Movie dads tend to screw up a lot, but underneath the bumbling their hearts are often in the right place.
Oh, the movie dad. Some are thoughtful pushovers, others are hard nosed taskmasters. Many are bumbling idiots who are constantly being outwitted by their spouses, children, and appliances. The movie dad has a history of walking around in his underpants, drinking beer, and gruffly coming through in the end. Let the kid have a BB gun! I had one as a kid!
This summer Ethan Hawke gives the performance of a lifetime portraying a much more realistic father in director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Hawke’s Mason is the kind of divorced young dad who tries hard to maximize his weekend visits while growing up himself. His is such a nuanced performance that it got me thinking about classic movie fathers who may not have been textbook great but teach us something about being a dad anyway.
And so we compiled a short list of classic movie fathers, but not the obviously good ones. Ours are flawed characters, but each has his redeeming qualities.
10) Lt. Col. Bull Meecham, The Great Santini. Robert Duvall’s portrayal of a bullying, egomaniac of a father made some guys reevaluate their own dads. He didn’t have much in the way of redeeming qualities, but that has to count for something, right?
Santini was screwed up but not really great. I heard an interview on NPR with Pat Conroy, the author of the book, who wrote another one called The Death of Santini which addresses their relationship at the end of his life. — Edie Weinstein
9)Ed Bloom, Big Fish. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney share the role of dying family patriarch in Tim Burton’s understated classic. Son Will’s effort to understand his father provides the backbone for this wonderful collection of tales.
Big Fish is my favorite father story ever. It’s not that the dad there is bad, just independent and fantastical. Makes one reevaluate the absentee father motif of society, along with the ‘who’s my dad? Who am I?’ His being misunderstood is the great reveal. And what a payoff. – Michael Amity
8) Frank Stark, Rebel Without a Cause. The teen angst movie that started it all. While James Dean chewed the scenery, Jim Backus delivered a quiet performance as a father who just couldn’t manage to help, but goddammit he tried.
You may remember the henpecked husband in his wife’s apron, but I also remember the dad who was desperate to help his son and was utterly confused how to do so. His heart was in the right place, if nothing else. And, in some ways he seemed to foreshadow modern fathers of today who’ve been divested of their traditional power role. –Hal Millard
Anakin Skywalker has to top any list of worst movie dads. He was responsible for destroying the Jedi Order and personally slaughtered Younglings, countless sand people, and Jedi. He also murdered the mother of his children, who were raised in secret to protect them from him; waged war; and was the right hand man of a genocidal manic. Inevitably he duels his estranged son, cuts off his hand, and nearly kills him.
But he finds redemption when he sees his son, his last connection to his former humanity, and with that the love he had for his secret family in danger. His redemption is why episode six is titled Return of the Jedi.
Darth Vader: The best worst dad in my opinion.” – Alex Yarde
6) George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life. No list of flawed but great movie dads would be complete without James Stewart’s turn as George Bailey. You know the story: George is embroiled in the 1946 holiday version of a banking scandal, and as a result decides it’s time to take the big plunge in an icy river. What father hasn’t wondered whether his family would be better off without him?
But of course the Baileys (and the whole town, for that matter) would never be the same if not for the pater familias. That goes for you and your family, too. I’ll wait here while you go give them a hug.
Jack Byrne’s redeeming quality is his deep love for his family, including mom up on the mantel and Jinxy the cat. He may take a little while to warm up, but once you’re in his circle of trust you’re golden. Until then, he is watching you.
4) Jack, Mr. Mom. A lot has changed since Michael Keaton’s breakout role in 1983’s Mr. Mom. Thirty years ago stay at home dads were an oddity, and while they still aren’t the norm they’re common enough nowadays to earn their own acronym, SAHD.
Poor Jack doesn’t know the school drop off protocol, makes grilled cheese with the iron, and goes to war with the household appliances. He gains weight, puts on a beard, gets addicted to soap operas, and overcompensates with a chainsaw.
But you know what? He also throws the big race to help out his wife, breaks Kenny of his woobie habit, and pops a dude for yelling at his kid. That’s gettin’ it done. I’ve probably watched this movie 220 time, maybe 221. Whatever it takes.
3) Hi McDunnough, Raising Arizona.He’s an outlaw who finds himself dreaming of knocking over convenience stores rather than listen to one more boring story about Bill Parker holding a head in one hand and a sandwich in the other. But when Hi’s newly betrothed, Ed (short for Edwina, turn to the right!) discovers that her insides are “a rocky place where her seed could find no purchase,” H.I. turns to kidnapping.
And what a sweet kidnapping it is. Hi makes sure to keep little Nathan Jr. in fresh Huggies and plops him down on the divan for educational television or football so’s he develops an appreciation for the finer things. He even takes a beating from the lone biker of the apocalypse while trying to save little Nathan.
In the end Hi does what’s right for Nathan Jr., and that’s what matters. Okay, then.
2) Clark Griswold, National Lampoon’s Vacation (and sequels). Clark is the dad we all wish we had, at least in retrospect. He was the father who actually wanted to spend time with his kids, who loved the idea of being trapped in a car for hours on end while Rusty and, um, Audrey fought in the back seat. This was the dad who wanted to outdo everyone on the block come Christmastime, wasn’t afraid to put on a pig suit if it meant a free trip to Europe, and whose only wish was to buy his family a swimming pool for Christmas.
Sure he was a screw up, but his heart was always in the right place.
Maybe that decision doesn’t win Ray Kinsella the Responsible Dad of the Year award, but what happens in the end helped to heal a lot of daddy issues.
As cheesy as some people would make it out to be, when Ray Kinsella asks his dad for a game of catch, it still makes me tear up.
Growing up without a dad (he died when I was three) I was always a little (read: a lot) jealous of my friends and their relationships with their fathers and was typically unsympathetic when I heard kids complain about what jerks their dads could be.
I feel like I worked out much of my childhood angst by trying to be a good father to my kids. But I still feel the void. It sounds trite, but I’d give most anything for a game of catch (or a conversation or even a quiet cup of coffee) with my dad. -Casey Rush
There they are: 10 not so great dads who either were actually pretty great or at the very least showed us that our own fathers weren’t so bad. And speaking of fathers, shouldn’t you go call yours? Wish him a happy Father’s Day, and while you’re at it thank him for not being a Santini.