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25 memorable fathers across film history

For every loving father, there is a mean one.
Here's a list of some iconic father figures throughout the decades.

Fathers get decidedly mixed reviews in Hollywood. For every movie depicting a loving and tender father, there’s another one of a father who is bitter, estranged, or worse. 

Stacker surveyed film history to compile a list of movies across decades, countries, and genres that portray memorable fathers. IMDb user rating and Metascores are provided for popular and critical context.

Among our discoveries were comedies that poked fun at stereotypical fathers befuddled by their families or in a frenzy over their daughter’s beau. Many movie fathers are estranged from their children, looking for redemption and ways to make up for lost time. Some, like the father figures in “There Will Be Blood” and “The Godfather,” show seemingly little love for their progeny.

Then there are the fathers who are the heroes, like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch fighting small-town racial hatred in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Liam Neeson rescuing his daughter from sex traffickers in the action film “Taken,” and Roberto Benigni’s Guido Orefice protecting his young son from the cruelties of a Holocaust concentration camp in “Life is Beautiful.”

Sit back and enjoy the show!

Father of the Bride (1991)

- Director: Charles Shyer
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Metascore: 51
- Runtime: 105 minutes

Steve Martin is the “Father of the Bride” who falls into a panic over the news that his daughter is engaged. The bride’s mother is played by Diane Keaton. The movie is a remake of a popular 1950 version starring Spencer Tracy.

He Got Game (1998)

- Director: Spike Lee
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Metascore: 64
- Runtime: 136 minutes

“He Got Game” explores a fraught relationship between an imprisoned father, played by Denzel Washington, and his estranged son, a rising basketball star. In a story told with flashbacks, Washington’s character realizes he can get his jail term shortened if his son goes along with his plans.

Dheepan (2015)

- Director: Jacques Audiard
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 115 minutes

“Dheepan” tells the story of three Tamil refugees pretending to be a family so they can immigrate to France from Sri Lanka. Antonythasan Jesuthasan plays a defeated rebel soldier posing with two strangers acting as his wife and daughter in a bid to win asylum.

Leave No Trace (2018)

- Director: Debra Granik
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 109 minutes

In “Leave No Trace,” a father and daughter are living off the grid in Oregon when their circumstances change abruptly. Ben Foster stars as the father looking out for his teenage daughter while grappling with his own PTSD from serving in the war.

Beginners (2010)

- Director: Mike Mills
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 105 minutes

“Beginners” tells the story of an aging father, newly widowed, who reveals to his son that he is gay. Christopher Plummer is the father, enjoying his newfound liberty to dance in gay clubs and have a boyfriend. When Plummer took home Best Actor that year at the Academy Awards, he became the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar—a record broken in 2021 by Anthony Hopkins for “The Father.”

Fences (2016)

- Director: Denzel Washington
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 139 minutes

Played by Denzel Washington, Troy Maxson in “Fences” is a sanitation worker living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. He struggles with his dashed dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and with the ambitions of his son. It is based on a play of the same name by August Wilson, which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award.

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

- Director: Mira Nair
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 114 minutes

Set in Delhi, “Monsoon Wedding” is a mix of comedy and drama as a middle-class family prepares for their daughter’s arranged marriage. Set against the formality of the occasion is a lively array of secrets, trauma, and family tensions.

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

- Director: Harold Ramis
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 55
- Runtime: 98 minutes

Headed up by Chevy Chase, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” has become a hugely popular, often referenced comic classic. The Griswold family drives from the suburbs to an amusement park in Southern California for a summer vacation, making for a road trip filled with silliness and gags as whatever can go wrong does, and more.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

- Director: Wes Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 110 minutes

Gene Hackman is the “dying” patriarch in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family whose eccentric members return to their family's New York City mansion. The neurotic Tenenbaum siblings, all former child prodigies, are played by Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

- Director: John Singleton
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 112 minutes

In “Boyz n the Hood,” three teens grow up in south central Los Angeles, where violence is a way of life. Their trajectory changes when one of them, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., is sent away to live with his strict disciplinarian father, played by Laurence Fishburne.

Taken (2008)

- Director: Pierre Morel
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 51
- Runtime: 90 minutes

“Taken” is an action thriller starring Liam Neeson as a former government agent forced into a return to action when his teenage daughter and her friend are abducted in Paris. He must rescue the pair before they are sold into slavery by sex traffickers.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

- Director: Luca Guadagnino
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 132 minutes

“Call Me by Your Name” revolves around the relationship between the teenaged Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet, and a handsome American, played by Armie Hammer, who arrives in northern Italy to work as a summer assistant to the boy’s father, a professor of archaeology. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the boy’s sage and compassionate father, who gives a moving speech about love and loss.

My Man Godfrey (1936)

- Director: Gregory La Cava
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 82
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Carole Lombard and William Powell star in the screwball comedy “My Man Godfrey” about a spoiled young socialite and a butler hired to work for her family. Eugene Pallette plays the long-suffering father who in reality is broke and overwhelmed by his family’s lavish spending habits.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

- Director: Gabriele Muccino
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 64
- Runtime: 117 minutes

In “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Will Smith plays a salesman in San Francisco struggling with homelessness while raising his 5-year-old son on his own. The child is played by the star’s real-life son Jaden Smith, and the movie is based on a true story.

Finding Nemo (2003)

- Directors: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 100 minutes

“Finding Nemo” is the heartwarming animated tale of a young clownfish named Nemo, who is captured by a diver. Dangers and adventures await his concerned father Marlin, whose voice is provided by Albert Brooks, in his determined effort to rescue his son.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

- Director: Robert Mulligan
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 129 minutes

Atticus Finch, the iconic father and hero in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” earned Gregory Peck an Academy Award for Best Actor. A lawyer and widower, Finch helps lead an inspiring battle against racism and injustice in the Deep South.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

- Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 158 minutes

Daniel Day-Lewis plays a down-and-out silver miner who heads west with his adopted son in hopes of striking it rich in oil in “There Will Be Blood.” Cruelty and heartlessness mark his journey as he makes his fortune.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 127 minutes

The movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is the third in the popular series featuring the adventurous archaeologist played by Harrison Ford. In the film, he discovers that his estranged father, portrayed by Sean Connery, has disappeared while hunting for the Holy Grail, the much sought-after biblical artifact. Indiana Jones must fend off Nazi fortune hunters in his bid to rescue his father.

Ikiru (1952)

- Director: Akira Kurosawa
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 143 minutes

The classic “Ikiru” recounts the story of an aging bureaucrat in Tokyo who learns he is terminally ill and struggles with how to spend the remaining days of his life. Among the tasks of the dying man, played by Takashi Shimura, is a visit to an ungrateful and distant son.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

- Director: Vittorio De Sica
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 89 minutes

The winner of an honorary Academy Award for outstanding foreign language film released in the U.S., “Bicycle Thieves” is the poignant tale of a poor man in postwar Italy desperate to track down his bicycle, which has been stolen, that he needs for work. He is accompanied in his search through the streets of Rome by his young son Bruno.

A Separation (2011)

- Director: Asghar Farhadi
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 123 minutes

Set in Tehran, “A Separation” revolves around a middle-class couple in conflict. The wife wants to take their daughter and leave the country, but the husband wants to remain in Iran to care for his elderly father. He hires a young woman to tend to his father, leading to further tension and drama.

Parasite (2019)

- Director: Bong Joon Ho
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 132 minutes

The lives of two Korean families, one rich and one poor, are intertwined in “Parasite.” The impoverished family schemes to become part of the wealthy family’s household, with violent and bizarre consequences, especially for the two patriarchs. The movie won four Oscars—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film—and became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture in Oscar history in 2020.

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

- Director: Roberto Benigni
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Metascore: 59
- Runtime: 116 minutes

Roberto Benigni stars in “Life is Beautiful” as a Jewish-Italian father who is taken to a concentration camp with his young son during World War II. There, in an effort to shield the child from the horrors of the Holocaust, he convinces his son that their imprisonment is a game. It garnered three Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Lead Actor for Benigni.

Star Wars (1977)

- Director: George Lucas
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 121 minutes

In “Star Wars,” the first of the popular movie series, heroes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo rescue Princess Leia from the Death Star. They battle with the evil Darth Vader, whom Skywalker believes has murdered his father.

The Godfather (1972)

- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 175 minutes

Marlon Brando plays the leading role in the enormous hit film “The Godfather.” Holding court as Don Corleone, he is entangled in a web of deceit, betrayal, and drama in his family ties, not the least of which is his relationship with his son Michael, played by Al Pacino.