Hard or soft, strict, upstanding or a total goofball, fathers in the movies are sorta like fathers in real life – no two are the same. Here are our favourite dad movies of all time.
ATYD’s top 10 dad movies!
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
A favourite of arthouse luvvies, beyond the undeniably retro Italian cool factor, Vittoria De Sica’s famous neorealist masterpiece is a truly humane look at the desperate intensity of a father backed into a corner to protect his family. As Antonio Ricci tries to recover his stolen bicycle and maintain his means of putting bread on the table, his adoring son Bruno is a constant presence beside him, watching papa demonstrate, through his actions, loyalty, sacrifice and perseverance. All the biggies needed to be a dad. The Godfather (1972)
Perhaps more cautionary tale than ‘Example A’ of what sort of father you should be, Coppola’s classic nonetheless remains a powerful tale on familial bonds and the effect our parents have on us long after they’re gone. It starts with Brando’s tour de force as mob boss and alpha male Vito Corleone, and his influence on the generation to follow, most powerfully portrayed by Al Pacino as Vito’s son Michael. Family loyalty, in the end, is important, but can also be corrupting and claustrophobic.National Lampoons Vacation (1983)
Chevy Chase’s hapless Clark Griswold in this and the sequels is one long-running bad dad joke. Clark might be folksy, impractical, not to mention cursed and a bit creepy, but the foundation of all his disasters is a heartfelt desire to do the best and be the best for his family. He takes dadding seriously – too seriously – but isn’t that better than doing it half-arsed? To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
It’s a predictable inclusion on any list of ‘father’ films but for good reason. As Atticus Finch – widower, single dad and small town, dulcet-toned fighter of racial injustice – Gregory Finch is imperious in the famous movie version of Harper Lee’s classic novel. Wise, patient and kind, he’s the embodiment of showing your kids by example rather than instruction, creating a moral framework for his slightly wild kids, Jem and Scout. Never disappoints.
Of course, dad movies don’t all need to be public service messages. Taken was a huge action hit, sparking sequels and a TV series, thanks mainly to Liam Neeson’s mad-eyed Irish intensity as a father (and helpfully, an ex-special agent) whose daughter is abducted and sold into human trafficking. No, you don’t do that to a father with CIA chops. Cue one vengeful motherfucker as he tracks down the captors of daddy’s little girl.Missing (1982)
A political and nuanced dad movie than Taken but on a similar theme, Missing stars Jack Lemmon as Ed Horman, in one of his best ever performances, as a father tracking down the whereabouts of his journalist son when he goes missing in Pinochet’s Chile. We never see Ed with his son but the masterful storytelling reveals the troubled, remote nature of their former relationship, and how much the son really means to the father now that he can’t be found. As Molly used to say, do yourself a favour…Road To Perdition (2002)
Tom Hanks plays mob bodyguard and hitman, Michael Sullivan, who must protect his son from his former boss (and father figure) and his boss’s son, who has killed the rest of Sullivan’s family in this moody, Depression-era gangster film. Like The Godfather, perhaps more a cautionary tale of ‘dad worship’ as, motivated by revenge, Sullivan reluctantly embroils his son in his life of crime. Hey, father-son relationships can be complicated… as Road To Perdition portrays.
Boyz n’ The Hood (1991)
Gangs, violence and dysfunction are shiny baubles for a young man like Tre in South Central LA, but his no-nonsense dad Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne) does his best to develop Tre as a man of character despite the chaos and social deprivation. You can’t always be soft and cuddly, nor only strict and finger-wagging. Sometimes you need to bring the tough as much as the love.
Paper Moon (1973)
Real-life dad and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal are quite mesmerising in this tale of Depression-era grifters in the wide open plains of mid-America. Ryan, as Moses, is a terrible father figure – a charlatan and con who would prefer to be child-free – but hell, he’s fun, and Addie is a cute-as-a-button imp who gives as good as she gets. Not all family relationships look like the chocolate box.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Again, a movie with a character in no danger of winning Father of the Year: Darth Vader. But at least he owned up to paternity with one of the most famous lines in moviedom: “I am your father.” And then sliced his son’s arm off. Funnily enough, the man in the black mask and suit was more… humanised after the revelation. That’s what being a daddy can do to even the hardest blokes.