CBS's Madam Secretary brings us the newest female politician in an all-too-short history of pop culture women of power in Washington, D.C.
Last week, CBS premiered the new political drama Madam Secretary, which stars Téa Leoni as Elizabeth Faulkner McCord, the U.S. Secretary of State. It’s hardly a far-fetched concept, as we’ve seen three female secretaries of state since 1997: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
But it’s nonetheless rare to see a fictional universe with a woman in one of the nation’s top three positions of political power. (Yep, even in fake realities, politics is a man’s game.) And historically speaking, Hollywood has played it as a joke more often than not.
So which fictional female presidents, vice presidents and secretaries of state seem the most realistic? And which seem like jokes? We’ve ranked our favorites from silliest to most serious – and electable.
President Diane Steen (Christina Applegate), Mafia!
One on hand, this parody of The Godfather has Applegate doing her best Diane Keaton impersonation and ascending to office only to stop pushing for world peace in order to rekindle her relationship with her Mafia hubby. On the other hand, it’s from the guys who gave us Airplane! and The Naked Gun, so we probably shouldn’t overthink it.
The President (Stephanie Paul), Iron Sky
The hair? The glasses? This character is entirely a spoof of Sarah Palin, but Palin-as-president is hardly the silliest thing in this 2012 movie about the world fighting Nazis from the moon. No, really: That’s what this movie is about.
President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Veep
The third-season finale has the president resigning, allowing Vice President Selina to become the first female president. That would be great if Selina weren’t narcissistic, petty, foul-mouthed and way too ambitious considering her limited abilities. For the sake of the nation, let’s pray Veep is one of the sillier portrayals of the oval office, and nowhere near the way D.C. actually works – please.
President Caroline Reynolds (Patricia Wettig), Prison Break
Easily the most corrupt politician on this list, Reynolds is heavily involved in the conspiracy to frame the show’s hero for the murder of her brother who’s not actually dead and with whom she may have had a sexual relationship. Again, it’s only in Hollywood that such a “big bad” could hold public office right?
President Julia Mansfield (Patty Duke), Hail to the Chief
The prospect of Patty Duke as president has a certain appeal, but viewers didn’t buy this “woman in office” sitcom that ran on ABC in 1985. Despite the show coming from the producers of the much-loved Soap, its irreverent take on politics lasted only seven episodes.
President Leslie McCloud (Polly Bergen), Kisses for My President
It’s telling that this 1964 comedy about the first female U.S. president centers more on the first husband (Fred MacMurray), as he attempts to perform the “woman’s duties” in the White House. Dated gender roles aside, Bergen, who died earlier this month, certainly has an appropriately presidential air about her, but her character ultimately gets pregnant and resigns from office.
“Madam President” (Ernestine Barrier), Project Moonbase
This is quite possibly the first movie ever to feature a female president! Sure, it’s a 1953 sci-fi B-movie, but this gets a spot towards the middle of the bunch just because one of Project Moonbase‘s futuristic conceits is that women have equal standing with men. For the characters in the film, it doesn’t seem the least bit strange to have a female president.
President Barbara Adams (Loretta Swit), Whoops Apocalypse
Another broad satire (excuse the pun), Whoops Apocalypse has Swit’s character taking office only after the death of the elected president, a circus-clown-turned-politician parodying Ronald Reagan. It’s too common a trope – female veep becomes president by happenstance instead of being elected herself – but at least Swit doesn’t play her role as a joke.
President Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith), The Simpsons
In one of the series’ flash-forward episodes, a grown-up Lisa Simpson narrowly beats out Chastity Bono to become president after a disastrous term by Donald Trump. Of every character on The Simpsons, Lisa is probably the most capable of holding the office, and her struggles to raise taxes without angering the electorate are spot-on. Also realistic? Bart playing Billy Carter to Lisa’s Jimmy.
Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), Political Animals
WARNING: Video contains NSFW language
Playing a first lady turned secretary of state, Weaver brings courage and ferocity to her starring role in this 2012 miniseries, and her takedown of a handsy Russian dignitary in the above clip is awesome. However, the character’s sexuality (and sexiness) becomes a plot point more than once.
Vice President Sally Langston (Kate Burton), Scandal
Vice President Langston is one of the tougher, more calculated women this side of The Good Wife‘s Diane Lockhart, and she briefly becomes the acting president when President Fitzgerald is shot. But there is that whole thing where she offed her husband. That’s par for the course in the Scandal universe, isn’t it?
Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close), Air Force One
While Harrison Ford leads all the action on the captive plane, Close’s veep handles the situation on the ground. She’s strong, adept and everything you’d want in a second-in-command. She just doesn’t get to spout cool action-hero lines like “Get off my plane.”
President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis), Commander in Chief
Canceled too soon, one-season wonder Commander in Chief featured Davis in a Golden Globe-winning role: a tough, smart politician dealing with the challenges of becoming the first female president. We’d be so lucky if all our real commanders in chief were so resolute. Bonus points: Kisses for the President‘s Polly Bergen played President Allen’s mother.
President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), 24
Simply put, she’s one of the most well-rounded female presidents in pop culture history – idealistic but capable of seeing her idealism through. Jones earned an Emmy in 2009 for her performance as the Hillary Clinton-esque chief, who must navigate the dangerous, complicated political universe of 24.
• Taffy Dale (Natalie Portman), the teenage first daughter who assumes office after her parents and most of the world are wiped out by aliens in Mars Attacks!
• President Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard) in the yet-to-premiere drama
• State of Affairs; Sharon Stone as Vice President Natalie Maccabee in the yet-to-air Agent X
• Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) in Battlestar Galactica, who was a great president just of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, which isn’t quite America.