Father’s Day cards always show dads fishing, or boating, or hunting ducks. But really, wouldn’t your dad rather sit down with you for a great movie? Here are my choices:
Field of Dreams (1989)
“Hey dad, ya wanna have a catch?” The day those words don’t reduce any American male to a state of blubbering crybabyhood is the day I don’t want to live anymore. Kevin Costner and his dead father, tossing a ball across an Iowa cornfield and across the chasm of time, remains the single most poignant cinematic illustration of the eternal bonds and barriers that bedevil the lives of fathers and sons.
Father of the Bride (1991)
If you have a daughter, and you’ve paid for her wedding, you will find few lines in all of filmdom resonate more than Steve Martin’s plaintive lament to the wedding planner: “I’d like the cheaper chicken.”
Mr. Mom (1983)
Besides popularizing a term that has since entered the whole culture’s lexicon, this truly prescient 1983 film explored the “ridiculous” notion of a wife having more earning power than her husband—and thus leaving him as the logical one to be a stay-at-home parent. There are few film actors funnier than Michael Keaton at full-throttle, and he’s perfectly paired with the ever-wonderful Teri Garr.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
After the Family Truckster goies airborne in Monument Valley…after Clark (Chevy Chase) is reduced to stealing money from the hotel cash register at the Grand Canyon…after Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) dies in the back seat and has to be mounted on the roof rack…Dad lets loose with the most toe-curling, ear-burning, paint-peeling behind-the-wheel tirade you’ve heard since, well, since you wouldn’t stop sticking your finger in your little brother’s ear on the way to the lake. You dad probably didn’t use these exact same words, but you can bet he wanted to.
Yep, it’s one wacked-out premise: During a solar storm, a young man (Jim Caviezel) establishes a shortwave radio link with his firefighter dad (Dennis Quaid), who died in a warehouse fire 30 years earlier. But like all good fantasy, Frequency effectively taps into the human condition, in this case the timeless bond between parent and child. For anyone who’s lost a parent, this one goes right to the heart by the most unexpected of routes.
Ron Howard’s ensemble comedy manages to explore a dozen or so aspects of parenting—good and bad. Steve Martin is the devoted dad who, in middle age, is feeling the accumulated societal weight of being a family man. Tom Hulce is the accidental father who wants only to dump his son off onto someone else. Keanu Reeves (giving his Bill and Ted persona one more spin) is the clueless, but well-meaning, teen dad-to-be. And Jason Robards is the patriarch who, despite a lifetime of bad parenting decisions, discovers it’s never too late for redemption. If you’ve never seen Steve Martin dress up as Cowboy Gil (“Rhymes with ‘Kill’”) for his nervous son’s birthday, you’ve missed one of the great comic screen moments of all time.
Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Will Smith gives the performance of his life as a struggling salesman who takes custody of his little boy (the star’s real-life son, Jaden Smith), and suddenly finds himself homeless in San Francisco. The movie is based on the real-life story of AARP ambassador Chris Gardner, and if just half of it’s true, Gardner deserves the Father of the Century Award.
Lots of movies play on every parent’s fear that someone will do something bad to their kid—in Ransom, director Ron Howard and stars Mel Gibson and Rene Russo come as close as you’ll ever want to experiencing that in real life. Gibson’s half-howl, half-scream, “Give me back my son!” will break your heart. It’s a dandy setup—although if you don’t know the film’s great twist, perhaps you’ll want to resist watching the trailer, which gives it away all too soon.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
In the annals of movie dads, Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the Gold Standard—patient, wise, brave, affectionate, honest, and, well, he’s freakin’ Gregory Peck. As he comforts his children, fends off violent racists, and defends a falsely accused Black man in the Depression-era south, you, too, will be tempted to rise to your feet when someone tells Atticus’ daughter Scout: “Stand up! Your father’s passin’!”
Field of Dreams, Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation: Rottentomatoes.com
Father of the Bride, weddingplanninginstitute.com
Pursuit of Happyness, ign.com
To Kill a Mockingbird, moviemarket.com