From politics to pop culture, the present feels more like a grim sci-fi version of reality than ever before. Welcome to Dystopia Now!, a collection of stories about our darkest timelines.
Elections, as long as America is fortunate enough to have them, only happen every four years. From campaign to inauguration, it can take half a decade to depose a despot. Luckily, Hollywood works a little faster — and it's dreamed up creative ways to kick out the creeps. Before we’re forced to hail Immortan Cheeto, let's see what we can learn from six fictional oppressors who got kneecapped by screenwriters before they could ruin the world.
Punishment: Shamed by Britain
Probability: High to certain
In Love Actually, Billy Bob Thornton's nameless commander-in-chief — let's call him President Leer — seems happy that his wife would rather stay home than join him on his sweet private plane. Time for some locker-room talk with Prime Minister Hugh Grant, who, it must be said, is the first to make things sexual by calling his American pal "sickeningly handsome." After the PM's assistant Natalie walks by, this Yankee silver fox does a cartoon-wolf double-take. "Did you see those pipes?" elbows Billy Bob. Yeah, Hugh did. And he's the only one who can sexually harass Natalie by forcing her to switch jobs because she raised his Union Jack. Billy Bob can bully him on foreign policy, but when he's caught stroking Natalie's hair with a bizarre crab hand — an affront that takes him literally 17 seconds of alone time — the British leader breaks up with the United States on live TV. "I fear that this has become a bad relationship, a relationship based on the president taking exactly what he wants," scolds Hugh. Prime-y grabs back.
Scary Movie 3 and 4
Crime: Being a bigoted idiot
Punishment: Public nudity
Probability: Can you say "Kompromat"?
President Baxter Harris (Leslie Nielsen) hates women, aliens, and the disabled. In Scary Movie 3, he punches a man who has a tracheotomy — and a guy in a neck brace, and a lady with too much mascara, and a Girl Scout with a retainer. In Scary Movie 4, he tries to charm the United Nations with some can't-miss racist jokes about the Indians, French, Israelis, Japanese, and even the Flemish. "What's the difference between a Belgian and a lump of dog shit?" grins Harris. "The Belgian drinks wine, but the dog shit smells good." Ignoring their boos, he unveils a laser invented by the Pentagon — or, as he calls it, the Pentagram — and accidentally zaps off his own clothes. The Bolivians vomit. But the president is so dumb, he doesn't notice he's nude. So he zaps off everyone else's clothes, and blames them for his bad behavior. "Have you no decency?!" he yelps. Then he punches a man in a turban. Maybe the joke is on us.
Crime: Placating our rivals
Punishment: Literally stabbed in the back
Probability: Poison would be more likely
Those Martians in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! aren't hiding their desire to conquer the planet. Just look at the title of the film. Still, President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) assumes that his confident swagger will show the aliens he's calling the shots. He invites them to Washington. And then the little green men murder everyone in Congress. When they come for him, Dale isn't scared. After all, he's a supreme negotiator. "We can work together," he soothes. "Think of the things we can do — think of how strong we would be." The short, bald foreign tyrant patiently waits until Dale's out of words. He cries one false tear and offers Dale his hand. Then the hand snaps off, crawls up the president's arm, stabs him between the shoulder blades, and plants an alien flag in his corpse. That's not how you grow democracy.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Crime: Aggressively pursuing "peace"
Punishment: Stabbed in the heart
Probability: MTV News does not condone stabbing. Apologies for all the stabbing.
At first, no one suspects that the unnamed president (Jonathan Pryce) of G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a puppet controlled by a villain who wants to dominate the globe. He swears he wants peace, and the only reason poor, victimized America doesn't have it is because every other nation is a jerk. "This country is at war!" he whines to the bunker full of leaders he's invited to his underground anti-nuclear summit. He'll only feel better if they give up their atomic missiles — and he's willing to bomb them until they agree. After he launches enough warheads to destroy the planet 15 times over, he says with a shrug, "Well, the good news is no global-warming summit next month," and calmly picks up his cell phone to play Angry Birds. Luckily, only London gets obliterated (sorry again, England!), and revenge is swift. Enter vengeful ninja Storm Shadow, who stabs him in his patriotic American-flag pin. A badge of stars and stripes doesn't make you a hero.
Gabriel Over the White House
Crime: Actual fascism
Punishment: Honestly, fascism isn't that bad?
President Judson Hammond (Walter Huston) of the 1933 fantasy Gabriel Over the White House is an ordinary liar who'd say anything to stay in power. "When I think of all the promises I made to the people to get elected," he says with a sigh. His aide, smiling, replies, "By the time they realize you're not going to keep them, your term will be over." Congress, however, resolves to impeach this idiot for being lazy — the first sign that this film is living in the world of make-believe. The second is everything that happens next: Hammond survives a near-fatal car accident at 100 mph (he's the Depression-era Vin Diesel) only to be possessed by the archangel Gabriel. What would Jesus do? Turn the president of the United States into a fascist who fires everyone in Congress and machine-guns his enemies. Somehow, this works out great for everyone. Employment goes up, crime goes down, and booze is legalized. America is great again. This magical movie solves everything but the question of how to get democracy back when tyranny is such a success. Conveniently, Hammond dies of a heart attack. Thank God.
The Great Dictator
Crime: Being Hitler
Punishment: Swapping him out for his pacifist twin
Probability: Alec Baldwin, step up your game
In 1934, the Nazis published a vile book that called movie star Charlie Chaplin "a disgusting Jewish acrobat." Chaplin wasn't Jewish. But he wasn't about to let racists smear an entire group of people, especially when Adolf Hitler had stolen Chaplin's square mustache to look more charming. So Chaplin began work on his final masterpiece, The Great Dictator, as fine a work of trollery as the best wit on Reddit. Chaplin knew that the best way to bug an egomaniac is to make him look like a moron. His version of Hitler is a tantrum-throwing toddler who gets smeared with baby poop, trips on his own cape, and plays with an inflatable globe. He bops the balloon on his ass. When it pops, he cries. The Great Dictator was tied for the second-biggest American box-office hit of the year, and while German theaters wouldn't play it, Chaplin made sure the Nazis got a copy. (Imagine what Adolf would have tweeted.) A real-life happy ending wouldn't happen for years, so Chaplin invented his own: an identical twin who takes over the dictator's podium and delivers a speech that could make audiences weep today. "The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress," he urged. "Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!"