What would we do without dads? Great dads helped us learn how to ride a bike, drive a car, be respectful and act like a gentleman. Crummy dads give us a guide of what not to do if we ever have kids. Movie dads operate mostly in the same way. The great ones can teach us how to be a man and raise a family, sometimes acting as the only positive male figure we see growing up, and the not-so-great ones are a cautionary tale.
Movie dads have the advantage of scriptwriters and multiple takes to get parenting right. While no one actually has that in real life, great movie dads can still inspire us to be the best parent we can be or even fill a void for the parent we no longer have. Whether you’re celebrating Father’s Day or simply looking for some inspiration, check out these 10 great performances by some of the best movie dads in film history.
1. The Pursuit of Happyness
WILL SMITH AS CHRIS GARDNER
Based on the true story of stockbroker Chris Gardner, Will Smith plays a single father who fights his way to the top of a brokerage firm in order to land a high-paying job that will lift him and his son out of poverty. Co-starring with his actual son Jaden Smith, the elder Smith gives a moving performance as Gardner, a man with nowhere to go and no one to turn to who continues to be a force of resilience and commitment. The film earned Smith an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination and a place in film history as one of the most tireless and loving fathers to ever grace the big screen. FYI, you will cry watching this film. Just accept it now.
The Pursuit of Happyness
2. Mrs. Doubtfire
ROBIN WILLIAMS AS DANIEL HILLARD/MRS. DOUBTFIRE
Admittedly, Mrs. Doubtfire is not the most realistic example of positive parenting on our list, but it continues to be a family favorite film that shows the (extreme) lengths some dads will go to in order to be with their kids. After his divorce leaves him with limited visitation rights, Daniel Hillard answers his ex-wife’s want ad for a nanny and turns himself into Mrs. Doubtfire in order to spend more time with his three children. Outrageous? Yes. Still sweet and endearing after almost thirty years? Also yes. Robin Williams can do no wrong.
STEVE MARTIN AS GIL BUCKMAN
Before Parenthood the TV show, which aired for one season in 1990, then Parenthood the next TV show, which was much better received and aired for six seasons starting in 2010, there was Parenthood the movie. Directed by Ron Howard, the film focused on the Buckman family, specifically Gil Buckman, played by Steve Martin. Along with his wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen), the pair are raising three kids with a fourth on the way. Gil’s parenting issues are commonplace, from worrying about his job and the family finances to fearing that he’s passing down all the anxiety and stress issues his father gave to him. Gil’s best parenting moments are also his most mundane, from dressing up as a cowboy for his son’s birthday, to spending hours searching for a lost retainer in takeout garbage. He’s not the perfect dad, because the perfect dad doesn’t exist, but he is a dad that is continually working towards being better for his kids, and what’s more admirable than that?
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
CHEVY CHASE AS CLARK GRISWOLD
There’s not much Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) won’t do for his family, whether it’s driving across the country with a dead body to Wally World or flying to Europe and accidentally taking part in a robbery. For the holidays, Clark wants his kids Rusty and Audrey to get the ultimate surprise when he announces they’re getting an in-ground pool. Unfortunately, a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club won’t cut it, but minus a minor breakdown (it’s good for kids to see their parents as human), Clark still commits to putting his family first and giving them a great holiday. Chunky eggnog, burnt turkey, and all the festive treats included. Hallelujah! Where’s the Tylenol?
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
5. American Pie
EUGENE LEVY AS NOAH LEVENSTEIN
Before Eugene Levy was winning every award as Johnny Rose in Schitt’s Creek and cementing his place in the TV dad hall of fame, he was already winning hearts as Jim’s (Jason Biggs) dad Noah in the American Pie series. Whether he’s catching his son experimenting with baked goods or helping to get rid of cold feet the night before a wedding, Noah’s calm demeanor and understanding nature make him the ideal person to ask for advice about, well, anything. Seriously, he was very chill about the pie thing.
6. Boyz In The Hood
LAURENCE FISHBURN AS FURIOUS STYLES
John Singleton’s groundbreaking 1991 debut starred Laurence Fishburne as Jason ‘Furious’ Styles, a man who is trying to keep his teenage son Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr) on the path towards college and a bright future, a feat that is especially difficult in the crime-ridden South Central LA neighborhood where they live. Fishburne’s ability to dominate every scene with his wisdom, force and unwavering support for his son and other young men in the neighborhood make him a bright light in an area that has been largely forgotten. Furious was ‘woke’ before the rest of the world really knew what that meant and was dedicated to improving the lives of those in his family as well as everyone on his block.
Boyz 'N The Hood
LIAM NEESON AS BRYAN MILLS
Many dads are quick to say they would kill for their child, but former Green Beret and CIA officer Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has the skills to back up the claim. The highly trained dad will stop at literally nothing when his daughter is kidnapped, proving that there is no end to a father’s love. Also, bad guys should really do more research before deciding who to kidnap. He will find you.
8. Bend It Like Beckham
ANUPAM KAUR AS MOHAAN BHARMA
Raising kids in a foreign country poses massive obstacles for parents and in Bend It Like Beckham, Anupam Kaur brings the emotion needed to the role of Mohaan Bharma. As a father to a teenage girl in England who dreams of playing soccer, Mohaan is trapped between raising his children to respect their culture while also embracing a country that looks very different from where he grew up. Mohaan eventually finds a way to make both his daughter and wife happy while also returning to a sport he loved that was taken from him when he arrived in a place that is often cruel to foreigners. It’s not easy being a #girldad, especially when culture’s clash, but Bend It Like Beckham tackles its character’s pull between two worlds with sensitivity and grace.
Bend It Like Beckham
STEVEN YEUN AS JACOB YI
Is there a harder working dad than the immigrant dad? In the Oscar-winning Minari, which was loosely based on writer and director Lee Isaac Chung’s upbringing, Steven Yeun plays patriarch Jacob Yi, a man who has moved from South Korea to Arkansas in hopes of providing his family with a better life. Determined to turn his empty property into a successful farm, Jacob teaches his children how to understand the land and create crops that will satisfy the growing South Korean population in the US. Jacob and his wife clash over the stress of their situation, but his love for his family and commitment to making his dream come true as a means of giving his family security is unwavering.
10. Remember The Titans
DENZEL WASHINGTON AS HERMAN BOONE
Denzel Washington’s role as the real-life football coach Herman Boone in Remember The Titans showed the power of father figures in every aspect of life. Boone has two young daughters at home and is a loving and caring father who is continually striving to provide them with a better life. He is also a stern but understanding coach on the field and for many of his players, the only positive male role model in their lives. Dad’s are important, but dad-adjacent men can have just as big an impact on a young person’s life.