Some of my fondest memories of my dad include watching television shows and movies with him, talking about them with him, and — often — criticizing the choices and decisions of the actors and characters in the stories.
“Why would they entrust a billion-dollar starship to this guy?” was my dad’s best-known quote about “Star Trek.” We each had our biases and perspectives on what made a good story and an entertaining film and relished sharing them with each other.
Fathers come in all shapes and sizes, and while some may gravitate toward sharing horror films with their teen children — others may prefer drama, war stories, or even romances and tearjerkers.
But what films actually capture the complex relationship between a dad and his kids? What movies can cast a light on the secret life of dads, on their hopes, their aspirations, and their guilty pleasures?
To help celebrate Father’s Day this year, here are six films that do a stellar job of portraying dads and their relationships with their spouses and children, along with their dreams and even their weaknesses and foibles.
1.) “Big Fish” (2003). A quirky movie directed by Tim Burton, “Big Fish” is about a son trying to determine the facts of his father’s life. Problem is, his dad was the master of tall tales — so it’s hard to know what, if anything, is actually real. Starring Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup as father and son, the film explores the “myth” of being a parent. Younger children view their parents as heroes, so parents play that up, with the “walking uphill in the snow” story to and from school. They also fight off bad guys and so much more.
More than a father/son film, however, this Oscar-nominated work is about the stories we tell about our lives versus the far more mundane reality. Sometimes, living in a slightly exaggerated world isn’t such a bad thing after all. It’s also no surprise the next movie Burton tackled was another fanciful tale of fantasy versus reality: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
2.) “The Lion King” (1994). A major hit for Disney and co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, “The Lion King” is about patriarchy, familial expectations, and the adolescent search for identity. Simba (voiced by Matthew Broderick) can’t quite figure out if he wants to grow up and be the head of the jungle, taking after his proud, regal father, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) — or whether he wants to run away with his pals and live a life of adventure and irresponsibility.
Sharing a truly universal story, the animated musical drama explores the hopes and dreams of Mufasa and the resulting anxiety and pressure that young Simba feels because his father’s hopes are timeless.
Though there are sequels, none stands up to the original.
3.) “Shane” (1953). Many classic Westerns perfectly capture the father/child relationship. It might be the simple morality of the genre, with clear good guys and bad guys — but it might also be that many of the best Westerns tell the traditional story of man as protector.
No film conveys the challenge of this role better than “Shane,” about a tired gunfighter (Alan Ladd) who just wants to settle down and stop fighting. But neighbors and a long-standing feud won’t let him put away his six-gun. What really propels the movie is young Joey (Brandon De Wilde) and his relationship with Shane.
The film is always satisfying, and if you can get through the last scene without weeping for the loss of what could have been, then you’re one tough hombre.
4.) “Father of the Bride” (1950). A classic ’50s screwball comedy, this film captures perfectly the dreams, hopes, and pragmatic reality of being a father in a big family. It focuses on Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy), who is busy funding and organizing his daughter’s wedding while trying to retain a grip on his sanity. As the wedding day gets closer, Banks has to fight harder and harder to resist running out — even as the caterer gets things wrong, the guest list keeps growing, the rehearsal becomes a complete disaster, and more goes wrong.
Notable also for including the lovely Elizabeth Taylor in the role of the engaged daughter, “Father of the Bride” beautifully captures the hopes and dreams of a father for his daughter. Tracy offers up one of his best performances as the harried patriarch.
There’s a remake with Steve Martin in the title role, but stick with the original for its undeniable energy. It’s also amazing to see how many issues that cropped up in a 1950s wedding are still problems today.
5.) “Field of Dreams” (1989). Every father is also a man with dreams of his own and often a life he’s put on hold while raising children and providing for the family. Plenty of dads also recall their childhood dreams of being a professional athlete, whether their sport of choice was football, soccer, hockey or — as with Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in “Field of Dreams” — baseball. Ray is a simple farmer in Iowa, but when he hears voices that tell him to build a baseball diamond on his farm, he does.
“If you build it, they will come” is interpreted quite literally when the Chicago White Sox actually show up to play baseball in the middle of a cornfield. The catch is that it’s a Chicago White Sox team with players long deceased, such as Shoeless Joe Jackson (played by Ray Liotta).
At its heart, “Field of Dreams” is about the relationship Ray had with his father and his regrets about how he treated him while growing up. Touching and very much a nostalgic fantasy trip, it’s a sweet, gentle movie to enjoy with the family, whether the family loves baseball or not.
6.) “Interstellar” (2014). On the surface, this complex science fiction film is about a dark, apocalyptic future in which crops are dying worldwide, there are massive dust storms, and there seems little hope for the future. NASA is long gone, and everyone has to focus on survival. A small group mounts a secret project to explore Earth-like worlds for potential resettlement of mankind, traveling unimaginable distances through wormholes.
The tag line says it all: “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”
What makes this film work incredibly well is the heart of the story — about the relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy as a child, Jessica Chastain as an adult). They show how love can bridge unimaginable distances in time and space.
Dave Taylor, based in Boulder, Colorado, has written about consumer electronics, technology, and pop culture for many years and runs the popular site AskDaveTaylor.com.
This piece originally appeared in LifeZette last year and has been updated.