Top Ten: Father and Son Stories

The relationship between father and son has been the basis of storytelling as long as stories have been told. Shakespeare was rather fond of this particular riff himself, and so are the movies. I’ve always had a soft spot for these tales. In fact, the best screenplay I ever wrote, which won the BAFTA New Writers Forum in 2008, was a father/son story. It was also the most fun to write. The story of a father and son can be tragic, inspiring and often hilarious. It can take in redemption, discovery, reconciliation and ponder the age-old question of whether we are destined to become our parents.

Here are my favourite ten movies which explore these themes. Please, feel free to suggest your own. Or, indeed, any mother/daughter stories you feel resound with the same emotions. Enjoy!

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10. Frequency

It may be cheesy as hell, but there is something genuinely touching about Gregory Hoblit’s tale of a man who discovers he can talk to his dead father through a time-travelling ham radio signal. Jim Caviezel is the cop communicating with his fire-fighter father Dennis Quaid on the same radio, in the same house, 30 years apart, attempting to alter history in order to save his father’s life. Naturally, it all goes wrong before it all goes right, and despite the rather ordinary serial killer sub-plot, Frequency throws in some neat time-travel tricks as father and son work together across a generation.

Issues resolved: Dead father (twice), murdered mother, new appreciation for father’s hobby.

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9. Finding Nemo

Hey, fish are dads too. After losing his wife and all his unborn kids, save one, over-protective Marlin is relentless in his search for Nemo, his only child. Pixar have a flawless way of portraying the complexities of human emotion through the use of toys, monsters or cute animals, and they don’t disappoint here. Marlin’s single-minded pursuit of Nemo, with no thought of ever quitting or assuming the worst is something that any parent could probably relate to. Just as Nemo’s exasperation with his over-bearing father is something that any child could equally relate to.

Issues resolved: Father learning to let go, son learning to appreciate his father’s love, mutual appreciation of those with crap memories.

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8. Field of Dreams

Phil Alden Robinson’s adaptation of the novel Shoeless Joe is rooted in a father/son relationship, despite the fact that the two never interact until the closing minutes of the picture. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is an inexperienced farmer, living with his unresolved estrangement from his dead father. When he starts to hear voices telling him to remove his crop and build a baseball field, Ray begins a zig-zag journey towards reconciliation. Everyone thinks Ray is insane but, let’s face it, voices that say ‘build it and he will come’ are a lot better than those that say ‘kill them all’.

Issues resolved: Son’s resentment of his father, never playing ‘catch’, imminent bankruptcy due to the farm not actually having any farmland left.

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7. Return of the Jedi

And you thought your dad was bad. Poor old Luke Skywalker has the kind of father issues that no amount of therapy will cure. Aside from finding out that his dad is not dead, as he was told, he also has to deal with the fact that the old man is an intergalactic despot, murderer and looks like a badly boiled egg with eyes. You have to wonder if you’ll turn out the same, right? Luckily for this galaxy, Skywalker Jr. has a heart the size of a death star and is able to turn his father back to the light. Not that this brings back the countless hundreds Skywalker Sr. force strangled on a whim.

Issues resolved: Father being a psychotic mass murderer, finding out the girl you lusted after is actually your sister, the embarrassing fact that dad looks way better in black than you.

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6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Keen to further the character of Indiana Jones for his third outing, Spielberg and Lucas pulled off one of the casting coups of the century by securing Sean Connery to play the archaeologist’s estranged father, Henry Jones Sr. The pairing is inspired. Bookish, uptight and pompous, Henry is the polar opposite of his adventurous offspring and their bickering is thoroughly entertaining. Well aware of the irony that we all end up like our parents, Ford integrated some of Connery’s mannerisms into his performance of the older Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Issues resolved: A remote and inattentive father and discovering you’ve both slept with the same woman.

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5. Transamerica

Possibly the only father/son story where the father is played by a woman. Felicity Huffman is astounding as transsexual Bree, forced to bond with the son she didn’t realise she had as a prerequisite to being granted a sex-change operation. Toby, her son, has had a traumatic childhood and simply wants someone to connect to. Bree is reluctant to tell Toby the truth, instead telling him she is a Christian missionary. The developing relationship between them, though complex and difficult, is handled with such charm, honesty and wit that you cannot fail to be drawn in by them as they embark on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles. Magical.

Issues resolved: Father is almost a woman, son is a male prostitute, the list is extensive in this one.

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4. The Godfather

Essentially a father and sons story, The Godfather is almost Shakespearian in its tale of a King and his three vastly different heirs. Central to the story, however, is the relationship between Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino). While Sonny and Fredo have followed their father into the ‘family business’, Michael shuns his father’s attentions and ambitions for him, determined to follow his own path. This, of course, makes him far more his father’s son than the others will ever be and Michael’s subsequent descent is both inevitable and tragic. Rinse and repeat with Godfather III.

Issues resolved: Resentment of father’s interference in son’s life, acceptance of inescapable destiny to inherit father’s crown.

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3. Back to the Future

Marty McFly has never really looked up to his father, a weak-willed man who, by his own admission, is ‘not very good at confrontations’. Fortunately for Marty, his crazed friend Doc Brown inadvertently gives him the opportunity to build a better dad when Marty is sent back to 1955. Befriending the teenage McFly Sr., Marty sets about trying to teach his feeble patriarch how to truly win the heart of his mother. Further incentive is added by the fact that the other options are incest or ceasing to exist. Marty chooses the easy option and George McFly discovers that, sometimes, punching someone really hard in the face is the right thing to do.

Issues resolved: Lack of respect for ineffectual father figure and threat of being erased from history.

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2. Road to Perdition

There are multiple father/son stories running through Road to Perdition. Irish gangster Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks) is forced to flee with his eldest son after the rest of his family are murdered by Conner, the son of his boss, and surrogate father, John Rooney (Paul Newman). Aware that Michael Jr. looks up to him, Sullivan is aloof and reserved, fearing that the son will become the father. Their journey toward mutual acceptance is both warm and moving, but the relationship between Michael Sr. and John Rooney is heart-breaking, building to one of the most poetic and beautiful gunfights in modern cinema.

Issues resolved: Accepting your father for who he is and still loving him and protecting your son from all dangers, especially yourself.

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1. Big Fish

Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor) is a great teller of tall tales, much to the frustration of his son, Will (Billy Crudup), who feels he’s never really known who his father is. When Edward discovers he is dying, Will comes to see him with his pregnant wife Joséphine (Marion Cotillard). Edward tells Joséphine the seemingly outrageous story of his life from his deathbed while Will tries desperately to reconcile with his father. With flawless performances from all, Tim Burton’s Big Fish has a big heart and the final scenes, as Will comes to understand and appreciate his father for the first, and last, time are incredibly moving.

Issues resolved: That sometimes the details of the journey don’t matter as much as the destination.

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27 people thought reading “Top Ten: Father and Son Stories” would be a good idea. Stranger still, they left messages...

    1. Richard Post author

      Thanks, Lesya! I’m glad you enjoyed reading. Yeah, Big Fish makes me cry every time I watch it. I think it’s Tim Burton’s best.

      Reply
  1. Lesya

    Btw, what has just come to my mind, as I read a review of the film. ‘The Road’ in one of the best father/son stories. Maybe, the film wasn’t perfect, but the idea of showing the life of the father and his son after a global disaster, and those moments [SPOILER] when he is prepared to kill his kid, so that the latter won’t face the fate way more terrible.

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Actually, The Road very nearly made the list. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but I already had enough protective father movies in there. ;-)

      Reply
  2. rtm

    GREAT list, Richard! Wonderful topic and I agree with most of the choices of the movies I’ve seen, especially #9, 6 and 2. I have yet to see Frequency even though I love Caviezel. I definitely have to put that on my Netflix queue pronto!

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      It’s not a classic, but I have a real soft spot for it. It must be the fusion of father/son and time travel. Two of my favourites! Let me know what you think of it when you’ve seen it. :-)

      Reply
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  4. Castor

    Great idea for a post Richard! I would probably add The Pursuit of Happyness and The Road somewhere but overall, I agree with your top 10. Nice to see Road to Perdition at #2 :)

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I’ve never seen The Pursuit of Happyness. It passed me by. I’ll have to give it a go, if it gets your vote. Road To Perdition could just as easily have made #1, but my gut said Big Fish.

      Thanks for commenting, Castor. :-)

      Reply
  5. Brian

    Man, the whole father/son dynamic punches me in the gut everytime. Only thing worse is a dog dying. Glad to see Frequency get some love; seriously underrated. Good stuff!

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Jeez, you must be a wreck during Jaws, since it has a classic father/son scene AND a dead dog. ;-)

      Thanks for commenting, Brian!

      Reply
  6. joem18b

    My personal Top Ten father/son movies, or should I say Father/Son!

    The Gospel According to Saint Matthew
    Godspell
    King of Kings
    Jesus Christ Superstar
    The Greatest Story Ever Told
    Jesus of Nazareth
    The Messiah
    The Passion of the Christ
    The Miracle Maker
    Jesus

    …and speaking of The Pursuit of Happyness, let’s not forget Happiness (1998), with the great Dylan Baker.

    Reply
    1. Margaret Reyes Dempsey

      You’ve got quite the Passion there, Joe. ;-)

      I’ve never heard of the film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, but I just read some background on it and the story of how it came to be, not to mention Pasolini’s beliefs (or lack thereof). Fascinating stuff. I’ll definitely check this one out.

      Reply
      1. joem18b

        Fun facts about my list:

        - I took a mechanical-drawing class in high school, which tuned in to a Top 40 AM station every day to provide music while we worked. The station played the #1 hit of the time, the theme from King of Kings, every day at 3:20 PM. Due to the effects of the inspirational music, we’d all draw faster, including the girl on the stool one row ahead of me who wore snug plaid wool pants back when pants on a girl were still quite rare.

        - In King of Kings, Jeffrey Hunter was the first Christ on the cross with shaved armpits.

        - While in a Vatican gift shop, I struck up a conversation with a priest who urged me to buy a silver crucifix from Mali. Pasolini came up in our conversation and the priest assured me that Pasolini is currently burning in the eternal fires of Hell. :(

        Reply
        1. Richard Post author

          Jeffrey Hunter was also the first Captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek, before Shatner came along, which made him a religious figure to whole other group of people.

          Thanks for reading, Joe. Good to see you again. :-)

          Reply
    2. Richard Post author

      I did consider Happiness. It certainly has a novel edge entirely lacking in the other choices, particularly your top ten. No room for The Last Temptation of Christ?

      Reply
      1. joem18b

        For some inexplicable reason, my brain persists in conflating The Last Temptation of Christ with The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, maybe because both titles contain a lot of words, or because I’d like to go Pasolini (tho in hetero mode) with Barbara Hershey.

        Reply
        1. Richard Post author

          Yeah, I often get Shaft and Jaws confused because of their one word titles.

          Who’s the white Carcharodon carcharias
          That’s an eating machine to all the chicks?
          Shaft!
          Can you dig it?

          That’s right, isn’t it?

          Reply
  7. Dan

    Great idea for a top 10 list Richard.

    And I love your number one! Great to see some love for Frequency – I’m a big fan of that movie – yes, you’re spot on that it is cheesy but the time-travel/affecting past events story is so much fun. And some times it’s nice to have an ultra-happy ending! :)

    …this has inspired me to write a top 10 hot Moms list because Jim Caviezel definitely has one in Frequency.

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Thanks, Dan. Glad you enjoyed it and approve of the No.1. :-D

      Top 10 Hot Mums! That’s inspired! Tell me you weren’t kidding because I’m looking forward to reading that one. ;-)

      Reply
  8. Marc

    Wow, great list for a top 10. You had me smiling when I saw that Frequency made the list. Also very glad to see some of my all time favs like Field of Dreams and Last Crusade. Though I am overjoyed to see Road to Perdition so close to the top spot.

    Well done!…and you’re right “fish are dads too”:)

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Hey, Marc. Thanks for reading. It’s great to see so many people coming out in support of Frequency. I thought I was the only one! :-D

      Reply

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