Which Fictional President Would Be Most Likely to Start Nuclear War?

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  • In the real world, it would be an utter disaster. But this is just a hypothetical, so you might as well pick one.


What it means to be presidential has come up often in the last year and a half. As has talk of nuclear war and rocket launches from the Korean Peninsula. If life were a movie or a TV show, someone would mention having their “hand on the button” every 10 minutes. Hopefully, that’s as close as we ever get.

Still, the subject matter is inescapable. The paralyzing fear and intrigue of this possibility ensures that just about every show or movie portraying the president weaves in a nuclear subplot for added tension and drama. They want you, the audience, to make a judgment call based on how you subconsciously think the president should, or would, act in that situation.

So, which commander in chief do you see leading us to war? Who shows the greatest restraint? We’ve rounded up four famous fictional presidents to get the conversation started, presenting a brief overview of their general circumstance and demeanor. Now, the choice is yours: Who’s most likely to push the button that leads to WWIII?


President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) – Air Force One

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Columbia / Tri-Star


  • Has a wife and daughter
  • Relatively popular president who took a stand against negotiating with terrorists
  • Attempts to preserve power and an alliance with Russia
  • Former Air Force helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War
  • Earned Medal of Honor for flying rescue missions
  • Rather than flee to safety in an escape pod when Air Force One is hijacked, Marshall stays aboard the plane to try and rescue everyone
  • Has a fighter jet strategically fire on his own plane (knowing it can withstand missile attacks)


Most Telling Quotes

  • “The truth is we acted too late. Only when our own national security was threatened did we act.”
  • “Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons, and to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate.”
  • “I’ll do anything to save my family. Don’t ask me for something I can’t give.”


President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) – Independence Day


Twentieth Century Fox


  • Has a wife and daughter
  • Relatively young and hopeful for a president
  • Served in the Gulf War as an Air Force fighter pilot before entering politics
  • Introduced legislation to reform the legal system, health care, and environmental protections
  • Openly attacked in the media for political inexperience
  • Chose to say in Washington, D.C., rather than evacuating, in order to maintain public calm/order
  • Led the U.S. through the War of 1996, reluctantly using nuclear weapons against an alien invasion

Most Telling Quotes

  • “We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interest.”
  • “We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist, and should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night!’”
  • “After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em.”


President Mays Gilliam (Chris Rock) – Head of State




  • A single alderman for Washington, D.C.
  • Saves a woman from an explosion, becoming something of a public hero
  • Relatively inexperienced with large-scale, national politics
  • Focuses on domestic, somewhat local issues in speaking about welfare, the economy, and education
  • Doesn’t stoop to running attack ads, despite his opponent doing so
  • Chooses his brother as his running mate


Most Telling Quotes

  • “If we had laws on the Destiny’s Child Video, we’d have less crime.”
  • “I’m the Government, I can do anything.”
  • “How many of you, right now, work two jobs just to have enough money to be broke? That ain’t right.”


President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) – Veep

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  • Has an ex-husband and a daughter (who must make appointments to see her)
  • Attended Smith College and Yale Law School
  • Was a senator from Maryland
  • Lost her first bid for the presidency in her party’s primary, eventually becoming her challenger’s running mate
  • Served as vice president, but in an often ignored and powerless capacity
  • Ascended to the presidency following the sitting president’s abrupt resignation
  • She is often concerned with public perception and creating a lasting legacy
  • Actions as president: Introduces the Families First Bill to fight poverty; Goes to the Middle East for a world peace tour; Places sanctions on China following cyberattacks; Attempts to free Tibet


Most Telling Quotes

  • “And you know why? Because they’re ignorant, and they’re dumb as s—. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is democracy.”
  • “Europe used to be my favorite continent. Now it’s not even in my Top-5.”
  • “We need to work together to better engage with North Korea, because the North Koreans are people like us… except without any food.”



Share your choice in the comments section, or suggest a different fictional president you think would be quickest to push the button.


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