President’s Day is almost upon us, a time to celebrate both the first President of the United States of America George Washington and the 16th President Abraham Lincoln. In some states, they even add the third President, Thomas Jefferson, into the mix.
They’re obviously wonderful historic leaders worthy of the recognition. But in honor of those great men, I’ve decided to dig into the fictional Presidents of movies and television to list some of the greatest quotes and speeches from the fictional giants.
Starting out with the short quotes are Presidents from the movies Dr. Strangelove, Canadian Bacon, and Air Force One.
President Merkin Muffley – Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove)
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”
President of the United States – Alan Alda (Canadian Bacon)
“It’s time to turn off that war machine, and turn on our children.”
President James Marshall – Harrison Ford (Air Force One)
“Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”
With the exception of President Muffley, these are solid non-comedic quotes, that would be headlines the world over if they were said by a real President. Even President Muffley’s quote would be a viral sensation on social media.
But with the short quotes over, it’s time to get to the speeches. These are the things that prove Hollywood has better speech writers than most of the Presidents actually elected into office.
President James Marshall – Harrison Ford (Air Force One)
“Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid. It’s your turn to be afraid.”
President Thomas Whitmore – Bill Pullman (Independence Day)
“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
President Tom Beck – Morgan Freeman (Deep Impact)
“We watched as the bombs shattered the second comet into a million pieces of ice and rock that burned harmlessly in our atmosphere and lit up the sky for an hour. Still, we were left with the devastation of the first. The waters reached as far inland as the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. It washed away farms and towns, forests and skyscrapers. But, the water receded. The wave hit Europe and Africa too. Millions were lost, and countless more left homeless. But the waters receded. Cities fall, but they are rebuilt. And heroes die, but they are remembered. We honor them with every brick we lay, with every field we sow, With every child we comfort, and then teach to rejoice in what we have been re-given. Our planet. Our home. So now, let us begin.”
President Bill Mitchell [Dave Kovic] – Kevin Kline (Dave)
“If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.”
Now, I have included the full text of their speeches, because they aren’t merely just brilliant words spoken by great orators who happen to be Presidents, they are also great combinations of words and phrases worth reading on the page, as well. If you’re so inclined, read them first and then watch the clips, or simply watch the clips alone, or hit play and read along.
President Andrew Shepard – Michael Douglas (The American President)
“For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I’ve been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren’t you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago. America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”. I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she’s to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore. Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.
I’ve loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer, and I lost the other ’cause I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now. Tomorrow morning, the White House is sending a bill to Congress for its consideration. It’s White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a 20 percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I’m throwing it out. I’m throwing it out writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns. We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I *am* the President.”
President Josiah Bartlett – Martin Sheen (West Wing)
“There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. Every once in a while… every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words. I’m the President of the United States, not the President of the people who agree with me. And by the way, if the left has a problem with that, they should vote for somebody else. “
President Josiah Bartlett – Martin Sheen (West Wing)
“More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. 44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran *in* to the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. “
And of those, especially those I listed with their speeches, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Both of Sorkin’s Presidents are similar and he borrowed a ton of dialogue from The American President for The West Wing. Along with that, the West Wing ran for so long that viewers were able to build a larger and longer relationship with President Bartlett.
Of course, these aren’t the only fictional Presidents of the United States.
The other notable Presidents of Hollywood include Henry Fonda in Fail-Safe, Billy Bob Thornton in Love Actually, Mark Harmon in Chasing Liberty, Michael Keaton in First Daughter, Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks, John Travolta in Primary Colors, Jeff Bridges in The Contendor, Kelsey Grammer in Swing Vote, Hal Holbrook with two non-consecutive terms as POTUS in Under Siege and The Kidnapping of the President, Samuel L. Jackson in Big Game, Jamie Foxx in White House Down; James Garner, Jack Lemmon, and Dan Aykroyd in My Fellow Americans, and two more Sorkin Presidents in John Goodman and Jimmy Smits.
They’ve all been great on the screen, and they are all extremely talented actors, but those that made the list proper are in my mind even larger than life.
Happy President’s Day!