There’s no such thing as the wrong time to celebrate great movie dads, but with Father’s Day right around the corner, now is the perfect time! Check out our list of the 10 greatest movie dads of all time.
Whether he’s the perfect dad or just a dad trying to be perfect, you don’t have to go far to find some pretty great dads in your favorite movies. Some of the greatest characters ever written and performed have been fathers. However, there’s a big difference between a character that happens to be a father and one whose story is inherently tied to his fatherhood. This element is what helped us in our search for the 10 greatest movie dads of all time.
There are so many iconic movie dads, but that doesn’t always mean they’re very good fathers. When choosing our list, we tried to focus on those dads that characters whose story represents everything a good father should be. While we can go around and around all day listing qualities that make for a great dad, the element that unites them all is an altruistic heart and a giving soul. With that in mind, check out our list of the 10 greatest movie dads of all time. Check out our list below!
George Bailey, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946)
George Bailey is one of the most obvious names on this list, but sometimes the obvious choice is also the right one. Bailey is the protagonist of director Frank Capra’s iconic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. While the story begins at a time before George is a father, the film follows his journey from a precocious child to selfless father, husband, and businessman. The movie holds a mirror up to George showing him the profound positive impact he’s had on his community and family; if that doesn’t make him one of the 10 greatest movie dads of all time, nothing will.
Travis Henderson, ‘Paris, Texas’ (1984)
Wim Wender’s 1984 film Paris, Texas is one of the greatest movies ever made, so it’s fitting that the movie would feature one of the greatest movie dads of all time, too. Travis Henderson, played by Harry Dean Stanton, suffers from amnesia — he can’t remember anything from his past, not even his son. That doesn’t stop him, though. After wandering out of the desert and reconnecting with his family, Travis works to learn how to be a father again while also reuniting his family. It’s a devastating look at one man’s determination in the face of impossible circumstances and a real must see.
Furious Styles, ‘Boyz N the Hood’ (1991)
If you’ve seen Boyz N the Hood, then Furious Styles needs no introduction. Hell, even if you haven’t seen it, what more do you need to know about this guy other than the fact that his name is literally Furious. Styles. Putting his name aside for a second, Furious Styles may not be the warmest dad ever, but his intentions are always good and his love for his son is never in question. As Furious tries to guide his son Tre, the protagonist of the film, through his adolescence, the two butt heads frequently, but the lessons Furious imparts in the process are priceless and powerful.
Fa Zhou, ‘Mulan’ (1998)
While Mulan’s father Fa Zhou is only seen for a few minutes in the Disney’s iconic 1998 animated film Mulan, his presence casts a long shadow over the film and serves as a constant guideline for our protagonist. When Fa Zhou is called on to rejoin the army despite his lasting injury, Mulan takes his place without his permission. Themes of honor and duty run strong in Mulan and the influence that has on the story of fatherhood in the story is fascinating. When Mulan returns home, Fa Zhou calls Mulan his “greatest gift and honor” — his ability to grow, accept, and change makes him one of the 10 greatest movie dads of all time.
Calvin, ‘Ordinary People’ (1980)
Robert Redford’s Best Picture winning film Ordinary People is set against the backdrop of a family in the midst of chaos, trauma, and pain. After the accidental death of their eldest son, parents Calvin and Beth struggle to raise their teenage son Conrad. Calvin and Beth grieve and cope in much different ways; while Beth drifts away from her son, Calvin works to remain close to him. Calvin, played by Donald Sutherland, fights to keep Conrad safe and healthy — working to overcome his own grief so he can help his son with his. It’s a powerful story of family and loss featuring one of the 10 greatest movie dads of all time.
Mr. Perlman, ‘Call Me by Your Name’ (2017)
Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me by Your Name has been applauded for its intensely romantic, beautifully captured story of summer love between two young men. As Elio and Oliver fall in love against the luscious Italian summer, Elio’s father Mr. Perlman watches from the margins of the story, popping in and out with bits of wisdom, kindness, and humor. In the film’s final minutes, after Oliver leaves Italy to return home, Mr. Perlman opens up to his son, sharing intensely personal and honest advice and experience. It’s a perfectly balanced moment that, with just a few lines of dialogue, embodies everything a father should be; open-minded and open-hearted. It’s a perfect moment that you will carry with you long after the credits roll and that’s why Mr. Perlman is one of the 10 greatest movie dads ever.
Atticus Finch, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (1962)
Adapting Harper Lee’s hit novel To Kill a Mockingbird for the silver screen couldn’t have been easy, especially for the actors playing characters that the audience was already intimately familiar with from the book. However, Gregory Peck excels in his role as Atticus Finch, one of the greatest movie dads of all time. His levelheadedness, arguably his defining characteristic, makes him an incredible father — one willing to listen, give advice, and treat his children with respect. Despite being a single father, Finch works hard to be there for his kids and help them understand the significance of problems that may seem distant to them. It’s a powerful statement on the role a father should play in his children’s lives and a great example of one of the greatest movie dads ever.
Marlin, ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)
Disney’s Finding Nemo may be about fish — clownfish to be specific — but it’s also an incredible story of the relationship between a father and his son. When the movie begins, Marlin isn’t exactly the greatest dad; his fear for his son’s safety prevents him being the kind of father he should be. When Nemo is kidnapped, Marlin is forced to put his fear aside to track down his son. His journey helps show him that danger can do a fella good and when Marlin reunites with Nemo again, he learns to embrace his son’s adventurous spirit.
Ted Kramer, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979)
Kramer vs. Kramer isn’t exactly a shining example of parents at their best, but it does showcase a father rising to meet the challenge and learning to accept his faults and failures of the past. Ted, played by Dustin Hoffman, is shocked when his wife (played by Meryl Streep) leaves him and their child Billy. Ted is forced to be the primary caregiver to Billy for the first time in his son’s young life, giving the two the opportunity to build a relationship for the first time. While the film centers on the fall out of a separation, it grafts a moving story of family and fatherhood.
Toni Erdmann, ‘Toni Erdmann’ (2016)
German director Maren Ade’s Cannes favorite Toni Erdmann may not be at the top of your watchlist, but it should be; the film follows the relationship between a hard-working, dour businesswoman and her father who is anything but a professional. The two clash throughout the film as Ines struggles with her father’s sillier behavior. The two seem totally incompatible, that is until Toni starts helping Ines get back in touch with herself. Toni Erdmann is the story of what happens when dad knows what you need before you do and it’s all the better for it.