The position of president is hailed as the most powerful democratically elected seat in the modern world. It’s a seat sat upon by tyrants and heroes alike, who all exert their vision for their people and their land.
There’s always an air of importance when a president shows up on television. The caliber of the office weighs on their shoulders and exudes a real feeling of authority, even when we know it’s all fictional.
But, of course, not every fictional TV president carries the same impact; it depends on how well they’re written, directed, and acted. And that’s arguably more difficult when the president has no root in real history, forcing writers and actors to build a powerful character from scratch.
Then, which ones were the best? Which actors imbued that extra bit of weight and power to the role in their own unique ways, without making the performance shallow or entrenched in contemporary politics?
Here are our picks for the best fictional TV president characters and why they stand out against the rest.
7. President Nixon (Futurama)
Is there a more memorable political return in animation than Richard Nixon becoming President of Earth? The disgraced former US President buys Bender’s body—after Bender sold it off because the value of his body had shot up—and runs for office again.
President Nixon won the election thanks to the robot vote, then used his position in Futurama much in the same way that the real President Nixon had done in real-life: namely, being a ruthless President who always made unpredictable decisions in the face of crisis.
Futurama’s depiction of Nixon’s head in a jar was a fun spin on one of the US’s most well-known former Presidents, and he was often one of the funniest aspects of the series after his introduction.
6. President Simpson (The Simpsons)
We always knew that Lisa Simpson would become President one day. She always had the diplomatic factor within her own chaotic family environment to succeed when others would wilt.
However, what’s shocking about President Lisa Simpson is that she hasn’t learned much about dealing with others since growing up. She’s still the eight-year-old at heart and proves it by showing disdain for her beach bum of a brother whenever he comes to visit.
That said, she eventually learns that she needs to loosen up after Bart saves her from an international committee of collectors and promises to legalize “it” as a thank-you.
5. President Morty (Rick and Morty)
Eyepatch Morty. Evil Morty. President Morty. We all know who this Morty is. He’s the opposite of all the other Mortys, the one who can outthink the Rickest Rick when none of the other Mortys can.
This Morty is the long-rumored original Morty of Rick-C137 and he’s the one variant of Morty who’s as smart as Rick is—and that makes him the most dangerous character in the hit animated sitcom Rick and Morty.
President Morty runs for the newly elected position against a candidacy of other Ricks who all mock him, and yet he wins because of an impassioned speech he delivers to the Citadel Of Ricks.
However, behind the smile lies a calculating mind whose plan is to destroy the entire Citadel to escape the central finite curve—which he does in stunning fashion while nearly killing C137 in the process.
4. President Allen (Commander in Chief)
President Allen was character who was brutally culled by the network after only one season. After Geena Davis’ character became the moderate Vice President, she was thrust into the top job after the President dies.
Mackenzie “Mac” Allen identified as independent and had a high popularity rating, which rocketed further when she showed that she was a great leader when called to office.
Allen oozed calm charisma while showing a keen skill in diplomatic negotiation, refusing to stand down after becoming President when some believed that the Speaker would be better suited for the job.
Geena Davis gave us a character who should have lasted for much longer than a single season—because she only needed one season to prove that President Allen had more instinct and insight than most.
3. President Meyer (Veep)
Bumbling, self-obsessed, and hell-bent on grabbing as much power for herself as she can in the minefield of Washington politics. That’s the entirety of Selina Meyer’s presidency in a nutshell.
Selina Meyer becomes President on a technicality after her predecessor resigns his position following a scandal. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from gaining an inflated ego that should have seen her head explode because of the power afforded to her by the office.
Few Presidents have made an audience laugh as much as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character did in Veep, with the iconic actress hauling in awards by the truckload for her role, all while showing that Meyer had a real-life popularity rating higher than most US Presidents have in office.
2. President Underwood (House of Cards)
Frank Underwood is the antithesis to the kind of person we’d want holding political office. He’s scheming, cunning, and ruthless toward anyone in his way, no matter their party or personal affiliations.
Frank Underwood had a cold brutality that cut through the screen like a knife. He routinely felled enemies and friends alike in his pursuit of absolute power, shocking audiences when he pushed reporter Zoe Barnes into a train because he felt marginally threatened by her.
In his own twisted way, Frank was oddly charming—and sometimes even likable. But the more you watched him, the less there was to like as he used his increasing power and influence to stamp out all challenges with no regard for the fallout it would cause.
1. President Bartlet (The West Wing)
If Frank Underwood is the man nobody would ever want running the country, then President Bartlet is the polar opposite: a person looked upon as always trying to do what’s right.
Portrayed by the evergreen Martin Sheen, President Josiah Bartlet had the moral compass and fortitude to always hold himself accountable.
His steadfast commitment to being the kind of person needed to lead the United States—one who wouldn’t compromise the values of the office—made him a leader that we all admired through the TV screen.
Bartlet wasn’t perfect, of course, but that only endeared him more to the audience. He was a genuinely good man trying to be a President, a father, and a friend to those closest to him, all while resisting the temptation to be overwhelmed by the pressures of the job.