Two weeks post election, and the Morgan Freeman / Dennis Haysbert / First Black President jokes seem to have subsided, somewhat. But humor often covers for real fears. After all, we have no assurance of an asteroid-free first term. Having escaped the twin dystopias of Bush era sci-fi cinema—Idiocracy (feat. the incomparable Terry Crews as our first black porn-star, pro-wrestler president) and Children Of Men—it may be wise to cast a wider cinematic net for omens of the post-aughties world. In the spirit of proactive thinking, here are four more science-fictional presidents, the defining crises of their presidencies, and how they persevered.—Sam McPheeters
1. President Chet Roosevelt, Americathon (1979)
CRISIS: Financial Meltdown.
This most prophetic of sci-fi flicks opens with the world running out of oil and the lynching of Jimmy Carter. By 1998, Americans are living in their stranded cars, China and Nike are capitalist powerhouses, and jogging suits are high fashion. When a Native American billionaire calls in $400 billion in outstanding loans ($1.2 trillion in 2008 money), the United States faces default, insolvency, and foreclosure. President Roosevelt (John Ritter) rejects a raffle of national monuments and instead holds history’s greatest telethon. Beloved 70’s funnyman Harvey Korman emcees, and the union is saved.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY: Go with the raffle. We’re still months away from knowing the outcome of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, but I can already think of a certain Lone Star state that should fetch a decent price.
2. President Jordan Lyman, Seven Days In May (1964)
CRISIS: Military coup.
In a futuristic 1970 (two-way TVs, digital clocks), a wildly unpopular president pursues nuclear disarmament with the Soviets. Burt Lancaster leads a right-wing cabal inside the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, and Lyman and his surprisingly small band of loyalists must sleuth out the truth before time runs out. I’ll spare the spoiler, and just say the right side wins.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY: Get Colin Powell back on the JCS, ASAP.
3. President Bill Clinton, Contact (1997)
CRISIS: Massive government expenditure.
Discovery of an alien transmission requires the building of a $500 billion mega-doohickey. The outlays are international, but it falls on America to pony up the expertise and balls to use the thing. Sidney Poitier declined to play the commander in chief, so director Robert Zemeckis was forced to use archival footage of our first black president for the needed gravitas.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY: Stick with the Paulson approach – ladle out the money with as little oversight as possible; eventually hold angry hearings after the money’s long since spent with nothing to show for it.
4. President [name withheld], Dreamscape (1984)
CRISIS: Dream assassins.
The President finds himself in the same pickle as the Lyman administration; on the verge of disarmament, but beset by conservative conspirators. This time, the coup takes place entirely in dreamland, requiring the dispatch of black ops psychic Dennis Quaid, from an adjacent room, to save the President within his own recurring nightmare. Several demon dogs and Knott’s Scary Farm zombies later, democracy is preserved.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY: Offer Quaid Veterans Affairs. If things get rough, set him up in the Lincoln Bedroom.