More often than not, dads are tougher than a two-dollar steak. With a tight-lipped expression, they withstand every flat tire, busted pipe, and broken appliance that comes their way. And when it comes to emotional moments? Well, it seems next to impossible to even see the hint of a tear.
Then again, maybe a powerful film can do the trick — especially a film that’s about what fathers do. Cinematic history is filled with many tributes to the beauty of motherhood, but on the flipside, there are several films about dads that might — just might — move good ol ‘Pops to shed buckets. Get those tissues ready!
On Golden Pond (1981): A Daughter Taking Flight
With star power like Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, this 1981 film was already slated to be a masterful piece of work. However, the film does not just coast on the iconic status of its big names; it presents a moving story about an 80-year-old father trying to come to terms with his place in the world.
Fonda’s Norman Thayer grapples with both an estranged daughter (played by his real-life daughter Jane Fonda) and his worsening physical and mental condition. In the end, even as he struggles to recover from debilitating heart pain, he finally makes peace with the fact that his only child is happily living a life of her own.
Dad (1980): All About Quality Time
A film that’s simply entitled Dad would actually have much pressure to succeed as a tale of fatherhood. Thankfully, this 1989 film rises to the occasion. With deft versatility, Dad spotlights hardworking executive John Tremont (Ted Danson) in his roles as a son and as a father in his own right.
Jack Lemmon went on to receive a Golden Globe nod for his portrayal of John’s dad Jake, whose health takes major blows throughout the course of the film. A young Ethan Hawke also holds his own as Billy Tremont, who could have used a bit more attention from his dad John during his formative years. John’s interactions with Jack and Billy in this film eventually help him become a better man — and, yes, a better dad.
Father of the Bride (1991): What NOT To Do During Wedding Preps
How clingy can a father be to his one and only daughter? In the 1991 classic Father of the Bride, Steve Martin hilariously showcases the highs and lows of a dad dealing with his baby girl’s forthcoming wedding. After many twists and turns that compromise his very sanity, Martin’s George Banks comes to accept his daughter’s marriage (son-in-law and all).
The success of this rom-com spawned a 1995 sequel, in which Martin, Diane Keatonand Kimberly Williams reprised their roles as the Banks family. A 2022 remake — with a Latinx cast bannered by Andy Garcia—Is set for a June 16 release on HBO Max.
Lion King (1994): A Father’s Sacrificial Love
Want a surefire way to see your dad ugly crying? Play him that scene where Simba helplessly tries to revive Mufasa after the wildebeest stampede. In 1994, when Lion King first came out, there was nary a dry eye in cinemas every time this harrowing sequence played out.
As painful as that scene was, it was the turning point in the growth of a son who would eventually carry on his father’s legacy of genuine leadership. The Shakespearean drama is palpable in this Disney masterpiece, but Lion King is no tragedy. Expect your dad to shed more tears (of joy, this time around) when Simba triumphs in the end.
He Got Game (1998): Spike Scores Spectacularly
This film’s premise is as good as any: a convicted felon (Denzel Washington) can get his prison sentence reduced if he can convince his basketball stalwart of a son (NBA sharpshooter Ray Allen) to play for the governor’s alma mater. On top of it, the crime that landed the felon in jail was his accidental shooting of his wife (Lonette McKee), depriving his son of a mother.
In basketball parlance, director Spike Lee was straight up hooping in He Got Game. His visual presentation gives an excellent backdrop for the acting performances of both Washington and Allen. This film is for every father-son tandem that has ever played ball to strengthen their bond.
The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006): From Rags To Riches
The true-to-life story of salesman Christopher Gardner is beautifully rendered in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardner’s perseverance and dedication to his son Christopher Jr. pop out of the screen thanks to the authenticity of Will Smith working with his own child Jaden.
There are many “cryable” moments in this film. There’s the drama between Gardner and his frustrated wife Linda (Thandiwe Newton), the tension leading up to Gardner’s interview for the internship, and his eviction and subsequent homelessness. Through it all, Gardner’s determination to provide for his son never wavered. After all the woes he had to endure, he finally revels in the success of getting a full-time position. Hooray!
We Bought A Zoo (2011): Comeback Is Real
Speaking of films inspired by real-life events, 2011’s We Bought a Zoo tugs at the heartstrings of fathers who are coping with loss. Wanting to start anew following the death of his wife Katherine (Stéphanie Szostak), Benjamin (Matt Damon) buys a house as part of an unusual package deal. Aside from the place of residence, he also has to purchase the zoo located on the property!
The challenge of reopening the zoo to the public is daunting, but along the way, Benjamin manages to strengthen his relationship with his son Dylan (Colin Ford). At the end of the film, the zoo’s triumphant relaunching mirrors Benjamin’s resurgence as a father and as an individual.
The Judge (2014): No More Objections To Forgiveness
Do legal and professional boundaries outweigh the bond between father and son? This tricky question is tackled in 2014’s The Judge. Robert Downey, Jr.—Fresh off three solo outings as the MCU’s Tony Stark — takes on the role of Hank Palmer, a Chicago attorney faced with monumental choices concerning his family.
Palmer discovers two bombshells about his estranged father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). First, the Judge happens to be a suspect in a hit-and-run accident that led to the victim death. As if this weren’t enough, the Judge apparently has cancer in the terminal stage. Hank’s decision to become his dad’s defense attorney was admirable enough, but it was his openness to reconciliation in the end that hits us right in the feeling.
Black Panther (2018): Can A King Be A Good Son, Too?
There’s no doubt that 2018’s Black Panther is a crown jewel of the comic book hero genre. But, underneath the layers of shiny vibranium and colorful Marvel fanfare, Black Panther is essentially a tale of two father-son tandems. On the one hand, the loss of N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) leads his child N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) down a violent path filled with bitter ideology — culminating in the notorious Killmonger identity.
On the other hand, newly crowned king T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) is initially driven by his desire to honor the legacy of his father T’Chaka (John Kani). However, when he discovers the exact toll of the isolationism that his father and other past Wakandan monarchs espoused, T’Challa has no choice but to leave his father’s legacy behind in order to move his nation forward.
Onward (2020): The Father That No One Talks About
2020’s Onward reminds us that big brothers — no matter how annoying they can be — are father figures in their own right. While the determination of Ian (Tom Holland) to revive his deceased dad Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer) is touching, he realizes that he actually had a father all along, in the person of his brother Barley (Chris Pratt).
Though Wilden could only be revived for a limited period of time, the ending of the film makes it clear that Ian will be in good hands as long as Barley is around. In all likelihood, their final hug moved fathers, sons, and brothers alike to tears.
NEXT: Sibling Duos In Film And TV That Make Our Hearts Melt