The 10 Worst Dads in Film History


Well kids, Father’s Day is Sunday, so we hope you’ve bought your tie or drill or whatever. Dads always get the shaft in the holiday sweepstakes; mothers get flowers, candy, elaborate gifts, songs written for them, shout-outs on television, and, let’s face it, fathers sorta get taken for granted. But if the movies have taught us one thing, it’s that the potential for being a terrible father is limitless. We’ve compiled a list of the worst fathers in movie history; check it out after the jump, and maybe give Dad an extra hug on Sunday.

Lt. Col. “Bull” Meechum, The Great Santini PLAYED BY: Robert Duvall PARENTING STYLE: A Marine pilot, Meechum runs his family like a military unit. He’s bullying and abusive, yet aloof — he has no more clue how to engage with his children than he does with his men. But he will not abide by questioning or insubordination, and his fierce competitiveness is (to put it mildly) not his best quality. KEY QUOTE: “Hey, hey, mama’s boy! Bet’cher gonna cry. Gonna cry? Let’s see you cry. Cry, sport, cry.”

Col. Frank Fitts, American Beauty PLAYED BY: Chris Cooper PARENTING STYLE: There’s not much good parenting on display in American Beauty, a film whose protagonist (Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham) spends the bulk of the running time trying to sleep with his teenage daughter’s best friend. But he’s Cliff Huxtable compared to Chris Cooper’s next door neighbor, a retired Marine (looks like we might be overdue for a likable Marine dad) with an impressive collection of Nazi memorabilia who terrorizes his son and spouts homophobic invective, but turns out (of course) to be just a little, um, curious. KEY QUOTE: “What is this? The fucking Gay Pride parade?”

Dwight Hansen, This Boy’s Life PLAYED BY: Robert DeNiro PARENTING STYLE: At first, ingratiating — often irritatingly so. When young Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) first meets his mother’s new suitor Dwight, the man seems obnoxious but harmless. Turns out, there’s a dark side (isn’t there always with movie stepfathers?), and the story becomes an exhaustive account of Dwight’s verbal, emotional, and physical abuse of not only Toby, but his entire extended family. KEY QUOTE: “Yeah, you pull that hot shot stuff around me, and I’ll break every bone in your goddamn body. You understand me? Yeah, you’re in for a change, mister, a whole ‘nother ball game.”

Humbert Humbert, Lolita PLAYED BY: James Mason PARENTING STYLE: Um, affectionate? In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s notorious novel, professor Humbert becomes obsessed with the title character, the teenage daughter of Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters), the widow from whom he rents a room — even going so far as to marry Charlotte just to be close to the “nymphet.” When Charlotte is hit and killed by a car, Humbert picks Lolita up from summer camp (Camp Climax, natch), keeps the news from her, and takes her on what amounts to a sexual road trip — a parenting strategy not exactly endorsed by Dr. Spock. KEY QUOTE: “For all intents and purposes I am your father and I am responsible for your welfare. We are not rich, so when we travel, we shall be — we shall uh… we shall be thrown together a great deal.”

Bill Maplewood, Happiness PLAYED BY: Dylan Baker PARENTING STYLE: One of the interesting contradiction/ironies of Todd Solondz’s controversial 1998 film is that he portrays Bill Maplewood’s relationship with his son Billy as one of honesty and candor — it’s just that he’s saying horrible things about all of the horrible things he’s done, and wants to do, and would do, since he’s a pedophile who has drugged and raped two of Billy’s classmates. The flat, matter-of-fact tone of those scenes renders his crimes all the more disturbing, and makes his relationship with his son downright creepy. (This story angle was, of course, kept out of the rather cheery trailers; you can watch those embedding-disabled scenes here.) KEY QUOTE: “Would you like a sandwich?”

Ed Wilson, Natural Born Killers PLAYED BY: Rodney Dangerfield PARENTING STYLE: Seen almost entirely in a sitcom parody where the laughs stick in your throat, the father of soon-to-be mass murderer Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) is played by stand-up legend Dangerfield as a mean, nasty, verbally and sexually abusive creep whose every potshot, threat, and repulsive leer is accompanied by an enthusiastic laugh track. KEY QUOTE: “So you move it upstairs and take a shower. And you make sure it’s a good shower, ’cause I’m comin’ up after to see how clean you are.”

Noah Cross, Chinatown PLAYED BY: John Huston PARENTING STYLE: Well, we can’t really talk about Mr. Cross without getting into spoiler territory. So if you haven’t seen Chinatown — well, first of all, see Chinatown, what’re you trying to prove? But if you haven’t seen it, skip ahead to the next page. Now that those heathens are gone, you’ll recall that through most of Robert Towne’s tightly-wound screenplay, Noah Cross appears to be a slimy and opportunistic businessman; it’s only late in the film, in a tense encounter with Cross’s daughter Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) about whether Katherine — the girl Cross hired him to find — is her sister or daughter, that Evelyn confesses: “She’s my sister and my daughter!” Yikes. KEY QUOTE: “I don’t blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.

Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back PLAYED BY: David Prowse (voice by James Earl Jones) PARENTING STYLE: Choosing when and how to tell a child who their biological parent is can be a tricky proposition; it must be done with just the right mixture of sensitivity, understanding, and felicitous timing. So thumbs down to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader for deciding to spring that information on his son Luke at the conclusion of a fierce lightsaber battle during which he severs his offspring’s hand — and presenting it wrapped up in a proposition to join him on the “Dark Side.” Poorly played, Darth. Bad form. KEY QUOTE: “No. I am your father.”

Jerry Blake, The Stepfather PLAYED BY: Terry O’Quinn PARENTING STYLE: The wicked stepfather strikes again — this time in the form of Jerry Blake (played by a pre-John Locke O’Quinn), a seemingly mild-mannered gent with a taste for young windows and an obsession with forming the perfect, ’50s-television-style, white-picket-fence family. But when the families he marries into prove to be the slightest bit flawed, Jerry has to wipe the slate clean and start over in another town. KEY QUOTE: “Wait a minute, who am I here?”

Jack Torrance, The Shining PLAYED BY: Jack Nicholson PARENTING STYLE: Though countless books have been written on the subject, there aren’t a lot of hard, fast rules for parenting — every child is different, every parent is different, and strategies and approaches vary. That said, if the moment arrives when you find yourself chasing your son through a hedge maze in the dead of winter with an axe, you’ve probably made a serious and irreversible parenting error somewhere along the way. KEY QUOTE: “Danny, I’m coming!”