Father's Day is only a few days away, and as I search around for some way to properly honor my dad this year, let's take a look at some of the coolest, funniest, bravest or just plain "dadliest" dads in movie history. Honorable mentions include Daniel Hillard, Mrs. Doubtfire; Ted Kramer, Kramer vs. Kramer; Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather; Jack Byrnes, Meet the Parents; and Sonny Koufax, Big Daddy. As for the ones that made the final cut, read on...
10. Mr. Levenstein, American Pie
Mr. Levenstein's (Eugene Levy) earnest bumbling when it comes to discussing matters of sexuality with his son Jim (Jason Biggs) is so misguided and yet so endearing. The filmmakers take your average awkward exchange between father and teenage son and multiply it by about a thousand, creating moments of excruciating embarrassment many of us have only had nightmares about.
9. Peter, Michael and Jack, Three Men and a Baby
What's more endearing than three grown male friends teaming together to collectively parent a baby girl left on one of their stoops? Nuthin'. It's fun to watch three bachelors adjust their lives to include little Mary, from taking her to work with them to shielding her from the drug dealers that are chasing them down. Ah, those early formative years.
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8. The Old Man, A Christmas Story
Darren McGavin as "The Old Man" to Ralphie "you'll shoot your eye out" Parker scared the bejesus out of me as a kid. He's certainly not the sweetest dad on the list, but he's definitely unforgettable. Like Roseanne on my Mother's Day Top Ten TV Moms and Daughters list, The Old Man was much more true-to-life than many of the dads on TV and in movies. He's tempermental, impatient and a little self-centered. But he also loves his kids. He just has a less sappy way of showing it.
7. Clark Griswold, National Lampoon’s Vacation
Before Little Miss Sunshine, there was Vacation, the classic family road movie. Even in the most slapstick moments of this cross-country adventure, Chevy Chase as daddy Griswold is driven by one tender desire: to give his family the best vacation possible. But on the way from Chicago to Wally World, he's stymied by multiple obstacles, many of which he brings on himself. But in the end, he's still a worthy navigator of any beloved station wagon.
6. Leon, The Professional
Yes, I know Leon is not Mathilda's (Natalie Portman) real dad in The Professional, but the way he warms to her, protects her, and truly loves her by the end of the movie (even putting on a pink bandana!) is utterly heart-rending. Especially seeing as he's kind of a cold-blooded killer in the beginning and Mathilda teaches him how to feel love again. Sigh!
5. Sam Dawson, I Am Sam
This is one of those movies I can't even think about without feeling like I'm going to cry. Back when people weren't overexposed to Dakota Fanning she played Lucy Diamond Dawson, a precocious little girl (as always) with a mentally challenged dad, Sam (Sean Penn). Sam named his daughter Lucy Diamond after the Beatles song, and raised her on his own. Yet as she gets older, Lucy intentionally holds herself back at school to avoid seeming smarter than her dad. Thus ensues a legal battle, to Sam's great anxiety. Luckily, they have an excellent lawyer on their side: Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer). Sam's abilities may not be the same as other dads, but his love and devotion toward his daughter are just as strong — if not stronger.
4. Gil Buckman, Parenthood
The problems plaguing the Buckman family are myriad — and mighty familiar to just about anyone with a family. Like many dads, Gil (Steve Martin) is struggling to hold everything together and just barely succeeding. In this poignant dramedy, Martin strikes a perfect balance between desperation and levity, whether he's making makeshift cowboy chaps out of a bathmat for his son's birthday party, trying to explain away his sister's vibrator as an electric ear cleaner, or solemnly realizing that his even own father needs advice sometimes. Steve Martin really is one of the "dadliest" of all movie dads — his roles in Father of the Bride and Cheaper By the Dozen only further prove how well he can play the harried, frustrated yet ever-proud father.
3. Daniel, Crash
Whenever I think of Crash — which is a movie that has a lot going on — my first thought is of Daniel (Michael Pena) and his daughter Lara. Having experienced a stray bullet coming through her bedroom window, Lara is fearful and has taken to hiding under her bed. Daniel teaches her that she can tie an invisible cape around her shoulders and be protected. Later in the movie, of course, there is a callback to the cape which totally gives me the chills, even now. Ah, invisible cape!
2. Chris Gardner, Pursuit of Happyness
In this rare motion-picture depiction of a single dad, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is hardly perfect, focusing relentlessly on the future while making some scary sacrifices in the present. As he gets beat-down working as an unpaid intern and living in shelters, Gardner tries to never let his son know how bad things are, and when that becomes impossible, he does the next best thing. He makes the kid understand that even when things get really really bad, dad will be there to protect him.
1. Guido Orefice, Life is Beautiful
The funny, sweet, do-no-wrong Guido Orefice (Roberto Begnini) tops my list of Movie Dads because he gave his son Giosué some of the best gifts in the world. Even in the most dire of situations, Guido is all about Giosué — making him laugh and generally distracting him from the gruesome world of war. The ending, when I first saw this movie, made me gasp. It could be called "manipulative" in how firmly this movie yanks on the heartstrings, but I completely fell for it — and for Guido.