Whether he's a stern patriarch or a man-child with a heart of gold, dads are at the center of many a movie family — and many of our favorite movies. These are the onscreen pops who taught us how to be a leader, how to play catch, how to make someone an offer they can't refuse. And though they may have some, um, unconventional ways of showing it, they all obviously love their families. From comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Coming to America, to heartfelt dramas like Field of Dreams and The Farewell, these movies — and the dads in 'em — will make you feel a kid again.
In honor of Father's Day, A.frame has rounded up our favorite movie dads. Now, they might not always be the best parents, but each certainly made his mark onscreen.
Robin Williams in 'The Birdcage'
Robin Williams made several wonderful movies about dads going to extremes for the love of their kids, whether it was dressing in drag and masquerading as a housekeeper (Mrs. Doubtfire, see below) or quitting being Peter Pan and leaving Neverland (Hook). In the case of Mike Nichols' three-time 1996 remake of the French film La Cage aux Folles, Williams and Nathan Lane played a flamboyantly gay couple in Miami who must pretend to be straight in order to meet the parents of their son's fiancee, whose father (played by Gene Hackman) is a right-wing senator known for his stance on traditional family values. Of course, this plan emphatically doesn't work out, and much hilarity ensues, but the dads tried their best. And that trying even extended to Williams memorably teaching Lane how to walk like John Wayne.
James Earl Jones in 'Coming to America'
In one of his funniest performances, Eddie Murphy plays Prince Akeem, heir to the throne of the rich (and fictional) African nation of Zamunda. Akeem's father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), demands that his son take part in his country's ancient tradition of arranged marriages, wedding a woman who has been trained since birth to obey his every whim. So Akeem travels to New York (to Queens, naturally) to pose as a peasant and find a queen who truly loves him. Of course, the King isn't abreast of Akeem's true intentions, and just thinks he's going to America to "sow his royal oats." How the King responds when he finds out what Akeem is really up to, and how this response evolves over the film's third act, is the emotional heart of Coming to America, and it's an enduring example of a dad adjusting his core beliefs for the love and benefit of his child.
Stanley Tucci in 'Easy A'
Sometimes teenagers go through a phase, and the best dads know when to bow out of the spotlight and offer their unquestioned support. Even if that phase involves channeling the hardships (and wardrobe elements) of the lead character from an infamous Puritan novel. That's what happens to Olive (Emma Stone, in her first lead role), who becomes the subject of lewd rumors around school and responds by slapping a scarlet A on her chest and owning the untruths her classmates ascribe to her. And her dad, lovingly played by Stanley Tucci, gives her the freedom to be herself and know she has his support. Easy A is a wonderful example of how a movie can portray great parenting without actually needing those parents to do much. All they have to do is be there and demonstrate solidarity with their kid's choices.
Josh Hamilton in 'Eighth Grade'
Of course, sometimes what teenagers are going through isn't merely a phase, it's the very state of being a teenager. In this debut feature by writer-director Bo Burnham, Josh Hamilton plays the single father of an eighth grader who doesn't like herself very much, and he doesn't know how to handle it. He tries being there for her, and he tries sliding into the background, and both approaches feel equally wrong. But that's sort of the point, and that's how Hamilton and Burnham created such a wonderful movie dad; he doesn't know what to do and he suffers multiple failures, but he never stops trying to find the right kind of dad to be. And Elsie Fisher, in a lovely, vulnerable performance as the teenage protagonist, suffers through her dad being awkward and eventually realizes the depth of love and support that she's lucky to have.
Tzi Ma in 'The Farewell'
When a family of Chinese immigrants find out their grandmother is dying of cancer, they make the controversial decision to not tell her, and instead they stage a fake wedding back in China so the whole family has an occasion to gather and say their goodbyes. But Billi (Awkwafina), a young New Yorker, hates this plan, and hates the level of emotional deceit she feels it demands of her. For as much as The Farewell is about Billi coming to terms with the plan and her complicity in it, the film is also about the tight-knit nature of an immigrant family, and how the family's patriarch, Haiyan (Tzi Ma), perfectly straddles the emotional line between supporting both his family's decision to deceive and his daughter's ambivalence and sadness about that choice.
Dwier Brown in 'Field of Dreams'
Dads can occasionally be known for their crazy plans, and that's never been more true than with the middle film of Kevin Costner's fabled and unofficial Baseball Trilogy (which also includes 1988's Bull Durham and 1999's For Love of the Game). Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who one day begins hearing his cornfield whisper cryptic messages at him. Ray eventually listens to his cornfield's advice and razes much of his farmland to build a baseball field. For what? Well, that's the central mystery of the film, so we'll avoid too many spoilers here. But Field of Dreams—which earned three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay—is on this list for a reason. If you watch it, dads will come.
Albert Brooks in 'Finding Nemo'
No matter the type of creature, dads worry about the safety of their kids. And few actors are better at conveying being worried than Albert Brooks, who was perfectly chosen here to voice Marlin, a clownfish whose son is captured from their ocean reef home to adorn a dentist's fish tank in Sydney. Marlin goes on the adventure of a lifetime to find his son, fleeing from sharks and anglerfish, riding the ocean currents with a pod of sea turtles, and flying in a pelican's beak, and the ocean visuals in this beloved Pixar classic remain awe-inspiring nearly 20 years after Finding Nemo won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Marlon Brando in 'The Godfather'
Passing the family business on to the next generation can be one of the most difficult jobs for a father, especially when that family business happens to be a criminal empire. So it is with Vito (Marlon Brando, who won Best Actor for the role), Don of the Corleone crime family. The presumptive heir to his business operations is Sonny (James Caan), his oldest child. His youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a war hero, has no intention of joining the family business. But an assassination attempt on Vito changes everything. Michael realizes he must summon his inner ruthlessness to save the life of his father, along with the family business. The Godfather, which won three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, endures as one of the great portrayals of family in American cinema.
Denzel Washington in 'He Got Game'
Jake (Denzel Washington) is serving a long jail sentence while his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (former NBA star Ray Allen), has become the most hotly sought-after college basketball recruit in a generation. Jake is offered a reduced sentence by the governor if he can persuade his son to play for the major state school, but does Jake truly want what's best for his son, or only what's best for himself? That's the central question of this Spike Lee classic, which paints a complicated and nuanced portrait of paternal influence, both good and bad. He Got Game culminates with a one-on-one basketball game between father and son to decide Jesus' fate, and according to Hollywood legend, Washington allegedly held his own against Allen while filming the scene.
Sean Connery in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'
The sad reality is that some of us have absent fathers. But we can still harbor the fantasy that such a status quo won't remain forever, and that one day we may yet find ourselves kindling that bond, and sharing a great adventure with our dad that begins the healing process. In the case of the third Indiana Jones film, that adventure happens to be a globe-trotting quest to hunt down the Holy Grail and save it from being found by the Nazis. Harrison Ford returns as Dr. Henry Jones, and this time he's joined by his father, Henry Jones Sr., played by the great Sean Connery (who was amusingly only 12 years older than Harrison Ford, but who's counting). Ford and Connery make for an inspired screen pairing, and the persistent father-son banter is one of the true highlights in a film that's absolutely full of them.
Michael Keaton in 'Mr. Mom'
After first breaking out the previous year as co-star of Ron Howard's Night Shift, Michael Keaton became a full-fledged movie star with Mr. Mom, his first lead role. Keaton plays Jack Butler, a Detroit autoworker who gets furloughed, which inspires his wife (Teri Garr) to return to her advertising career while Jack becomes a stay-at-home dad to their young children. Of course, things don't go well at first, but Jack starts figuring it out bit by bit. Mr. Mom was written by John Hughes during a mid-'80s hot streak when he was behind multiple hits seemingly every year, and the film became a big box office success at a time when gender roles and the division of labor in parenting responsibilities were becoming a heavy topic of debate in American households.
Robin Williams in 'Mrs. Doubtfire'
When Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) gets a little too permissive and allows his kids to get away with whatever they want, his wife (Sally Field) files for divorce and gets full custody, leaving Daniel with a mere few hours a week to see his kids under court-mandated supervision. But that doesn't work for Daniel, so he creates a secret identity as an elderly British housekeeper and gets himself hired, in disguise, to watch the kids after school every day. Williams drew on every ounce of his immense talent for voices, energy and emotional polarity in this incredible performance, and the broad appeal he brought to the film made it a true all-ages sensation, grossing well over $400 million at the box office and becoming the second-most popular film of 1993 (beaten only by Jurassic Park).
Steve Martin in 'Parenthood'
Steve Martin played several memorable dads in the late '80s and early '90s, including in two Father of the Bride movies. But Parenthood earns a spot on this list not just for introducing this phase of Martin's career, but for the sheer breadth of dads and paternal relationships depicted in the film. Not only is Martin wonderful as Gil, but Rick Moranis plays a very different kind of loving father, and Jason Robards gives a particularly memorable performance as Frank, Gil's own dad. Frank is still struggling with his inability to say no to his youngest son (Tom Hulce), who consistently finds himself in dire financial straits due to bad decisions and always needs his father to bail him out. Parenthood was directed by Ron Howard and written by the great team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who also wrote such classics as City Slickers, A League of Their Own and Splash, among many others.
Tom Hanks in 'Road to Perdition'
It's become almost cliche to refer to Tom Hanks as "America's Dad," but surprisingly he hasn't had that many roles where being a parent was a significant part of the movie. Road to Perdition, however, is the glorious exception. Adapted from the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, and directed by Sam Mendes (in his follow-up to his Best Picture-winning debut, 1999's American Beauty), Road to Perdition casts Hanks as Michael Sullivan, an enforcer for the mob in 1930s Chicago. But when Michael's son witnesses a murder, it forces the two of them to go on the run from Michael's old boss, memorably played by Paul Newman in his final live-action film. Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Stanley Tucci all co-star, and Road to Perdition is particularly well-remembered for its stunning, rain-soaked visuals, which earned cinematographer Conrad L. Hall a posthumous Oscar.
Liam Neeson in 'Taken'
It often seems as if all dads have their own version of a "particular set of skills," but few of them can match what Liam Neeson brings to the table as retired CIA agent and Special Forces operative Bryan Mills. When Mills' teenage daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers while visiting Paris, Mills tells them on the phone that his "particular set of skills" will enable him to find and kill them, and he then spends the rest of this brisk, taut action thriller doing just that. Neeson's intense performance helped turn Taken into a huge hit that spawned a franchise and reinvented the actor as a bankable action star in his late 50s. And though Taken doesn't present a version of parenthood that most of us can literally relate to, the emotions are certainly relatable.
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