Romney? Obama? Who’s your choice for president? Would you rather choose someone else? Well how about these presidents and heads of state that have appeared in science fiction? Love them or hate them, they were memorable leaders.
Science fiction is probably the best vehicle for showcasing villainous presidents. Look at it this way, few will get offended with these fictional tyrants that star in cautionary tales that take place in dystopian times.
Take President Erwin Rexall in the classic Frank Miller/David Gibbons mini-series Give Me Liberty. Though not the main character in the comic book, his presence in lieu of his harsh policies had an impact on Give Me Liberty’s heroine, Martha Washington. An exaggeration of Ronald Reagan, Rexall was a far-right, callous man who cared little for the average American. His successor, Howard Nissen was the complete opposite, a far left liberal who turned out to be a drunken incompetent. Eventually Rexall has his brain implanted into a robot’s body and continued his presidency after Nissen was assassinated.
A more infamous president was Lex Luthor as seen in the pages of Superman. Holding the highest office in the land, allowed Luthor to be an effective thorn on Superman’s side. Adding insult was Luthor’s early popularity, though he didn’t do anything to prevent aliens from destroying Topeka, Kansas. Eventually, he fell from grace and power thanks to the efforts of several superheroes.
But more well-known despotic heads of state have been seen on film. The most recent one was Mr. Thompson in Atlas Shrugged, Part II. Played by Ray Wise, Thompson, although never referred to as the president, is the socialist head of state in the U.S. who implements unpopular reforms and mandates that strip away citizens’ rights. Another recent tyrant was President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in The Hunger Games. He wasn’t a prominent character in the book but appears in the film. Seemingly laid back, Snow actually has a sadistic demeanor.
One truly despicable despot was Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone. Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, the hero Johnny Smith discovers with his psychic powers that a local politician (played by Martin Sheen) will become a crazed president who unleashes a nuclear holocaust. The future scenes where he defies everyone’s pleas and launches nukes were quite chilling. The character also showed up in The Dead Zone TV series.
While the U.S. has had youthful presidents (keeping in mind that presidents in their forties like Kennedy or Clinton or Obama are considered young), there was Max Frost (Christopher Jones) in the film Wild In The Streets. A socially conscious and ambitious rock star, Frost manipulates politicians to pass a constitutional amendment that lowers the voting age and when a person can run for president. This allows the youthful rocker, whose in his twenties, to ride a wave into the White House where he becomes a dictator that banishes old people into re-education camps.
Not all future presidents are dictators, many are just not up to snuff. There was President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) in the comedy Americathon where a bankrupt U.S. has to hold a telethon to raise cash. Then there was President Dwayne Elizando Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Idiocracy who leads an illiterate nation and is all about style but no substance. By the end of Idiocracy, it falls on the modern-day hero who winds up in that future, Joe Bauers a.k.a. Not Sure, to begin the re-education and salvation of American citizens by becoming president himself. But the most ill-suited president has to be Peter Sellers’ indecisive President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove.
Leaders On Television
There have been notable presidents or leaders in several sci-fi TV shows. For instance Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons was shown to be president sometime in the future in the episode “Back To The Future”. The most recent world leader was President Elias Martinez in The Event. Skillfully played by Blair Underwood, the president seemed unsure of how to handle the alien refugees the government was holding captive, but by the series’ end, President Martinez became more determined and decisive in protecting the U.S. and the world. The show Jack & Bobby took place in modern times but was framed by bookending commentaries by people in the future. One of the boys featured in the show grows up to become president years into the future. In the anthology show The Outer Limits, one episode “Trial By Fire” featured a newly inaugurated President Charles Halsey (Robert Foxworth), who unexpectedly has to deal with a first contact situation. An alien armada is on its way to Earth and Halsey has to decide if they are friendly or not. President Halsey is wracked with the knowledge that his decisions will severely impact life on the planet.
But the best known fictional presidents in sci-fi TV have to be Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Gaius Baltar (James Callis) seen in the remake of Battlestar Galactica. Roslin was the sole surviving member of the president’s cabinet following a surprise robotic Cylon attack on humanity. Although inexperienced, Roslin quickly grows into her role, becomes presidential and ultimately helps save humanity. Baltar on the other hand is more complex. Best seen as an enigmatic anti-hero, Baltar is responsible for the near extinction of humanity by the Cylons. There were broad hints that Baltar was insane but cunning and he aided the surviving humans. Eventually Baltar defeated Roslin in a presidential election and settled humanity on a habitable world. His presidency was unpopular especially after he surrenders humanity to an invading Cylon force.
Not all presidents in sci-fi are evil or incompetent. Many were shown in a positive light and were even heroic. Roslin in Battlestar Galactica was heroic during her appearances in the show. Superman himself served as president of the United States in a fantasy “future” story in Action Comics Annual #3. Thanks to his diplomatic skills, Superman/Clark Kent has a successful presidency where he brings about world peace and lowers the deficit (thanks to some help from Aquaman, who dredges up sunken ships laden with treasure).
Another potential president was Steve Rogers. In the pages of Captain America # 250 he is approached to run for president of the U.S. but eventually declines. In the comic book What If Captain America Had Been Elected President? # 26, Rogers has a successful presidency, one of his major accomplishments being to make America energy independent. In the mini-series The Last Avengers Story, it’s stated that in the future Rogers becomes president of the U.S. but is apparently killed in his third term. Recently in The Ultimates # 16 the Steve Rogers in that universe is elected president of the U.S.
Other positive presidents seen in movies include Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact, who helps the U.S. and the world to recover from a comet strike, and the two Federation Presidents seen in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It should be noted that Captain Jonathan Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise eventually becomes the first President of the Federation. But out of all these fictional sci-fi presidents probably the most heroic one is President Thomas Whitmore from Independence Day. Patterned loosely on Bill Clinton, Whitmore is a young, beleaguered commander-in-chief who heroically leads the nation in fighting off an alien invasion. Although his military role in the final counterattack against the aliens is implausible it was heroic. Seriously, it is a stretch to believe that one of the few remaining world leaders will be allowed to fly a fighter jet to lead an attack on alien invaders. But he does give one heck of a rousing speech. So would any of these candidates earn your vote?
Lewis T. Grove