Designated Survivor is a TV series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, a Cabinet member who becomes president of the United States after an attack claims the lives of the president and everyone else in the line of succession. Faced with a deadly terrorist threat, he gets personally involved in the effort to unravel the conspiracy menacing the world’s leading democracy.
Movies and television often use the figure of the president to send a political message, to make people laugh or simply to entertain. Now that the first half of Designated Survivor’s second season has been released on Club illico, let’s take a look back at 10 unforgettable presidential films that you can watch on illico/Club illico.
The world’s greatest filmmaker directs Daniel Day-Lewis, the world’s greatest actor (with 13 Oscar nominations between them, 18 if we consider the producer Spielberg), in this detailed, fascinating biography of Abraham Lincoln, who led the United States during the civil war that nearly divided the country forever. The film is Spielberg's response to the political tensions that marked both of Barack Obama's presidential terms (Obama’s favourite president is Lincoln). It was nominated for 12 Oscars, including the Best Actor won by Day-Lewis (his third).
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov, 2012)
Lincoln was obviously a hot topic in 2012, but that's no excuse for making nonsense. However, that didn’t seem to bother Timur Bekmambetov, Kazakh director of Wanted. He made one of the strangest thrillers of the year, in which a young Abe Lincoln spends his spare time hunting vampires after one of them destroys his family. The pen is probably mightier than the sword, but in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you'll see that an gun-axe (!) often speaks louder than words.
Oliver Stone is a biographer with a fascination for great men (Alexander the Great, Fidel Castro and, more recently, Vladimir Putin) who also looks at the United States with a critical eye (Platoon, World Trade Center). For Stone, the figure of the president is ideal territory for exploring his favourite themes: the relationship between truth and imagery, conspiracies, violence and courage under fire. Before dramatizing the lives of George W. Bush (W) and Richard Nixon (Nixon), Stone examined John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination and legacy in the riveting JFK. For this detailed look back at the event that traumatized 20th-century America, Stone put together an all-star cast (Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman and Sissy Spacek) to make a film that asks questions we still don’t have all the answers to.
Richard Curtis, who wrote the screenplays for the smash hits Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, stepped into the director's chair for the first time with Love Actually. And, boy, did he knock it out of the park! Love Actually was an instant classic: a beautifully written, heartfelt masterpiece that has become the gold standard for a romantic ensemble film. It’s full of characters sure to win you over: the best man in love with his best friend's wife (Andrew Lincoln), the newly widowed father (Liam Neeson) who helps his son navigate his first love and the charming Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who falls in love with a member of his staff. It's often overlooked, but the president of the United States also makes an appearance in this popular comedy. An arrogant womanizer, the character was probably inspired by the scandals surrounding John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Played impeccably by Billy Bob Thornton, the president didn’t make much of an impression, and maybe that’s all for the best, as the film itself is unforgettable.
No movie has ever given us a president that embodied US patriotism quite like the one in Independence Day, which came out in 1996. With an abundance of American flags, inspirational speeches calling upon people to free themselves from the yoke of alien bondage and a character who symbolized the American people (a family man, former soldier and all-around good guy willing to fight for his country): the film brought together all the elements that would make President Whitmore (a perfectly cast Bill Pullman) the national hero par excellence, to a greater extent almost than Will Smith, the movie's main protagonist. In this follow-up, set 20 years later, the president takes on another, even more powerful role: that of a prophet who knows what's waiting for his people and who's there to guide them in the right direction.
Roland Emmerich clearly has a thing for taking on American institutions. Apparently destroying the White House in Independence Day wasn’t enough for him. The German-born director then decided to endanger the life of President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), who suffers a home invasion by a gang of angry terrorists. Luckily, a wannabe Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) and his daughter, who are visiting the Oval Office when the attack occurs, are able to save the day. Despite its title, this thrill-a-minute action movie won’t let you down.
Olympus Has Fallen, which came out at the same time as White House Down, won the battle at the box office. In this movie, directed by the excellent Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven), President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is taken hostage by a group of North Korean terrorists. Luckily for him, a former Secret Service agent, played by Gerald Butler, is there to help free him and save the country while he’s at it. The film's appeal obviously doesn’t lie in its minimal storyline, but in its hectic pace and well-shot action scenes. A sequel (London Has Fallen) is also available, while the third film in the series (Angel Has Fallen) is in development.
Roland Emmerich’s preoccupation with the president of the United States was already in evidence in 2004, when he released The Day After Tomorrow. There are two good reasons to watch this film. The first is its focus on environmental issues, way back in 2004. The subject is given the full Hollywood treatment: it's about as subtle as a sledgehammer, with special effects and the death of approximately 90% of the earth’s population. However, the film at least depicts the dangers of climate change on a global level. The second reason is to see the White House and the president (Danny Glover) get flattened by an aircraft carrier swept along by a giant tsunami. Roland Emmerich may not be subtle, but never let it be said that he doesn’t know how to make an impact!
After the critical and commercial success of Precious (one of the most depressing films of the decade), Lee Daniels tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a character based on a real-life African-American butler who served every president from Eisenhower to Reagan. The butler, superbly played by Forest Whitaker, watches the history of his country being made in the Oval Office, but also sees it unfold in his own life and that of his family. He lives through segregation, the civil rights movement and even the Vietnam War. Aside from its “based-on-a-true story” appeal, the film boasts a winning ensemble of actors who play the various presidents: the late Robin Williams (Eisenhower) and Alan Rickman (Reagan), Liev Schreiber (Johnson), James Marsden (JFK) and John Cusack (Nixon).
Forest Whitaker just can’t seem to get enough of presidents! Before meeting eight of them in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, he directed Michael Keaton (Tim Burton's Batman) in the role of the most powerful man in the world. But rather than focus on the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, his film tells the story of one of the people with the greatest influence on the president: his daughter. In this light comedy, Katie Holmes plays the First Daughter, who tries to live an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. The film provides another angle from which to observe the goings-on behind the scenes at the White House, which is clearly fertile ground for Hollywood screenwriters.
Watch President Kirkman grapple with the terrorist threat in the first half of season 2 of Designated Survivor, now available on Club Illico.