The thing about dad movies is that they’re simple. That’s why the sheer joy of them is universal. You don’t have to be a dad to love a dad movie, just like you don’t need to be a man to love a dad movie either. Dad movies bring everybody to the cookout.
Over the years, I’ve tried to curate the perfect list of dad movies, and I think I’ve finally nailed it thanks to a recent release. Of course, these are MY picks of what I define as a dad movie, which I’ll get into. (No Empire Strikes Back here; go someplace else for that.) These are my favorite dad movies guaranteed to get your dad kickin back in his La-Z-Boy on this here Father’s Day.
You can trust me on this. For I am dad 😉
1. Top Gun: Maverick
This list could end right here. Conversely, you could swap any Tom Cruise action movie like Mission: Impossible or Edge of Tomorrow and I wouldn’t front. Maverick takes the cake for me because it’s so delightfully old-fashioned. It’s the simplicity of a sports drama with the structure of a heist movie – familiar on a narrative level because it’s all about the rush. And my, that hair-blowing-back sensation is enough to get dads running out of the theater, arms sticking out like planes with the careless abandon of youth.
Required dad viewing, essentially. Maverick is slyly about being a dad without making a big deal about it. That’s the key to the dad movie. It doesn’t have to be the main message, it just has to be there. Like Maverick guiding Rooster like a mentor figure. It sells the dynamic without needing Rooster to say, “I lost one father, but gained another.” Dads don’t like self-importance or pretentiousness. Dads just wanna have a good time.
2. Wrath of Man
Finally got around to checking out this Jason Statham vehicle and boy it knocked me for a loop. I had The Transporter on this list for the longest time because it’s my dad’s favorite Statham movie. Wrath of Man usurps the throne because here Statham is a *thick British accent* fava. He’s a dad out for blood in this hardcore revenge odyssey, one with chapter cards and a moody score brewing with tragedy and rage. Dads love revenge fantasies purely for the joy of avenging fallen loved ones *with total impunity. Statham takes NO prisoners; he’s got a slimy bunch of deserving bad guys to retaliate against. The unexpected thrill of the movie is that it operates as a gangster pic and a heist movie, stealthily paving the way for a satisfying revenge payoff. I’ve been waiting for Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham to reunite, and they both pulled out career-best work.
If we’re talking revenge, then I gotta include Sicario. Benecio del Toro is a father out for black-tar vengeance in the unforgiving Western backdrop of the border. It’s FBI, CIA, and Cartels clashing, governments colluding, etc. Dads love grey areas too! You could do just as well with Prisoners, where Hugh Jackman is on a holy hunt for his missing daughter. There’s moodiness and a hell of a lot of rage in these narratives without being overtly manly about it. (Us dads gotta be kept in check once in a while.) They’re also jaw-droppingly gorgeous movies to look at. Dad fury shouldn’t look so damn prestigious.
4. Terminator 2: Judgement Day/True Lies
Oh we’re in it now. Once upon a time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the undisputed king of the dad movie. Safe to say that the ‘90s churned out the catalogue of the dad movie as we know it. Director James Cameron knows how to hit the sweet spot of dad emotion. When young John Connor is bonding with the T-1000 over ‘90s slang, or Miles Dyson’s own son stepping in the way of Sarah Connor’s fury – a scene that essentially primes you for T2’s wallop of an emotional ending; this is prime Father’s Day viewing all-around.
True Lies is the fun, James Bond-ian side of the conversation. Arnie is on paper a lame dad who barely spends time with his wife and daughter because he’s actually saving the world doing super spy shit. And then he proceeds to bond with his family by doing said super spy shit. It ain’t clever, but it is exploding tankers full of fun. It’s worth it alone for Eliza Dushku’s reaction when an F-16 pulls up beneath her dangling feet and she realizes her boring ass dad is flying the damn thing.
5. Armageddon/The Rock/Bad Boys II
Dads love Michael Bay, deal with it. Say what you will about him, but the guy appeals to the full audio-visual sensation of watching a movie. So no matter the quality, dads will bottom-line get a kick outta this shit. The Rock may have very well started this curious trend in almost all of Bay’s films where he needs a dad arc. In The Rock, it’s about Sean Connery reconnecting with his estranged daughter in a brief but impactful scene. (Bay’s latest Ambulance also has a dad component amid the cacophony of cars and bullets.)
Armageddon – the story of a bigger rock but in space that’s coming for Earth – kinda crystallizes the dad movie into the popular culture. A movie about drillers training to become astronauts, about Ben Affleck trying to be the romantic lead, and finding out that Stephen Tyler’s daughter is an actress now, etc. But it’s also a movie about a father saying goodbye. I don’t care if you’re the hardest man on Earth; Harry and Grace’s transmission can cure droughts in empty hearts EVERYWHERE.
Bad Boys II, on the other hand, appeals to the guiltiest pleasure of all dads – the coveted “dad talk” scenario. Every dad’s got their own version of what they’d say to the youngin’ taking his daughter to the prom, and Bad Boys II fulfills that dad fantasy in the fullest. It’s also the story of Martin Lawrence just wanting a lazy day and kick back in the pool. Marcus Burnett an ICON.
Ah yes, the intellectual dad movie. Dads can be smart sometimes. And yet, you don’t need a degree in aerospace engineering to feel the story’s earnest father-daughter story, something I’m an absolute sucker for. How hard it is to leave, and how hard you’ll fight to get back home; it’s a magnificent cinematic cry across time and space that a father’s love knows no bounds. Yes, there’s a planet that Bodhi from Point Break would probably make his residence, with plenty of Ted Talks about relativity, as well as a snow fight between Matthew McConaughey and Matt Damon. But I assure you these are features, not bugs, all worth it for the sheer emotional payout at the end: “Because my dad promised me.” 🥺
7. The Nice Guys
I had to include one Ryan Gosling movie because he’s been in his dad era since Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. But I sure as hell am not gonna recommend those downer movies. (Gosling’s dad phase could’ve happened upon us a year earlier in The Lovely Bones but he famously misunderstood the assignment.) Maybe you won’t wanna watch this with your dad because The Nice Guys is set against the backdrop of the LA porn scene in the ‘70s. Bear with me, it’s a charming story about a drunk father learning to be a good person for a daughter who’s too pure for this world. Holland March might be the world’s worst detective, but as a father he’s incredibly endearing… and entertaining. Sure, March finds clarity at the bottom of 100 whiskey bottles. That only makes his slapstick and sheer geyser-like triumph in the end an all the more exhilarating one, with a TON of screaming profanity in the air. Gosling, may you never leave your dad phase 🙏
8. Fast Five
You can’t go wrong with the best Fast and the Furious movie. Some of you may suggest Fate of the Furious a.k.a. when Dom himself becomes a father, to which I’ll say, “I’ve never seen that person before in my life.” Fast Five is the one where shit gets real for the Toretto family. Mia’s expecting, and the fugitive ways of Dom and Brian are no bueno. We get a nice half-time scene where the two brothers outside of the law ponder their own dads, and are treated to Diesel’s ace line reading: “iremembereverythingaboutmyfatherrr.” Before this franchise became too macho and self-aware for its own good, it could plausibly sell earnest moments like these. Fast Five is an all-timer action movie that works for any occasion. Mother’s Day! (Mia) Fourth of July! (Bullets and cars exploding are excellent substitutes) Thanksgiving! (Family) Christmas! (Also family)
9. Ford v Ferrari
The modern dad movie before Top Gun: Maverick came in at Mach 10. This race-athon is for motorheads and dads alike. So if your dad’s a motorhead, he was there for Ford v Ferrari on opening day. It may be about Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s hot and cold bromance, but it’s also about a dad trying to do right by his son. Ken Miles has a dream that’s often tempered by reality. He wants to race. He also has to provide for his family, and the sad broken American dream of many a household is that the two often don’t meet at the same precipice. The story takes on the tried and true formula of a sports drama, where Miles is given his shot, and it’s the car that has to be whipped into shape. You get the drama, the burning rubber, and even though Miles “loses,” we still feel the win. Dads don’t need to be hoisted in the air to the tune of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” A home and a pat on the back will do.
10. Heat/Den of Thieves
Why are heist movies so appealing as dad movies? The lust of money, and the adrenaline of the aforementioned rush. Not all dads love roller coasters. For some, it’s the measured thrill of plan and execution. Heat fires on all dad cylinders because it’s about a career robber at the height of his game, with a hotshot detective shaking his trees. All dads wanna feel like they’re pros, and Heat is Professionalism: The Movie. The suits, the discipline, the material rewards. Soon you see the cost of the lifestyle. Vincent Hanna’s domestic life is crumbling because he’s married to the badge, and Neil McCauley has nothing decorating his home because he’s hard-wired to disappear when he needs to. But I’m digging too deep here. Heat’s got a coffee shop scene between two titans that’s a full-on Heavyweight bout, plus a street shootout that still bangs 27 years later.
I am also recommending Den of Thieves, which is the trashy direct-to-video copy of Heat. One is a fine-dining cut of prime rib, the other is the greasy oily Chinese takeout that nonetheless gets the job done. Den of Thieves is one Gerard Butler in absolute scumbag mode versus a then on-the-rise Pablo Schreiber, the two dialing up the muscles and masculinity any way they can. (Bro-fessionalism, if you will.) These dudes glower because they dare not to look weak, and they’re hateful enemies simply because they’re on opposite sides of the law. It hits all the check boxes of a heist movie, with the beer-clanking fun of guys being dudes, and a Dad Talk scene that does Bad Boys II proud.
Whatever you choose to watch today, make it a dad movie 👍