movie presidents independence day

Thomas J. Whitmore, Independence Day (1996)

The Actor: Bill Pullman

The Moment of Crisis: Alien spaceships descend upon Earth and hover over every major city in the world. And then they attack in unison, decimating landmarks and killing innocent people by the thousands. Forced to go on the run and fight back against a superior foe, President Thomas J. Whitmore takes refuge at Area 51 in Nevada and hunkers down as the alien threat continues to target remaining population centers.

The Reaction: After nuclear weapons prove ineffective, President Whitmore goes all-in on a real Hail Mary sort of plan. He puts a pilot and a computer genius in an alien spaceship and sends them on a desperate mission to infect the mothership with a computer virus, lowering the shields of the UFOs on Earth. And then he gives a rousing speech, declares the rest of the world honorary Americans, and personally leads a squadron of jets into a desperate final battle. And he wins. USA! USA! USA!

The Final Grade: It’s easy to argue that President Whitmore took too long to get going and that countless lives could have been saved if he hadn’t sat on his hands while the alien fleet got into position. And yet, he reacts with impressive ferocity and determination when things do go to hell, putting his money where his mouth is and destroying the alien threat in just a matter of days. Give the man an A.

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Allen Richmond, Absolute Power (1997)

The Actor: Gene Hackman

The Moment of Crisis: A master jewel thief witnesses President Allen Richmond order the murder the wife of a key supporter after she rebuffs his violent advances during a drunken tryst. As the murderer-in-chief works to cover up his crime, the thief decides to cancel his plans to flee the country and expose what the leader of the free world did behind closed doors.

The Reaction: President Richmond and his staff work overtime to protect themselves, hiding evidence, hiring assassins, and doing everything in their power to hinder both the official murder investigation and the heroic amateur sleuthing of the sole witness. Ultimately, the truth reaches the right ears and the murder victim’s husband stabs the president to death in the Oval Office.

The Final Grade: F. Does this even need further elaboration?

movie presidents air force one

James Marshall, Air Force One (1997)

The Actor: Harrison Ford

The Moment of Crisis: After a joint U.S./Russian mission to apprehend the leader of a terrorist regime goes according to plan, President James Marshall attends a banquet in Moscow and announces that the United States will never negotiate with terrorists. This statement is put to the test instantly, as a team of terrorists seize control of Air Force One on the flight home and take the passengers (including the President’s staff) hostage.

The Reaction: Naturally, President Marshall, a former soldier, refuses to escape when given the chance. He proceeds to Die Hard his way through the plane, picking off bad guys one by one as part of desperate mission to save his family and colleagues. Although the body count is high, he proves victorious, evacuating most of the hostages, rescuing his family, and killing every terrorist he can.

The Final Grade: Is President Marshall a great president or just an effective soldier? It’s not entirely clear, but the combination of the successful operation that opens the film and his very literal commitment to not negotiating with terrorists earns him a rock solid B+.

movie presidents deep impact

Tom Beck, Deep Impact (1998)

The Actor: Morgan Freeman

The Moment of Crisis: A seven-mile-wide comet is heading for Earth and the inevitable collision will lead to an extinction level event. But President Tom Beck is on top of this – by the time people learn of what’s coming, he has already started constructing a spacecraft that will intercept and divert the comet using nuclear weapons. So far, so good. Our man’s got this. And then the space expedition fails, splitting the comet into two projectiles heading straight for Earth.

The Reaction: Now forced to start making the really hard decisions, President Beck orders the construction of an underground shelter that will house 800,000 Americans. One quarter of the space will go to pre-selected people and the rest will be chosen by lottery. They will also be joined by countless plant samples and animals. In the end, the Earth survives when one of the comet halves is ultimately diverted.

The Final Grade: You’ve got to hand it to President Beck. Not only was he on top of this situation from the start, he wasted no time in making some really hard decisions about how to best preserve the human race in a worst case scenario. Ugly? Sure thing. Necessary? Yeah. Plus, he’s played by the always dignified Morgan Freeman. He gets an A-.

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