Picking the top 10 movie dads was both easier and harder than picking the top 10 movie moms. Easier, because there were more candidates to choose from — and harder for the same reason! (Candidates for worst movie dads are also more plentiful than worst movie moms. For better and for worse, Hollywood is still a man’s world.)
As with the moms list, I set out to find affirmative depictions of:
As with the moms list, I considered biological, adoptive, and foster fathers for the main list (although I wound up with 10 biological fathers); the runners-up list also includes some father-figure characters. Both lists are alphabetical by film.
Atticus Finch was a man ahead of his time and place; Tevye, a hardworking Russian Jew in 1905 Tsarist Russia, is a man deeply shaped by tradition struggling in a rapidly changing world. Out of love for his daughters, he bends further than he ever thought he could yet sticks to his deepest principles, despite the agonizing cost.
Mufasa and Mr. Incredible are more impressive, but Marlin, for all his anxieties, is the reason Finding Nemo is arguably the best animated father-son story ever. Fatherhood defines Marlin, and he rises to true heroism — reluctantly at first, but finally with unstoppable resolve.
Has anyone, even Steve Martin or Spencer Tracy, played more sympathetic fathers in more movies than Dennis Quaid (see The Rookie, Soul Surfer, etc.)? In Frequency, probably the ultimate Hollywood father-son weepie, he plays a devoted, heroic dad who moves heaven and earth to be there when his son (Jim Caviezel) needs him most.
In John Ford’s sentimental, elegiac, Best-Picture winner about a family of six sons and one daughter in a tight-knit Welsh coal-mining community, Mr. Morgan stands tall as a pillar in his community and the justly revered head of his family — though his wife and grown sons are very much his equals.
In this fact-based film, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a petty Irish street thief wrongly implicated with his upright father in an IRA bombing. Straight as an arrow, devoutly Catholic, with indomitable dignity, Giuseppe unfailingly puts his best face on the worst circumstances and never gives up on his son.
Though controversial for its sentimental, tragicomic tale of love and loss in the shadow of the Holocaust, Roberto Benigni’s popular Best-Picture winner offers a moving portrayal of a father’s self-sacrificial efforts to shield his son from the worst of the darkness around them.
Like Atticus Finch, Thomas More is occupied with weighty matters outside his family, but the warmth and mutual affection between him and his daughter Margaret, his pride in her intellect and accomplishments, and her deep filial piety toward him reveal More as the best of fathers.
Studio Ghibli is renowned for films featuring sympathetic parents, but Dr. Kusakabe, caring for his two daughters while their mother is hospitalized, is arguably the best: easygoing and good-humored, attentive despite his workload, and alive to the childlike wonder of his daughters’ world.
Chris Gardner is among the most responsible, most self-sacrificing struggling fathers in Hollywood history (see also Cinderella Man). Based on a true story, the film celebrates Chris’s heroic determination to protect and care for his son under increasingly desperate circumstances, including homelessness
Atticus Finch is the most universal fixture on lists of best movie dads for a reason. Not only is he one of cinema’s great heroes, he’s a hero to his children, and rightly so. Authoritative but not authoritarian, righteous but not rigid, reserved but not distant—he offers his children one of the greatest gifts a father can: a high standard to live up to.
When I set out to make a list of great movie moms in honor of Mother’s Day, I knew it wouldn’t be easy — but I soon found it even harder than I thought. Let’s face it: Great mothers are in short supply in the movies.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.