BBC Culture

Cinema’s best and worst fathers

  • Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

    GOOD DAD: A widower with a young family and a busy job as a crusading lawyer, Gregory Peck’s character in the 1962 film is one of the great heroes of American cinema. Firm but fair, affectionate but never smothering, he teaches his children respect, empathy and human decency and establishes himself as the ultimate role model to them and fathers everywhere. (Photo: Moviestore Collection/Rex Features)

  • Jack Torrance in The Shining

    BAD DAD: When Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and son Danny decamp for the winter to the Overlook hotel, we know that Jack has hardly been a model parent. (It is revealed that Jack no longer drinks after having hurt Danny’s arm during an alcoholic binge). But when Jack descends into a psychopathic rage and attempts to murder his family with an axe, Danny outwits him and leaves him to freeze to death – the ultimate bad dad revenge. (Photo: Rex Features)

  • George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life

    GOOD DAD: James Stewart’s character is a father-of-four who is saved from the brink of suicide and realises his positive effect on others’ lives. For one of the ultimate feel good American classics, much of the film is notably bleak, with George snapping at his children as he faces financial ruin. But the ultimately lovable Stewart is redeemed as he realises the worth of his own life, the value of friendship and the importance of being a loving dad. (Photo: Corbis)

  • Darth Vader in Star Wars

    BAD DAD: When the ruthless cyborg reveals himself as Luke Skywalker’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, the son’s reaction says it all: “No! No!” It’s hardly a joyful welcome to the family. For most of his son’s life, Darth Vader has been the ultimate absent dad – and he’s just severed Luke’s hand with a lightsaber. You can understand why Father’s Day cards might not be forthcoming. (Photo: Corbis)

  • Guido in Life is Beautiful

    GOOD DAD: Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are one thing, but pretending the Holocaust is an elaborate game to keep your children smiling is something else altogether. Roberto Benigni’s character in 1997’s multiple Oscar winning film uses charm, humour and magical thinking to shield his son from a horrible reality, and puts his dedication to family first – before even his own life. (Photo: Corbis)

  • The pastor in The White Ribbon

    BAD DAD: Austere, unsmiling and brutally severe, Burghart Klaussner’s character rules his household with an iron rod. His children are caned, tied to the bed to prevent masturbation and forced to wear humiliating reminders of their lapsed purity. These are not techniques recommended by most modern parenting manuals. (Photo: Moviestore Collection/Rex Features)

  • Giuseppe Conlon in In the Name of the Father

    GOOD DAD: Ostensibly the story of the Guildford Four, a group falsely convicted of an IRA bombing that killed five people in 1974, the film is also a moving study of the tender but fractious relationship between one of the accused, Gerry Conlon and his father, Giuseppe. Imprisoned as an accomplice alongside his son, Pete Postlethwaite gives a touching performance as the loving father, full of wise advice. (Photo: Rex Features)

  • Helge in Festen (The Celebration)

    BAD DAD: Not only is he one of cinema’s most ghastly fathers, Festen’s patriarch also goes down as the host of one of its worst ever parties. After gathering his neurotic brood to the family’s hotel to celebrate his 60th birthday, the film’s gruff, bullying pater familias is exposed as a sexual abuser of his children and the source of their many problems. (Photo: Movisetore Collection/Rex Features)

  • Ted Kramer in Kramer vs Kramer

    GOOD DAD: The 1979 tearjerker, pitting Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman against each other in a custody battle over their young son, sees Hoffman’s character attempting and at first failing to juggle a high-pressure advertising job with bringing up the boy. After a disastrous start, in which Kramer proves particularly inept in the kitchen, the two form a strong bond and the father’s love for his son is revealed through his new role as principal carer. (Photo: Rex Features)

  • Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums

    BAD DAD: Gene Hackman’s talent for portraying a certain insouciant cruelty is perfectly suited to this role as the devious patriarch of the gifted but highly dysfunctional Tenenbaum clan. Royal Tenenbaum returns to make amends with his estranged wife and three former child prodigies – by pretending to have terminal cancer. Not his finest parenting hour. (Photo: Rex Features)