Top 10 Vice Presidents in Film

by Warren Cantrell on December 18, 2018

in Blogs,Top 10s

John Nance Garner was F.D.R.’s famously prickly Vice President and is said to have described the second-highest political position in the United States as, “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” If one takes Hollywood for an example, this does seem to be the case, as movies don’t often spend a lot of time with Vice Presidents. Indeed, unless they’re presiding over a tie in the Senate or running State Department errands (neither especially cinematic occurrences), there’s not much for them to do.

Director Adam McKay is bucking trends, then, with the release of Vice next week. The story of lifelong politician, war criminal, and garbage human being Dick Cheney, Vice has already built up a considerable amount of Oscar buzz, most notably for Christian Bale in the title role. Bale isn’t the first to take up the V.P. role in a film, or even the first to play Cheney, but he does join a select group of actors to claim ownership of a vice presidential part. Today’s Top 10 will rank the best V.P. performance in movie history, weighing screen time, character integrity, and the quality of the performance itself when gauging placement in the ranking. Quality performances that feature heavily in the story and conform to the best ideals of the office are thus rated highest. To qualify, the character in question had to actually serve in a political (not corporate) capacity as V.P., and excludes V.P. candidates (which is why Julianne Moore’s masterful work in Game Change was excluded). As always, feel free to comment below if you feel that we missed anyone, but for starters, we ought to talk a little about…

10. Miguel Ferrer as Vice President Rodriguez from Iron Man 3 

Just a few quick words for Vice President Rodriguez (Miguel Ferrer) from Iron Man 3, who conspired with the film’s main villain to enact a shadow coup against the president. This plan involved the destruction of Air Force One along with the presumable framing and/or death of Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle), a true patriot, making the betrayal even more appalling. Although the V.P. had his reasons (he wanted some new tech to help his sick daughter), that’s no excuse for betraying one’s country and president, which, along with the scarcity of screen time for the character, is why this one fell to #10 in the ranking. The movie and performance by the late-great Miguel Ferrer shouldn’t be disregarded as substandard, however, and does speak to a larger trope of vice presidents often appearing in films as nefarious tricksters angling for the big chair. For more on this, we ought to turn to…

9. Victor Garber as the Vice President from Big Game 

What? You didn’t know that a movie exists where Samuel L. Jackson plays the POTUS in the Die-Hard-in-the-woods Scandinavian flick, Big Game? In that case, strap in, folks, ‘cause this oft-overlooked action masterpiece came with all the goods, including some great bow and arrow work, a teenaged hero, and the mutha fuckin’ President of the United States getting his hands dirty with some proper wet work. The story follows President William Alan Moore (Jackson), who finds himself stranded in Finland’s back-country when terrorists shoot down Air Force One. Moore is lucky enough to come across 13-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila), who works with the president to take out the terrorists responsible, and get the pair back to safety. At the end of the film, the audience learns that a rogue former CIA operative orchestrated the whole thing with the Vice President (Victor Garber) in an attempt kickstart a new war on terror. The V.P. is killed to keep the plot a secret, and despite what appeared to be some earnest advising early on, seemed to get his proper comeuppance. Garber is fantastic in Big Game, however, and might even have beat out this next candidate had he gotten a bit more screen time…

8. Raymond J. Barry as Vice President Daniel Binder from Sudden Death 

Oh man, this one is bad. Sudden Death came at the end of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 90s heyday, just on the heels of Street Fighter: a film so bad that it killed Raul Julia (okay, not really, but the man IS dead, so draw your own conclusions). This was after that blissful first wave of JCVD output, which included Kickboxer, Bloodsport, Lionheart, Universal Soldier, and Time Cop. The cocaine started to take hold of the guy by the mid-90s, however, leading to such ill-informed project choices as this third-tier Die Hard rip-off, which saw terrorists take over a hockey arena. Raymond J. Barry played V.P. Daniel Binder in Sudden Death, and was at the mercy of terrorists when they stormed his box at an NHL game. Little more than a script pawn to keep tensions high while JCVD Bruce Willis’d his way through the film, V.P. Binder didn’t have a lot to do except look nervous. He wasn’t in on the scam, however, and was both on-screen a lot and played by an entirely competent actor in Barry. For this, he got in at #8, behind a much better V.P. in a far superior film…

7. Gary Sinise as Harry S. Truman from Truman 

A largely forgotten bio pic that showcased perennial character actor Gary Sinise’s rock-solid chops, Truman did justice to the 33rd president’s legacy. Spanning something like 40 years, from his enlistment during World War I to his departure from the White House after Eisenhower’s election, the film effectively portrayed the political titan as a rare example of a person who survived Washington with his conscience intact. From his early days as a Missouri politician to his run-ins with Stalin and MacArthur, the man’s integrity and sense of justice never wavered. The film didn’t linger on his vice presidency for all that long, though, which is understandable since his actual time in that office is little more than a historical footnote in what would be a long and storied political career. Still, the movie showed that Harry took his responsibilities as V.P. as seriously as everything else in his life, and when the call came down that FDR had died, the guy was ready for action in a heartbeat. For his integrity, and actions in the game after springing up off the bench, Sinise and Vice President Harry S. Truman slide in at #7.

6. John Carroll Lynch as Lyndon B. Johnson from Jackie 

This one is fantastic, and it’s due in large part to the fact that John Carroll Lynch’s performance as Lyndon Johnson in Jackie is oozing with subtext. LBJ and President Kennedy’s brother, Bobby, never got along all that well, you see. When Johnson came aboard the Kennedy ticket, Bobby did everything he could to slight and demean the seasoned U.S. Senator, and when JFK took office, it was Bobby who saw to it that Johnson’s role in the administration remained a toothless one. Consequently, Johnson had little patience for Bobby Kennedy when Jack died, and while we afforded his slain predecessor’s family every courtesy after Dallas, it became very apparent that a new man was in charge. Lynch carried himself with just the right amount of swagger in Jackie, balancing the calming statesman side of Johnson’s personality with just enough venom stored up for Bobby under the surface. The days following Kennedy’s assassination were both chaotic and unprecedented, and how Johnson fit into that drama formed a sizeable chunk of the film’s narrative. Lynch, always magnificent, really shined in the role, and served as a wonderful reality-based counterpoint to the dream-like madness of the drama. Still, he was only vice president for a few moments before claiming the big chair for himself in Jackie, and for that, he got knocked back to the middle of the ranking, just behind…

5. Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney from W. 

On the one hand, Richard Dreyfuss turned in an all-time performance in W., transcending imitation to inhabit both the body and soul of the walking cancer that is Dick Cheney. And although the film is about Bush Jr. (Josh Brolin), Cheney does get a considerable amount of screen-time as the architect of the Iraq invasion and the visionary behind the Administration’s Middle East policy. Disregarding evidence, logic, and international support so that he could advance the interests of his friends and political allies, Cheney initiated a war in Iraq that plunged the region into a shockingly violent quagmire the world is still struggling with. Untold millions have died and will continue to die because Cheney used his office to start a conflict for the very worst reasons: initiating a soft coup to install pro-American regimes in an effort to establish a new American sphere of political and financial influence. Like some drunk asshole that shits in the pool, then leaves right as the party is wrapping up, Cheney skulked away after 2008 and has not been a very visible presence in political or social circles since. Dreyfuss did the wretched human justice in his portrayal, and only time will tell if Bale will transcend this performance, but for the purposes of this list, he seemed well-suited to the middle-5 spot, just behind…

4. Ben Kingsley as Vice President Gary Nance from Dave 

This poor fucker. Snared in a conspiracy to replace the sitting president with an impersonator, in Dave, Vice President Nance (Ben Kingsley) never had a clue what was going on at the White House. No, he he was shuttled off to Africa on a 12-nation goodwill tour when President Mitchell (Kevin Kline) was swapped out with a lookalike (also Kevin Kline), and thus never seemed to grasp the full scope of the conspiracy against him. The plan was to falsely implicate the innocent V.P. in a savings and loan scandal so that he would be forced to resign, which would then lead the way for the fake POTUS to nominate the White House Chief of Staff into that role, and eventually the presidency itself. The jerks pulling the strings didn’t count on the fake President being such a nice guy, however, as he stepped in to not only foil these plans, but put forth a new strategy to assure that the pious and honest Nance assumed the nation’s highest office. Kingsley isn’t in Dave all that much, but when he is, he carries himself with the gravitas of a man befitting his office. Even when he’s just cashing a paycheck (which was not the case here), Kingsley can be counted on to give a stellar performance, and he once again proved why he’s rightly considered one of the best actors of his generation.

3. Phil Austin as Vice President Charlie Rodriguez from Olympus Has Fallen 

Another Rodriguez Vice President: weird, right? And man, this guy got it bad in Olympus Has Fallen. In that film, when North Korean terrorists stormed the White House and took the President, V.P., Secretary of Defense, and a slew of other political heavyweights hostage, it was up to one man to save the day. Luckily for everyone, that man happened to be the king of fucking Sparta, and maybe the most outstanding secret service agent of all time, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). As Banning worked his way through the White House, picking off the offending invaders one-by-one, the terrorists moved closer to their goal of obtaining three security codes to arm a device that would detonate every nuke on U.S. soil. One of the three codes was held by Vice President Charlie Rodriguez (Phil Austin), who only gave up his digits when directly ordered to by the president. This unwavering loyalty was impressive, and all the more tragic when the lead terrorist straight-up executed poor Charlie to punish Speaker of the House (and acting president) Alan Trumball (Morgan Freeman) for an attempted Navy S.E.A.L. infiltration. And speaking of Trumball, the guy got a considerable career bump in the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, leading us to…

2. Morgan Freeman as Vice President Alan Trumball from London Has Fallen 

Talk about a political record! Trumball (Freeman) not only organized the defense of Washington and the protection of the Executive Branch when promoted from Speaker to President in Olympus Has Fallen, he went on to do pretty much all he same things, and somehow even more effectively, years later as Vice President in London Has Fallen. Once again the burden of the presidency was thrust upon Trumball when the Commander in Chief fell into peril, and once again, the man handled things like a bull moose boss. Trumball coordinated with British intelligence whilst also directing the efforts of the #1 king shit secret service agent of all time, Mike Banning (Butler), to again help save the day. Without his efforts, Banning wouldn’t have had the intel or the inter-agency support needed to protect, and later, recover the president. For the purposes of this ranking, Trumball edged out his predecessor not only because he survived the film, but also because Morgan Freeman is the superior actor (sorry, Phil). He also went full baller-mode at the end of the film when he used that soothing, Morgan Freeman narration voice to play-by-play the bad guy’s demise. If he’d been under a little more pressure, he might just have beat out the list’s final entrant, the all-time #1 vice president in movie history…

1. Glenn Close as Vice President Kathryn Bennett from Air Force One 

Come to the table with a more level-headed, intelligent, tough vice president in film, I dare you. In Air Force One, terrorists stormed the plane of President James Marshall (Harrison Ford), and took the first family and several cabinet members hostage. Although they thought that Marshall got away in an escape pod, he actually stowed away and went all Die Hard on their asses, mid-flight. Back home, the surviving cabinet members and Vice President Bennett (Glenn Close) gathered to discuss options, key amongst them the activation of the 25th Amendment, which would have declared the president incapacitated, and therefore unable to submit to any terrorist demands. In other words, all Bennett had to do was admit that her boss was not an indestructible war machine capable of single-handedly confronting and defeating a highly-armed and well-motivated group of terrorists. True to her boss, and despite all the pressure from the Defense Secretary and Attorney General, Bennett held firm, and allowed for her president to get shit done and save the day. Without Bennett, the bad guys would have won, and the president, his family, and a handful of patriots would have surely died. The combination of superb acting with a meaningful, impactful character who fought for the right side put this one over the top and into the #1 spot, where the ass-kickingest vice president in movie history belongs.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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