Culture

Who's Your Daddy? Memorable Fathers On Films

Dads on film we most enjoy watching tend to gravitate towards one polar extreme or the other. They are either candidates for father of the year award or suitable for admission to a mental institution. The common bond shared by the fathers highlighted below is that they all originated from the pages of great novels, with the characters taken to the next level through film adaptations. With Father's Day right around the corner, we suggest watching one of these films with your good old Dad as he lovingly unwraps the tie you bought him.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee broke the mold when she created the character of Atticus Finch in her 1960 literary masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus serves as both the prototype of what a lawyer as well as father should be, defending the oppressed while teaching his children Jem and Scout right from wrong. Though neither Jem nor Scout refer to him as "Dad," there is no lack of warmth in the childrens' relationship with their father. Atticus treats both with love and respect by discussing real, "adult" issues with them, refusing to shield them from the ugliness of the world. The page-to-screen transition of Atticus, in the form of Gregory Peck's Oscar™-winning performance is one of the most satisfying modern literary adaptations. In 2003, The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch as the greatest hero in American Film, surprisingly beating out fan favorites such as Superman, Indiana Jones, and James Bond.

Atticus's best line: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Kramer vs. Kramer

In Robert Benton's 1979 film "Kramer vs. Kramer, Ted Kramer's (Dustin Hoffman) day goes from awesome to awful when he 1) lands a major new account for his advertising agency then 2) returns home to learn that his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) has decided to leave him and their four year old son, Billy. Published three years prior, Avery Coleman's 1976 novel became a pivotal book when it came to the attitudes and discussions around child custody battles in the United States, as up to that point, mothers were generally awarded sole custody due to the prevailing perception that a child is better off with his or her mother. Ted and Billy's relationship elicits many poignant father-son moments as they adjust to life without Joanna, but none as moving as when Ted struggles to gain sole custody of his son. Hoffman and Streep both took home Academy Awards for their performances, bringing the "Kramer vs. Kramer" Oscar™ count to five.

Ted's best line: Billy says "Daddy, you've really lost a lot of weight", he looks up at me and he says "And it's all gone to your nose."

About A Boy

Through posing as a single father with a fictitious two year old son, spoiled bachelor Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) thinks he has found the ultimate way to meet women in Chris Weitz'ss 2002 film "About A Boy." Everything is going according to Will's plan of moving through life without meaningful attachments until he meets twelve-year old Markus (Nicholas Hoult) and his manic depressive mother, Fiona (Toni Collette). Convinced that Will will be able to "fix" Fiona, Markus begs Will to date his mum. When Will resists, Markus continues to hang around Will's apartment, vying for his approval and attention. By sharing some of his "cool guy tactics," Will teaches social outcast Markus how to better connect with his peers. One of our favorite scenes that shows Will's unlikely transition into a father figure is when he joins Markus on stage for a rendition of "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack. "About A Boy" is based on Nick Hornby's 1998 novel, and yet another example of how well the British author's books adapt to the big screen, with other notables being "High Fidelity" and "Fever Pitch."

Will's best line: The thing is, a person's life is like a TV show. I was the star of The Will Show. And The Will Show wasn't an ensemble drama.

There Will Be Blood

P.T. Anderson's epic 2008 film "There Will Be Blood" is loosely based on muckraking master Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil, though it ultimately served as a vehicle for Daniel Day Lewis to deliver one of the best performances of his esteemed career as mercurial oil man, Daniel Plainview. Though early in the movie audiences may be touched when Plainview adopts the infant son of one of his colleagues killed in a drilling accident, it soon becomes obvious he is using the boy to gain favor from potential investors by positioning himself as a "family man." After tragedy strikes and his son H.W. is deafened from an oil derrick explosion, Plainview ships the boy off to boarding school without a second thought. When years pass and H.W. returns from exile and shows an interest in the family business, Plainview throws down the gauntlet by claiming that his son will be his competition. Talk about an unsupportive father.

Daniel's best line: Look at me. You're lower than a bastard. Mmm-hmm. You have none of me in you. You're just a bastard from a basket.

This Boy's Life

Tobias Wolff's 1989 brutal memoir This Boy's Life focuses on his violent relationship with stepfather Dwight Hansen (Robert DeNiro). After Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his mother Caroline (Ellen Barkin) hit the road to flee her abusive boyfriend, she is charmed by mild-mannered mechanic Dwight. Unbeknown to Toby or Caroline at the time, Dwight is an abusive alcoholic hellbent on straightening out rebellious teenager Toby at any cost. Though Caroline remains on the sidelines through most of Dwight's violent spells, she eventually musters the courage to confront her husband after his treating Toby like a punching bag for years. DeNiro is simply monstrous in his role as Dwight, a villain on par with some of his more famous characters played in "Cape Fear" and "Taxi Driver."

Dwight's best line: [When coming home] Here I am, you lucky people!

The Shining

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, indeed. Already tense after five months on the wagon, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) goes a little mad while serving as the winter caretaker of the spooky Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's cabin fever masterpiece, "The Shining," directed by Stanley Kubrick. Jack has a history of violent tendencies even before the Overlook sends him completely over the edge, having broken his son Danny's arm during a drunken rage that was the catalyst for his entrance into sobriety. It is perhaps some of that past resentment that bubbles up and over, causing him to chase his family around with an ax. The ancient Indian burial ground the Overlook was constructed on top of may have also contributed to Jack's inimitable descent into madness.

Jack's best line: Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I'm not gonna hurt ya. You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said, I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.

Did we leave any of your favorite movie fathers off our list?

  • Candy Poole

    Robert Duvall in The Great Santini -

  • Ramura

    Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," -- without question!

    As a girl growing up in the 60's without a father present (divorced, military).....I fell in love with the father figure in the book, and later in the movie.

    I am now 60 years old, but Peck's iconic "father" is still my role model for the ideal Dad!

  • Margaret

    Jerry Orbach as the father in Dirty Dancing.

  • Brian

    Redford in The Natural after finding out he was a dad, returned home to really be one. Some other interesting fathers:

    Forrest Gump. The stepfather in The Sandlot (a hard job). The Godfather (a few fathers to pick from, mostly bad, in those movies). Darth Vader. James Garner's paternal style with Mel Gibson in Maverick and as a stepfather to be in Murphy's Romance is memorable. Sean Connery as Indiana Jones' dad.

  • duhknees

    How about Liam Neeson's character in Taken? Wouldn't you want your dad to do the same for you?

Like What You're Reading? Get the best of Signature, delivered to your inbox every week. Join the Signature newsletter