30 of the best movie and TV dads of all time

Fictional fathers we would be proud to call our own

best movie and TV dads

Like real-life fathers, movie and TV dads come in all shapes and sizes. But despite their differences, a lot of them have one thing in common: their unconditional love for their children. There are fictional fathers that are expressive of how much they deeply care about their kids, and there are also those that are quiet and prefer to show their love for their children by making sure that all their needs are met. While perfect dads do exist in movies and TV shows, flawed fictional fathers who try their best to do anything for their kids are also adored by many. Below are 30 of the best movie and TV dads of all time.

Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962)

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The main protagonist of the classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is the widowed lawyer father of Jem Finch (Phillip Alford) and Scout Finch (Mary Badham). Wise and caring, Atticus taught her children about prejudice and the importance of treating people fairly and standing up for what they believe in.

Leading by example for his son and daughter, Atticus vowed to defend an African-American man named Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) after he was accused of raping a girl. Unlike most white individuals in his town, Atticus had a strong stance fighting against racism and devoted himself to an anti-racism philosophy. Though everything didn’t work out according to plan, Atticus was rewarded for his morality and showed exactly what a role model should look like.

Ted Kramer (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979)

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Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is the workaholic advertising executive father of Billy Kramer (Justin Henry) in the Academy Award-winning legal drama film Kramer vs. Kramer. Ted didn’t have a perfect relationship with his son and their bond got even worse when Ted’s wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) left them both to find herself. But after months of unrest, Ted and Billy learned to cope with each other and gradually bonded as father and son despite their differences.

When Joanna returned 15 months later and tried to take custody of Billy, Ted’s love for his son became so apparent that Joanna realized it would be a mistake to take her son away from his father.

Gil Buckman (Parenthood, 1989)

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In the Ron Howard-directed movie, Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) is introduced as a sales executive who worries too much about his capability as a father. When he finds out that his eldest son, Kevin (Jasen Fisher), has emotional problems and that his two younger children, Taylor (Alisan Porter) and (Justin Zachary La Voy), both have issues as well, he begins to blame himself and questions his ability as a guardian. And when his wife, Karen (Mary Steenburgen), becomes pregnant with their fourth child, he is unsure if he can handle it.

Gil, however, has nothing to worry about, as it’s pretty apparent to the audience and to other characters in the film that he’s a great parent. After all, the fact he worries about his ability as a father suggests that he only wants to be a better dad to his kids.

Henry Walton Jones, Sr. (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

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A professor of medieval literature, Henry Walton Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) is the father of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). Though Henry had a difficult relationship with Indiana especially after the untimely death of the latter’s mom, the father and son proved that they had the perfect chemistry when they were reunited years later during their search for the Holy Grail.

Henry was a neglectful dad to Indy prior to their reunion, but the adventure they embarked on together gave Henry the opportunity to win back his son’s love. Thanks to the near-death experiences they both went through, their relationship as father and son started to get better and the estrangement between them was completely undone at the end of the movie.

Jason “Furious” Styles Jr. (Boyz n the Hood, 1991)

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When 10-year-old Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II) got into an altercation at school, his mom Reva (Angela Bassett) sent him to live with his father Furious (Laurence Fishburne) in South Central Los Angeles, hoping that the boy would learn valuable life lessons and become mature.

Furious didn’t disappoint, as he immediately taught Tre about responsibility, money, and the importance of not falling into the endless cycle of gang violence and revenge, which was prevalent in the area. Thanks to Furious’ guidance, Tre narrowly avoided getting involved in a conflict that took the lives of several of his best friends.

Bob Ivanovich (My Life, 1993)

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In the Bruce Joel Rubin-directed movie, Bob Ivanovich (Michael Keaton) was diagnosed with terminal cancer during his wife’s (Nicole Kidman) pregnancy. This, however, didn’t stop Bob from accomplishing his responsibilities as a father.

Instead of letting his last few days on Earth simply pass by, Bob made videotapes of himself so he could teach his future son how to play basketball, cook, shave, and drive, and more importantly, so his son would get to see who his father was.

Daniel Hillard (Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993)

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Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) loved his children ― Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Chris (Matthew Lawrence), and Natalie (Mara Wilson) ― so much that decided to disguise himself as a 60-year-old British nanny named Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire just to spend time with them after his wife Miranda (Sally Field) filed for divorce and got sole custody of their kids.

Despite the children struggling to adjust to their new caretaker, Daniel, as Mrs. Doubtfire, was able to see his kids every day and used that opportunity to be the firm father figure who he wasn’t before.

Howard Langston (Jingle All the Way, 1996)

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Unable to find time for his family, workaholic Minneapolis mattress salesman Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) missed his 9-year-old son’s (Jake Lloyd) karate class graduation. And in order to win back his kid’s love, Howard did everything he could to fulfill his son’s Christmas wish of a Turbo-Man action figure.

Though his simple toy purchase turned into an adventure that involved infiltrating a counterfeit toy ring, threatening a radio DJ, and saving his son with a Turbo-Man costume jet pack, all the crazy stuff Howard had been through just to score the highly coveted toy showed how dedicated he was as a father.

Cameron Poe (Con Air, 1997)

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Serving several years in prison for murdering a bar patron, Cameron Poe (Nicolas Page) was far from being a perfect father figure. It’s worthy to note, however, that he only ended up killing the bar customer because he’s protecting his then-pregnant wife Tricia (Monica Potter) at that time.

As for all the heroics on the hijacked plane, Cameron only did what he needed to do because he wanted to be able to see his wife again and meet his daughter for the first time.

Guido Orefice (Life is Beautiful, 1997)

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Though not the most honest father, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) is still considered by many as one of the best movie and TV dads of all time, as he brilliantly used his rich imagination to shield his son Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini) from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp.

Guido told his son that their entire concentration camp experience was just an elaborate game, where the one who would earn the highest number of points would be the winner. According to Guido, points could be accumulated by performing a number of specified tasks and hiding from the camp guards. Guido never let up on the ruse even during his dying moments, even winking at his son and making him laugh minutes before his execution.

Harry Stamper (Armageddon, 1998)

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Armageddon’s Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) made it to our list of best movie and TV dads of all time because he literally sacrificed his life to save his future son-in-law A.J. (Ben Affleck) and the entire Earth from an enormous asteroid headed to the planet.

In the most heartbreaking scene of the Michael Bay-directed movie, Harry ― the leader of a group of oil drillers chosen by NASA to destroy the asteroid ― spared A.J.’s life by deliberately sabotaging his spacesuit and sending him back to the ship. When he’s finally by himself on the massive space rock, Harry manually detonated an explosive device buried deep within the asteroid, preventing it from colliding with Earth but sacrificing his life in the process.

Jack Byrnes (Meet the Parents, 2000)

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Though Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) basically served as the antagonist to Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) in the Jay Roach-comedy film, the former was really just looking out for his daughter (Teri Polo). After all, Greg screwed up a lot of things during that wedding weekend, so it made sense why Jack was acting stubborn towards him.

Although Jack was not a huge fan of Greg, the ex-CIA respected the latter and later thought that he’s actually the perfect man for his daughter.

John Quincy Archibald (John Q., 2002)

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In the Nick Cassavetes-directed thriller drama, John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) is the father of a boy diagnosed with an enlarged heart. When John found out that his son was unable to receive a transplant because HMO insurance would not cover it, he decided to hold up a hospital and forced them to do it.

While John’s violent actions weren’t forgivable, they definitely revealed how dedicated he was to his son, especially since John initially planned on donating his own heart just to save his son.

Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006)

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In the Gabriele Muccino-directed movie, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) had a hard time looking for a job and providing food and shelter for himself and his young son (Jaden Smith). But instead of giving up, Chris used those difficulties as inspiration to work even harder on his dream of becoming a good provider, and in the process became a perfect example of how a father should act.

In real life, Chris is a businessman and motivational speaker. As portrayed in the biographical drama film, Gardner struggled with homelessness while raising a toddler son during the early 1980s. He later became a stockbroker and eventually founded his own brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co in 1987. In 2006, Gardner sold his minority stake in the firm and published a memoir. That book was the basis of the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.

Mac MacGuff (Juno, 2007)

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Mac MacGuff (J.K. Simpsons) is the father of the titular character (Elliot Page) in the 2007 coming-of-age film Juno. Though the focus of the Jason Reitman-directed movie is the relationship between Juno and her boyfriend Paulie (Michael Cera), Juno’s bond with her father is also one of the highlights of the movie.

Throughout the whole film, Mac admirably dealt with his daughter’s teenage pregnancy with calmness and reason. He’s always around for advice, cracked all the right jokes, and even accompanied her to meet the baby’s potential adoptive parents. Mac also knew the perfect thing to say at any given time. For instance, after Juno gave birth at the hospital, Mac told her: “Someday, you’ll be back here, honey. On your terms.”

Bryan Mills (Taken, 2008)

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Though Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) killed over 30 people in the first Taken movie alone, many viewers still consider him as one of the best movie and TV dads of all time because of his willingness to sacrifice his life just to save his daughter (Maggie Grace).

In the Pierre Morel-directed film, retired CIA operative Mills crossed the globe to rescue his 17-year-old daughter after she and her best friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) were kidnapped by a group of Albanian smugglers while traveling in France.

Man (The Road, 2009)

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Viggo Mortensen’s character in the post-apocalyptic survival film The Road may not have a name, but viewers will definitely remember him as one of the best movie and TV dads of all time because of his unwavering commitment to protecting his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from all kinds of threats.

In addition to his own actions, such as killing others when threatened, it’s apparent that the man sets a good example to his son because of the morality, sympathy, and intelligence exhibited by the boy throughout the dreary film. Though the end of the John Hillcoat-directed movie is a bit ambiguous, it seems that the man’s sacrifices paid off in the form of a better life for his kid.

Clark Griswold (National Lampoon’s Vacation Franchise)

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The main protagonist of the first four theatrical films in the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is the patriarch of the Griswold family. The husband of Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and father of Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron), Clark can be a bit of a jerk, especially when he doesn’t get things his way.

But despite that, all the crazy stuff that Clark went through during the various vacations their family had were a constant attempt to be a good dad. A sucker for adventure, Clark wanted his kids to have fun, experience different cultures, and understand the importance of family.

Darth Vader (The Star Wars Franchise)

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The Sith Lord persona of fallen Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Though the masked homicidal maniac could strangle people to death with just his mind, he proved that he could still be a good father even in the last few moments of his life.

In 1983’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) started to use his force lightning on Luke to get him to kill his father, Darth Vader stepped in and threw Palpatine down the reactor shaft to his apparent death. With his courageous act of saving his son and turning on his former master, Darth Vader turned back to the light side of the Force and reunited with his former friend Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) as a Force ghost.

Noah Levenstein (American Pie Franchise)

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Noah Levenstein (Eugene Levy) is the geeky and awkward dad of Jim (Jason Biggs) in the American Pie franchise. Though Noah’s actions are often embarrassing, he always has good intentions and always has his son’s back. Noah believes that it’s normal for kids to make mistakes and sometimes what they really need is not lecture but guidance.

Aside from his own son Jim, Noah also shares a strong bond with Matt Stifler (Eli Marienthal), Erik Stifler (John White), and Tracy Sterling (Jessy Schram), who all consider him as a mentor and a father figure. Noah also has a good relationship with his daughter-in-law Michelle Flaherty (Alyson Hannigan), whom he helped with making her wedding vows after she struggled to think of something.

Carl Winslow (Family Matters, 1989-1998)

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A hardworking lieutenant in Chicago’s Police Department, Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) takes his role as the breadwinner of the Winslow household very seriously. To save money, he usually cut corners and even builds things himself.

Though Carl has a tendency to come down very hard on his only son, Eddie (Darius McCrary), while being protective of his daughters, Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth), the Winslow patriarch loves and cares about his children equally.

Philip Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 1990-1996)

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Philip Banks (James Avery) is the dad of Hilary (Karyn Parsons), Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali), and Nicky (Ross Bagley) on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Philip also treats Will Smith (Will Smith) as his own child even though the West-Philadelphia native is really just his nephew.

Though very strict and tends to lose his temper fairly quickly ― especially when demeaning his children for their wrongdoings, Philip always means well and cares deeply about his family.

Hal Wilkerson (Malcolm in the Middle, 2000-2006)

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Because of his immaturity, recklessness, and naivety, Hal Wilkerson (Bryan Cranston) is often disrespected and fooled by his sons Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson), Reese (Justin Berfield), Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan), and Jamie without guilt. Despite this, his kids prefer his parenting style over that of his wife Lois (Jane Kaczmarek).

In contrast to Lois’ overbearing parenting style, Hal is more relaxed in upbringing their children. Though Hal has questionable ethics, he’s a kind-hearted man deep down and only wants what is best for his kids.

Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008)

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After the traumatic death of his own son, Iroh saw Zuko as his own son rather than his nephew. Iroh encouraged Zuko to choose his own destiny rather than fulfil the roles fate members of the royal family expected of him.

A wise, easy-going, and spiritual man, Iroh is unlike many other individuals from the Fire Nation, particularly those within his own family. He appreciates and admires the balance of the four elements, and even incorporates aspects of the other elements into his own fire-bending techniques.

Jerry Russo (Wizards of Waverly Place, 2007-2012)

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Born a wizard, Jerry Russo (David DeLuise) gave his powers to his brother Kelbo (Jeff Garlin) in order to marry a mortal named Theresa (Maria Canals Barrera). Though Jerry no longer has powers, he makes sure that his children are following proper practices when using the magic they inherited from their father.

Though constantly annoyed by his children, Jerry is a protective father and a great provider to the whole family. He owns the Waverly Sub Station and runs the restaurant with his wife, Theresa.

Burt Hummel (Glee, 2009-2015)

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Having lost the love of his life when their son Kurt (Chris Colfer) was only 8 years old, Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley) never quite got over the loss so he focused on being the best father ― sometimes to the point of spoiling his son by buying him expensive designer clothing and even a Lincoln Navigator for his 16th birthday.

Though a typical man’s man, mechanic and a football fan Burt is most admired for comforting Kurt and being very protective of him especially after the Glee Club member came out as gay. In addition to Kurt, Burt also became a father figure to Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) when the former married the latter’s mom in season 2 of the Fox musical dramedy series.

Phil Dunphy (Modern Family, 2009-2020)

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Considered by many as one of the best movie and TV dads of all time, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) describes himself as a “cool dad” who constantly tries to find ways to bond with his three kids, Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter), and Luke (Nolan Gould). Phil uses a parenting method that he calls “peerenting”, which is a combination of talking like a peer but acting like a parent.

Though Phil’s attempts to bond with his children usually go south, his dedication to spend time with them is quite admirable. Despite being childlike and clumsy at times, Phil is generally portrayed as a good person who always takes the high road in dealing with difficulties.

Ned Stark (Game of Thrones, 2011-2019)

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Though a short-lived character on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is still considered by many as one of the best movie and TV dads of all time. The loving father of Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), and Rickon (Art Parkinson), Ned also raised his nephew Jon Snow (Kit Harington) as his bastard son. To ensure Jon’s protection, Ned sacrificed his own honor, spending years letting everyone ― including his whole family ― believe that Jon was his bastard son.

Extremely honorable and a firmly moral character at heart, Ned set a good example to his children. He always reacted to situations calmly and reasonably, even if the situations endangered him or the people he loved. Though a skilled and fierce warrior, he still preferred diplomatic and peaceful solutions to every situation.

Bob Belcher (Bob’s Burgers, 2011-present)

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Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) is the father of Tina (Dan Mintz), Louise (Kristen Schaal), and Gene (Eugene Mirman) on the ongoing Fox animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers. Though busy operating the titular restaurant with his wife Linda (John Roberts), Bob tries to balance out his job and time for his family and children.

In spite of seemingly constant financial uncertainty, Bob remains an adamant, hardworking, family man who maintains a sunny perspective and faces life’s trials with enthusiasm and earnestness.

Jim Hopper (Stranger Things, 2016-present)

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When he lost his wife and daughter, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) turned to anti-anxiety drugs, alcohol, smoking, and womanizing to manage his emotional pain. But after discovering Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and taking her into his cabin as her new home, Hopper grew to be highly sympathetic and responsible, which led to him and Eleven forming a father-daughter bond.

Afraid of losing Eleven like his own daughter, Jim has fiercely done everything he can to ensure her safety, including legally adopting her as his child.

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