12 great films with terrible fathers | Inquirer

12 great films with terrible fathers

A few hours in the worlds of these patriarchs leave viewers even more grateful to have dear ol' Dad by their side
/ 10:37 PM June 15, 2024
Photo illustration with David Prowse, Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito.
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Ciano // Stacker // Getty Images

This Father’s Day, rather than revel in just the good, how about taking a stroll on the darker side of life with noteworthy movies featuring dastardly dads? Like adding salt to make sweets even sweeter, a few hours in the worlds of these patriarchs leave viewers even more grateful to have dear ol’ Dad by their side.

Hollywood movies thrive on conflict, and viewers have seen a host of fathers made memorable for the worst of reasons. There is oil man Daniel Plainview in the masterful drama “There Will Be Blood,” whose egocentric impulses also make him something of a neglectful parent. As a result, his (adopted) child grows up dealing with all kinds of psychological trauma, a recurring theme across films with terrible fathers.

In the name of (un)fatherly spirit, Stacker combed through film history’s horrible fathers and highlighted 12 feature films that met a certain threshold of greatness. To qualify, the movie had to have at least 10,000 IMDb user votes and either an IMDb user rating of at least 7.0 or a Metascore of at least 75. Whereas movies like “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Shining” seem to tackle fatherhood head-on, others, like “Get Out,” feature terrible people who also happen to be fathers. That said, the list was compiled to cast as wide a net as possible to touch on obvious and not-so-obvious flicks alike.

Unfortunately, not every memorable movie father could be included on this list, but some do deserve special mention: “The Godfather Part II,” where Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone steps into a life of crime to the detriment of his son; “The Squid and the Whale,” which looks behind the dysfunctional goings-on in the life of a recently divorced university professor and his wife; and “This Boy’s Life,” which includes not one but two deeply flawed father figures.

These movie patriarchs certainly make for fascinating entertainment, but it’s good to know that, as the final frame flashes, viewers can eventually return to real life, where dads, more often than not, do their best for their children.

Jack Torrance: The Shining (1980)

– Director: Stanley Kubrick
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 146 minutes

Hotel caretaker Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is literally and figuratively trapped by his responsibilities in this timeless horror classic inspired by Stephen King’s novel of the same name. As he slowly loses his mind, a grim history of alcoholism and child abuse bubbles to the surface. There are various theories as to what the film is really about, and one possible interpretation is that it’s a study of the conflict between man’s selfish desires and his familial obligations. Putting theories aside, by the propulsive third act, there’s no disputing Torrance is a truly terrible father and husband.

Darth Vader: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

– Director: George Lucas
– IMDb user rating: 8.7
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 124 minutes

“I am your father,” supervillain Darth Vader tells hero Luke Skywalker toward the end of this sci-fi epic. Widely considered one of cinema’s most iconic reveals, it also distinguishes Vader as quite possibly the worst dad in movie history. After all, he did just chop off Luke’s hand during the very same battle sequence. As if that’s not bad enough, Luke discovers he made out with his sister in the following film. Can’t this guy catch a break?!

Hidetora Ichimonji: Ran (1985)

– Director: Akira Kurosawa
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Metascore: 97
– Runtime: 160 minutes

Shakespeare’s “King Lear” has inspired countless movie adaptations, including this Japanese classic from director Akira Kurosawa. It restages the action in feudal-era Japan and revolves around the powerful Ichimonji clan. When the family patriarch, Hidetora, decides to split his kingdom between his three sons, it sparks bitter conflict and a violent battle for control. Hidetora is a terrible father, perhaps, but he seems downright compassionate compared to Logan Roy of the recent TV series “Succession,” which features a similar storyline!

Harry Wormwood: Matilda (1996)

– Director: Danny DeVito
– IMDb user rating: 7
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 102 minutes

This wild family comedy was based on a novel by author Roald Dahl, who had a knack for creating extreme characters. It tells the story of 6-year-old Matilda (Mara Wilson), a precocious and magically gifted child surrounded by sadistic adults on all sides. Director Danny DeVito plays terrible father Harry Wormwood opposite terrible mother Zinnia (DeVito’s then-wife, Rhea Perlman).

A slimy car salesman, Harry goes from one scam to the next while ignoring any semblance of parental duty. Behind the scenes was a much different story, with Mara Wilson telling Parade in 2013 that Danny and Rhea were like her “favourite aunt and uncle” during the shoot.

Louis Batiste: Eve’s Bayou (1997)

– Director: Kasi Lemmons
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 78
– Runtime: 108 minutes

“The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old,” narrates an adult Eve Batiste as she reflects upon her childhood. So goes this gothic drama, which unfolds in 1962 Louisiana from the perspective of Eve’s younger self (Jurnee Smollett).

Living in an affluent community, Eve’s sheltered world is upended by the discovery of her father’s infidelities. Samuel L. Jackson plays the father, Louis, a successful town doctor who becomes more terrible over the course of the story. Rich in both atmosphere and subtext, this one is waiting to be rediscovered by modern audiences.

Ronald Lisbon: The Virgin Suicides (1999)

– Director: Sofia Coppola
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 77
– Runtime: 97 minutes

Sofia Coppola’s feature directorial debut takes place in the Michigan suburbs in the 1970s and uncovers a darkness lurking just beyond the picturesque veneer. Local boys are fascinated by the Lisbon girls, five sisters who can’t lead a normal social life due to their strict Catholic upbringing. Behind closed doors, Mr. Lisbon (James Woods) fails as a father by yielding to the harsh demands of his domineering wife (Kathleen Turner). An ethereal soundtrack by French duo Air rounds out the movie’s somber, dreamlike quality.

Royal Tenenbaum: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

– Director: Wes Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 110 minutes

The sins of terrible father Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) loom large over this idiosyncratic dramedy. Putting the “fun” in dysfunctional, the story follows Royal and his quirky offspring across various misadventures as this patriarch tries to reinsert himself into the family he’s long since left behind.

Like most Wes Anderson outings, this one is eccentric enough to seem fairly untethered from reality. Nevertheless, it offers a compelling look at the psychological effects of bad parenting and features terrific performances from the talented cast, particularly from Hackman.

Daniel Plainview: There Will Be Blood (2007)

– Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Metascore: 93
– Runtime: 158 minutes

Daniel Day-Lewis delivers an Oscar-winning performance as Daniel Plainview in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical masterpiece. A self-described “oil man,” Plainview pursues his passion at the expense of all personal relationships. An adopted son is the primary victim of Plainview’s ambitions, in that the son must suffer through both an absentee father and an oil rig explosion (among other misfortunes). Plus, no one wants a dad who goes around drinking everyone else’s milkshakes!

Various fathers: The White Ribbon (2009)

– Director: Michael Haneke
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 144 minutes

This black-and-white drama takes place in a fictional German village before World War I and the subsequent rise of Nazism. Director Michael Haneke conceived it as a story of the children who had survived the war and would one day be swayed by Hitler’s vision.

Rife with allegorical meaning, the film features no shortage of terrible fathers—among them a doctor (Rainer Bock) who treats the villagers with kindness but abuses his daughter at home. The local baron (Ulrich Tukur) and pastor (Burghart Klaußner) are likewise fathers with notable flaws.

Mr. O’Brien: The Tree of Life (2011)

– Director: Terrence Malick
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 139 minutes

Director Terrence Malick drew upon his own childhood experiences when crafting this acclaimed portrait of family life. It primarily takes place in the 1950s and follows young Jack O’Brien (Hunter McCracken) as he comes of age in the Texas suburbs. Brad Pitt plays against type as Jack’s ill-tempered father, who upholds religious values and rules the household with an iron fist. Malick imbues the film with sumptuous visuals and a meditative tone while exploring the passage of time on both macro and micro levels.

Tomas: Force Majeure (2014)

– Director: Ruben Östlund
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 120 minutes

It’s an everyman for himself in this Swedish dark comedy from director Ruben Östlund. That everyman is Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), who abandons his family in the midst of an avalanche. The family survives, but Tomas’ selfish act causes his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), to second-guess their entire marriage. From this clever premise comes a modern examination of instinct, manhood, and other timeless themes. The film was later remade as the maligned 2020 American comedy “Downhill,” starring Will Ferrell as the terrible father.

Dean Armitage: Get Out (2017)

– Director: Jordan Peele
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 104 minutes

In this horror comedy smash, a Black man (Daniel Kaluuya) visits his white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) family—only to find himself in the middle of a suburban nightmare. Director Jordan Peele conceals racism beneath a facade of congeniality as a way to explore American racial dynamics at large. “By the way, I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could,” proclaims patriarch Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) when the two characters first meet. It later turns out that this is Dean on his best behavior, which isn’t to mention his similarly sadistic wife (Catherine Keener).

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close.

This article has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

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