Who's the daddy? The best fathers on film

On screen fathers Darth Vader, Vito Corleone, Mufasa, Bryan Mills and Jack Torrance.

In honour of Father’s Day, Chris Wasser brings us the most memorable cinematic dads of all time.

Who is the greatest screen daddy of them all? 

Well, we’ve certainly had our fill. Indeed, there has been no shortage of difficult, influential, loving, neglectful, caring, temperamental, angelic and, of course, monstrous, patriarchs on the big screen. 

A handful of them even managed to tick every one of those boxes.

Some of the greatest films of all time have been the ones that shine a light on the tricky and troublesome business of fatherhood. 

Many movie dads are legitimate heroes, whose wise words we take with us and, perhaps, share, with our own families, long after the credits have rolled. 

It’s been this way ever since Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Tramp’ adopted an abandoned Jackie Coogan, raising the boy to be his partner-in-crime, in the endearing, 1921 silent-era classic, The Kid.

A century later, and father flicks continue to turn a profit at the box-office. 

The 2015 comedy, Daddy’s Home, with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell – a brash and noisy, major-studio display, in which a good-natured stepfather goes to war with the bad-boy, biological daddy of his wife’s children – grossed a phenomenal $242m.

They aren’t always as annoying or as loud as Ferrell and Marky Mark, however. Some have been rather lovely (see JK Simmons’ Mac MacGuff — the central father figure, and the quiet, beating heart of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s coming-of-age dramedy, Juno). 

With Father’s Day just around the corner - what better time to explore some of cinema’s most memorable daddies?

Mr Perlman (Call Me by Your Name, 2017)

We’ll begin with Luca Guadagnino’s intelligent and enchanting, Oscar-winning gem. The year is 1983, and we’re in northern Italy. 

The remarkable Michael Stuhlbarg is Mr Perlman — a wise, archaeology professor, whose teenage son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) falls in love with Perlman’s 24-year-old graduate student/assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer).

Perlman spends most of his time on the sideline, but in the final act, when Oliver returns to America, leaving behind a devastated Elio, the greatest dad in modern cinema decides to share with his son — and, in turn, the audience — a lesson like no other. 

As it turns out, this loving, articulate and supportive father knew what was going on between his son and his student, and, in a beautiful finale, advises his boy not to bury his emotions, but instead, to embrace them.

“You had a beautiful friendship — maybe more than a friendship,” he shares, “and I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, and pray their sons to land on their feet — but I am not such a parent.” Holy moly. I’m not crying — you’re crying.

Darth Vader (Star Wars, 1977 – 2016)

There are better ways to inform a chap that you’re his daddy than to cut off his right hand before revealing your true identity.

Yep, we’re talking about that epic, head-spinning revelation in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader informs an injured Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) that he didn’t kill his dad. 

“I am your father,” reveals Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). “Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son!” 

Obviously, Luke passed on the offer, eventually fleeing to Skellig Michael for some much-needed respite.

Vito Corleone (The Godfather, 1972)

Ah, the Don— what a guy. Always put his children first, did Don (portrayed with graceful malevolence by an Oscar-winning, Marlon Brando). 

Tough but loyal; strict yet kind, Vito Corleone was a Mafia giant with a mantra: “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family, can never be a real man.” 

Indeed, if you were fortunate to call Vito a friend, you could rely on him for a favour. He wouldn’t let you down. You certainly wouldn’t want to let him down…

Bryan Mills (Taken, 2008 – 2014)

An American teenager named Kim is kidnapped by Albanian smugglers while in Paris. But things take a turn for the bonkers when it emerges Kim’s dad — security guard, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) — is a former CIA field agent with a very particular set of skills. 

You know the score — he will find the kidnappers, and he will kill them. 

Chaos ensues across Europe as the Big Man batters anyone who has anything to do with the abduction. That’s fatherly love, right there.

Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006)

Gabriele Muccino’s tender, biographical drama tells the story of Chris Gardner – a multi-millionaire stockbroker who, before making his fortune, struggled to keep a roof over his family’s heads. 

The film focuses on the years Gardner (an excellent Will Smith), an unpaid intern with a major stock brokerage, struggled with homelessness, all the while single-handedly raising his infant son, Christopher (portrayed by Smith’s real-life son, Jaden Smith). 

Yes, it’s emotionally manipulative, and a little too Hallmark for our liking. 

But Big Will’s elegant portrayal of Gardner who goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his son safe and oblivious from the hardships of their reality is what keeps us invested.

Mufasa (The Lion King, 1994)

All we need to remember here is that King Mufasa (James Earl Jones, again) literally died protecting his son, Simba. 

He then returned, years later — as a ghostly, night-sky figure — to give adult Simba a pep talk, encouraging his heroic boy to take back the throne. 

The best dad ever? Probably.

Henry Jones, Sr (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

A joyous, action-packed, father-and-son adventure is one thing, but finding out that you and your dad shared the same love interest is sort of troubling. 

But hey, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), and his professor father, Henry (Sean Connery), had bigger fish to fry, fighting off Nazis and ghoulish booby traps on their epic quest to locate the Holy Grail. 

I just hope they eventually remembered to have a proper heart-to-heart…

Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962)

Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his compelling turn as Atticus Finch — a widowed father-of-two and brilliant lawyer who, in 1930s Alabama, risks public ridicule by defending a black man wrongfully accused of rape. 

Harper Lee’s timeless and captivating tale of empathy, compassion and lessons hard learned in America’s deep south, has been interpreted every which way you can think of. 

But the driving force of Robert Mulligan’s fine, soulful adaptation is Peck’s Atticus — a devoted father and kind-hearted knight whose professional endeavours and personal beliefs is that of a chap who wishes to make the world a better place, not just for his fellow man, but for his two children.

Jason ‘Furious’ Styles (Boyz n the Hood, 1991)

“Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”

Wise words, courtesy of Jason ‘Furious’ Styles (Laurence Fishburne) in the late, great John Singleton’s game-changing, Oscar-nominated directorial debut, Boyz n the Hood. 

Always a scene-stealer, never a show-off, Fishburne delivers a cool, calm and collected portrayal of a tough yet sensible patriarch, trying to keep his son, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr), out of trouble, in South Central Los Angeles. 

In short, Furious is exactly the kind of father you want in your corner.

Jack Torrance (The Shining, 1980)

In Stephen King’s The Shining, the undisputed master of horror delivered a complex tale of fatherhood, parental abuse, depression and supernatural shenanigans in the Rocky Mountains. 

In Stanley Kubrick’s warped, cinematic adaptation — which King denounced — we were presented with a different sort of beast altogether; a visually disturbing tale of a hotel caretaker who falls off the deep end and tries to murder his family. 

Yeah, we might have to file Jack under the Bad Movie Dad category. Sorry.

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