A Taxonomy of 1980s Film Dads


Father’s Day is right around the corner, and while you’re hurriedly evaluating his taste in cologne and neck ties for a last minute gift (hopefully not, because we have a list of better presents he’d prefer over here), take a break with us for a look back at some fantastic film fathers. The 1980s was a great decade for dads who ranged from classic Cliff Huxtable types to more angsty and outrageous patriarchs. We’ve categorized them in a handy taxonomy past the break. See if you can figure out where your pops might fall on the list before sending off that Father’s Day card, and chime in with your own suggestions below.

The Mythic Dad

Thrill-seeking archaeologist and crushable college professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) had a strained relationship with his dad — fellow archaeologist and professor of medieval literature, Henry Senior (Sean Connery) — but the father and son team got screen time to air their relationship troubles in 1989’s Last Crusade (often to comical effect). Being so absent from Indy’s life, particularly during important quests like his search for the Holy Grail, made Indy see Henry Senior as a mythic figure he desperately wanted to live up to — something he could never easily admit. The troubled adventurer resolved some of those difficult emotions when he was tasked with saving Henry’s life, evading a group of Nazis.

Also see: Zeus in Clash of the Titans

The Reluctant Mentor

Teen Wolf ’s Scott Howard spent most of his high school years feeling average and aching to be special, until a bizarre family “curse” reared its ugly — and hairy — head. Scott transforms into a teenage werewolf, which makes him popular and wins him the girl of his dreams. At first, it all comes as quite a shock since his father Howard didn’t explain that lycanthropy runs in the family. “I was hoping I didn’t have to [tell you],” Howard says to his son, while turning into a wolf himself. “Sometimes it skips a generation, and I hoped it would pass you by.” He didn’t want Scotty to feel ostracized due to his furry face. However, when Scott abuses his newfound popularity, dad finally has the chance to be the mentor he never was by putting life back into perspective for the teenager, reminding him of the important things.

Also see: Harry Dean Stanton’s Jack Walsh in Pretty in Pink

The Overprotective Zealot

Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) runs a tight ship at home with his wife and daughter Ariel, but despite his best efforts the young girl falls for a big city transplant, Ren (Kevin Bacon), who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Moore’s fanaticism led him to ban rock music and dancing from his small town, but Ren tries to overturn the rule. Eventually Moore softens, and the senior prom goes off without a hitch. In the end, the reverend realizes that in his attempt to control everything around him, he was simply making up for his failings as a father. And now… we dance.

Also see: John Mahoney’s James Court in Say Anything

The Repentant Father

Star Wars Anakin Skywalker lost his humanity to the dark side of the force and transformed into the iconic villain, Darth Vader. Torturing, killing, and maiming were his favorite pastimes — even when it came to his own children, Luke and Leia — but Vader repents for his sins in the end. When he sees Palpatine trying to kill Luke with a torrent of Force lightning, Vader steps in like a daddy should and saves his son, sacrificing his own life. It earns him a place next to spiritual wizzes Obi Wan and Yoda in the Jedi heavens, but more importantly it earns his son’s love.

Also see: Robert Duvall’s Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies .

Mr. Mom

No one thought John Hughes’ Mr. Mom starring Michael Keaton as a struggling stay-at-home dad was terribly sexist in 1983. These days, dads aren’t expected to be breadwinning Mad Men who spend all day at the office, but the concept was still somewhat new for middle America during Mr. Mom’s release. Jack Butler (Keaton) thinks his stint as a homemaker will be a piece of cake, until he actually gets down to business. Although the film is one of a kind in terms of 1980’s movies, Keaton’s (eventually) sympathetic, supportive character paved the way for future “Mr. Moms.”

The Wild and Crazy Dad

Instead of inspiring his son to do better in college by giving him a good talking to, the wealthy Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) takes the wild and crazy route by re-enrolling in school with his son. Everyone loves Thornton, because he blows money like it’s going out of style and parties harder than they do. His son, however, hates it. Dads: heed this Back to School lesson, and don’t try so hard, ever.

Also see: Nicolas Cage’s H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona

The Old Fashioned Dad (with a Gun)

Lethal Weapons L.A.P.D. Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) may carry a pistol, but he’s a traditional dad who loves his kids, will do anything to protect them, isn’t keen on his daughter’s dating life, and yes, everyone looks up to him. He’s old fashioned and repeatedly reminds us he’s “too old for this shit,” but for the sake of his family he pushes through his demanding job and even acts as a father figure to his younger, kookier sidekick Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson).

Also see: Darren McGavin’s The Old Man in A Christmas Story

The Psychotic Dad

Stephen King’s version of tortured Overlook Hotel caretaker Jack Torrance is quite different from the film version of The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. The novel paints Jacks as a tragic hero of sorts, but his filmic counterpart goes totally insane and tries to hunt down his own family, attempting to kill them in the snowy maze beyond the hotel doors. We’re only given small bits and pieces about Jack’s unstable history with wife Wendy and son Danny, but we know Jack’s abusive past has created fear within his family before they even step foot inside the haunted hotel.

Also see: Terry O’Quinn’s Jerry Blake in The Stepfather

The Good-Hearted, Bumbling Nerd

You know him and love him. The kind-hearted, nerdy dad always means well, but things never go as planned. Vacation’s Clark Griswold turns family bonding and vacation planning into an extreme sport in spite of his family’s wishes.

Also see: Crispin Glover’s George McFly in Back to the Future

Dad with a Secret

Surprise honey! I’m a man of the law, but many years ago your mom and I set a child-molesting janitor on fire with a gang of pissed off parents and now he’s a pizza-faced murderer who hunts you in your dreams for revenge. Sorry about that.

Also see: the deceased Sanford Babbitt in Rain Man