Special Report

The 35 Best Fictional Presidents in Movies and TV

Dirck Halstead / The Chronicle Collection via Getty Images

The United States has had a former actor, Ronald Reagan, and a former reality TV host, Donald Trump, as president. A lot of great actors have also played fictional presidents in films and on TV. In fact, some of the biggest stars of all time have done so, ranging from Henry Fonda to Jack Nicholson to Harrison Ford. 

To determine the 35 best fictional presidents from movies and TV, 24/7 Tempo consulted a wide range of film and television sites, including IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, using a combination of review comments and editorial discretion to assemble our list. Cast information and plot summaries come from IMDb.  

The earliest films cited are from the 1960s and reflect the concerns of the time. “Dr. Strangelove” is a black comedy film that satirizes Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In “Fail Safe,” which is not a comedy, the president has to try to prevent a nuclear war after U.S. bombers are sent in error to destroy Moscow. (Here are more of the best movies of the ‘60s.) 

Some of the more recent films and TV shows depict presidents dealing with terrorism. In “White House Down,” the president’s home is targeted. In “Designated Survivor,” the government is wiped out in a terrorist attack and a low-level cabinet member becomes president.  

Click here to see the most memorable fictional U.S. presidents in movie and TV history

Sometimes life imitates art. There was an African-American president, played by James Earl Jones, in the 1972 film “The Man,” almost four decades before Barack Obama took office. There have also been several women presidents in film and on television, including an African-American woman president, played by Alfre Woodard, in “State of Affairs.” (These are the most famous female rulers in history.)

Allison Taylor
> TV show/movie: “24: Redemption” (2008); “24” (2001-2010)
> Portrayed by: Cherry Jones

Allison Taylor becomes the first female president in “24,” the action drama television series starring Kiefer Sutherland as counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer. She takes office in the TV movie “24: Redemption” and serves in seasons 7 and 8.

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Andrew Carrington Boone
> TV show/movie: “Swing Vote” (2008)
> Portrayed by: Kelsey Grammer

In this political satire, Grammer plays the incumbent Republican president, whose race against a Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper) will be decided by a single vote by an apolitical no-nothing (Kevin Costner).

Andrew Shepherd
> TV show/movie: “The American President” (1995)
> Portrayed by: Michael Douglas

In this film the president, played by Michael Douglas, falls for a lobbyist and has to choose between love and career.

Claire Underwood
> TV show/movie: “House of Cards” (2013-2018)
> Portrayed by: Robin Wright

Claire Underwood is the wife of Frank Underwood in the TV show “House of Cards.” Both are ruthless schemers and after becoming his vice-president, she succeeds him in the Oval Office.

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Conrad Dalton
> TV show/movie: “Madam Secretary” (2014-2019)
> Portrayed by: Keith Carradine

Keith Carradine plays Conrad Dalton in this popular TV series. As president, he’s the boss of Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, portrayed by Téa Leoni. McCord succeeds Dalton as president herself in Season 6 (the final season) of the show.

Constance Payton
> TV show/movie: “State of Affairs” (2014)
> Portrayed by: Alfre Woodard

Alfre Woodard plays Constance Payton, the first African-American woman president, in this espionage thriller TV series, which ran for only one season.

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David Palmer
> TV show/movie: “24” (2001-2010)
> Portrayed by: Dennis Haysbert

David Palmer is a U.S. senator and later president in the action drama television series “24.” He’s the show’s second-most prominent protagonist after Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland).

Douglass Dilman
> TV show/movie: “The Man” (1972)
> Portrayed by: James Earl Jones

In “The Man,” James Earl Jones plays Douglass Dilman, the president pro tem of the Senate, who takes office after the president is killed in an accident and the vice-president is too ill to take the post. As the Black president, though an unelected one, he faces racism and scandal.

Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho
> TV show/movie: “Idiocracy” (2006)
> Portrayed by: Terry Crews

Mike Judge’s sci-fi comedy – about a nondescript soldier who awakens in a future in which stupidity has taken over the country – stars former NFL linebacker Crews as a pro wrestler and pоrn star turned boorish Chief Executive.

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Elizabeth McCord
> TV show/movie: “Madam Secretary” (2014-2019)
> Portrayed by: Téa Leoni

A CIA analyst appointed as secretary of state by President Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine) after the incumbent dies in a plane crash, McCord succeeds Dalton as Chief Executive in the sixth and final season of the show.

Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III
> TV show/movie: “Scandal” (2012-2018)
> Portrayed by: Tony Goldwyn

In “Scandal,” the president, played by Tony Goldwyn, has an affair with a crisis manager, played by Kerry Washington.

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Frank Underwood
> TV show/movie: “House of Cards” (2013-2018)
> Portrayed by: Kevin Spacey

Frank Underwood is the husband of Claire Underwood in the TV show “House of Cards.” He schemes to win the presidency, and she eventually succeeds him. As the sixth and final season of “House of Cards” was being filmed, Spacey faced numerous charges of sexual abuse, and was written out of the show.

J. Robert Fowler
> TV show/movie: “The Sum of All Fears” (2002)
> Portrayed by: James Cromwell

“The Sum of All Fears” is a spy thriller film based on Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name. It features the character Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford), who has to avert a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia on President Fowler’s watch.

Jack Stanton
> TV show/movie: “Primary Colors” (1998)
> Portrayed by: John Travolta

“Primary Colors” is a 1998 American comedy-drama film about a thinly disguised Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992.

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Jackson Evans
> TV show/movie: “The Contender” (2000)
> Portrayed by: Jeff Bridges

“The Contender” is a political drama about the president’s efforts to appoint a female vice-president. It has been described as a response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Bill Clinton administration.

James Dale
> TV show/movie: “Mars Attacks!” (1996)
> Portrayed by: Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson plays the self-important President Dale, who thinks he can successfully negotiate with invaders from Mars. Nicholson also portrays an over-the-top casino owner.

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James Marshall
> TV show/movie: “Air Force One” (1997)
> Portrayed by: Harrison Ford

“Air Force One” is an action film in which terrorists hijack the president’s plane and he has to retake it and rescue everybody on board.

James Sawyer
> TV show/movie: “White House Down” (2013)
> Portrayed by: Jamie Foxx

“White House Down” is an action film in which a police officer (Channing Tatum) has to rescue his daughter and the president when terrorists attack the White House.

Jed Bartlet
> TV show/movie: “The West Wing” (1999-2006)
> Portrayed by: Martin Sheen

“The West Wing” is a long-running TV series set in the West Wing of the White House during the Democratic administration of President Jed Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen.

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John MacKenzie
> TV show/movie: “First Daughter” (2004)
> Portrayed by: Cherry Jones

Katie Holmes plays the college-aged daughter of the president (Michael Keaton) in this romantic comedy.

Jordan Lyman
> TV show/movie: “Seven Days in May” (1964)
> Portrayed by: Frederic March

“Seven Days in May” is a political thriller film about an attempt to take over the U.S. government in reaction to the president’s negotiation of a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.

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Mackenzie Allen
> TV show/movie: “Commander in Chief” (2005-2006)
> Portrayed by: Geena Davis

“Mackenzie Allen” is a TV series about the first female president, who takes office after the incumbent dies. His dying wish is that she step aside to let someone “more appropriate” fill his shoes.

Manfred Link
> TV show/movie: “First Family” (1980)
> Portrayed by: Bob Newhart

Comedian Newhart is joined by other comic actors, including Gilda Radner and Madeline Kahn, in this satire about America’s dysfunctional relations with a fictional African nation

Matthew Vincente Santos
> TV show/movie: “The West Wing” (1999-2006)
> Portrayed by: Jimmy Smits

Matthew Vincente Santos is a Democratic U.S. Congressman who succeeds Jed Bartlet as president in the seventh and final season of “The West Wing.”

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President Hathaway
> TV show/movie: “Monsters vs. Aliens” (2002)
> Portrayed by: Stephen Colbert

Television satirist and late-night host Colbert voices the role of the hapless President Hathway, who attempts to save the planet from an alien invasion.

Merkin Muffley
> TV show/movie: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)
> Portrayed by: Peter Sellers

“Dr. Strangelove” is a black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Peter Sellers played several roles, including President Merkin Muffley and the eponymous mad scientist Dr. Strangelove.

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The President
> TV show/movie: “Fail Safe” (1964)
> Portrayed by: Henry Fonda

“Fail Safe” is a Cold War thriller in which the president has to try to prevent a nuclear war after U.S. bombers are sent in error to destroy Moscow.

William Harrison Mitchell
> TV show/movie: “Dave” (1993)
> Portrayed by: Kevin Kline

Kline portrays both President Mitchell and Dave, a man hired to impersonate him after he has a stroke will having sex with a staffer.

The President
> TV show/movie: “Advise & Consent” (1962)
> Portrayed by: Franchot Tone

“Advise & Consent” is a political drama film about the nomination process for a secretary of state. The title is a phrase describing the power of the Senate to approve treaties and government appointments.

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Selina Meyer
> TV show/movie: “Veep” (2012-2019)
> Portrayed by: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

In this satirical political series, Louis-Dreyfus builds her power as the titular “veep” and becomes president when the incumbent resigns. She loses a subsequent election, but schemes to return to the Oval Office and eventually succeeds.

The U.S. President
> TV show/movie: “Love Actually” (2003)
> Portrayed by: Billy Bob Thornton

In this British comedy, Thornton plays a cocky unnamed U.S. president who insults the prime minister and comes on to a member of his staff. One critic described the character as “a sleazy Bill Clinton/George W. Bush hybrid.”

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Thomas J. Whitmore
> TV show/movie: “Independence Day” (1996)
> Portrayed by: Bill Pullman

In the film “Independence Day,” the earth is attacked by extraterrestrials and the president, a former fighter pilot and war veteran, leads the counter-attack.

Tom Beck
> TV show/movie: “Deep Impact” (1998)
> Portrayed by: Morgan Freeman

“Deep Impact” is a science-fiction disaster film in which the president faces an unprecedented challenge: a comet is on a collision course with earth.

Tom Kirkland
> TV show/movie: “Designated Survivor” (2016-2019)
> Portrayed by: Kiefer Sutherland

In “Designated Survivor,” the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development becomes president after all the more senior members of government are wiped out in a terrorist attack.

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Will “Chewie” Cooper
> TV show/movie: “Pixels” (2015)
> Portrayed by: Kevin James

James plays a one-time video arcade game champion who becomes president in later life – and finds that his gaming skills might help him save the planet from invading aliens.

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