General: Which one?
Jim Hacker: The one to Russia.
Bernard Wooley: The Red Hotline, sir.
If there's a crisis between the USSR and the US in fiction, expect the President to phone up the Soviet leader on his direct line, usually a red dial-telephone with no dial.
Except it's not like that in real life, and never was. Beginning operation in 1963, the Moscow-Washington Hotline, colloquially known as the "Red Phone", is designed to relay text – originally via Teletype, then fax machine, nowadays a secure fiber-optic line through which emails are exchanged – because of the possibility that speech could be misinterpreted (a voice link was tested in the 70's but dropped); each side writes in their own language, which is then translated and both versions are given to whichever leader. Also, the Hotline connects the Pentagon to what was then the Communist Party leadership across the street from the Kremlin; it's not a direct link between the White House and Kremlin itself. During the height of the Cold War, the line was tested hourly, often using poetry. The Hotline is still in use today, but it still doesn't involve the use of a phone.
Nowadays, after the Cold War, the Hot Line trope is more likely to be used between the Ultimate Authority Mayor or other Reasonable Authority Figure and a local superhero. Expect a catchphrase, often falling under "To the Batnoun!" The closest thing to this in real life is fire houses and fire brigades using red phones and the like to receive emergency calls from emergency dispatch centers.
- In The Silent Service, Bennett uses one to contact the Soviet president concerning a temporary suspension of SSBN patrols in the Arctic.
- Billy & Buddy: In one gag, Boule paints the family phone red. His father tries to use it, only to hear two people holding up the line asking about the weather in Moscow and Washington. He yells at them, then hears a knock on the door... and sees a CIA and KGB agent waiting to ask him some questions.
- Captain Flash: The FBI regularly requests the help of Captain Flash via public radio broadcast.
- Dilbert's company built one once. It looked like an ordinary telephone. Dogbert used it to prank call Gorbachev.
- Averted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic M.A.N.E.. Princess Celestia proposed the installation of a hotline between her palace and the USR Chancellery in Stalliongrad, but the Chancellor would not have it installed because he refused to recognize that Celestia had any claim to be the ruler of Equestria. Comes back to bite them both during the invasion of Saddle Arabia when the USR mistake an ammunition dump exploding for a tactical nuclear strike, and begin to retaliate in kind. Celestia's attempts to communicate with the Chancellor have to be routed through their embassy instead, by which time it is too late.
- Averted in Thirteen Days. The Hotline did not exist at the time – in fact, it was created because of the Cuban Missile Crisis – with messages going by coded telegram. As depicted in the film, this resulted in the US spending 12 hours decrypting and translating Khrushchev's offer (a rambling 3000-word message) to remove the missiles in return for the US not invading Cuba. While the Americans were working on interpreting that message, a second message arrived, this one from the Politburo and much more aggressive, demanding the US remove missiles from Turkey in exchange for the USSR doing the same in Cuba. ExComm thought about it, and publicly accepted the first offer (while discreetly accepting the second later).
- The Avengers (1998): Mother is the head of The Ministry, a top secret British intelligence agency. He has a red phone on his office that connects directly to the British Prime Minister.
- In The Cabin in the Woods, Hadley answers a red phone and is told that the sacrifice didn't go exactly as planned. Their failure results in the destruction of all life as we know it.
- Dr. Strangelove: Not actually the Moscow-Washington line, but rather an ordinary phone. Which is even worse. Considering the nature of the ensuing conversation, as well as the entire film itself, that is very, very likely intentional.
- Fail Safe (1964, the same year as Dr. Strangelove) probably is the primary inspiration for the common (mis)perception of the White-House-to-The-Kremlin hotline being distinctive telephones for direct talks between the two leaderships. This film features two: the expected phone line between the President and the Soviet Premier, and the Red-1/Ultimate-1 touch phone in SAC HQ that provides a connection to Soviet air defense HQ. Towards the end of the movie they also establish a phone line to the US ambassador in Moscow and hear the unearthly screech as his phone melts from the nuclear explosion.
- In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Ray keeps the original Ghostbuster's hotline active and even has it ring into a red phone at his store.
- Expect to see at least one red phone per 1970s James Bond movie. Though they're usually in government offices, they're usually not the hot line.
- In Thunderball, a government head specifically mentions the President and Prime Minister talking over the Hot Line, which, as the Trope Description mentions, was not a voice line at the time (1965) - it's also used between friendly countries, rather than Moscow.
- Our Man Flint: Lloyd Cramden, head of the agency Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage), has a red phone that he uses to communicate with the President of the United States.
- In the Made-for-TV Movie The Trial of The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil's Friend on the Force police captain has a direct line to call Daredevil.
- Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966). The Invisible President is only an LBJ-sounding voice on the hotline to Colonel Benson, always preempted by the strains of "Hail to the Chief".
- Dark Phoenix: A sign of how accepted mutants have become is that Professor Xavier has a direct line to the US President for when the X-Men are needed. However when the political tide turns against mutants after Jean Grey goes on the rampage, Xavier tries to call the President only to have a White House official inform him that the line is being cut off.
- The Tom Clancy novel The Sum of All Fears (and The Film of the Book) shows a more realistic text-based Hot Line in action. It also shows how the operators tested the Hot Line back in the day: with poetry.
- Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator parodies this: the US President has a red phone for calling the USSR on his desk... and a porcelain phone for calling China right next to it.
- The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern has a phone line as the Hotline, and a Russian and American operator regularly exchange chit-chat over the line to make sure it's in constant working order. As World War 3 grows imminent, the Russian makes a Love Confession to the female American operator whom he's fallen for without ever seeing her.
- Arrow. In Season One, the Hood provides Detective Quentin Lance with a mobile phone (programmed with a voice changer and encryption to prevent tracing) that can be used to call him. Knowing his daughter Laurel is having secret meetings with the Hood, Quentin hands over the phone to her with a hidden bug and Tracking Device so he can arrest the Hood next time Laurel makes contact. Unfortunately his failed attempt to do so tips off a crime boss that there's a connection between Laurel and the Hood, and they kidnap her to lure him out so Quentin has to use the phone for real to get the Hood's help to rescue her. After that the Bat Phone is played straight because Quentin then forms a reluctant alliance with the Hood. Though there's the occasional problem when Quentin or Laurel calls the Hood when Oliver Queen is standing right next to them...
- The live-action Batman (1966) show had a hotline connecting Commissioner Gordon's office to Bruce Wayne's study (of course, Gordon didn't know where Batman's end of the line was located). The phone is also equipped with Diversionary Bat-phone Lines, which prevent tracing the calls back to Stately Wayne Manor.
- Batwoman (2019)
- Played for laughs when the phone on Kate Kane's desk rings and her stepsister Mary expresses disbelief that she actually uses a landline phone. In this case, it's a direct line to Kate as CEO of Gotham Pride Real Estate, but serves the same function of calling Batwoman into action because the caller has been told by a Secret-Keeper to call Kate for help.
- Averted in the Season One finale. Kate has Mary deliver a mobile phone to Commander Jacob Kane of Crow Security that he can use to contact Batwoman, but her father responds by smashing it on the spot, forcing Batwoman to make contact directly.
- In that same episode it's revealed that Crow Security has put out an app that any Gotham citizen—even if they're not a Crow client—can use to report sighting a wanted criminal. This is likely a response to the oft-made suggestion that Batwoman is protecting all Gotham citizens while they're only protecting their wealthy clients.
- Doctor Who:
- "World War Three": The Slitheen are thrilled to find the stereotypical bright red phone on the Prime Minister's desk.
- In "The Impossible Astronaut", River comments that the functions within the souped-up spacesuit have a communication suite that links up directly to the highest authority it can find, giving the little girl (River as a child) a hotline to the White House.
- In "The Day of the Doctor" we're shown the Space-Time Telegraph, a gift from the Doctor to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and left for his daughter, Kate, which gives a direct hotline in times of crisis to the TARDIS, or from the TARDIS to the Black Archives. (In the classic series it was mentioned but not seen at the end of "Revenge of the Cybermen" and beginning of "Terror of the Zygons".)
- "The Lie of the Land": The bright red phone turns up again on the desk of the Monks' most loyal servant, the Brainwashed and Crazy Doctor.
- Get Smart. CONTROL have a hot line to the President on the Chief's desk. As per the Shoe Phone Running Gag it's disguised as a steer horn (a riff on Lyndon Johnson's Texan origins). For a conference call, you talk to the steer's head mounted on the wall. In one episode, KAOS tap into the hot line and use an LBJ-voice impersonator to fire the Chief and replace him with the incompetent Maxwell Smart.
- In Stargate SG-1, General Hammond has a frequently used red phone that includes a direct line to the President. Discussed in one episode where Hammond is on the hotline with a lackey who is stonewalling him, and Hammond shouts at the flunky "Do you know what color this phone is!?" However, at one point he notes that the President is actually the second speed-dial option, since he reserves the first spot for his grandchildren.
- Titans (2018). Commissioner Barbara Gordon has a red mobile phone in a palm-print locked drawer in her desk. For an added Mythology Gag, the beeping sound is nearly identical to the original.
- Yes, Minister poked fun at the prosaic realities of the hotline—the phone only goes to a Kremlin switchboard... and the operator doesn't speak English. And they're reluctant to test the line because the hotline ringing causes a panic at the other end, which you might want to avoid when dealing with nuclear weapons.
- The West Wing shows that there's a red phone at the ER of George Washington Hospital. When President Bartlet is shot, the Secret Service calls on that line to tell them they're coming in. The nurse on duty dismisses it as a drill until the unmarked vehicles screech to a stop in the ambulance bay.
Nurse: Trauma one! Trauma one blue! Blue! Trauma one blue!
- An earlier episode subverts this. Bartlet's priest visits him in the Oval Office and asks where the red phone is. Bartlet informs him they don't have one and if he wanted to talk to the Kremlin he'd just ask his secretary to arrange a phone call.
- Spy Hunter features an unseen caller using a red phone to call Agent GK.
- In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, President Dugan has five of them. He only uses the one wired to the Kremlin when he receives word of the invading Soviet forces. Dugan and Soviet Premier Romanov's conversation turns hostile quickly and Dugan threatens to nuke the invasion force. Romanov dismisses the threat, having ensured that the nukes will be swiftly deactivated.
- And, foreshadowing the next game, one of the other phones is labeled "Tokyo".
- Control has a supernatural twist on this with its "Hotline", an innocuous-looking red phone that acts as the interdimensional communication line between the director of Federal Bureau of Control (i.e. you) and The Board. Incidentally, if anyone who is not the director attempts to pick it up, the hotline subjects them to "permanent psychic damage".
- Portal. Before entering GlaDOS's chamber, you see a red phone. In the commentary, the devs explain that it was a hotline for scientists to use in case of an emergency with the AI. They point out that the connection cord is cut, hinting at just how effective it was.
- In Blindsprings Asher Thorne, the Prime Minister of Kirkhall, is shown to have one that he uses to call up Master Lumen, the controller of the Gravers.
- Twisted Tropes: Gordon tries to call Batman regarding Penguin's rampage, but accidentally calls Barack Obama instead because both phones are side by side. Obama kicks Penguin in Batman's stead while shouting a familiar line.
Obama: By the power of the Executive Branch, I compel you, villain!
- In The John Dredge Nothing To Do With Anything Show, the Human League of Justice can be reached via the Leagueophone, while in the Gasman & Robert sketch, Gas Commissioner Gordon uses the Gasphone for calling Gasman.
- Played with in Unsong. Shortly after the laws of physics start breaking down, Richard Nixon gets a call on the red telephone. Not the actual hotline to the Kremlin, the plastic prop he keeps on his desk.
- Kenny and The Chimp: Professor XXXL informs Kenny of The Horrible Disease Help-Me Hotline in his office to be used should he get infected with a disease, heeding instructions on how to cure it.
- The Mayor of Townsville has a hotline to The Powerpuff Girls that goes to phones in both their bedroom and their classroom at the school they attend.
- Batfink has a video communication device that is directly linked to the chief of police.
- Two Hanna-Barbera superheroes with video links to higher-ups: Birdman (to Falcon 7) and Dynomutt, Dog Wonder and Blue Falcon (to Focus One).
- Danger Mouse has a video link to his superior Colonel K. Somehow, villain Baron Greenback is able to tap into it as well.