As a dad, I’ve become concerned about the image of fathers portrayed in popular culture. It seems all too common that dads in movies and sitcoms are bumbling, unconnected squares who are the comedic foil and butt of all the jokes. Fatherhood becomes a joke, and alternative family structures without fathers take precedence. It serves to belittle the role of dad and promotes fatherless households in popular culture.
So when I see a movie that presents a strong father figure, I cheer a little. It is good to see that not everything in entertainment is geared toward tearing down the traditional role of fatherhood. It gives me something to share with my kids and helps reinforce what I’m trying to be: the best dad that I can be.
Here’s to putting Pop back in pop culture!
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite movies that portray a strong father or father figure. These are the movies that I love watching with my family and that send a positive message about the nuclear family.
Not exactly a father—and they’re animated race cars, not humans. But in one of his final performances, Paul Newman voices Hudson Hornet, the old, washed-up former race champion who takes the young hotshot, Lightning McQueen, under his wing and teaches him the tricks of the trade. Definitely a father figure character, he shows tough love and shares his experiences to make the up and coming star better.
7. The Lego Movie
This movie is a lot like The Wizard of Oz, in that the main story is a fantasy that gives way to real life in the end. The young son makes the dire mistake of messing with his dad’s Lego models that are to be touched by no one. In the end, the dad, played to great effect by Will Ferrell, relents and comes to realize that quality time with his son is more important than preserving his pristine Lego creations. It’s a little bit silly, but the movie is legitimately hysterical, and the payoff at the end is worth it.
6. To Kill A Mockingbird
What can you say about this masterpiece? Gregory Peck gives the seminal portrayal of fatherhood for the entire history of cinema. Humble, understated, stoic. Atticus Finch is the quintessential patriarchal rock. He has a few tricks up his sleeve, though, much to the surprise of his children. He refuses to make an ostentatious show about his actions. His legendary exchanges with Mary Badham, the actress who played his grade school-aged daughter Scout, were authentic. Atticus, as portrayed by Peck, has a way of explaining complex problems in the world so that a little girl can understand them. I love watching this with my whole family—even though it deals with the very ugly subject of racism in the post-Reconstruction South.
5. March of the Penguins
This movie shows the ordeal undertaken by the male penguins to migrate their new chicks across the continent, while the female penguins are away at sea feeding. Another non-human example of what fathers are willing to do to ensure the survival and health of their kids.
4. The Incredibles
It’s the classic retired married superhero crimefighting duo living a normal life in the suburbs, until one day Mr. Incredible sneaks out of the house to start fighting bad guys again. It’s sort of a midlife crisis story that resolves itself with the family coming together to save the day. The dad would do anything to save his family, just like all of us ersatz superheroes.
3. Finding Nemo
Meek and afraid, Marlin—a clownfish who feels much safer in his anemone than in the open ocean—must find and rescue his only remaining son after he’s taken by humans and destined for a fish tank. Along the way, he overcomes his fears to save his son. The son also has a deformed fin, a subtle way for the film to portray children with special needs, and the bond they have with Dad.
2. Mrs. Doubtfire
A flawed movie, it was still fun in parts. What really puts this movie over the top for me is the way Robin Williams portrays a heartbroken divorced father who is literally incapable of functioning without being with his children. The depth of fatherly love portrayed is deeply moving, and spot on accurate.
1. Pursuit of Happyness
A down-on-his-luck salesman faces debt, homelessness, and divorce. In the midst of pulling himself back up by his bootstraps, he gains custody of his son. A feel good story of dedication, fatherly love, and a never-say-die attitude in the face of never-ending hardships.