• Joel Ryan

Favorite Fictional Dads

Updated: Mar 9

When it comes to fictional fathers, some of our favorite characters wouldn’t be who they are without the guidance, wisdom, example, and tough love of their father’s leadership.

And so, as has become my tradition, this Father’s Day, I wanted to pay tribute to dads around the world by looking at some of my Favorite Fictional Dads and why we love them.

10. Mufasa – The Lion King

Mufasa is one of the most beloved dads in film history, but he might not have even made this list had it not been for the voice talents of James Earl James, who struck such a perfect balance of tenderness and power in the role of the confident and commanding king of Pride Rock. In a lot of ways, Mufasa represents so much of what boys growing up see in their dads. He is strong, authoritative, respected, and even a little frightening at times. Simba, however, like most of us, just wants to be as strong and brave as him and live up to his father’s expectations.

Sadly, Simba is a child who loses his father way too early, as many do. And in the aftermath of loss, he is filled with grief, fear, denial, and even guilt. It takes years for the lion king to finally realize, as we all do, that our fathers never really leave us. Their wisdom, their words, and their character lives on through us.

9. Henry Jones Sr. – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I’m sorry, but who wouldn’t want Henry Jones Sr. as their dad? Like James Earl Jones, Sean Connery was perfectly cast as the charming and scholarly father of Indiana Jones. Given Indy’s iconic stature, it was fitting that the casting directors went with someone who’s just as cool and iconic as Indy: James Bond himself.

This is a man who Indy absolutely respects and wants to make proud despite their many differences. Throughout The Last Crusade, Indy learns to not just respect but also understand his father’s obsession and faith. The Jones boys will never do things the same way. Indy is a shoot first, ask questions later kind of hero. Henry Jones Sr. is more patient and astute. In the end, though, his methodology may be old-fashioned, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

The Last Crusade is a story of a father and son learning to understand and respect each other for who they are. It’s this humorous and heartfelt relationship between Indiana Jones and his father that makes The Last Crusade a cinematic treasure that belongs in more than a museum!

8. Ned Stark – Game of Thrones

There is an abundance of horrible dads in Game of Thrones, which is probably why Ned Stark stands out as one of the good dads of Westeros. Apart from his other heroic qualities, he’s one of the only dads who isn’t power-hungry, conniving, emotionally or physically abusive, and willfully neglectful of his children. He loves all of his children, does his best to understand and address each of their needs, and raises them to be strong and ready for the world to come... or maybe just winter. That's important too.

Similar to the death of Mufasa, the death of Ned Stark (in SEASON 1!!!) is an earth-shattering but essential event in the lives of his children. I don’t think characters like Arya, Sansa, Bran, or even Jon Snow would have become the heroes of Westeros had it not been for the death of their father and the path his actions (and demise) set them on.

Don’t get me wrong. Ned makes plenty of mistakes. His mistakes, however, are not centered around moral failures, but rather, honorable choices made in a world that doesn’t play fair or honorable at all.

In this world, we need men like Ned Stark to value family and honor over power. They give us hope in a song as dark and full of terrors as the Long Night. And while Ned Stark may have met his end at the edge of a sword, his honor and courage are the reminder of what House Stark stands for and why the young wolves emerge victorious when all is said and done.

7. Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker – The Empire Strikes Back

Let’s get something straight. Darth Vader a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker is not a wonderful dad. In fact, he’s not really present in the lives of his children at all, for the most part. Instead, he is a tragic hero who is ultimately redeemed by his son over the course of three movies.

Okay, so he’s no Dad of the Year, but when you have one of the greatest movie twists centered around the reveal that the ultimate big bad is actually the big dad… you earn yourself a spot on the iconic movie dads list.

The original Star Wars trilogy is a story about redemption, specifically the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. The prequel trilogy deals with Anakin’s fall from grace. And the new trilogy… um… I’m not quite sure yet. Let me get back to you on that one in December.

The Skywalkers are essentially the galaxy’s first dysfunctional family, and while Anakin Skywalker was the one who plunged the galaxy into an era of darkness at the end of Revenge of the Sith, the love of his children is what eventually overcomes the darkness of his soul and helps him return to the light in Return of the Jedi.

6. Jonathan Kent – Smallville

Before Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, or Legends of Tomorrow, the CW gave us Smallville, the ten-season Superman prequel that took us back to Clark Kent’s teenage years growing up on the Kent farm in Smallville, Kansas. While Smallville arguably overstayed its welcome, it still provided several praiseworthy moments in its earliest seasons, not least of which is John Schneider’s performance as Jonathan Kent.

Because Smallville chose to focus on Clark’s teen years, we actually got to spend time with the man who went to great lengths to protect Kal-El’s secret, help him hone and train his developing powers, and selflessly raise the last son of Krypton as his own. Consider the world we live in. How many times do we see insanely talented young athletes, singers, musicians, or actors used and manipulated by their parents for personal gain? This is one area the writers of Smallville managed to perfection: the parental juxtaposition of Clark Kent and a young Lex Luthor.

Knowing Jonathan Kent helps us understand the goodness of Clark Kent and the values that would later influence Superman. On the flip side, the psychological abuse suffered by Lex Luthor at the hands of his father explain the Machiavellian mentality of the supervillain he would inevitably become. Both Lex and Clark are ultimately responsible for their own actions, but their fathers definitely had a role to play in shaping their values and inspiring their greatest and sometimes worst attributes.

5. George Banks – Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride is a story about the unique bond that exists between a father and his daughter. George Banks takes us through the joys and trials of fatherhood as he prepares to face his toughest challenge yet: letting go of his little girl on her wedding day.

Despite his fears, frustrations, and the financial burden of planning one of the most expensive weddings in film history (okay, Crazy Rich Asians might win this one), George Banks steps up to make sure his beloved Annie has everything she needs for her big day and beyond.

Now married, I know just how emotional a father’s hand off of his daughter can be. Watching my father-in-law cry his eyes out during the father-daughter dance at our wedding was a powerful reminder of the beautiful yet bittersweet emotions fathers must face on their daughter’s wedding day. It also reminded me of the responsibility I had just inherited, one my father-in-law knew better than anyone.

4. Daniel Hillard – Mrs. Doubtfire

While it’s easy to get lost in the hilarity of Daniel Hillard’s antics as loveable yet assertive British nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire, Mrs. Doubtfire surprised a lot of people with its willingness to address the topic of divorce and explore the emotional impact it has on families. In the wrong hands, it would have been easy for Mrs. Doubtfire to slip into farce, settling for cheap man-in-drag jokes or painting a picture of the film’s parents, Daniel (Robin Williams) and Miranda (Sally Field), as a one-dimensional loser and an unsympathetic villain. Instead, the writers (and actors) gave us two understandable, sympathetic parents who love their children, want what’s best for their family, but simply struggle to work out their differences or find common ground as a married couple. Just because parents aren’t always willing to fight for each other doesn’t mean that they won’t fight for their children. Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire fights for his children in a way that only he can. He makes us laugh, he makes us cry, and he makes us appreciate parents who are willing to go to the ends of the earth to be with their kids.

3. Marlin – Finding Nemo

Speaking of going to the ends of the earth … how could I write about great fictional dads and not include Marlin of Finding Nemo? When it comes to Finding Nemo, Pixar gave us one of the best father-son stories in film history and one of their most visually impressive films to date.

As a father, Marlin begins super overprotective of Nemo, but who can blame him? Nemo is all he has. Marlin takes his responsibility as Nemo’s father very seriously and is terrified to even let Nemo go alone to school or to the edge of the reef where it might be dangerous. How many parents can relate to these fears? But If you know me, you know that I will always praise a story that’s willing to force its main character to face their greatest fear.

Well, Marlin’s greatest fear is quickly realized when Nemo is captured by a scuba diver and taken away on a butt (or boat). While Nemo discovers his independence, resourcefulness, and how much his dad loves him over the course of his adventure, Marlin learns to push through his parental fears and learns to trust his son, letting him take risks and make his own choices.

The worst thing imaginable becomes the best thing for both these characters, helping them grow closer as father-son than ever before.

2. Edward Bloom – Big Fish

I have yet to encounter an adaptation of Big Fish that I haven’t loved. That’s what happens when you have a story that’s so good. So why does Edward Bloom, the father in Big Fish make this list?

He’s a storyteller.

Fathers have an inclination for storytelling. We all grow up hearing our dads tell ridiculous tales or exaggerated accounts of their past adventure. For most of us, our dad’s stories can be charming. In Big Fish, William Bloom has always felt a disconnect between his father’s tall tales and the man who raised him. But as Will prepares to say goodbye to his father on his death bed, he discovers that there is more truth in every one of his father’s stories than he previously allowed himself to realize.

When it comes to the stories our fathers tell, Will realizes that, “you’re not necessarily supposed to believe them… you’re supposed to believe in them.” We often see see our dads as superheroes and giant slayers when we’re little. Somewhere along the way, time and reality go after this image. But after our fathers have passed, it’s the stories our dads tell and the stories about them that make them legends.

As Big Fish and Edward Bloom so poignantly remind us:

“Remembering a man’s stories makes him immortal.”

1. Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird

I would put Atticus Finch at the top of several lists for being one of the greatest heroes in all of literature! He fights for justice, stands for what’s right, and speaks for those who aren’t given an equal voice in society. In everything he does, Atticus risks his reputation and personal safety for the sake of others, and he does it all in front of his children.

As a father, Atticus does more than just talk the talk. To teach a child what is right, you also have to walk the walk, and Atticus Finch models the lessons and leadership that you want a child to learn. He is attentive, intelligent, just, courageous, and wise, and he teaches his children to do what is right even when it’s not popular or easy. For this reason, he takes top honors as my favorite fictional dad, a crown he will probably wear for a very long time!

Anyway, that’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. If you have a favorite fictional dad you feel I missed, I would love to hear about it. And as always, if you liked this post, tap the heart icon below, and if you loved it, and subscribe to Perspectives off the Page for updates and new content, which I try and post every week. I’ll see you then.

Until Today, Storytellers


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