Father's Day is just around the corner and whether you're looking for an easy film to cuddle up to with your own family, or something a little more complex to enjoy a good sob over, these movies with strong father figures capture all the messy imperfections of father-child relationships. Films about dads that are truly heartwarming often don't boast flawless, conflict-free, morally unassailable figures, largely because being a dad is complicated and overwhelming; being the kid of a dad is arguably even more so. The satisfying emotional payoff of a "strong" father figure is typically found in characters who go through an inner journey from someone flawed to someone still flawed, but far more honest, with their kids. In that vulnerability lies their true strength.
For many of these films, the strength of the kids is what shines, as much as the humble, bumbling, awkward arcs of their dads as they strive to become better versions of themselves. And they all grapple with some version of the universally relatable question "what happens when we do our best as parents, and it still isn't good enough?" Maybe the best way to celebrate dads on Father's Day is to acknowledge their inevitable shortcomings as human, and embrace them anyway. These films all work in that spirit, proving that sometimes a "strong" dad is just one who gets it wrong and tries to do better.
The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006)
Will Smith's Oscar-nominated turn as Chris Gardner, an entrepreneur who suffers a bout of homelessness while trying to raise a toddler, has a unique twist as far as heartwarming dad moments are concerned; he actually shares the screen with his real-life son Jaden Smith. Jaden plays Gardner's son Christopher, Jr. in the 2006 biopic The Pursuit of Happyness, which is based on Gardner's best-selling memoir of the same name. And this one is for sure a tear-jerker, so you'll want to have plenty of tissues on hand.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)
Okay, so Beasts of the Southern Wild doesn't exactly have a strong father figure — in fact, he's pretty terrible. But if your relationship to Father's Day, like many people's, is fraught, then Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin's 2012 Oscar darling is the ideal cathartic watch for its brave, transcendent daughter character played by Quvenzhané Wallis. The film earned Wallis the honor of being the youngest ever Best Actress Academy Award nominee, and if her final line ("I'm recording my story for the scientists in the future. In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.") doesn't destroy you in the best way, then I don't know what can.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
To Kill A Mockingbird is currently enjoying a run on Broadway in an adaptation penned by Aaron Sorkin, which earned nine Tony nominations. Earlier this month, Celia Keenan-Bolger won one of those Tonys for playing Scout Finch, the spunky 6-year-old narrator of the story. But if you missed out on getting to see Jeff Daniels play Atticus Finch (major dad energy), you can always fire up the 1962 classic starring Gregory Peck. I promise it's way more moving as an adult than when you were being forced to watch it in a high school English class.
The 1991 film Hook fires on several nostalgia cylinders: first, there's Robin Williams in his element carrying a fantasy adventure film; next, there's the classic story of Peter Pan, reimagined for a millennial kid audience; and finally, there's the unmistakable storytelling language of a 1990s Steven Spielberg film. It also contains a classic trash-dad-finds-his-way through the magic of Neverland narrative, which never gets old. It's a great pick if you're looking for something adventurous, yet heartwarming this Father's Day.
Widely regarded as "the Clueless of the 2000s" for its instantly classic vernacular, Juno boasts one of indie cinema's greatest dads, with J.K. Simmons as Mac MacGuff. Juno's dad is one of the more inspiring examples of men who know how to own their mistakes and lend support anyway, despite the tricky business of finding common ground with their teenage daughters. Aside from making Ellen Page and Michael Cera household names, the film also earned writer Diablo Cody an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Little Miss Sunshine (2007)
Another indie cult classic from roughly the same era as Juno is Little Miss Sunshine, a charming family dramedy that launched the careers of Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin. The all-star cast includes Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, Toni Colette, and Bryan Cranston, and the film netted two Oscars, plus two more nominations. With a whole intergenerational dad dynamic, Little Miss Sunshine really hits the well-meaning (but bumbling) paternal spot.
Hearts Beat Loud (2018)
Hearts Beat Loud was a favorite when it premiered at Sundance in 2018, and if your own father figure boasts earnest rock dad energy, then this film is guaranteed to make your heart swell. It stars Nick Offerman as Frank Fisher, a record store owner and widower trying to hold onto his daughter, Sam, the summer before she moves away for college. Sam, a queer character, is played by Kiersey Clemons of Easy, Dope, and Rent: Live fame. When the father-daughter duo record a song that inadvertently goes viral, Frank tries to convince Sam to start a band with him, while she tries desperately to focus on her pre-med program. It's the perfect movie to queue up if you've ever secretly wished Nick Offerman was your IRL dad.
The Descendants (2011)
Along the same lines, if you've secretly wished for George Clooney as a dad, then you may want to revisit The Descendants, a 2011 tragicomedy also starring a young Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, and Matthew Lillard. Clooney plays Matt King, a man whose wife ends up in a coma unexpectedly, leaving him to juggle his two teen daughters, a family financial crisis, and, eventually, end-of-life decision-making for his wife. The touching film is set against the gorgeous backdrop of Honolulu, and it's a nice pick if you're looking for something subtle.
The Kids Are Alright (2010)
The Kids Are All Right stars Mark Ruffalo as a motorcycle-riding, bohemian sperm donor type who's sought out by his two biological children to see if they can strike up a relationship. Annette Benning and Julianne Moore star as the kids' queer moms — a groundbreaking film moment for 2010 — who each have some big, if very different, feelings about their sperm donor coming back into their lives. Unlike some of the other dads on this list, Ruffalo's Paul has something of a reverse hero's journey; he goes from eager to be involved in his biological kids' lives, to making lots of mistakes, to then becoming pretty selfish when he realizes that real life doesn't reflect his fantasy of fatherhood. Ultimately, however, he helps the family understand and appreciate each other for what they are, and the thoughtfully drawn character lends crucial representation to nonnuclear family makeups.
So, this Father's Day, fire up one of these movies and remember to celebrate the real "strong" dads — the ones who embrace their vulnerability and lead with a humble, but determined heart.