A look at memorable movie dads

The Washington Post

Most conversations about memorable movie dads tend to be brief. Why? Because they usually begin and end with Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Finch may stand as the most noble onscreen father of all time, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one worthy of recognition. With that in mind, here’s a list of notable cinematic dads who have appeared in films — each available on DVD and/or Blu-ray — from roughly the past three decades. Some of these guys qualify as ideal role models; others will make you thank the fatherly fates that you wound up with the dad you have.

Feel free to use this rundown as a resource for creating a Father’s Day film festival to share with your own Pops. He’ll enjoy the gift of watching these flicks a lot more than receiving yet another electronic meat thermometer.

The Animated Dad: He’s overprotective. He’s a little neurotic. But he’ll swim through any rough waters necessary to find his little clownfish son. And that’s why Marlin from “Finding Nemo” (voiced by Albert Brooks) is one of the most endearing cartoon movie dads ever. (Also see: Mr. Incredible from “The Incredibles,” a man devoted to his three kids AND saving the world.)

The Crusty Dad: It’s June, which isn’t exactly the time of year for yuletide spirit. But don’t let that stop you from appreciating Darren McGavin’s furnace-hating, curse-word-spewing, leg-lamp-loving Old Man in “A Christmas Story.” (Also see: Norman Thayer Jr., aka Henry Fonda, starring in “On Golden Pond” as an old codger who eventually stops scowling long enough to connect with his estranged daughter, played by Fonda’s real-life little girl, Jane.)

The Dad With Serious Issues: Lester Burnham of “American Beauty” is unemployed, smokes weed in the middle of the day and covets his teenage daughter’s best friend on the cheerleading squad. As a character portrayed by Kevin Spacey, he’s empathetic. But as a father, the dude’s got problems. (Also see: oil man and abandoner of an adopted son, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in “There Will Be Blood,” which debuted last year on DVD and Blu-ray.)

The Admirable Single Dad: “The Pursuit of Happyness” may wallow in hokum, but Will Smith’s moving performance as Chris Gardner, a homeless guy trying to succeed in business and raise his young son (played by Smith’s real-life boy, Jaden) will make you teary despite valiant efforts to resist. (Also see: Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin, a widower with a son who really, really wants him to date Meg Ryan in “Sleepless in Seattle.”)

The Bad Dad: Is there a paternal revelation in all of cinema that’s more iconic than the moment in “The Empire Strikes Back” when the heavy-breathing, sinister Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker: “I am your father”? Uh, the answer to that is no. (Also see: “This Boy’s Life,” which stars Robert De Niro as the absolutely terrifying Dwight Hansen, the boyfriend of a single mom who makes it his business to abuse her son (Leonardo DiCaprio, in his first starring role).

The Driven Dad: James J. Braddock refused to give up on boxing and — if the events in “Cinderella Man,” the 2005 drama based on his life, are accurate — never let his family down. As portrayed by Russell Crowe in a performance brimming with sincerity and grit, he’s the sort of quiet hero every father hopes to be. (Also see: Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer intent on turning his corn fields into a baseball diamond, an act that — pass the Kleenex — ultimately leads him back to his own father. This quintessential Father’s Day flick made its Blu-ray debut last month.)

The Geek Dad: George McFly — the dorkball dad of Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” which was reissued on DVD earlier this year — has a cackle so nerdy it makes Arnold Horshack sound like a hipster. Even after Marty modifies the past and turns his father (Crispin Glover) into a confident success, let’s face it: George remains a geek. But we love him for it. (Also see: Eugene Levy as the sexually frank but undeniably uncool father of Jim in “American Pie.”)

The Incredibly Supportive Dad: Few moments can test a father’s sense of calm more than the news that his teenage daughter has gotten pregnant. But Mac MacGuff, brought to life by the reliably fantastic J.K. Simmons in “Juno,” not only accompanies his daughter to a meeting with the potential adoptive parents, he bucks her up when she’s feeling confused about relationships. Well done, home skillet. (Also see: Paul Dooley in “Sixteen Candles” as the teddy-bearish Jim Baker, a dad who’s all heartfelt advice and big hugs when daughter Samantha (Molly Ringwald) professes her love for Jake Ryan.)