Break out the VHS's — Presidents Day is almost here, which can only mean one thing: time to rank our movie presidents.
Why VHS? Well, a quick look at our best movie presidents shows that our film commander-in-chief's glory days were largely in the 1980s and ’90s (and ’60s — I haven't forgotten "Dr. Strangelove"). But who was the best of them?
While Kevin Kline’s turn in “Dave” might be the most endearing, Peter Seller’s President Merkin Muffley in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” is probably the funniest, and even if “Independence Day’s” President Thomas J. Whitmore gave the most memorable speech, when the country is in a tight place, I want Harrison Ford's President James Marshall in 1997’s “Air Force One” in charge.
The thing is, I get that “Air Force One” isn’t exactly a good movie — it’s basically just “Die Hard” on an airplane — and no one really ranks it as Ford’s best performance. As I think about it, I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen it all the way through more than once; it’s really one of those movies you just catch in bits and pieces on cable.
Although, for perfectly presidential one-liners, it doesn't get much better than Ford growling, "Get off my plane."
But beyond that line, “Air Force One” merits consideration if only because it officially marks the coronation of Harrison Ford as America’s Hero-in-Chief.
If you were born after 1970, Harrison Ford has been a constant and looming presence in our collective pop culture viewfinder. Even if you don’t consider yourself a Star Wars or Indiana Jones fan, Ford’s performances as Han Solo and Steven Spielberg’s whip-toting archaeologist were about as iconic as it gets.
In the 1980s, Ford was the relatable everyman action hero foil to the larger-than-life figures cut by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then, as the ’80s became the ’90s, Ford’s roles retained their action focus while becoming more paternal, and even more … American.
His wits had to make up for his middle-aged frame as he ran from Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive.” And as Jack Ryan in a pair of Tom Clancy adaptations (“Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”), Ford embodied the patriotic, clean-cut, hardworking and quick-thinking good guy, desperately standing up for good in the face of corruption and evil.
Through all of these roles, Ford was endearing because he was vulnerable, almost a little clumsy. He wasn’t superhuman. Even saving the day, it felt like he was staggering across the finish line, and he always seemed like the underdog. And America loves an underdog, right?5 comments on this story
Then along comes “Air Force One,” and Ford is finally cast in a role that he’s more or less been playing for years: the leader of the free world. He’s a tough, noble guy and a dedicated husband and father. He’s a patriot, standing up for the United States and freedom and liberty against terrorism and evil and Gary Oldman. He’s the ultimate American hero, a guy who could conceivably come to your rescue in real life.
With a Han Solo origin story on the way, plus a new Amazon series that casts “The Office’s” John Krasinski as Jack Ryan, it will be interesting to see just how much of these iconic characters is based in great writing and how much is Ford (the two post-Ford Clancy films suggest the latter).
But even if both projects hit gold, it would still be great to see Ford in the Oval Office again, even if it’s only on a Hollywood sound stage.