Before we delve into my authoritative and 100% complete list of the top 10 best movie dads of all time, let me clarify that my list is far from authoritative and is almost certainly incomplete. I sat down to come up with a list of dads from movies that I’ve seen throughout my lifetime who had a positive influence on me as a father. They are men who, through their onscreen words or actions, exemplified certain aspects of the type of parent I hope to be.
#10- Walter (Cary Grant in “Father Goose”)
In this movie Walter isn’t actually a dad (and thank goodness for it). He is a dirty mess of a drunken thief, living on his boat and doing his best to avoid responsibility as WWII passes his starboard bow. In other words, he’s living the dream. Well that all changes when he’s forcefully commissioned to act as a lookout on a deserted island and finds himself watching over a stern school headmistress and her small flock of girl students. Walter stands out to me as a great dad because over the course of time (and multiple bottles of whiskey) he recognizes that his life needs to evolve as he becomes a surrogate father to the children and falls in love with the teacher. It’s a transition we all have to make when we become parents. We need to set aside aspects of our previous lives and build new ones with those who we hold dear. Even if it means giving up a pretty sweet boat.
#9 George Kirk ( Chris Hemsworth “Star Trek”)
He’s only in the movie for about 10 minutes, but the impact he has on the life of his son lasts forever. Or, at least into the second movie in the series. Only J.J. Abrams knows how he feels after that. George Kirk couldn’t be there to watch his son grow up, but without him his son never would have grown. His sacrifice to ensure the safety of his family and crew is the reminder James “Captain” Kirk keeps with him, steering him to be a fair and just man and one that cares for the people he is charged with leading.
#8 Hal Osborne/ Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman “Cloak and Dagger)
As a kid I never really grasped the significance of Jack Flack manifesting himself to Davy Osborne in the form of his father. As an 8 year old, I assumed it was just a nice way to have an actor play multiple roles in a movie. As an adult, though, I realize that Davy always pictured his imaginary friend as his dad because his father was the true hero in his life. His dad was the embodiment of courage and daring and was the one who gave him lessons and strength to make it through situations. Early in the film “Jack” even mentions that he used to be known as “Agent X”. So no matter who the hero being imagined was, Davy was always thinking of his dad. I hope my kids see me this way. I want them to think of me as infallible for as long as possible and for them to know that they can rely on me to be there for them in any situations. Though, they may need to call mom if they run into the old 3 fingered lady from that movie. She creeped me the eff out.
#7 Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, “Taken”)
Well let’s face it. All of us wish we are going to be this badass when we are 60. If this flick had been made about me though, it would have been about a guy trying figure out how to pay for a last minute flight to Paris and enduring a huge layover in Chicago’s O’Hare. The script would have ended with– “Then he ate Chili’s Express at the food court and tried to find a charging station for his phone.— Roll credits”
#6 Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni “Life Is Beautiful”)
If you’ve seen this fantastic movie, then you don’t need for me to explain why he has made my list. Not only does he radiate love for his son and wife throughout the film, but he protects his boy from the unbearable harshness of their reality. He shields him from the bleak truth of their situations by turning all things thrown at them into a celebration of the joys of humanity. The movie earned him an Oscar and rightfully so.
#5 Penguins (The Emperor Penguins “March of the Penguins”)
I think all parents can take a lesson from these guys. If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a brief description of what the male penguins endure for their children. After his female mate lays their egg, he immediately takes it onto his feet, covers it with his feathers to keep it warm and stays there. For up to 4 months, they don’t eat and the only thing they have to drink is the snow that falls onto them or onto the ground. They endure temperatures as low as -80 F while huddling together with the other gents and watching over the eggs. Then when the mothers return with food for the newborn chicks, the dad walks 70 miles to open water so he can eat again. Meanwhile I think the trip to the kitchen seems daunting from time to time. That is some crazy dedication earning our feathered brethren a spot in my top 5.
#4 Old Man Parker (Darren McGavin, “A Christmas Story”)
There are so many things you can take from this dad. He’s a natural when it comes to home decoration. He appreciates a finely prepared turkey and can steer the family to a ceremonial duck beheading. His greatest attribute for me, however was that while inadvertently teaching his children colorful, rated R language, he simultaneously was the frightening barrier preventing them from ever using it. My kids are going to learn the “Fudge” word sometime. I hope it’s not from me, but I also hope that they know better than to use it in my presence. Even today I still can’t drop an F bomb near my dad without breaking into a cold sweat and having heart palpitations. My kids should have a healthy level of respect for the punishments I’ll undoubtedly have to dole out and hopefully they’ll act as a deterrent to them.
#3 Darth Vader/ Anakin Skywalker (James Earl Jones/ Hayden Christensen, “Star Wars”)
Maybe not the best role model in a dad. But if you can look past the telepathic strangulations, the abandonment and that messy business of chopping off his own son’s hand, what you have is a dad who is trying to actively engage his boy in activities that are important to him. What I would like to embody in Darth, however, only becomes clear at the end of Return of the Jedi. **Spoiler alert for those who have never seen these movies. Also, stop being wrong in life, and see these movies.** Anakin finally sees that he’s been wrong all along. That he’s chosen the wrong path and that he needs to make up for what he’s done. He learns this from his son. All parents need to be able to learn from our kids. We need to accept that we are not always right and that they are eventually going to teach us lessons that we might not want to learn. I hope I’m a parent who can learn from my children. I also hope I can destroy a lightning bolt emanating Sith Lord while doing so.
#2 Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, “To Kill a Mockingbird”)
He might be the ultimate dad in both film and literature. He raises two kids on his own and leads a quiet life. When the time comes for him to do what is right he doesn’t back down. He takes on the difficult tasks that nobody else has the stomach for and puts everything he has into what he does. I hope that my actions and my lessons to my kids will be as meaningful and as impactful as his are to Jem and Scout. I want my kids see in me some of what audiences have seen in Atticus for over 50 years. Hopefully I will lead by example and show them that the easy way isn’t always the best way and that being a good person should be what dictates their actions through life.
#1 Marlin (Albert Brooks, “Finding Nemo”)
Yes. The number one dad in movies is a fish. As a dad, Marlin teaches us so many lessons through the course of this movie. First and foremost is that as a parent he will do anything for his child and that nothing matters more than Nemo’s safety. But underneath that is Marlin’s willingness to accept the things he can’t control. His willingness to step out of his comfort zone for the good of his son. He begins the movie nervous about even the prospect of being near open water and ends it by battling an entire ocean of dangers to save his boy. Not only that, he shows us that we can’t do this on our own. He reminds us that as parents we need help.
Without getting too “It Takes a Village” here, I recognize that we need to be able to rely on others and that we need support from time to time. That support could come from anywhere. Other parents, family, friends or a pelican/ dental hobbyist. Finding Nemo is a movie about a great dad who not only saves his son, but learns just about every other lesson in this list along the way. That’s why he’s the best dad in film.