4. Michael Douglas: The American President
Michael Douglas plays bad better than almost anyone else. He has a certain loathsome charm wrapped in a magnetic personality. However, his role as President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (1995, Rob Reiner) plays to his softer, more sympathetic side. President Shepherd is a rarity in America: a single president. The film focuses on the president's personal life, an often overlooked aspect in film. President Shepherd may not be incredibly powerful, but he is highly admirable and, above all, human.
3. Harrison Ford: Air Force One
Harrison Ford has a lot going for him. Outer space fighter pilot with a heart of gold? Check. Bumbling archeologist who goes on zany adventures? Double check. American president who beats the crap out of the terrorist Gary Oldman? Triple check! Ford's James Marshall in Air Force One (1997, Wolfgang Petersen) is the definition of a badass. Not only does he kill a bevy of terrorists, he also takes control of the airplane to save the day. "Get off my plane", indeed. Bonus points for Marshall having a female vice-president, portrayed flawlessly by Glenn Close.
2. Jack Nicholson: Mars Attacks!
When aliens inevitably invade the planet, the president will inevitably have to guide the people. Nicholson's President James Dale in Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton) strongly resists calls for nuclear retaliation. Instead, he tries to reason with the aliens while keeping the American people calm, which is no small task. Although his stellar performance is in a comedy, it could easily be translated to a dramatic film for a wider audience. Bonus points for the First Lady, also played by Glenn Close.
1. Bill Pullman: Independence Day
Bill Pullman's President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich) has all of the qualifications we look for in a president: intelligent, handsome, calm, and authoritative. Like Harrison Ford's Marshall, President Whitmore has a background as a fighter pilot. When America comes under attack by aliens, the president refuses to sit around with diplomats. Instead, he straps into the pilot seat and assists other pilots deliver a nuclear weapon to the aliens. Way to be a hands-on president while staying cool and collected, President Whitmore! (And it goes without saying that his hair is flawless throughout the movie.)
Of course, there are plenty more silver screen presidents, but those are my personal favorites. Have a happy Independence Day!