton? Bill Clinton! There’s a cursory nod to Clinton’s man-of-the-people indestructibility — “Everybody vote ’cause they know that I’m loyal”
— but this is a metaphor that evaporates on contact with the air. The Based Prez makes an anachronistic reference to “Condoleezza Rice on my wrist” (possibly Cockney rhyming slang for “ice,” but who knows?) and his “Colin Powell chain” and his “George Bush guns,” and closes with a shout-out to Hillary: “You gonna win that presidency / You gonna be president soon, baby.” Reiterating: This song came out in 2010.