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This Father’s Day, settle in with a few movies dedicated to fathers being good fathers—or the not-so-good fathers who are learning to be better. Sometimes dads are more of the bumbling Colin Firth type, who mean well but don’t really have a clue about what they’re doing. Some kids, like Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia, get three whole dads, while others, like Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries, are missing their late fathers. Fathers and father figures look different depending on the family, but there are enough movies to celebrate all these differences. Here, binge some of these 50+ films to celebrate the dads in your life, no matter what “dad” means to you.
This Pixar film was written and directed by Dan Scanlon and though it is meant for a younger audience, it has a pretty serious origin story. Scanlon's father died in a car accident when he and his older brother were still children; in Onward, two elf brothers named Ian and Barley are dealing with growing up without their father. In this magical world, magic itself has become obsolete with the onset of technology and these boys live in a very familiar suburban landscape. On Ian's 16th birthday, they're presented with a magical opportunity to resurrect their father for 24 hours, but things go awry. Soon, they're on a quest to finish the spell that will let them see their dad one more time.
The title says it all, but for a little more context, this 2021 film starring Kevin Hart follows a man struggling with being a single father to his infant daughter after the sudden death of his wife. And it's a true story based on a 2011 memoir by Matthew Logelin titled Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love. While there's some humor to the film, because it stars a world famous comedian, Hart's performance was praised for its unexpected pathos. In Fatherhood, Hart's character struggles with the decision to raise his daughter himself rather than leave her to the care of his extended family and it just might make your father's eyes mist up from where he's sitting stoned faced in the lounge chair.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017
This movie may seem like just another entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe—heck, it's even “Vol. 2” rather than the original. But this sci-fi, fantasy crowd pleaser has a real handle on what exactly makes a dude into a father. Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill aka "Star-Lord," a man who has been trying to find his real dad his whole life only to discover that there's a real difference between the guy who gives you his genetic code and the guy who raises you. Plus, there's a talking raccoon and some incredible action set pieces if the emotional stuff doesn't hit home. There's also a cameo from David Hasselhoff, which just might give dad a laugh.
My Octopus Teacher> 2020
This documentary on Netflix isn't about a father and their kid, but it is about the tender symbiotic relationship between a quiet introverted man and a flashy sea monster. The film's producer Craig Foster spent a year getting to know an octopus who lived in a South African kelp forest he regularly visited. Over time, the octopus comes to recognize and relate to Foster while going about her octopus business until eventually meeting her natural end. Foster has said this year he spent “learning” from the ocean animal taught him a great deal about the “fragility of life and man’s connection to nature” and improved his relationship with his son, Tom Foster, who became a free diver and marine biologist himself.
To Kill a Mockingbird 1962
This classic film is about a lot of things, but at the center of the plot is a little girl's relationship to her widowed father. A lot of dads have almost certainly seen Gregory Peck's interpretation of Atticus Finch by now, but dads also love rewatching stuff that they've already seen. And To Kill a Mockingbird addresses a lot of themes that remain relevant today: racism, media influence, the injustice of the carceral system, small town politics, and coming of age in a fraught world.
Da 5 Bloods 2020
This American war drama was directed, produced, and co-written by Spike Lee, and is the last film featuring Chadwick Boseman that was released while he was still living. The movie is about four men who survived the Vietnam War together, but decide to return to the country to search for the remains of their fallen squad leader, Norman. There's also a treasure hunt. After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the veterans discovers he has a daughter living with his former girlfriend, Tiên. Another of the veterans is then joined by his son, introducing yet more family dynamics into what was supposed to be a war and adventure movie. And it still is! While the connections between family are the main theme of the film, action and politics will keep everyone invested.
Fathers' Day (1997)
Jack (Billy Crystal), a cynical lawyer, and Dale (Robin Williams), a depressed writer, have one thing in common: Collette (Nastassja Kinski), the woman they each dated. When Collette enlists them to help her search for her runaway teenage son, Scott, there might also be a little paternity issue at stake.
The Half of It (2020)
Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a shy, smart student living in a small, small-minded town in Eastern Washington where she moved with her single father, a Chinese immigrant, so he could take the only job he could get. Ellie makes extra money to help pay the bills by writing papers for students, and she helps a jock at her school get the attention of popular girl Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire) while secretly crushing on Aster, too. This movie isn’t exactly about father-daughter relationships, but it’s clear Ellie’s dad is the person she loves most in the world: She grapples with going to college nearby so she can live and help out at home, and she and her dad have Old Hollywood movie nights.
Mr. Mom (1983)
When Jack Butler (Michael Keaton), an auto engineer in Detroit, loses his job in a recession and his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), finds work, Jack has to take over the responsibilities at home—thus becoming “Mr. Mom.” Remember that this movie was made in the 1980s, when other revolutionary films such as 9 to 5 (1980) and, later, Working Girl (1988) helped change the concept of the American workplace (that is, it’s perfectly normal for women to have titles other than “secretary”).
What a Girl Wants (2003)
Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes) grew up in New York City's Chinatown with her very cool mom Libby (Kelly Preston), but she’s always been missing one thing: a father. She knows the man is Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), a member of British nobility running for political office, but they’ve never met, and Henry doesn’t know Daphne exists. So the summer after Daphne graduates high school, she hops across the pond to meet him, much to the shock of Henry and his stuffy wife and stepdaughter-to-be. Daphne soon wins over even the stiffest-lipped Brits, but it’s still clear her world and her father’s are nothing alike. Someone's going to have to bend if they have any chance of the father-daughter relationship Daphne’s always wanted.
The Princess Diaries (2001)
Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) lives in San Francisco with her mom in a restored firehouse. Her father, whom she wasn't close with, recently died. She’s almost 16 and feels invisible at school, especially to her crush (Erik von Detten). But, out of nowhere, her estranged grandmother (Julie Andrews), comes to town with huge news: Mia's a princess (“Shut. Up!”). Soon, her whole world changes, and she has to decide if the royal life is something she wants. She obviously can’t talk to her father about it, but she still manages to find his guidance along the way.
There’s something about Steve Martin and a movie about fatherhood. Before the Father of the Bride movies, there was the Ron Howard-directed Parenthood. Gil Buckman (Martin) is a sales executive who already feels over his head with work and his children, who are having issues for which Gil blames himself. When his wife, Karen (Mary Steenburgen), reveals she's pregnant with their fourth child, Gil becomes fearful he won’t be able to handle one more kid, and—the ultimate fear—that he’s becoming his workaholic father.
Big Fish (2003)
Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) and his son William (Billy Crudup) have always had a strained relationship, because Edward told big, elaborate stories that William never believed. When Edward falls ill, William, a journalist, returns home, and in the final days of his dad’s life, William investigates these tall tales and learns more about his dad than he ever expected.
National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
As Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family (Dana Barron, Anthony Michael Hall, and Beverly D’Angelo) make their way from Illinois to a California amusement park, the family runs into some road blocks—including the death of a family member. By the time they make it to L.A., Clark worries his family will veer off track again and takes matters into his own (well-meaning but misguided) hands in order to make sure they make it to the park.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Kat (Julie Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) Stratford have a very strict single dad who forbids them to date. This isn’t a problem for Kat, who couldn't care less about the teen boys at her high school. But Bianca wants nothing more than to be like the rest of the popular set. When their father decides Bianca can date only if Kat does too, he inadvertently sets off a grand plan from new kid Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to get bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat, so Cameron can take out Bianca. Basically, the plot of this entire movie revolves around a stern father and his archaic rules, so there you have it: Father’s Day movie.
Father of the Bride (1991)
In this father-daughter classic (and remake of Vincent Minnelli's original from 1950), Steve Martin gets the age-old case of fatherly envy when his one and only daughter finds a guy she likes spending time with more than him—her fiancé! Daddy's little girl is all grown up, which makes Martin's George Banks a little cuckoo. It's endearing and hilarious to watch Martin go through wedding panic and have a full breakdown at a grocery store while tearing through bags of hot dogs and hot dog buns. Another comedic delight here is Martin Short, playing a European wedding planner who pronounces cake like "cock."
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
All Indiana Jones movies are arguably dad movies, but The Last Crusade is the dad-est of them all, as it features Harrison Ford as our favorite archaeologist working side by side with his father, Professor Henry Jones, played by the equally iconic Sean Connery. There's some good ol' father-son rivalry as they end up sleeping with the same woman (yikes), but it's nothing they can't set aside to fight the big bad guys (Nazis, in this case).
Mission: Impossible (1996)
There's nothing really dad about this movie except that dads seem to love it—at least, mine does. Every new Mission: Impossible movie is dad bait to get him to go to the movies with you, but nothing quite beats the first installment, directed by Brian De Palma. It's never not thrilling watching Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt infiltrate the CIA, hanging by rope, just one sweat drop away from blowing the entire thing. Or heck, watching a helicopter chase a train inside a goddamn tunnel.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Perhaps this is for the dad who gets late-career Terrence Malick, but I'm sure even a Malick rookie can be persuaded by the fact that Roger Ebert declared this one of the ten greatest films ever made. Ever. While some parts of the movie look like Windows desktop images (the whole Big Bang sequence), The Tree of Life is, at the end of the day, about something far more intimate: family, specifically the relationship between father and son. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn star—though the former is the father (in flashback). This may not be your typical "good dad" movie, but it's a poetic depiction of the complexities in their relationship and how father and son mirror each other.
Gotta include Heat on this list as it is, according to my own father, "the greatest movie ever made." First of all, the cast: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The two finally share screen time after a missed opportunity in The Godfather, Part 2, in which they shared a bill but never actually appeared in the same scene. In Michael Mann's Heat, Pacino, the cop, and De Niro, the crook, face off in an epic, nearly three-hour-long crime drama, which includes unforgettable lines ("She's got a GREAT ASS!") and an even more unforgettable shoot-out.
Hilary Weaver is a freelance writer based in New York who writes about politics, queer issues, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and every woman the Queen has ever made a dame. I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again three times in theaters, and that's pretty much all you need to know.
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