“I think that the fact that we can both see the Sun, so even though we’re not actually in the same place, and we’re not actually together… we kind of are in a way, you know?” – Sophie, Aftersun (2022)
We have seen movies about nuclear families as well as dysfunctional parent-child relationships on the silver screen and on television. But it seldom happens that cinema offers us insightful stories about unconventional father fights who part their love towards their little girls. When filmmakers do pick the trope, however, the result is truly moving.
In this list, we will look at some movies that offer profound glimpses into some of cinema’s greatest father-daughter duos. From feel-good comedies and thrillers to indie dramas and genre fare, these movies unite in their ability to touch upon this universally resonant bond that shapes both parties throughout their life. Classic movies like To Kill A Mockingbird impart perspective and recent ones like Aftersun focus on colossal dilemmas, but it is the enduring love that manages to stick around, no matter what.
15 Definitely, Maybe (2008)
Written and directed by Adam Brooks, Definitely, Maybe is a genuinely heartfelt romantic comedy that makes you wonder how you got to where you are today. Ryan Reynolds stars as Will Hayes, a political consultant and a loving father reminiscing about his past loves to his curious 11-year-old daughter, Maya, played beautifully by Abigail Breslin. As a 30-something father, Will has a decent relationship with his daughter. But because of the ongoing divorce between her parents, Maya has questions about how they met and what led them here.
Through flashbacks woven throughout their father-daughter bonding weekend, the film reveals Reynolds’ decisions in full color, reminding us that life’s little choices often ripple into greater consequences. Filled with nostalgia of first love and being shaped by the hand we’re dealt, the film is a sweet treat.
14 To Kill a Mockingbird (1968)
Two incredibly diverse genres – coming-of-age and courtroom drama – come together in this deeply moving and thought-provoking film, To Kill a Mockingbird. It is adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name written by renowned author Harper Lee.
The story follows Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer currently working on the case of a black man falsely accused of raping a while woman. His two children, Scout and Jem, are as troublesome as they are inquisitive. As a man advocating justice and prejudice, Finch has a sensibility that extends towards Scout, the curious daughter who is always trying to understand the world around her. Atticus and Finch’s portrayal in the film is the central core, and while the film makes necessary social commentary, it remains a classic because of Gregory Peck and Mary Badham’s performances.
13 Leave No Trace (2018)
Debra Granik first showcased her incredible direction in Winter’s Bone (the film that also launched Jennifer Lawrence into stardom), and ever since, fans have anticipated a follow-up. Leave No Trace may be a subtle film in its pacing and setting, but the profundity it holds is astronomical. Ben Foster plays Will, an ex-military father with PTSD living quietly off the grid with her teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in a Pacific Northwest first.
The isolation has become a part of who they are and the film captures it through small intimacies. However, when the social services find them and question their lifestyle, the father-daughter duo is forced to adapt to living in the real world and deal with civilization. As a teenager, Tom finds it easier than Will to get used to the change,
12 On the Rocks (2020)
Navigating a more volatile category, On the Rocks explores the relationship between an aged father and her grown daughter. As a young mother, Laura Keane has a charming little life, which is disrupted (in a good way) when her larger-than-life meddlesome father enters the picture and they decide to embark on an adventure across New York City. The reason is pretty simple – they want to figure out if Laura’s husband is cheating on her.
Rashida Jones and Bill Murray are absolutely gorgeous as the father-daughter duo. Both witty and endearing, their characters examine how familial roles flip when kids grow up. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the film has certain nuances, dialogues rich with subtext, and funny sequences that make it a truly beautiful project.
11 Captain Fantastic (2016)
An offbeat adventure about unconventional parenting is something we all need for that daily dose of escapism. Directed by Matt Ross, who draws major inspiration from his own childhood growing up with a hippie mom, Captain Fantastic follows Viggo Mortensen as Ben, an excellent father raising his six kids outside society in the forest with his wife, Leslie. Living in the wilderness of Washington state hasn’t been easy, but it is something the family is used to. But when Leslie dies, Ben is forced to take his kids to the “real world” and become a real parent with a job and responsibilities.
Distinctive yet relatable, the characters end up exposing their true selves to each other in refreshing ways. And while Ben loves all his children equally, his relationship with the daughters is particularly uplifting and wholesome.
10 Eighth Grade (2018)
Kayla is a complete dork, and while she can’t show this side of hers to most kids at school, she finds comfort and safety in two places – her YouTube channel about motivation, and her dad, Mark. Bo Burnham’s directorial debut does not just capture the middle school agony of its main character but also explores the compassionate bond between a father and daughter.
Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age Gem that follows Elsie Fisher, who owns the screen as shy introvert Kayla Day navigating first crushes and family dysfunction, who eventually inches towards empowerment because of the support she gets from those who love her. From awkward dance movies to heartfelt confrontations by the bonfire, there are moments between them that ring true.
9 Hearts Beat Loud (2018)
Hearts Beat Loud is a feel-good music dramedy directed by Brett Haley. It stars Nick Offerman as Frank Fisher who owns a record store in a hip Brooklyn neighborhood and lives with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). The pair shines as a father-daughter duo who have recently composed excellent music, which turns out to be a big hit. But like every artist, they face challenges when Sam has to go to college.
Torn between wanting to pursue his dreams and letting his daughter chase her own, Nick gets into wonderful messes. With a soundtrack that makes your heart melt and a relationship that projects familial bonds against all odds, the film gives a heartwarming look at embracing each stage of life with optimism.
8 Father Of The Bride (1991)
A classic from the ‘90s that never fails to give you the feels, Father Of The Bride is a remake of the 1950 comedy film directed by Vincente Minnelli. This one, however, centers around George Banks, a wealthy upper-class shoe company owner living the perfect life with his wife, Nina, troublesome son, Matty, and lovely daughter, Annie.
Despite sharing a healthy bond with the entire family, George’s over-protective side bubbles up when his daughter decides to get married. He struggles to let go yet wishes to savor each moment they have together. Steve Martin, Diana Keaton and Kimberly Williams (who makes her big screen debut with the film) make the story genuinely heartfelt and interesting.
7 Train to Busan (2016)
Can you imagine one of the most realistic and intense zombie thrillers featuring a beautiful father-daughter relationship? Well, Yeon Sang-ho’s fast-paced South Korean blockbuster, Train to Busan, kicks the genre to a high gear by telling the story of a workaholic father taking his young daughter to see her mother on his daughter’s birthday. They board a speeding locomotive right when a virus outbreak occurs in the city and people turn into unstoppable, flesh-hungry zombies. When one accidentally gets on the train, pure chaos unleashes.
Gong Yoo gives a powerful leading performance as a father striving to protect his daughter. As the scares and suspense grow, the viewers find themselves rooting for the family to stay safe.
6 King Richard (2021)
Telling the true story of Venus Williams and Serena Williams, this incredibly inspiring film takes us back in time to chronicle the events and the sheer hard work that made the girls who they are today.
Will Smith plays Richard Williams, an ever-supporting father who refuses to let his talented daughters succumb to the trials of their underprivileged backgrounds and resolves to train them himself. The man redefines will power by relentlessly pushing Venus and Serena to be better and chase their ambitions. His role as Richard Williams landed Will Smith an Academy Award for Best Actor. Paired with a soulful soundtrack and a touching message about family values, King Richard is a phenomenal sports biopic.
5 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Dysfunctional family comedies aren’t fun to watch because they’re problematic but because they’re relatable. Quirky and funny, Little Miss Sunshine is an indie darling that follows the Hoover family on a mission to get their youngest daughter, Olive, into a beauty pageant she was accidentally invited to participate in.
Being crammed into a super old WV bus leaves them with no choice but to confront each other, address the differences, and eventually accept the idiosyncrasies that make them who they are. And while the entire cast has great chemistry, the relationship between Olive and her dad, Richard, is truly special. With equal parts heart and hilarity, Abigail Breslin and Greg Kinnear capture the joy and angst of their bond.
4 Miracle in Cell No. 7 (2013)
Miracle in Cell No. 7 is a beautiful South Korean drama that depicts the undying love between a mentally challenged father and her adorable little daughter. After being wrongly accused for the death of a commander’s child, Yong-Goo is separated from his daughter and sent to prison. However, when the inmates hear of his situation, they hatch a plan to smuggle his daughter in the prison so that he can see her again. Meanwhile, poignant court proceedings determine his fate. Seung-ryong Ryu is an actor who truly understands how compassion works, and everytime he shares the screen with Kal So-won, it brings a smile to our faces.
3 Logan (2017)
Logan is one of the best Fox-era X-Men movies, and it is set as a dystopian Western where the mutant community is facing a decrease in powers and dominance. Our titular character, played brilliantly by Hugh Jackman, faces his greatest challenge in protecting a gifted child named Laura, and ultimately invites decades worth of violence to catch up on him.
Laura’s vintage personalities and volatile nature awakens in Logan paternal instincts he didn’t quite know existed. Establishing himself as a superhero icon, Jackman lets the piercing father-daughter ties say most in the film by staying strong against all odds.
2 Interstellar (2014)
From the astonishing mind of Christopher Nolan is this epic sci-fi saga that further cemented the director’s status as a globally renowned one. The film follows ex-NASA pilot, Joseph Cooper, tasked to pilot a group of other astronauts to find a new hope in space after Earth becomes impossible to live on. Venturing through wormholes across galaxies, Cooper has but one desire – to ensure the survival of his young daughter Murph. With him in space and her on Earth and time against them, their separation grows wide.
Wonder and terror, the complex concept of relativity, and the power of familiar love, all come together to show just how beautiful this connection is, even across dimensions. Moreover, Interstellaralready has received grand praise for its visuals and score, which are breathtaking.
1 Aftersun (2022)
Tossing between sweet nostalgia and bitter reality, Aftersun is a tale of a grown-up Sophie, looking back twenty years, to a time when she vacationed with her loving yet idealistic father Calum. The two spent the summer at a resort. Sophie was 11 years old, and Calum was a depressed father crushed under the weight of responsibilities and identity. Their poignant dialogue and subtle glances across fleeting moments reveal unsaid depths about who they are and what they’d become.
Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio bring a melancholic vibe to the whole Turkish holiday environment. Despite its minimalism, the movie imparts great meaning and achingly beautiful truths about how parents internalize themselves into the core of their kids, regardless of how much time passes.
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