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Tops in pops: 20 great dads in movies and on TV

This Father’s Day, spend some quality time in the company of some of the most memorable and beloved dads in movies and on TV. These tops in pops are by turns funny, dramatic, silly, inspiring, or wise, but they always put their families first. We’ve picked 20 movies and TV shows that are not only great entertainment, but will spark discussion on fatherhood and the qualities that make a dad great. 

10 great movie dads

Universal Pictures

Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

To his young children, Atticus (Gregory Peck in his iconic, Oscar-winning role) is too old to do anything. But over the course of one fateful summer, he will teach them by example essential life lessons about walking in another person’s shoes, justice, and that thing about it being a sin to kill a mockingbird. Is Atticus the best movie dad ever? You be the judge.


Bob Parr, The Incredibles

The family that saves the world together stays together. What makes Mr. Incredible a super dad is that he recognizes and encourages each of his children’s unique powers, wanting them to fulfill their full potential.

20th Century Fox

Bryan Mills, Taken  

Talk about a dad who goes the extra mile for his child! Liam Neeson is an unstoppable one-man army whose “particular set of skills” make him a nightmare for the sex traffickers who abducted his daughter. This is the action superhero dad all men imagine themselves would be if their children were in peril. It’s rated R, so this is one you should save for after the kids’ bedtime.


Chris Gardner, Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith stars in the inspiring and heart-wrenching true story of Chris Gardner, a single dad who is determined to keep hope and dignity alive for his young son after his wife leaves him and he finds himself in debt and, ultimately, homeless while pursuing a stockbroker internship. Through it all, he refuses to give up on himself.

David Kim, Searching

This one’s another entry in the Dad Who Won’t Give Up genre. John Cho’s David Kim’s particular set of skills are of the cyber kind, and he needs them to locate his missing teenage daughter and determine the truth about her disappearance. This unique thriller plays out entirely online on a succession of screens, and the more dad clicks, the more it seems he may not know his daughter as well as he thought.

20th Century Fox

Maverick Carter, The Hate U Give

Based on Angie Thomas’ award-winning young adult novel, this timely coming-of-age drama stars Amandla Stenberg as a Black girl who is compelled to testify as the sole witness after the police shoot her unarmed childhood friend. Russell Hornsby’s Mav Carter is her supportive father. “Shine your light,” he encourages her. “I didn’t call you Starr by accident.”

Universal Pictures

Gil Buckman, Parenthood

Steve Martin’s neurotic Gil does not know best, but at least he’s trying his best to raise his family, which includes an emotionally disturbed son. His fraught relationship with his own father (Jason Robards, Jr.) is in marked contrast to the loving relationship he fosters with his children.


Pongo, 101 Dalmatians

With Cruella in theaters, revisit this more kid-friendly Disney animated classic featuring another heroic dad who, with his mate Perdy, embarks on a treacherous rescue mission to save his children from the clutches of Cruella de Vil.

Columbia Pictures

Ted Kramer, Kramer vs. Kramer

It takes becoming a single dad to transform workaholic Ted Kramer into a devoted father after his wife walks out on him and their son. Dustin Hoffman earned an Academy Award for his intensely driven performance as a man who struggles with the demands of his high-pressure job and his responsibilities as a single father.

Studio Ghibli

Dr. Tatsuo Kusakabe, My Neighbor Totoro 

The father character is secondary in this Hayao Miyazaki animated classic, but he goes to the head of the class as a college professor caring for his two young daughters while their mother is in the hospital. He does not stifle their imagination and creative play, nor discourage their talk of a furry and loveable creature named Totoro.

10 great TV dads

Andy Taylor, The Andy Griffith Show

The Andy Griffith Show episode, ”Mr. McBeevee,” tells you everything you need to know about sheriff and single father Andy Taylor. His boy Opie is spinning fantastic tales of his new friend, Mr. McBeevee. More troubling are little trinkets he claims this McBeevee has supposedly given him. Andy is torn. “You don’t believe in Mr. McBeevee?” his deputy Barney Fife asks him. “No,” Andy responds, “but I do believe in Opie.” (Spoiler alert: There is a Mr. McBeevee.)


Charlie “Pa” Ingalls, Little House on the Prairie

 In 2014, TV Guide ranked Michael Landon’s Charlie Ingalls among the top five best TV dads. His old-school values endure: honesty, faith, a solid work ethic, education and compassion, and empathy. When it came to his family, he didn’t fiddle around. Recommended episode: the pilot episode that introduces the family and is more grounded in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved books.


Dan Conner, Roseanne/The Conners

How is it possible that John Goodman never won an Emmy as the Conner family patriarch? The Conners were something different for TV: a blue-collar family living paycheck-to-paycheck and whose problems were not necessarily tied up at the 30-minute mark. But hard-working Dan — good cop to Roseanne’s bad cop and a self-proclaimed “decent human being” — had his family’s back. Recommended episode: Roseanne’s “Mall Story,” in which he sacrifices an expensive new pair of shoes to buy his daughter a prom dress.


Dre Johnson, Black-ish

Anthony Anderson’s Andre is a successful advertising executive who has been able to provide financially for his family, but continually struggles with how much to ground his upper-middle-class children in Black history and culture, and whether it is best to protect them from or prepare them for the realities of racism and injustice in society. Recommended episode: “Hope.”

Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights

“Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.” On and off the field, Kyle Chandler’s Dillon High School football coach Eric Taylor is a winner. He is a supportive husband and father to his working wife and daughters, and a father figure to his team. He fumbles from time to time, but he is never less than fully committed to winning the right way, in football and in life. Recommended episode: “State.”


Hank Hill, King of the Hill

Don’t mess with Texas or Hank Hill. Set in his ways, Hank Hill was at his best when he managed to not sacrifice his beliefs while adapting to a world that put his conservative and traditional mindset to the test, particularly where his unathletic, comedy-loving son Bobby was concerned. Recommended episodes: “Hilloween,” “Chasing Bobby,” and “Hank’s Cowboy Movie.”


Ignacio Suarez, Ugly Betty  

Sweet, socially awkward Betty, a twenty-something Mexican American woman, is like a fish out of water at her new job, trendy fashion magazine Mode. But there is one person she can count on unconditionally: her father Ignacio, a former boxer and excelente cook. But over the course of this series, he put faithful viewers through the wringer, from visa hassles to being the target of a revenge plot. What did you expect from a telenovela, The Brady Bunch? Recommended episode: “A Nice Day for a Posh Wedding.”


Martin Crane, Frasier

What began as a conflicted relationship between a former cop and his priggish, elitist son blossomed over Frasier’s 11 seasons. Emmy-nominee John Mahoney’s Martin Crane kept Frasier and brother Niles grounded. For all their knowledge of the finer arts, the Crane brothers learn much from the unpretentious blue-collar Martin’s practical advice. Recommended episode: “Give Him the Chair.”


Rob Petrie, The Dick Van Dyke Show

In this classic sitcom, Rob Petrie juggles his glamorous career as the head comedy writer on The Alan Brady Show and his suburban home life. In a show in which the parents were much more interesting than the child in the house, some of the best and most heartfelt episodes concerned Rob’s sure and steady parenting hand. Recommended episodes: “Never Name a Duck,” “Father of the Week,” and “A Bird in the Head Hurts.”


Ward Cleaver, Leave It to Beaver

We could have gone with any number of suburban dads—Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best, Steve Douglas from My Three Sons, Ozzie Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet — but we’re going with Hugh Beaumont’s cool, calm, and collected Ward Cleaver, who at the end of the day was always there to bail out his mischievous son Beaver or make him see the error of his impish ways. Almost any episode will do.

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Donald Liebenson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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