Life really can be stranger than fiction. A year ago, most of us were reasonably sure that Donald Trump wouldn’t get elected president. Then, on Nov. 9, we woke up to a world in which it was confirmed that the host of The Apprentice was next in line to head the most powerful nation on the planet. Sounds like a Black Mirror script, right? (Unfortunately, it was not.)
There have been hundreds of iterations of the POTUS in films, and while some of them are idealized versions of the commander-in-chief, with great men and women leading by example and promoting wonderful ideas, some are quite the opposite. However, to our knowledge, even the worst of these characters never uttered the words, “Listen, you motherfuckers, we’re gonna tax you 25 percent.”
While you brace for four (?) years of an unpredictable, scary, and potentially devastating Trump presidency, prepare yourself by looking at some of the most terrible and bizarre presidents we’ve seen in films over the years. Be warned, as bad as they are, some of them might still seem preferable to what Donald J. Trump potentially has in store for us following his inauguration.
President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho
Movie: Idiocracy (2006)
Played by: Terry Crews
An average Joe named Joe (Luke Wilson) wakes up from a cryogenic program gone wrong, and finds that society has dumbed down to the point of stupidity in the 500 years he was asleep. He is now the smartest person alive, and the head of state, President Camacho, is a former pro wrestler—sound familiar?—and porn star. Camacho addresses the nation, machine gun in hand, and says, “I know shit’s bad right now.” This isn’t a documentary, it just seems like one.
President James Dale
Movie: Mars Attacks! (1996)
Played by: Jack Nicholson
Granted, President Dale isn’t the worse president on this list, but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, either. Blatantly incompetent, he refuses to launch a nuclear attack on the vicious aliens attacking Earth and, to his credit, tries to negotiate a peace treaty with them. It ends poorly—and by that we mean he gets impaled on a Martian flag. Way to misread your adversary.
President Jack Cahill
Movie: Escape from L.A. (1996)
Played by: Cliff Robertson
Robertson’s president could easily be called a dictator. After Los Angeles gets separated from the continent due to a flood, President Cahill uses the opportunity to run for a lifetime term and transforms L.A. into a prison island. A fierce fundamentalist, he bans everything from red meat to premarital sex and tries to get his hands on a weapon that could obliterate all of existence. But at least he doesn’t have a “golden showers” scandal.
President Allen Richmond
Movie: Absolute Power (1997)
Played by: Gene Hackman
President Richmond, brilliantly played by Hackman, is a misogynistic pig who sleeps with his wife’s best friend—again, sound familiar?—and then has her murdered by the secret service when she starts causing him a bit of trouble. He then tries to pin it on the jewel thief (Clint Eastwood) who happened to be robbing the White House at the same time, eventually attempting to murder his daughter. Richmond is an all-around terrible guy. Still, credit to him for not preying on people with a sham university.
President Merkin Muffley
Movie: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Played by: Peter Sellers
When a rogue general launches missiles at the USSR, President Muffley (Sellers, who also plays two other characters in the film) is forced to deal with the extreme situation. While he tries to take command and stop the series of unfolding events, he is ultimately in over his head. He insists that there’s no fighting in the war room, but remains unable to prevent world annihilation in this Stanley Kubrick classic. Sometimes incompetence blows up in your face literally.
President Baxter Harris
Movie: Scary Movie 3 (2003) and Scary Movie 4 (2006)
Played by: Leslie Nielsen
By far the stupidest President on the list, this dimwitted POTUS inspired by George W. Bush, is told that aliens have invaded the Earth while reading a book to a class of kids. Rather than deal with the crisis, he instead insists on knowing “what happened to the duckling,” the protagonist of the children’s book. He then wonders “what President Ford would have done” and gazes admiringly at a portrait of the Air Force One star.
President Greg Stillson
Movie: The Dead Zone (1983)
Played by: Martin Sheen
Can you be held accountable for things that you haven’t actually done yet? In this case, we’re going to say yes. Senatorial candidate Stillson seems like a decent guy, but when psychic Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) shakes his hand he has a horrifying vision: One day this sociopath is going to become POTUS, order a nuclear strike against Russia, and start a nuclear holocaust. Smith attempts to assassinate him, which changes the future by revealing Stillson’s present-day awfulness—the coward and would-be mass murderer tries to shield himself with a baby. So, yeah, this is one time when we’re fine with prejudgment.
President William Alan Moore
Movie: Big Game (2014)
Played by: Samuel L. Jackson
Notorious badass Jackson plays President Moore who, while en route to a conference in Helsinki, gets stranded in the Finnish woods after Air Force One is shot down. Although he’s decently smooth, the Leader of the Free World has to rely on a 13-year-old boy sent on a hunting rite of passage to avoid getting killed by a secret service agent gone rogue. You read that right—a 13-year-old boy. He is not worthy of President James Marshall’s plane.
President William Haney
Movie: My Fellow Americans (1996)
Played by: Dan Aykroyd
Many politicians are full of shit, and yet we like to think that the ones for whom we vote are honorable people. Haney makes that difficult, quickly crashing and burning and resigning in disgrace after trying to slither his way out of a kickback and money-laundering scandal by pinning it on his predecessor. In 1996, such abuse of power probably seemed far-fetched. After all, every POTUS at that point had taken action to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interests and respected the Constitution. Now? Not so much.
President Jack Stanton
Movie: Primary Colors (1998)
Played by: John Travolta
Stanton, a Southern governor and candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, doesn’t become POTUS until the end of the film, but earlier revelations about his character tell you all you need to know about him as commander-in-chief. Dirty politics are sadly common, so perhaps one could forgive his willingness to leak secrets about an opponent’s drug abuse and homosexual history for political gain. And sure, womanizing is nothing new for a politician, but Stanton, it turns out, slept with his friend’s underage daughter, who babysat for him and his wife. His fear of a paternity test for her unborn child is all the proof you need that this sex offender should have been in prison, not the White House.