5 Phenomenally Horrible Movie Fathers

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

One of my great joys in life is being a father. It’s a blessing that is beyond expression. As with many wonderful things in life, the movies have a way of capturing them and reminding us of their beauty. On the flip side cinema can also show us darker things. When it comes to fathers movies have shown us the good and the bad. This list looks at some of the more abominable fathers of the big screen. There have been a number of detestable movie dads over the years so I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I have no problem calling these five movie fathers phenomenally horrible.

#5 – Royal Tenenbaum (“The Royal Tenenbaums”)


Over the years Wes Anderson has come up with a wide assortment of characters. One of them is a father who is right at home on this list. Royal Tenenbaum (played by Gene Hackman) has all of the characteristics of a horrible dad plus a few. He steals money from his kids, shows obvious favoritism, belittles them, and always thinks of himself first. If that doesn’t convince you how about faking stomach cancer in order to get back in their good graces? Yep, Royal Tenenbaum definitely belongs on this list.

#4 – Wade (“Joe”)


I had a very unique impulse while watching Wade in David Gordon Green’s “Joe”. I wanted to jump through the screen and strangle the guy myself. Wade is a vile and detestable drunk who abuses his family both mentally and physically. And this only scratches the surface of his sickening behavior. I won’t spoil it, but lets just say he does some things that will make you cringe. Wade was played by Gary Poulter, a real life homeless man who was found dead before the film was ever released. It was a sad development for someone who gave a great performance.

#3 – Jack Torrance (“The Shining”)


It’s really a shame that Jack Torrance had to make this list. He has a loving wife and a sweet (but unique) little boy. They get a gorgeous mountain resort all to themselves for the winter which is a perfect place for Jack to continue his writing. But there is something about chasing your son around the hotel with an axe that will get you on this particular list. You know the story, Jack goes insane. We see his mental slide reveal itself in his relationship to his family but once he reaches the point of murdering them…well, lets just say he won’t be winning any “Father of the Year” awards.

#2 – Daniel Plainview (“There Will Be Blood”)


I think Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in “There Will Be Blood” is one of the greatest single acting performances of all time. That’s pretty high praise, right? Well I think it is earned. His Daniel Plainview is a self-centered and unscrupulous businessman who uses his young son H.W. as a tool to persuade land owners to allow him to drill for oil on their property. We get vague signs that Daniel has some form of affection for the boy. But ultimately his negligence and business approach to his son is a most devious form of abuse. It all comes to the surface in a final confrontation between the two close to the end. Daniel Plainview is a fascinating but ultimately horrible father.

#1 – Darth Vader (“Star Wars” trilogy)


I’ve offered up an assortment of terrible fathers who have a number of detestable vices, but none of them can be called a galactic tyrant. Well, not until now. It could be said that Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) gets a little pass because he didn’t know Luke and Leia were his children. I object. Just look what he did after he uttered those famous words “I am your father”. He tortured his son’s best friend and sent him off with a bounty hunter. He chopped off his son’s hand. Upon finding out about Leia’s existence he thinks it’s a good idea to kidnap her and turn her to the dark side. Add his murderous past to the equation and you have one rotten father. But thank goodness for those great moments of redemption.

So there are five pretty crummy movie fathers. What say you? Do you have a bad dad to add to this list? Please head to the comments section below and share your choices or thoughts on mine!

44 thoughts on “5 Phenomenally Horrible Movie Fathers

  1. Excellent list. I’ll be watching Joe in the next few days. Can’t wait. Vader is certainly a worthy pick for the top spot. Some others:

    Mister from The Color Purple
    Randy the Ram from The Wrestler
    John Herod from The Quick and the Dead
    Both Ryan Gosling’s and Bradley Cooper’s characters in A Place Beyond the Pines

    • Very nice additions to the conversation Wendell. It just goes to show that there have been some really rotten dads throughout movie history.

  2. I thought Daniel Plainview’s son was named H.W.? Wasn’t Eli Sunday the priest with whom Plainview vehemently disagreed with? Either way, I’d agree that Plainview ought to make this list. He was a terrible person. And he really didn’t care for his son anyway. To him, he was just a “bastard in a basket.”

    • You’re right on the name. It’s funny, this was really the very first character that came to my mind when putting together this list. Sooo bad

    • Oh yes, they could be considered. I’m telling you, there are so many that could fit the bill in one fashion or another. As I was putting this list together you should’ve seen all of the bad fathers I wrote down and then had to narrow down.!

  3. Excellent choices! When I saw the title, I knew Daniel Plainview would be on here for sure. The dad from Joe is a fine choice too, that guy was terrible.

    • Funny! Plainview was the inspiration for the list. That said Wade wasn’t far behind him. Undoubtedly one of the most despicable people on film.

  4. Wait a minute. Darth Vader is Luke and Leia’s WHAT? ;o)

    Those are good selections…in fact I’m racking my brain and I can’t think of any equals! Mondays eh?

  5. I’m certainly with you on the joys of being a father. I often drawn to depictions of fathers in film, good and bad, because of being one myself. Wade is a pretty horrid father. While I understand your #1, he did have that redeemable moment where he saved his son’s life…

  6. Ahah, Darth Vader is certainly as bad as it gets as a dad, but hey he’s got that cool mask & voice 😉 But hey, he redeemed himself at the end. Wade is definitely horrid w/ no redeeming quality whatsoever. I think Hackman was a horrible dad in The Quick & The Dad, too.

    • Hackman has a knack for playing bad dads maybe? You’re right, Wade is just terrible. He literally made me cringe with some of his vile antics. Great raw performance.

  7. You have such great ideas. And these are excellent picks. I would choose Alex senior from Everything is Illuminated.

  8. HI Kevin, great list. Darth Vadar is of course #1. I loved Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in ‘There Will Be Blood.’ It’s strange, but in some weird way I think Plainview truly loved his son, but didn’t know how to show it. I read some director’s notes and some additional pages of the screenplay. It gave a little more insight into Plainview. Quite a fascinating character.

    • Thanks so much!

      Plainview is intriguing. There are those few quiet moments where he shows what looks like genuine affection for HW. But there are those moments where it’s clear he uses his son as a sales prop. Then there are all the moments which show him completely ignoring his son – offenses which can have even worst impact on a kid.

  9. Ha! Epic List, Keith. Vader as number one is inspired bro. Need to still catch Joe. Heard that Wade is some character. Nice job man! 🙂

  10. Excellent choices, as a father it is sometimes hard to see how some fathers in movies (and real life too) treat their children. Luckily a couple in these examples got what they had coming….

    • You make a great point. And something else that has always bothered me with modern cinema – rarely do you see a great father, a responsible father, or a dedicated and devoted father. Now I’m not saying that we have to have idealistic perfect fatherhood displayed every time, but it’s so rare in modern cinema depictions.

      • You know what, it really is. A while back on my previous blog site I got a lot of heat for bringing up Hollywood’s fixation with bad fathers. I pointed out how many bad fathers there are in relation to good fathers in movies. I brought up the number of them who have either left the home, who have abused their children, or is just a vile person in general. I was amazed at some of the response – people thinking I was putting down single mothers etc.

      • :/ Wow, I really don’t understand how they got to that conclusion! I think you might have been even been pointing out at how some women were forced to be stronger. As for the crappy dads, there is an overwhelming tendency apparently. It is the age out story of how a horrible father can make or break a person, depending what you want to do.

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