This 1958 Cary Grant and Loren classic sees Grant take on the character of widower, Tom Winters. With three children now in tow, Winters – a lawyer – is forced to uproot his Washington D.C. lifestyle and reconnect with his kids after a long separation.
Grant also played Walter Eckland in the 1964 film Father Goose. Eckland is “recruited” into becoming one of the infamous Coast Watchers of World War Two. While the war rages on around him, Eckland finds himself the reluctant rescuer and guardian of a French teacher and seven school girls.
Harrison Ford’s 1989 Paramount classic directed by Steven Spielberg and written by George Lucas sets the intrepid archaeologist, Indiana Jones alongside his father (Sean Connery) against Nazis in search of the Holy Grail.
James Garner, as Zack Carey, is an army sergeant who takes the law into his own hands. Using a Sherman Tank, Garner busts up a prison farm in order to rescue his son, after being set up and arrested by a corrupt local sheriff for possessing drugs. ‘Tank’ is the coolest of Garner’s films from the 80s. (The movie has been hard to get, but is currently available on Google Play).
One of the unsung legends of the 80s era, Louis Gossett Jnr, presides over a group of Air Force kids who plan a clandestine rescue of pilot Ted Masters. Masters’ son Doug (Jason Gedrick) is a senior high school kid seeking to join the Air Force Academy, and he takes to Gossett a plan to steal two F-16s in order to execute the mission. Gossett reluctantly agrees, citing his dad’s character. There’s lots to love about the 1986 film, such as the solid soundtrack and the aerial footage that is on par with Top Gun.
In the realm of father-son storylines, Hugh Jackman’s 2011 film, Real Steel beats Stallone’s Over the Top. It is true that the strength of Stallone’s Over the Top is found in the writer’s theme of a truck-driving father fighting hard for his son. The writers nailed it.
Unfortunately, the one-liners are somewhat awkward, and Stallone (the father of three girls) seems out of context. The Over the Top role better suited Kurt Russell.
The absence of one-liner 80s lyrical big hair and glam makes Real Steel the better film. The bonus is that Real Steel has mechs and tech, alongside a dad challenged to see the value of his son.
Martin Short plays a suburban dad who is stuck in an office cubicle. After inheriting his lost uncle’s yacht, Short seizes the opportunity to get away from it all. He packs up the family and picks up Captain Ron (Kurt Russell). One existential crisis comically follows another, until Short, with the help of Ron, realises that his capacity as a dad includes being Captain.
This 2006 father-son duo stars Will Smith and his son Jaden, re-living the real-life challenges of Chris Gardener. Set in 1981, the storyline is another film featuring a father struggling to provide for his family and save his son by overcoming issues caused by cost-of-living. (Smith’s dad role is revisited in After Earth, a 2013 science fiction film which also co-stars his son, Jaden).
Two great dad-friendly films involve sport and the sin of racism. The Denzel Washington and Josh Lucas films educate as much as they entertain. Both play dads whose courage, work and historical context impacts their families in unforeseen ways.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1985 one-liner-fuelled epic makes you forget his unfunny, heinous, 1994 social engineering film, Junior. Commando’s synopsis can be boiled down to a Special Forces dad being pushed over the edge when thugs kidnap his daughter. While the film isn’t as family-friendly as the others, if you’re forced to choose, throw Junior out of the “choppa” and watch this one instead!
An anomaly in movie-land, the Steve Martin and Eugene Levy team-up makes the sequel better than the first. Martin is a multi-tasking dad with a big family, who has little time to compete with Levy, his old rival.
The dad-level craziness of this film makes it laugh-out-loud re-watchable. This is the film’s big drawcard. Levy’s daggy-dad persona is second to none.
Even though Matt Damon is a father of four, his fatherhood roles are rare. There’s good reason. He’s too busy being the uber successful “quiet achiever” of Tinsel Town.
His best films (imho) include The Adjustment Bureau, followed by Martian, Good Will Hunting and the Bourne saga – in that order.
Add in We bought a Zoo because it is loosely based on a memoir, and it brings to life the story of a grieving widower. Damon plays a dad who, along with his kids, tackle single dad-life by stepping out into the extreme.
The father-son backstory permeates every ounce of this Costner classic. Driven by troubled memories of his dad, Ray Kinsella builds a baseball pitch in his corn field. Move beyond the mysticism and the film reconnects a son with his father through a shared memory. The dysfunction is replaced by reconciliation.
Cliché, I know. Still, the Frank Capra film is, without a doubt, the number one father film for many. Capra’s other work is just as good. Check out: You Can’t Take It With You.
Additionally, Jimmy Stewart’s broad amount of work adds to why the film receives 1st place in this list. See also Stewart’s Mr Hobb’s Takes a Vacation (1962), and his Western anthology from Broken Arrow (1950) to Shenandoah (1965) to The Rare Breed (1966).
As far as actors go, Liam Neeson’s work is a shining example of how dad roles are breaking the aloof, daggy-dad stigma.
If you’re looking for more recommendations, Gerard Butler’s Geostorm, and Greenland, as well as Machine Gun Preacher, all join Neeson, and even Costner’s genius in pulling fathers out of the daggy-dad category.
Family friendly dad films are somewhat of a rare commodity.In this list I have sought to measure films by how far they are from the daggy-dad stereotype. That’s because not all family-friendly films are dad-friendly.
Rod, his wife Jonda, and their five kids are homeschooling veterans. Rod spent 12 years in management at Koorong, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Ministry & Theology, and is a writer for the theological, politically edgy news site Caldron Pool. Rod also writes for the Spectator. Find his personal blog here.
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