Being the Commander-in-Chief is a tough job, especially when you have to deal with the occasional alien invasion or Gary Oldman hijacking your plane. Here are a few Presidential adventures available on Netflix Instant that will, for the most part, make you glad that you’re not the President.
Possibly the last great Harrison Ford movie (to date, anyway), Air Force One is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned action adventure disguised as a political thriller (and the first of two Wolfgang Petersen films that appear on this list), giving us a movie President that looks and acts a lot like Indiana Jones. President James Marshall isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and throw a few punches — nor does he succumb to the intimidation tactics of the Russian thugs that have hijacked his plane (led by Gary Oldman, who is, of course, terrific). President Marshall is made even cooler with the fact that he has a female Vice President (Glenn Close), one that refuses to take over the Presidency when the chips are down — ’cause when Indiana Jones is playing the President, you know he’s not going to die, ever.
Tim Burton‘s odd follow-up to Ed Wood was a movie that Ed himself might have made, a silly yet oddly violent alien invasion spoof that audiences didn’t quite “get” in the same year as the square-jawed Independence Day. While the movie itself doesn’t completely work, Mars Attacks! sports a pretty impressive cast, a few of which are alums from previous Burton films. The best of the lot is definitely Jack Nicholson (working with Burton for the first time since Batman), in a dual role as the hapless President of the United States and an obnoxious Las Vegas real estate developer. Nicholson brings a calm cluelessness to the former role, the kind of befuddled President you definitely don’t want in office if something like an alien invasion actually happened. Hey, he gives it his best shot — unfortunately, so do the Martians.
If you’re looking for a female President, television is definitely where it’s at. Besides Geena Davis in Commander in Chief, you also get Mary McDonnell as Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica, the Secretary of Education who becomes the President of the Twelve Colonies after everyone above her is killed during the first Cylon attack that wipes out most of the human race. As if trying to keep what remains of the Colonies together after a nuclear act of war isn’t hard enough, she also has to deal with her own personal demons, the most daunting of which is having cancer. Roslin’s greatest strength as President was her complete lack of political ambition — she sure as hell didn’t ask for this job, so her decisions were never ego-driven or underhanded. She’s awesome.
Mike Nichols’ goofy, entertaining political satire somehow seems more relevant and timely today than it did back in 1998, despite it being a thinly-disguised account of the rise of Bill Clinton. John Travolta is a hoot in the lead role, doing what is essentially a two-and-a-half-hour Clinton impersonation as Jack Stanton, a Southern governor who bumbles and philanders his way to the Presidency. Come to think of it, Emma Thompson looks a lot like Hillary in this… hmm… Primary Colors is based on a novel by an anonymous author who ended up being revealed as Joe Klein, a longtime Washington D.C. journalist and columnist — so, yeah, it’s about Clinton. And it’s awfully damn funny.
Director Wolfgang Petersen definitely hit his stride with this 1993 nail-biter about a brilliant psychopath (John Malkovich) out to assassinate the President of the United States and the Secret Service agent (Clint Eastwood) he delights in taunting. Eastwood’s agent is haunted by his inability to protect JFK from being killed thirty years earlier, a memory that Malkovich’s assassin — a former CIA operative that’s gone cuckoo — loves to poke and prod. Hey, if we were the President, we’d want Clint Eastwood protecting us — especially a Clint Eastwood who’s got something to prove. Jim Curley plays the President here, and the key subplot involves his re-election campaign, though he ultimately takes a back seat to the great Eastwood-Malkovich dynamics.