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Hollywood father figures & movie dads


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Oh dear. There is so much. How ever will I structure all of this material?

By director (Spielberg, John Hughes, Elia Kazan, etc.); by actor (Steve Martin, Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck, Donald Crisp); by genre/category (animation; fantasy/adventure; suburban nightmare films; live-action Disney)...

Obvious points of comparison: originals/remakes of Father of the Bride, Cheaper by the Dozen.

Dang, it is an awfully whitebread lineup. Any diversifying suggestions? Tyler Perry? Spike Lee? Anyone?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Dang, it is an awfully whitebread lineup. Any diversifying suggestions? Tyler Perry? Spike Lee? Anyone?

Jeff Goldblum in The Lost World?

I haven't seen any Tyler Perry (except Star Trek). I believe Lee touches on this

in He Got Game and Crooklyn. Didn't see the latter, and don't remember the former. Does Death at a Funeral count? Spy Kids?

Nick Alexander

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Well, the father figure in Tyler Perry's work that sticks out most in my mind is from (of course!) Daddy's Little Girls.

Major spoilers:

The dad in this movie cares very deeply for his two beautiful daughters. His wife, who is a one-note shrew, leaves him for another man, and the new guy, who a is drug dealer, does progressively worse things to the two girls, until one night they come home with bruises. The father, overcome by rage, attempts to murder his ex-wife and her new boyfriend by ramming his SUV into theirs.

Then came the part that made me very angry at the movie itself. So, the dad has just pulled the drug-dealing bastard from the wreckage of his car and is beating him to a pulp. The neighbors, looking on, actively prevent anyone from stopping him. In the climactic finale at trial, the neighbors all testify against the no-good boyfriend and his illegal drug dealing - so he and the ex-wife go to jail. Meanwhile, not a single witness saw anything about a assault with a deadly weapon or aggravated assault, so the father goes free.

I just about swore off Tyler Perry after I saw that movie. :(

Edited by David Smedberg

That's just how eye roll.

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Well, the father figure in Tyler Perry's work that sticks out most in my mind is from (of course!) Daddy's Little Girls.

Major spoilers:

The dad in this movie cares very deeply for his two beautiful daughters. His wife, who is a one-note shrew, leaves him for another man, and the new guy, who a is drug dealer, does progressively worse things to the two girls, until one night they come home with bruises. The father, overcome by rage, attempts to murder his ex-wife and her new boyfriend by ramming his SUV into theirs.

Then came the part that made me very angry at the movie itself. So, the dad has just pulled the drug-dealing bastard from the wreckage of his car and is beating him to a pulp. The neighbors, looking on, actively prevent anyone from stopping him. In the climactic finale at trial, the neighbors all testify against the no-good boyfriend and his illegal drug dealing - so he and the ex-wife go to jail. Meanwhile, not a single witness saw anything about a assault with a deadly weapon or aggravated assault, so the father goes free.

I just about swore off Tyler Perry after I saw that movie. :(

Did you see Diary of a Mad Black Woman?

The heroine has her cheating husband is completely at her mercy after he ends up in a wheelchair. From what I recall she generally abuses him and throws him around, finally dumping him into a bathtub. It's played as a triumphant moment for her, yet I found it kind of disturbing considering that within the story, it's what seems to finally motivate him to apologize to her for cheating. That level of revenge is never really questioned. Say what you want about Kill Bill, but at least The Bride had a few moments of pause here and there.

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Dang, it is an awfully whitebread lineup. Any diversifying suggestions? Tyler Perry? Spike Lee? Anyone?

I was going to post this one earlier, but some distraction caused it to completely slip my mind. This is not exactly family fare, but Laurence Fishburne as Furious Stiles, Cuba Gooding's father in Boyz N tha Hood, is one of my favorite father figures. He may not be the most PC of characters, but at least he wasn't promoting a "get them before they get you" message. I love the following scene (lots of profanity)...

Boyz N tha Hood

Another good father figure of the non-whitebread variety would be the late Jaime Escalante from Stand and Deliver, who substitutes for a lot of absent fathers in his students' lives, as well as being their teacher.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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Just thinking in terms of films almost entirely focused on the existence of or the lack of a father figure, Gerard Butler's character in Dear Frankie (already mentioned twice) comes to mind as one of the best. So then you have to include Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, Kevin Costner in A Perfect World, Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, and even Lee Pace in The Fall.

Three of the most powerful performances of fathers I most recently remember would Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Robert De Niro in City by the Sea, and Sam Shepherd in Don't Come Knocking.

Mel Gibson's father figure in The Patriot also comes to mind - the scene with his leading his two very young sons into battle to save their older brother is still seared into my memory.

Roy Dotrice in Amadeus seems like he should be important to a discussion of this type.

And isn't THE most famous on-screen father/son relationship in James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause? That would be what? The effeminate dad - his son has a huge problem with how he can never stand up for himself or his son or for anything for that matter. Damn, come to think of it, Raymond Massey's father figure in East of Eden is probably pretty important too.

What about Sam Rockwell's dad character in Joshua ... anyone?

just brainstorming on the subject

Edited by Persiflage
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Did you see Diary of a Mad Black Woman?

The heroine has her cheating husband is completely at her mercy after he ends up in a wheelchair. From what I recall she generally abuses him and throws him around, finally dumping him into a bathtub. It's played as a triumphant moment for her, yet I found it kind of disturbing considering that within the story, it's what seems to finally motivate him to apologize to her for cheating. That level of revenge is never really questioned. Say what you want about Kill Bill, but at least The Bride had a few moments of pause here and there.

Nope, never saw that one. The only other Tyler Perry movie I saw was Meet the Browns. But what you're describing fits my impression.

SDG, I also remembered a father figure I should have mentioned before, "Pops" in Speed Racer. Interesting character, although I'm aware you weren't as big into that movie as some of us...

That's just how eye roll.

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SDG, I also remembered a father figure I should have mentioned before, "Pops" in Speed Racer. Interesting character, although I'm aware you weren't as big into that movie as some of us...

Especially since I didn't see it. :)

Thanks all for the brainstorming. I'll be finishing up the piece in the next few days (and hiding out until then).

Persiflage, good calls on Rebel and East of Eden, both are high on the list of 1950s touchstones, along with Father of the Bride. Not fathers with young children (my ideal subject films) but still worth highlighting. Boyz N the Hood is a good call.

So many movies I have to exclude. Dear Frankie = British, same for Peter's beloved The Family Way. Other non-Hollywood films like Life is Beautiful and alas Totoro are out. Films like The Winslow Boy and The Wrestler are too far off the beaten path, along with Wes Anderson and lots of other stuff (I only have 3000 words, keeping it mainstream is a necessary delimitation).

Last call for (to focus the question as much as possible) your favorite positive father figures from the last decade, especially with younger children. Thanks all!

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Last call for (to focus the question as much as possible) your favorite positive father figures from the last decade, especially with younger children. Thanks all!

Not from the last decade, but I found the "imitation" scene from Jaws to be one of the most tender depictions of fatherhood in modern filmmaking, involving a younger child.

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Last call for (to focus the question as much as possible) your favorite positive father figures from the last decade, especially with younger children. Thanks all!

Ah, positive father figures with younger children in the last decade ... Russell Crowe's James Braddock in Cinderella Man.

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Edited by Persiflage
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Last call for (to focus the question as much as possible) your favorite positive father figures from the last decade, especially with younger children. Thanks all!

Ah, positive father figures with younger children in the last decade ... Russell Crowe's James Braddock in Cinderella Man.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't the one category I wanted all along -- just the one category I'd like to beef up at this point. And yeah, Cinderella Man is in my initial post. :)

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Avalon, 1990 -- nearly more than two decades old!

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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SDG, I also remembered a father figure I should have mentioned before, "Pops" in Speed Racer. Interesting character, although I'm aware you weren't as big into that movie as some of us...

Especially since I didn't see it. :)

Oh! got it did not know that... I recommend it BTW.

A few more details about Pops (as he is a positive father figure - after his "conversion") -- in flashbacks we see Pops turn his back on Speed's older brother Rex and tell him that if he leaves, he should never come back. Later,

Speed himself is in a remarkably similar position, and his father sits him down and tells him that he saw how deeply he hurt Rex and that Speed should know that nothing could be more important than his son. If he ever wants to come back, the door will always be open.

The whole movie is a reflection on family, especially fathers and (grown) sons.

Edited by David Smedberg

That's just how eye roll.

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Hey, it hit me last night: The Road!

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Hey, it hit me last night: The Road!

Terrific, thx Christian.

Hey, I'm re-watching the Spencer Tracy Father of the Bride ... amused that the price tag on the wedding cake that Tracy gawks at is exactly what we paid for our cake in 1991 ... the very same year that the Steve Martin remake came out! (The wedding cake in the 1991 remake cost three times as much as the 1950 cake / our cake.)

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 years later...

Three years later, I'm coming back to the thread on movie dads for a follow-up on my forthcoming article on best movie moms (related thread) -- naturally, an article on best movie dads.

In my "Hollywood father figures" article three years ago I wrote the following:

Not long ago I was asked by an interviewer whether the Hollywood of today has a problem portraying strong, effective father figures “such as Atticus Finch or Captain von Trapp.” The examples chosen, both from the 1960s, highlight the problem of the search for Hollywood’s ideal father figure. Both characters are widowers, to begin with — no fault of their own, surely, but it would be a melancholy thing if fathers appear at their best only where there are no mothers.

As we noted three years ago, the search for ideal movie dads turns out to be about as melacholy as the search for ideal movie moms -- especially following the same criteria I used for movie moms, i.e.,

  1. affirmative depictions of
  2. admirable fathers (and by "fathers" I mean primarily real fathers [i.e., birth fathers, stepfathers and adoptive or foster fathers], not just "father figures," even if the primary "paternal" relationship in the movie is more of a "father figure" sort)
  3. in onscreen father-child relationships (ideally though not necessarily
  4. in intact families of some sort or other).

Atticus Finch is one of the cinema's greatest secular saints, so it would be hard to exclude him, though his relationship with Scout isn't a big part of the film. Georg von Trapp is ... problematic. His relationship with his kids is awful to start with, and while he improves a great deal, is he really one of the cinema's best fathers ever?

Below is a list of possible contenders, including a bunch who appear on lots of "best movie dads" lists. Some good candidates.

One interesting note: No fewer than three of the favorite dads below are played by Dennis Quaid! And that's not even counting his paternal roles in The Parent Trap, The Day After Tomorrow, In Good Company and Yours, Mine and Ours. (Am I missing any?) Has any actor ever played so many likable fathers?

Thoughts, suggestions and cinematic fathers from off the beaten track greatly appreciated.

  • Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), Taken. (No. On-screen relationship is negligible; divorce doesn't help.)
  • Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner), Up. (Runner-up, perhaps.)
  • Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli), The Twilight Saga. (No.)
  • Chris Gardner (Will Smith), The Pursuit of Happyness. (Yes.)
  • Clark Griswold, the Vacation movies. (What the hell?)
  • Daddy Warbucks (Albert Finney), Annie. (Dunno. Haven't seen it since theatrical release.)
  • Darth Vader, the Star Wars saga. (No, seriously. People really defend this. Insane people.)
  • Dill Penderghast (Stanley Tucci), Easy A. (No.)
  • King Fergus (Billy Connolly), Brave. (Probably not, much as I love his relationship with Merida.)
  • Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), Frequency. (Probably.)
  • George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), It's a Wonderful Life. (No, on the same grounds that I passed on Mary in the moms list. N doubt George is a terrific father, but we only really see him as father on that horrible Christmas Eve, where he’s not at his best. A tender scene with Zuzu, some hugging and so forth isn’t enough to depict him as the great father he no doubt is.)
  • George/Stanley Banks (Spencer Tracy/Steve Martin), Father of the Bride. (No.)
  • Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), Life is Beautiful. (Probably.)
  • James Braddock (Russell Crowe), Cinderella Man. (Probably.)
  • Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), The Rookie. (Maybe.)
  • John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington), John Q. (No.)
  • Marlin (Albert Brooks), Finding Nemo. (Absolutely. Best animated father figure ever, IMO.)
  • Mr. Little (Hugh Laurie), Stuart Little (2). (Maybe.)
  • Mufasa (James Earl Jones), The Lion King. (Maybe. Not a fan of the movie, which works against it.)
  • Pacha (John Goodman), The Emperor's New Groove. (Maybe.)
  • Pod, The Secret World of Arrietty. (Maybe.)
  • Prince Albert, King George VI (Colin Firth), The King's Speech. (Maybe, though slightness of material counts against it.)
  • Rev. Maclean (Tom Skerritt), A River Runs Through It. (Probably. Does he have a first name?)
  • Robert Parr / Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), The Incredibles. (Probably the runners-up list.)
  • Tatsuo Kusakabe, My Neighbor Totoro. (Probably.)
  • Thomas More (Paul Scofield), A Man for All Seasons. (Quite possibly, despite the slight material.)
  • Tom Hamilton (Dennis Quaid), Soul Surfer. (Maybe.)

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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P.S. One important way that this piece is different from my 2010 piece: I'm not limiting myself here to Hollywood fathers. So, give me your best indie and foreign cinematic fathers!

Also, note that the father-child relationships don't have to be with young kids, but the relationship must be important, and specifically paternal/filial.

Oh, and in my 2010 piece I was more focused on recent father figures. Does not obtain this time around.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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I think Warbucks has way too little screen time in Annie to qualify; George Bailey has a much larger role as a father than Warbucks.

Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Brother Christian in Of Gods and Men is certainly a great father type figure, but I don't know if you want to go that route.

Paul Giamatti in Win Win? He makes some bad mistakes, but he's trying to do the best for his family. Same goes for the father in A Separation.

Possibly Peter Falk in A Woman Under the Influence, but that focuses more on his role as a husband than as a father.

Maybe Victor Sjostrom in Wild Strawberries? That's more about his transformation, but it does focus on his role as a father.

Maybe Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man? Edit: I see he was mentioned before.

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Jess Birdwell in Friendly Persuasion?

Good call, maybe. I'll have to watch it again.

Thanks, Evan. I meant to include Braddock (Crowe) in Cinderella Man in my list above, but I forgot. Probably won't go for any of the others. (Christian from Of Gods and Men could possibly make my honorable mention (second 10) list, just as my runners-up mothers list included Lilia Skala from Lilies of the Field.)

Anyone else? I'm sure there are stellar fathers out there in noteworthy foreign films I haven't seen (or haven't thought of).

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof

Possibly Tokyo Story and Make Way for Tomorrow. Rotten children in both films, but good fathers.

I like all three of those better than my earlier suggestions.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Le Fils

I would think that Pacha would be a clear choice, rather than a maybe. He's pretty much a dad to Kusco. Similarly, Dean in The Iron Giant.

That's just how eye roll.

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Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof: Maybe. I'll have to watch it again. Thanks, Evan.

I just revisited Make Way for Tomorrow and I'm not likely to go that way. Or Tokyo Story either. The mystery of good parents with bad children is more ambiguity than I want to take on in what is meant to be an affirmative piece.

David, yeah, you're right about Pacha: He is a shoo-in, though his relationship with Kuzco isn't quite enough to seal the deal. As I wrote in my forthcoming movie moms piece, for the top 10 list itself I want real parents (i.e., birth parents, stepparents and adoptive or foster parents), even if the central "parental" relationship is none of these. So Pacha's "paternal" relationship to Kuzco is relevant, but it's the fact that he's also a real father (and a rare father in Hollywood animation with a happy, intact family) that seals the deal.

And, for that reason, Dean from The Iron Giant may not make the cut. Although I guess he technically qualifies since he becomes Hogarth's stepdad in the denouement. It's a close call. (Weighing against it: I included Annie in the mom's list. I know, I know: Why wouldn't the same movies have the best dads and the best moms? But I can't help it. I like variety. Pacha's wife Chicha, significantly, only made the runners-up list, being a much more minor character than Pacha, and without a "maternal" relationship other than her few scenes with the kids. By the same token, Dean is more likely to make the runner-up list.)

Ben: I think I have to exclude documentaries. I'm interested in imaginative stories here.

Other suggestions? I'm sure there are key movie dads I haven't thought of, or have never encountered. Please help!

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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