When it comes to dads on the big screen (or the streaming small screen), a good man is hard to find. Hollywood’s output is rife with flawed fathers who fail their families and leave a trail of brokenness behind. But are there examples of virtuous fathers too? Fathers who show up for their families, provide, sacrifice, and cultivate virtue in their households? Thankfully, yes.
In honor of Father’s Day, here are 15 films where fathers loom large and offer refreshing pictures—however imperfect—of the God-created role and essence of fatherhood. Fathers, watch them with your spouse, fellow father friends, or your own dad. Let them spark conversations about what it means to embrace this vocation, cherish its challenges, and glorify God in the process. There are doubtless dozens more films that could make a list like this, but the 15 selections below have helped me, a dad of two boys and a girl, think through the high calling of fatherhood.
Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
This classic of Italian neorealism, set against the post-war poverty of Rome, shows a father (Lamberto Maggiorani) who is desperate to provide for his family. When a crucial economic asset—his bike—is stolen, he embarks on a journey to recover it, along with his young son (Enzo Staiola). Spare, honest, painful, and tender, De Sica’s masterpiece poignantly shows the vulnerability and pressures of fatherhood. Watch on HBO Max. Rated G.
Field of Dreams (Phil Robinson, 1989)
If you’re a baseball fan and you haven’t seen this film, watch it soon—with your dad or your kids. Kevin Costner delivers his most iconic performance as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer haunted (literally and figuratively) by his late father and the reconciliation they never achieved. Not just an elegy for baseball and the Midwest, Field of Dreams is a powerful reflection on the profound ways we are shaped by our relationships with our fathers. Watch on Amazon Prime Video. Rated PG.
Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold, 2019)
There’s a dialogue scene in this film between a father (Christian Bale) and a son (Noah Jupe) that will always stand out to me as a cinematic moment that captures—without being didactic—something of the essence of fathers raising boys. I’ve written about that scene and the film’s larger exploration of the frailty of fatherhood. Watch on Disney+. Rated PG-13.
A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)
Malick’s faith-based masterpiece tells the true story of Austrian Christian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who objected on religious grounds to fighting for Hitler in WWII. Devastatingly moving and challenging, the film prompts us to reflect on difficult questions: What happens when a father’s convictional stand comes with a cost not only for him, but for his wife and children? What matters more for a virtuous man—staying alive to love and care for his family, or sacrificing his life for a principle beyond his household? Watch on Disney+. Rated PG-13.
King Richard (Reinaldo Marcus Green, 2021)
Though his notorious Oscars slap will, unfortunately, tarnish this film’s legacy, Will Smith is truly remarkable as Richard Williams, the father who helped coach Venus and Serena to tennis greatness. Though imperfect and quirky, Williams is devoted to his daughters and fights for them against all manner of obstacles. Watch on HBO Max. Rated PG-13.
Late Spring (Yasujirō Ozu, 1949)
Ozu’s Late Spring is arguably the Japanese master’s best film (I like it even more than Tokyo Story), and its depiction of a widowed father and his unmarried adult daughter is both timeless and reflective of a particular place and time. Like all of Ozu’s films, the Japanese-language, black-and-white Late Spring requires a more patient posture than the modern filmgoer might be accustomed to, but to take in this film is to take in something true, beautiful, and good about fatherhood and daughterhood. Watch for free on Tubi. Rated G.
Locke (Steven Knight, 2014)
Surely the most unique film on this list, Locke is a 90-minute solo set entirely in a car, with only one actor on screen. As Ivan Locke, Tom Hardy brings an immense amount of drama to the screen, making numerous calls (36 to be exact) as he tries to keep obligations as a father, husband, and employee—even as his job and family are seemingly about to fall apart. It’s the quintessential movie about the imperfect father striving desperately to hold things together in his own strength, yet needing grace. Watch for free on Kanopy. Rated R.
The Lost City of Z (James Gray, 2017)
Many of James Gray’s films explore themes of fathers and sons (see especially Ad Astra), but my favorite is this adventure tale based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) and his Amazon expeditions with his son. While not to be emulated in some respects, Fawcett’s fatherly love doesn’t shield his son from the sort of danger and mystery that will ultimately grow him. Watch on Amazon Prime Video. Rated PG-13.
Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020)
In the award-winning Minari [read TGC’s review], Steven Yeun delivers a tremendous performance as Jacob Yi, a farmer who moves his Korean-American family from California to Arkansas in search of a better life. Directed by a Christian and rife with biblical allusions, Minari is a story of one husband and father’s imperfect attempts to provide for his family and set them on a course of growth and fruitfulness, both materially and spiritually. Watch on Hulu. Rated PG-13.
A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018)
Intense, scary, and fun as a post-apocalyptic survival thriller, A Quiet Place is also a refreshing picture of how—when the world falls apart—a loving, stable marriage and family is everything. John Krasinski shines as the head of his family, a devoted husband, and a brave, sacrificial father whose kids are deeply marked by his virtue. Watch on Paramount+. Rated PG-13.
The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)
The pursuit of a father toward his sons is at the heart of this powerful film, rich with Christian symbolism. The father breaks bread and pours wine for his sons at supper, spends time with them on fishing boats and by beach campfires, and runs after them when they rebel. Though his mercy is at times severe, it’s always motivated by love. Watch on Amazon. Not rated.
The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
This adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel is harrowing and rather bleak, yes. But as a portrait of a faithful father (Viggo Mortensen) willing to sacrifice anything to protect his child (Kodi Smit-McPhee), it’s moving and inspirational. Perhaps a good one to pair with the more recent (but very similar) father-child apocalypse movie, Light of My Life, starring Casey Affleck. Watch for free on Tubi. Rated R.
Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002)
Not only is this one of the best-photographed films of all time (by the legendary Conrad Hall), but this period gangster drama also engages father-son dynamics in beautiful ways. Centering around the ideas of legacy, generational sin, and struggling to set our kids on a better path than we took, Road to Perdition is a melancholy but ultimately redemptive film—featuring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman in some of their best work. Watch on Netflix. Rated R.
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
A common reading of this film—which is about everything, but mostly a 1950s Texas family—sees Brad Pitt’s character as a bad, overbearing father. He is the cruel “nature” to the soft “grace” of the mother (Jessica Chastain). That’s a simplistic take, however. The more you watch and consider Malick’s masterpiece, and Pitt’s tremendous performance, the more you see how there is actually profound love and grace in the father’s discipline, even if he’s flawed and broken. Rent on Amazon. Rated PG-13.
Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)
Bruce Willis shines in this slow-burn mystery thriller—arguably Shyamalan’s best work. The twist ending and moody, graphic-novel aesthetic are definite strengths. But Unbreakable is most compelling as the story of good fathers becoming great and heroic fathers—sometimes literally superhero dads (see also The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2). Watch on Amazon Prime Video. Rated PG-13.