Father Figures From TV and Movies
Can you learn important life lessons from onscreen father figures? Wisdom, faithfulness, and sincerity – are these qualities that we can learn from actors, even when our own fathers fall short of the mark?
Well, Hollywood certainly has thrown a lot of father figures at us over the years. From Alfred in Gotham to Gandalf the Grey, here is our top 10 list of the best father figures from movies and TV.
1. Michael Caine as Alfred (Batman)
There have been several actors who’ve played the role of Bruce Wayne’s British stand-in father figure. Yet, Michael Caine stands out for his portrayal of Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy.
Billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) witnessed the murder of both his parents when he was a child. That traumatic experience led him to don the cape and cowl of Batman. Alfred was his butler, but Michael Caine often needed to give his employer some fatherly advice.
Alfred was full of wisdom. He was a source of calm and reason when Bruce Wayne was flying off the rails. Alfred also represented a link to Bruce Wayne’s real father, a living vestige of Bruce Wayne’s roots.
Here is one of Michael Caine’s most memorable speeches as Alfred.
2. Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars)
Although Ewan McGregor played a much younger Obi-Wan, he was more of an older brother to Anakin Skywalker. The much older Obi-Wan Kenobi played by Sir Alec Guinness was a true father figure for Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill).
Obi-Wan was a legendary Jedi who carried himself like a samurai warrior. He trained young Luke Skywalker and saved his life several times. Luke Skywalker had a troubled relationship with his real father. Anakin Skywalker force choked Luke’s mother, became Darth Vader and tried to kill him.
Obi-Wan took Luke under his wing and became a true role model for the boy. He wasn’t a fountain of wise words. Instead, he was a paragon of fatherly values. The most important lesson that Obi-Wan Kenobi taught Luke Skywalker was how to become a master of himself.
3. Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi (Karate Kid)
We never saw Daniel Laruso’s real father in the Karate Kid. Daniel (played by Ralph Macchio) lacked discipline and self-confidence when he met wise, old Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi didn’t just become Daniel’s martial arts instructor; he became Daniel’s father figure.
Mr. Miyagi, like most martial arts instructors, instilled the values of hard work and discipline into Daniel. He wasn’t very affectionate, but he always came through for Daniel in a crunch. He gave him a hot classic car for his birthday and taught him valuable life lessons in the form of bite-sized parables.
Mr. Miyagi displayed such pride in Daniel’s accomplishments in the final frames of the first Karate Kid movie. That was the moment when the audience knew for sure that the exchange between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi wasn’t just a one-way street.
Mr. Miyagi might not have shown much emotion, but in the end, he formed a true bond with his student. That bond was challenged and reinforced throughout two sequels, making Mr. Miyagi one of Hollywood’s most iconic father figures.
Best 80's movies:#TheKarateKid (1984).
It follows #DanielLaRusso, a teenager taught Gōjū-ryū karate by #MrMiyagi to help defend himself and compete in a tournament against his bullies, one of which is the ex-boyfriend of his love interest #AliMills. pic.twitter.com/Vc3vx8OTeM
— Only Film Media (@OnlyFilmMedia) May 16, 2020
4. Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes (The Walking Dead)
In the middle of a zombie apocalypse, law enforcement officer Rick Grimes protected his son Carl and anyone else who happened to join his group of ragtag survivors. Rick was tough, at times even brutal and savage, but when it came to protecting his son, Rick never once faltered.
Rick Grimes wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. He often cried in front of his son. He had several heart-to-heart talks with him and gave Carl real responsibilities. When Carl was in danger, Rick could fight through hordes of zombies and marauders to save him.
Although that is an idealistic father figure, the character of Rick Grimes represents the unbreakable bond that all sons seek to have with their fathers. Rick was steady as a rock even when he came up short or outright failed.
— ❦ợยєєภ ๏Ŧ tђє ๔єค๔❦ (@DeLaTee) March 11, 2015
5. Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills (Taken)
Keeping with the theme of protectors, Liam Neeson became a legendary father figure in the Taken movie series. In the first film, his daughter is kidnapped while abroad and Bryan Mills goes on a tense international search to find her.
The character of Bryan Mills would stop at nothing to find his daughter and bring her back to safety. Liam Neeson violently destroyed an entire underground mafia ring to get his daughter back and nobody’s bones and limbs were safe on that quest.
Bryan Mills was yet another idealistic father figure – a Dad who would go through Hell to protect his child. It’s kind of a lame Hollywood trope, but Liam Neeson brought new life to the role. He was trained as a fighter, but most father figures feel the same urge to protect their loved ones from danger.
6. Will Smith as Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness)
Will Smith’s portrayal of a father in Pursuit of Happyness was aided by the fact that his own son Jayden Smith played the role of his son in the movie. Their onscreen chemistry was magnetic.
Chris Gardner endured homelessness and utter despair as he struggled to provide a stable life for himself and his son. This film was based on a true story and it’s filled with motivational moments and displays of fatherly love.
The character of Chris Gardner persevered and held fast to his ambitions and dreams. That’s an important quality for anyone who seeks to be successful. Chris Gardner even slept on the floor of a subway with his son while working an unpaid internship. He never abandoned his dream and he never abandoned his responsibilities as a father.
7. Burgess Meredith as Mickey (Rocky)
Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) was a tough boxer who embodied the spirit of a fighter. Yet, he wasn’t always walking the right path. He needed guidance and that came in the form of his trainer Mickey.
Mickey was a salty, old boxing trainer from Philadelphia who formed a deep bond with Rocky Balboa over the course of the first three films. He didn’t sugar coat anything. He even called Rocky a bum. Talk about tough love.
Mickey’s purpose was to help Rocky unlock his potential. Some people respond to negative reinforcement and Mickey was a master at it. Some of Burgess Meredith’s best scenes in the Rocky movies were tense moments where Mickey needed to antagonize Rocky.
Burgess was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in his role. Here’s one of the reasons why.
8. Steve Martin as Gil Buckman (Parenthood)
Gil Buckman was the typical middle-class father in the movie Parenthood. He tried his best to provide everything that his own father failed to provide for him. He gave his family stability and affection. So, why was parenthood so hard?
Steve Martin was the perfect actor to portray this character because he really typified the struggles of so many fathers in the world. He could say so much with just his physical acting, thanks largely to his years of experience as a comedian.
Gil Buckman managed to accept that fatherhood was difficult and that led to him reconciling with his own father. Gil eventually cut loose and let go of the reigns and just started to have fun with it. That made him an even better father and husband.
Check out this funny performance from Steve Martin in Parenthood.
9. Ian McKellen as Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
It’s not often that a character can be a father figure for two generations of the same family. Yet, Gandalf was long-lived and he had a tremendous role as mentor and protector for Bilboa and Frodo Baggins.
In the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Gandalf played a wise, old wizard who entrusts two small men with a great responsibility. Gandalf saw potential in Bilboa and Frodo. He also nurtured that potential through wise words and the burden of responsibility.
Gandalf had a way of popping in and out of their lives, much like the father figures of the real world. Yet, he always seemed to show up at the right moment. Even when he was away, Gandalf was working tirelessly to fulfill the overall mission.
— FanWithAPlan (@DowneyRosellen) June 20, 2020
10. James Avery as Uncle Phil (Fresh Prince)
James Avery became everybody’s uncle after his role in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He was funny, down to earth, and generous. Yet, he would sometimes wax dramatic and lay down some real lessons about manhood, social responsibility, and the values of family.
Uncle Phil took in his nephew (played by Will Smith) and raised him alongside his own family, even though he made no secret about his aversion to Will Smiths antics. Sometimes, Uncle Phil lost his temper, but he never went too far.
Uncle Phil practically raised Will through his difficult teenaged years and into early adulthood. There was an episode when Will’s biological father showed up in Bel-Air and Uncle Phil took him to task over being a deadbeat Dad.
This was voted by fans as the most dramatic scene from the entire Fresh Prince series.
BONUS: ANTHONY HOPKINS
Hopkins is a Hollywood legend and three time academy award actor. Known for a variety of roles, including Richard The Lionheart in The Lion Winter (1968) and his iconic part in the film Silence of the Lambs as Hannibal Lecter (1991), his name has become synonymous with stardom.
Given the entertainer's amazing background, it is hard to imagine him gaining any more fame than he's already accrued. But Hopkins did just that in his role as Odin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, Thor (2011 and and its 2013 and 2017 sequels). Playing the part of a wise king, he guides his son Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) to lead the people of Asgard.
The video below is of Odin taking away Thor's power. It's powerful!
Lessons Learned from Hollywood Father Figures
It would be unfair to expect Hollywood to teach us all the right lessons about fatherhood. After all, movies and TV shows are meant to entertain us. At times, they can challenge our views and educate us, but that’s not the true reason why we stay up all night watching eight episodes of the Walking Dead.
Yet, there is an opportunity there. Father figures in movies and TV shows mirror people that we know and they help model people that we should emulate. We might not have witty quips at the ready like Steve Martin or speak with such eloquence as Michael Caine, but we can show up and be present.
That’s the real lesson learned from Hollywood father figures. They didn’t shy away from their opportunity to positively affect the lives of the people around them. They challenge us to find real world opportunities to do the same.
What do you think of our Top 10 list? Who do you think was a great father figure that might have missed the cut?