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Top of the Pops: The 10 Coolest Movie Dads

Top of the Pops: The 10 Coolest Movie Dads

In honor of Father’s Day this weekend, we took a cinematic survey of some of the coolest pops in movie history. Read below, shed a tear, and then make sure you call your dad. 

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John Wayne as Thomas Dunson in Red River (1948)

Why he’s the coolest: He’s a mean old cattleman with a violent streak and a fondness for liquor — so mean, in fact, that Gary Cooper turned down the role for fear of damaging his image. Dunson does love his stepson (played by a distractingly charismatic Montgomery Clift), but also vows to kill him for challenging his authority on a cattle drive. And in the manly-man fashion typical of that time, they settle their differences in a climactic brawl that leaves both of them bruised and battered — and smiling in their newfound mutual affection. It's proof that you can teach an old dad new tricks.  

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Spencer Tracy as Stanley Banks in Father of the Bride (1950)

Why he’s the coolest: A suburban dad must confront the unpleasant reality that his daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) has found the man of her dreams. Worse, he now has to foot the bill for the wedding of her dreams. Director Vincente Minelli has credited Spencer Tracy with the success of the film, calling his performance “the essence of comedy, because it was achingly true.” Tracy’s portrayal of Banks — kind, gruff, and comically aggrieved — pretty much created the template for every wry screen dad to follow. 

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Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965)

Why he’s the coolest: It’s the oldest parenting dilemma in the book: Do you handle your kids with military discipline, or let them sing, climb trees, and wear old curtains? Captain von Trapp loosens up considerably when he realizes that discombobulated nun Maria (Julie Andrews) has a tighter bond with his own children than he does. Before long, he’s a model of loving authority. “It was pretty delicate stuff because it could have run overboard and become very mawkish and sentimental,” Plummer later admitted. And who would have guessed he could play guitar?

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Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Why he’s the coolest: An initially reluctant single dad when his wife up and leaves him, Ted makes plenty of rookie errors — like responding to his kid Billy’s defiant “I hate you!” by yelling “I hate you, too!” Through trial and error though, Ted builds a new life for them both, and ultimately learns that it’s less important to be perfect than it is to be present. For Hoffman, who was going through a divorce, the role was extremely personal. “I was getting divorced, I’d been partying with drugs and it depleted me in every way,” recalled the actor, who helped rewrite the original script to better reflect his own single-dad experience.

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Harry Dean Stanton as Jack Walsh in Pretty in Pink (1986)

Why he’s the coolest: Still devastated years after his wife left him and their little girl, Jack is emotionally broken and chronically unemployed. In facts, it’s Andie (now a high-school senior) who dispenses the wisdom and the literal shoulder to cry on. Yet this father-daughter relationship is perhaps the most realistic — and sweetest — of any teen movie. Stanton told Vulture that creating a close relationship with Molly Ringwald was effortless, because “it was already there…between us. Off-camera, we bonded.”

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Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams (1989)

Why he’s the coolest: Ray is the archetype of a decent, dependable Midwestern dad, until he risks his family’s livelihood by building a baseball field on their farm. Ray’s giant leap of faith teaches his daughter that it’s OK to dream big — and unexpectedly reunites him with his own estranged father, who returns from the great beyond to play ball. “Men really weep — they don’t cry — they weep, about things gone unsaid in your life to people you love, and Field of Dreams hit that,” Costner told Yahoo Movies of that tearjerking moment.  

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Laurence Fishburne as Jason “Furious” Styles in Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Why he’s the coolest: In his violent South Central L.A. neighborhood, Furious Styles stands tall as a beacon of responsibility, raising his teenage son and raising consciousness in world that’s sorely in need good fathers like him. “We were telling a story that came out of our community, so that heightened our enthusiasm for and commitment to the material,” Fishburne has said. “We don’t often get to tell those stories.”

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Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles (2004)

Why he’s the coolest: Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, longs to recapture his superhero glory days. Not until a close brush with a supervillain does he realize that his superpowered kids aren’t holding him back — in fact, they’re the best sidekicks a dad can have. After making The Incredibles, voice actor Craig T. Nelson found that his own family looked at him with new eyes. “My grandkids, I have immense value now,” he told About.com. “Oh man, I’m telling you… they watch it over and over. ‘Granddad is Mr. Incredible.’”

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Billy Burke as Charlie Swan in the Twilight films (2008-2012)

Why he’s the coolest: Sure, he’s a bit clueless about the reason his daughter’s boyfriend is so pale. But given the circumstances, the Forks police officer handles Bella’s new romance with an admirable balance of trust and concern. He even makes a sweet, awkward attempt to have “the talk,” not realizing that dating a Victorian-era vampire requires a different brand of birds and bees. “From the very beginning… I realized that there’s a lot of room for some of that levity,” Burke has said of his playing Bella’s dad. “There’s so much [intensity] that it deserves a little chuckle here and there.” 

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George Clooney as Matt King in The Descendants (2011)

Why he’s the coolest: His wife’s in an irreversible coma, his two daughters barely know him, and Matt’s about to learn that his wife was flagrantly cheating on him before her accident. But rather than fall to pieces, this formerly distant and distracted schlub manages to hold everyone together, rising to every awful new occasion to become the father his fractured family needs. “I’ve been a father in several films,” said childless actor Clooney, “but this one was very different because it was much more emotional, and much more attached to the family.”