Father’s Day is coming soon, and what better way to bond with dad than to sit down and enjoy a movie together? Since we can’t dine at restaurants, watching movies with Dad’s favourite food is probably the next best thing. So here are some of the most memorable action movies – because they’re a genre most people can enjoy – with dad themes that you can watch with Dad and the whole family. Some of these films show that Dads can be heroic, argumentative, stubborn, and do bad things, but also ultimately prove their love and loyalty to their kids at the end.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) (1980)
It’s the greatest twist in movie history: Evil Sith lord Darth Vader is revealed to be the father of the heroic Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the climax of The Empire Strikes Back. How could someone like Luke – someone who fights for good – can have a father so evil? The answer lies in Episodes I-III in the Star Wars saga, where we learned that Vader started off as an innocent, but gifted, Jedi Anakin Skywalker who got too attached to his wife Padme, and her death broke him, turning him into Darth Vader.
In Episode V, Luke only discovered that his father was alive and is also his mortal enemy at the end of a gripping lightsaber battle that left him maimed and defeated. Imagine Luke’s surprise when Vader said “I am your father” after accusing Vader of killing his father, as Uncle Ben had told him.
The father-son dynamic returns in the follow-up, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader made the monumental decision to turn on Emperor Palpatine and save Luke Skywalker. The Emperor wanted to recruit Luke to the dark side with Vader’s help, but in the end, the latter decided to betray his old master instead. Vader ultimately died in the process of saving his son, bringing Anakin back to the light.
The Terminator (1984)
In The Terminator, Skynet, an AI from the future, sends an android soldier (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill stubborn rebel John Connor before he’s ever born. However, Connor also sends his own soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect his mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). While this seems more like a battle between man and machine, you can also glean a tiny bit of fatherly story to this.
As Reese protects Sarah from every attack by The Terminator, their relationship blossoms and they end up creating a child that would soon turn out to be John Connor. While Reese doesn’t realise he’s become a father to the biggest resistance to Skynet, Sarah does. She tells her unborn son about Reese, which means that Connor didn’t just send a random guy back in time to protect his mother – he was sending his actual father.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
At the heart of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a father-and-son story, set amidst a backdrop of a quest for the literal Holy Grail. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a famous treasure hunter, and in the third installment of the series, we get to see Indy’s father, Henry Jones (Sean Connery). However, Henry and Indy have a dysfunctional relationship.
From the initial scenes with a young Indy, we see that Henry isn’t the most attentive of fathers – Henry, an archeologist, seems more interested in finding the Holy Grail than he is in Indy, and often treats his son like a student (which is probably why Indy is so good at treasure hunting). While the two bicker constantly, their loyalty runs deep.
When Indy’s father goes missing or when Henry thinks his son is dead, both express a sense of grief and loss. Through the entire adventure, they learn how much they mean to each other – and how much they’re alike – despite their differences. When Henry gets shot, Indy risks life and limb to find the cure, because he realises that the idea of one existing without the other is unthinkable.
Perhaps the most famous action film about dedicated dads, Taken shows us how a father’s love for his daughter propels him to travel all over Europe to hunt down her kidnappers and kill them in paternal vengeance.
When Albanian human traffickers kidnap his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her best friend while travelling in France during a vacation, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) sets about tracking them down. Conveniently, Mills is a former CIA operative with “a particular set of skills” to do so. The film invokes plenty of scenarios of paternal fears, especially of dads with daughters, and provokes an angry bloodlust that truly brings to life the “I’d take a bullet for my kid” promise. Except this time, within the 48-hour time period, he makes sure it’s the kidnappers who eat the bullet.
Besides his CIA skills, Mills is a typical dad who dotes on his daughter like any other dad, and Taken is like an ode to the sacrifice of fathers for their children. Another film with a similar vein is Commando (1985), in which an ex-black ops commando John’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has only a few hours to find and rescue his daughter who’s been kidnapped by a band of revenge-seeking thugs.
Good Day to Die Hard (2012)
John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Russia to help out his seemingly wayward son, Jack (Jai Courtney), out of a difficult predicament in the fifth installment of the Die Hard series. As they plan to leave the country, John finds out that Jack isn’t just a delinquent – he’s actually a CIA operative working undercover.
As you’d expect, father and son have opposite personalities – John likes to wing it, Jack’s likes to plan things – and don’t actually get along as they’ve been estranged for a while. John’s often painted as a tough cop who’s “married to the job” who isn’t a committed dad, and Jack’s never wanted anything to do with his dad. But both have to put differences aside if they’re to survive the underworld mob that’s out to get them both. So, father and son try to work out their broken relationship in order to survive every over-the-top action scenario that the Die Hard franchise is famous for.
But, during their unconventional bonding time, Jack starts to see that no matter how far he runs from family, he realises that both him and his dad are more alike than not.
The basic premise: The earth can’t produce enough food, so a team of scientists have to find another habitable planet soon. Aside from the intense space travel/survival element, Interstellar is a story about fathers and daughters.
While we’ve been led to believe that Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has been chosen to save the human race, it’s really his daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) – who has her father’s scientific curiosity and intellect – who ends up saving the world as a physicist at NASA. When Cooper fulfilled his dreams of becoming a space explorer, he doesn’t yet know the pain of growing older without his children; He only realises this 3 decades later in space as he begins to accept that he might never see them.
Murph felt abandoned by her father the moment he left her behind, but soon realises that her dad – in another dimension – has been sending her coded messages through the books falling in her room since she was a child. Using her father’s clues (and fueled by his actions), Murph manages to fulfill earth’s mission to find a new habitable planet – and just before she dies, she even manages to see her dad one last time.
Another father-daughter relationship explored is one between Dr Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), whom he sent to space without realising the pain of never seeing her again. Interstellar, at its core, explores how each father is forced to say goodbye to their daughters – and experience their loss in different ways.
Films with father-and-son themes don’t seem to have the same emotional resonance: Fathers fight alongside them. Fathers are often seen to protect their daughters, but Interstellar proved that daughters are also capable of taking care of themselves.
There are plenty more action flicks that place the theme of fatherhood at the forefront, from Ant-man (2017) to Armageddon (1998), proving that action flicks, when done well, can also teach us a lot about paternal sacrifice.