6-foot-8, weighs a fucking ton: 22 truly badass pop-culture presidents

6-foot-8, weighs a fucking ton: 22 truly badass pop-culture presidents

1. Harrison Ford, Air Force One (1997)
With Air Force One, director Wolfgang Petersen and star Harrison Ford answered a question that had haunted moviegoers since the summer of 1988: What if John McClane was elected president of the United States? Granted, Ford’s commander-in-chief bears little physical resemblance to Bruce Willis’ squinty, smirking beat cop in Die Hard, and he doesn’t supply a steady string of bemused one-liners. But his methods are vintage McClane: Once Kazakh terrorists seize control of the titular aircraft mid-flight, taking the first lady and first daughter hostage, President James Marshall puts his military training to good use, creeping around in the shadows of the plane, making contact with the authorities at ground level, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the very Hans Gruber-like villain (Gary Oldman, during his ’90s-supervillain stage). Later, Marshall even dramatically zip-lines to safety. Giving new meaning to the expression “tough on terror,” the guy is the improbably ass-kicking POTUS both political parties only wish they could snag for their ticket. And as far as catchphrases go, “Get off my plane!” is about as great as “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!”

2. Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
If the concept of badass presidents was taken to its logical conclusion by a computer, it might look something like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The novel (by Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ Seth Grahame-Smith) and its film adaptation take as their premise the question, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Abraham Lincoln killed vampires?” Without having to worry about things like continuity or logic, director Timur Bekmambetov turns Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter into an excuse to see Honest Abe wielding a silver-coated ax. The faux-secret history raises some serious questions about the historical Lincoln (in particular, making the real motivation for emancipation cutting off the vampires’ food supply), and there isn’t much attention to anything that isn’t an over-the-top action scene of Abraham Lincoln killing vampires. But sometimes, all Americans really want from their president is the slaughter of vast hordes of the undead, and that’s okay, too.

3. President Captain America, The Ultimates (#15-24)
Captain America is a superhero and a World War II legend, so it’s no wonder that he would be a popular write-in candidate for a presidential election, particularly one held in the middle of the second American Civil War. (During times of great domestic strife, the voting public loves turning to militant Francophobes for guidance.) Captain America is the type of badass who wins elections without campaigning and doesn’t stop fighting when he learns of his electoral victory in the middle of battle. He takes the title of commander-in-chief literally as he continues to lead super-group The Ultimates while in office, determined to reunite the fractured country. Once his goal is complete, Captain America resigns the office in the presidential equivalent of dropping the mic, leaving the country to finish healing itself after he’s stitched it back together.

4. Bill Pullman, Independence Day (1996)
There are many layers to the badassery of President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) in 1996’s Independence Day. In addition to being an Iraq War fighter pilot-cum-president, Pullman also sets aside his antipathy toward his chief-of-staff’s ex-husband, who informs the president of an alien attack. (Compromise in the face of adversity is truly badass.) But beyond that, how many presidents are cool with talking to an evil alien and survive its psychic attack after barely escaping the destruction of the White House? Not content to rest on his laurels, Pullman then straps his fighter-pilot helmet back on to fight the aliens directly, but not before delivering a stirring and timely speech that cleverly draws upon the happy coincidence that the human race will declare “independence” from the savagery of the aliens, ultimately ensuring that the Fourth Of July will become a global, not just American holiday. U-S-A! U-S-A!

5. Brad Neely’s “George Washington”
The father of our nation was known for being a bit of a badass in real life, but he hardly compares to the George Washington described in Brad Neely’s Internet classic song. Absurdly tall—6-foot-8? 6-foot-20? Twelve stories high?—and armed with both superhuman strength and perfect hands, Neely’s Washington is a remorseless killer who strikes fear into everyone, including God. But aside from kicking his opponents apart and murdering British children for fun, he’s also a scientific genius with two brains (one instead of a heart) and an animal lover (he fucks the shit out of bears). With powers like that, the song’s narrators, Cox and Combes, rightfully tell the present and future to beware Washington’s impending arrival. Most importantly, this founding father also had, like, 30 goddamned dicks. If that’s not badass, what is?

6. Richard Nixon, Futurama (1999)
In Futurama’s 31st century, the heads of beloved 20th-century celebrities and politicians have been resuscitated, kept afloat in water-filled jars that retain the distinct intonations of their voices. Of all the cultural figures that made guest appearances during the show’s run—whether with their actual voices or that of a voice actor—none carried storylines as well as Billy West’s re-creation of Richard M. Nixon. Nixon’s limited mobility hardly decreased his legacy—he is on the $1,000 bill—but the season-two episode “A Head In The Polls” established him as a badass of distinctly futuristic proportions. Nixon cons the robot Bender into pawning his body, and before Bender’s regret fully sinks in Nixon makes a beeline to the shop, claiming the robot body as his own, as he wants to run for president of Earth under the loophole that “nobody can be elected more than twice.” Nixon’s logic holds water on account of his shiny, new robot body, and although the body is eventually returned to its rightful owner, Nixon wins the election by a single vote. When he appears onstage for his victory speech, Nixon’s boasting a significantly larger, much more war-ready body, causing those in attendance to believe his directive to sell “children’s organs to zoos for meat” is probably one of the few campaign promises he’ll keep.

7. Richard Nixon, Black Dynamite (2009)
Richard Nixon never felt that he got any love from the press, and he gets even less from popular culture. Even people who’ve never heard one of his speeches know what a Nixon imitator is supposed to sound like. The long roll call of actors who’ve given memorably unflattering performances as Nixon includes Dan Aykroyd, Jason Robards, Rip Torn, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Hedaya, and Frank Langella; Robert Altman once made a whole movie, Secret Honor, that consisted of Nixon (Philip Baker Hall) ranting alone in a room, promising to blow out his brains at the end. But only the blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite shows what a fearsome son of a bitch the 37th president could be when cornered. When the heroic Black Dynamite realizes that Nixon (James McManus) himself is behind a plan to market a brand of malt liquor that reduces the penis sizes of African-American men, he marches into the Oval Office and calls him out. Dynamite triumphs in the end, but only after narrowly defeating Nixon in a ferocious nunchaku battle.



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8. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was another president who was pretty badass in real life (and atrocious, murdering thousands of Native Americans by forcing them on a death march), but Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson ups the ante by turning him into a rock star as well. Able to belt out emo anthems and kill a bunch of Spaniards single-handedly, this musical’s Jackson is a master tactician with a quick temper. While the seventh president consolidated power in the White House like none of his predecessors before him, and lives in infamy (in real life and in the musical) for his complete lack of sympathy toward people who weren’t of his race or class, he’s still a badass in Bloody Bloody, yelling out “That’s right, motherfuckers, Jackson’s back!” after being introduced.

9. George H.W. Bush, The Simpsons (1996)
Say what you will about George H.W. Bush, but the man was tenacious… in his own grizzled, geezery way. As The Simpsons put it in the classic seventh-season episode “Two Bad Neighbors,” “If he thinks George Bush will stay out of the sewer, he doesn’t know George Bush.” The episode sets a retired Bush, recently relocated to Evergreen Terrace, against two generations of Simpsons men. First, there’s Bart, who proves a constant thorn in the ex-president’s side, fully realizing his role as “this century’s Dennis The Menace.” Then there’s Homer, who vies with Bush for “King Of The Neighborhood” status, resulting in an escalating prank war that sees Bush doing donuts in his car on the Simpsons’ lawn (“Maybe he’s lost?” Marge offers) and grappling with Homer on the street in front of former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s a hilarious episode, and a stern lesson to anyone who viewed Bush as a facile statesman who famously lacked a clear vision for America. Defeating him in an election is one thing, but going against him mano a mano wouldn’t be prudent.

10. Terry Crews, Idiocracy (2006)
Of all the terrifying dystopian foresights into America’s future, Mike Judge’s Idiocracy may well be the scariest. When Luke Wilson’s everyman army corporal wakes up 500 years in the future, following a suspended-animation experiment gone awry, he finds that America’s average IQ has slumped drastically, the nation curdling into an anti-intellectual cultural wasteland. Leading this nation of (barely) functional morons is “five-time Ultimate Smackdown champion, porn superstar, and president of the United States” Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews). It’s not just that President Camacho is badass; his badassery seems to be his only qualification for highest seat in the nation. He rolls around with a harem of scantily clad women, shoots automatic weapons in Congress to rally support, and drives a ludicrous extended motorcycle vehicle giving everyone the finger.

11. Thomas Jefferson, Young Person’s Guide To History (2008)
In the two-part, 23-minute Adult Swim miniseries Young Person’s Guide To History, Hugh Davidson plays Thomas Jefferson as an untamable wild man who shot down his enemies in cold blood, cavorted with whores, and turned himself into a gilled fish creature so that he could move Monticello to the bottom of the sea, to better avoid bill collectors. And that was all before he moved into the White House, where he murdered Vice President Aaron Burr for annoying him, then shot Alexander Hamilton so he could frame him for the killing. It’s worth noting there is reason to believe that not all of this is historically accurate.

12. President Lex Luthor (All DC Comics, early 2000s)
There must have been some sort of mind-altering chemical in the nation’s water supply when U.S. voters chose Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor, in 2000. The sheer fact that one of the world’s premier criminal masterminds is able to assume the highest position of power in the country speaks to just how much of a badass Luthor is, and his immorality doesn’t diminish once he’s elected. He helps rebuild Gotham City after a devastating earthquake, but it’s part of a plan to gain ownership of the land once it’s been repaired. When Bruce Wayne discovers Luthor’s intent, he ends his company’s relationship with the U.S. government, and the president replies by framing Wayne for murder. His ultimate moment of badassery comes when Luthor helps a team of superheroes and villains stop an invasion of Earth, even though he aware of the invasion in advance and takes no preventative measures to stop it. Luthor knows that nothing makes the American public love a scumbag more than turning him into a war hero, although eventually his actions during the “Our Worlds At War” crossover knock him out of office.

13. James Norcross, Super President (1967-68)
In 2004, Brian K. Vaughan started collecting raves for his comic-book series Ex Machina, about a superhero who is also the mayor of New York City. (At the series’ end, he is serving as vice president under John McCain.) But DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which produced the Super President animated series for Saturday morning TV, preferred to think big. Super President is James Norcross, who has weathered a cosmic storm that left him with the ability to “change his molecular structure to steel, to granite, or whatever the need requires.” He has his own Batcave-like lair beneath the Oval Office, and when not dealing with affairs of state, often slips away to battle supervillains while wearing brightly colored tights and a mask. (He wears the costume to protect his identity, since it’s a closely guarded secret that the actual president is also the hero that everyone calls “Super President,” presumably because he’s so awesome.) Fifteen 30-minute episodes were produced, but the series was canceled in the face of low ratings and complaints from spoilsport parent groups that thought it might give youngsters unrealistic expectations of their elected leaders.



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14. Walter Huston, Gabriel Over The White House (1933)
Gabriel Over The White House stars Walter Huston as President Judson “Judd” Hammond, a mediocre, ethically suspect hack who is elected after being selected as a compromise candidate at his party’s convention. After he’s injured in a car accident, Hammond slips into a coma, only to awaken a changed man. He assembles a new cabinet of clear-eyed reformers and, when Congress impeaches them, he shows them how a real man governs: He dissolves the legislature, grants himself absolute powers, and imposes martial law. He ends up in a shooting war with the Mafia, finally ordering that all the gangsters be rounded up, run through a kangaroo court, lined up against a wall, and shot. For his final trick, he gathers representatives of the other world powers, treats them to a demonstration of the ultimate weapon American scientists have just developed, and tells them that if they don’t immediately disarm and start doing whatever Uncle Sam tells them, he’ll initiate a world war and wipe them all off the face of the earth. His work completed, he drops dead, leaving behind the strong suggestion that the actual Hammond died in the accident, and ever since then his body has been controlled by an angel of the Lord.

15. Prez Rickard, Prez (1973)
Prez Rickard, the first teenage president, was the star of his own comic book, Prez, published by DC Comics and co-created by Jack Kirby’s old partner, Joe Simon. (The series, which lasted four issues, was Simon’s second short-lived attempt to connect with counterculture readers in the late ’60s and early ’70s; the first was the notorious hippie fever-dream Brother Power The Geek.) After being installed in the White House, Prez bucks the system, which is represented by Boss Smiley—a powerful glad-hander with a smile button for a head—and survives several assassination attempts, including one launched by a vampire. A nice kid who believes in good government, Prez is basically a “make love, not war” kind of guy, but he knows how to take care of himself; he’s been tutored in special Native American fighting techniques by his friend, Free Eagle, whom Prez eventually makes director of the FBI.

16. Ronald Reagan, Reagan’s Raiders (1987)
As president, Ronald Reagan cultivated an image as a tough-talking badass—a role that he’d played in several movies, though his eyesight kept him stateside during World War II. But he was in his 70s by the time of his presidency, so Reagan impersonators in movies and on TV usually had to settle for giving the thumbs-up to younger badasses, as in Sammy Hagar’s video for his song “Voice Of America.” Rich Buckler—a comic-book writer-illustrator who once filed (and then dropped) a lawsuit against The Comics Journal over an article accusing him of being an egregious swipe artist—and Monroe Arnold created the series Reagan’s Raiders, which found a way around the age issue: A scientist, Professor Cashchaser, comes up with a way to take give the president and some of his trusted advisors’ buff, fit young bodies, so they can perform commando raids on America’s enemies while retaining their instantly recognizable, wrinkly old heads. These “ultimate patriotic superheroes” made it as far as their third issue (in which Ronnie went to Southeast Asia to finish what Rambo started) before the book was canceled; sadly, by the time of its debut, the Iran-Contra scandal and Reagan’s public protestations that he didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on in his administration had badly dented his status as a real-life superhero.

17. Zombie Presidents, Deadpool (2012)
Last year’s Marvel Now! Deadpool series debuted a day after the presidential election, inspiring writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn to pit the Merc With A Mouth against a gang of zombified U.S. presidents. Ashamed at what their country has become, the presidents decide to take it back by force, giving the writers the opportunity to build fights around each president’s individual quirks. Abraham Lincoln shoots Deadpool in the back of the head at the end of the very first issue, Teddy Roosevelt attacks Deadpool in the middle of hunting zoo animals, and Ronald Reagan beats Deadpool with the control panel of his weaponized space station. Equipped with a healing factor, Deadpool spends a lot of time on the receiving end of presidential badassery, drawn in intensely gory detail by Walking Dead co-creator Tony Moore. It all builds to a climactic duel between the titular punching bag and George Washington, who makes like a cherry tree when Deadpool cuts him into little pieces and kicks his head into the lap of the Lincoln Monument.

18. President Victor Von Doom, Doom 2099
Doctor Doom is the ruling monarch of European country Latveria in the present-day Marvel Universe, but by the end of the 21st century, he’ll have considerably expanded his horizons. In a future where the United States has become a dystopian police state governed by corporations, Doom decides to take over the country before it cripples the entire planet. He’s so badass, the previous president hands over power by shooting himself in the face when the iron-clad antihero appears in the Oval Office. Surprisingly, a man whose name ends with Doom is a pretty good leader, helping the country rebuild by fighting the corporate entities that destroyed it. This early storyline by Warren Ellis showed the writer delving into the political commentary that he would amplify in the pages of Transmetropolitan, telling a hard-hitting superhero epic that turns one of Marvel’s greatest villains into America’s future savior.

19. President Gary “The Smiler” Callahan, Transmetropolitan
At a time when the real-world United States was experiencing the one-two punch of disappointment that was Bill Clinton’s Oval Office blowjob and George W. Bush’s election, writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson were creating their own presidential monster in the pages of Transmetropolitan. Gary “The Smiler” Callahan combines Clinton’s charm with Bush’s thirst for power, a dangerous combo that is made even more volatile by the character’s insanity. He flat-out admits to rebel journalist Spider Jerusalem that he wants to be president so that he can oppress a country full of people he despises, then dedicates himself to the complete annihilation of Jerusalem’s career. The Smiler repeatedly has people killed in order to gain the public’s sympathy and boost his popularity, even if that means offing his own wife. If a badass is someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, The Smiler definitely deserves the title.

20. The X-Presidents, Saturday Night Live (1997)
Struck by a hurricane-powered dose of radiation while participating in a celebrity golf tournament, former presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford are gifted with extraordinary abilities that turn them into superhuman senior citizens. One of the many parodies of classic Hanna-Barbera and Filmation cartoons that compose Robert Smigel’s “TV Funhouse,” “The X-Presidents” pokes fun at the former leaders of the free world as they leap into battle against opponents like Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, Communists, and alien trees (aided by a resurrected Nixon and Checkers). The presidents’ battle cries are twisted versions of famous quotes, from Reagan’s “Just say no… to pissing me off” to Carter’s “I have lusted in my heart… to kick your ass,” bringing even more historical comedy to each silly fight sequence. And while they fight hard, the X-Presidents play even harder, especially Bush, who is constantly shown sticking it to his wife when he’s not punching pinkos.

21. Patricia Wettig, Prison Break (2005-2007)
When we first meet Caroline Reynolds (Patricia Wettig), it’s as the detached, matriarchal voice on the business end of conspiratorial phone conversations to frame Fox River Penitentiary inmate Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) for gunning down her brother, Terrence (Jeff Perry). The mystery murderess is even dicing up veggies across from a refrigerator bedecked with children’s drawings as she coldly dispenses orders to kill and cover up for the good of some shadowy, evil-doing conglomerate known as “The Company” (recurring series characters: Stop aligning yourselves with those). Turns out, this callous authority is the U.S. vice president, and she really wants that higher office. So much so that she stands by as her nefarious employers assassinate the president, allowing her to be sworn in as CIC and to continue doing The Company’s bidding. The only hitch was that Lincoln’s brother Michael (Wentworth Miller) uncovered evidence that not only was Perry alive, but he and sweet Caroline were likely engaged in sinful incest. Still, during her collective reign as VP and top banana, Wettig embodied the corrupting ambition of power and demonstrated an alarming ease with expediting unjust death sentences.

22. Nikki Amuka-Bird, Survivors (2008)
Fans of The Walking Dead and other “I’m an average Joe quarantined in the apocalypse. Get me out of here!” sagas would do well to stream this British remake of an earlier series about the scant survivors of a global virus and their attempt to reboot civilization. Luther fans may also appreciate the gripping, sinister turn by Nikki Amuka-Bird as Samantha Willis, England’s lone remaining government minister who gradually descends from communal leader to self-appointed autocrat and selective executioner. With one pull of the trigger on a harmless trespasser, Willis (who, unlike Walking Dead’s Governor, declines to even codify her supreme power with a title) sets a panicked, Darwinian precedent that echoes how people managed to evolve the first time only to stumble and self-destruct.

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