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10 Great Father-Daughter Movies

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons in Hearts Beat Loud. Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

The summer before Frank’s (Nick Offerman) daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) leaves for college just happens to be the summer this family of two records a hit song. Hearts Beat Loud kicks off as a father-daughter jam session which yields an indie sleeper hit that finds its way onto, as Frank puts it, a “playlist with Iron & Wine and Spoon. Boom!” The conflict between Sam’s med-school plans and her dad’s rock-band dreams gives way to a sweet indie about a dad that won’t grow up and a daughter that’s trying a little too hard to.

In every scene, Hearts Beat Loud ignores the TV-sitcom stereotype of a dad raising a daughter as if she’s a foreign invader. Sam and Frank don’t spar as viciously as Lady Bird and Marion, but they have the same problem: Neither parent nor child can communicate the fears that bubble up just before someone leaves home. And, of course, they love one another just as much.

With Hearts Beat Loud here, and Father’s Day looming, it’s hard to come up with other really superb, nuanced stories about dads and daughters. Too many contenders center on the lazy politics of Father of Daughter-ness, where a father hero gets a light bulb moment of realizing that — gulp — he should treat women with a little more respect now that he’s raising a daughter himself, or infantilize a daughter to serve a father’s arc. Below, we’ve outlined some of our favorite titles that show parenting, child-ing, and growing up with sincerity: dads that are embarrassing (Toni Erdmann), daughters that are twisted (A Bigger Splash), and everything in between.

Toni Erdmann (2016)
Ines Conradi (Sandra Hüller) is the uptight corporate consultant who spends all her days in sausage-fest boardrooms or doing small-talk gymnastics at awkward after-work cocktail hours with men who don’t take her work very seriously. When her dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek) comes to visit, she’s always looking at her phone, responding to an email, dashing out to a meeting. Enter “Toni Erdmann,” Winfried’s bewigged, buck-toothed alter ego, a burly extrovert Winfried has thought up to help his daughter cut loose a little bit (or at least realize how beige and corporate culture-y her life is). Writer and director Maren Ade lets this father-daughter “fun” unspool slowly and as one long farce: Toni Erdmann doesn’t know best, but maybe Winifred is onto something about what could make his daughter happy (which definitely includes a stirring Whitney Houston rendition).

Interstellar (2014)
Four years later, and still the only thing I understand about Interstellar is that Murph (Mackenzie Foy, and later Jessica Chastain) really loves her dad! All of Coop’s (Matthew McConaughey) space swashbuckling keeps him moving forward and backward in time (I think?) until he gets stuck in a tesseract, able to communicate with his daughter through ghostly signs. Through Morse code, he breaks down complex astrophysics, and Murph develops a gravitational propulsion theory that allows humans to travel deeper into space. Coop travels through time and space to find himself at Murph’s bedside, now played by Ellen Burstyn as an elderly, dying woman. “I’m here now, Murph,” Coop whispers. By now, though, Murph is older than him and wiser: “No parent should have to watch their child die. I have my kids here with me,” she says sweetly. “You can go.” Get you a dad that would skip time to be at your bedside!

The Kids Are All Right (2010)
In this movie about moms – Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, to be specific — Mark Ruffalo gives one of his best performances as a sweetly awkward (and then bumbling and then selfish) dad. Ruffalo plays Paul, a sperm donor who’s just been notified that his kids want to meet him. The pseudo-family reunion, driven by elder daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska), becomes increasingly tense as the moms figure out where and how Paul fits into their established family life. At first Paul is like a jolt of electricity, someone to do dad stuff with or another adult to consult for advice. Joni falls hard for her father figure, while her younger brother is mostly annoyed by him. When Paul’s ego turns the relationship sour, your heart hurts for Joni: He shows up at the family’s front door in some weird declaration of his own sincerity. “I just wish you could have been …” she says, searching for the right words. “Better.”

Hanna (2011)
Greatest actress of her generation Saoirse Ronan stars as a young assassin trained by her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana). She leaves the Finnish wilderness to complete the mission she’s been training her whole life for: a game of cat and mouse with Cate Blanchett. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing two supremely talented actresses try to one-up one another, but Hanna’s father-daughter friendship comes close. Off in the woods, Erik trains and tests Hanna to be a master murderer. Yet, importantly, he’s not trying to train her into a silent, violent little girl trope: He reads to her about art, animals, and music. And, like any other teenage daughter, she grumbles about wanting to experience something.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Paul Thomas Anderson named The Ballad of Jack and Rose as one of his favorite Daniel Day-Lewis performances. It has the reputation of an indie incest drama, but its emotional beats are more resonant: Jack (DDL) is a stubborn hippie living in a leftover commune with his daughter Rose (Camilla Belle), who he’s basically raised in his own image. They compost and garden and don’t watch TV, living on an island outside of town. He’s raised her to shield her, but in a way so isolated that she confuses her adoration for something else. She loves him too much and knows him too well, but Rebecca Miller’s sensitive, temporal filmmaking is more heartbreaking than campy Oedipus complex.

Leave No Trace (2018)
Like Jack and Rose, Will and Thom (Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie) live on the fringes. They make camp and build temporary homes across a Portland, Oregon, park. After Thom is spotted by a hiker, rangers invade their makeshift home and make them rejoin society. Suddenly, they’re glum and domesticated: Thom attends 4-H meetings with other tweens her age, Will is forced to get a job. Sometimes they sleep outside to feel like they’re out in the wild again. Thom grows torn when her dad wants to run away and live like they used to: She desperately loves him and wants to please him, but when was it decided that should be her life, too? Leave No Trace movingly considers the weight of family and inheritance, especially when it’s complicated with such deep love.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
It was and remains shocking to me that there isn’t a role for Greg Kinnear on Big Little Lies. When he’s not gleefully playing the other guy (as in, the guy Meg Ryan had the most amicable breakup ever with in You’ve Got Mail), he’s feels like the prototype for prestige-y complicated father figure. This quality is clearest in Little Miss Sunshine’s mania: Richard Hoover is arrogant, grossly peppy, and deeply insecure. His stake in the titular Little Miss Sunshine pageant isn’t really his daughter, Olive, but his own deranged ambition to be a “winner.” Olive desperately wants to please her father, and she gives it her best shot, shimmying to “Super Freak.” Suddenly it all snaps into perspective: Like those Pinterest pins proclaim, the journey was the destination! Little Miss Sunshine saves Frank and Olive’s relationship for its last big laugh, with Frank ardently defending his daughter’s dance. It’s moving to see Frank finally accept his daughter’s goofiness as they build a real relationship, and funny how the movie pulls it off.

A Bigger Splash (2016)
Can we get demented for a few moments? A Bigger Splash is a lush, twisted, hilarious thriller. It’s definitely not a father-daughter movie, but it does feature a father-daughter relationship so weird and twisted that I almost like the way it makes me crawl out of my skin. Loudmouth Harry (Ralph Fiennes) brings his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) on a trip to visit his rock-star ex-lover and her new partner (Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts). Harry and Penelope have only recently learned they’re father and daughter, and because of (or in spite of?) that, they flirt even when they’re not trying to. It’s an unsettling button the movie plays with before its pressed. Will A Bigger Splash make you call your dad? Hopefully not! But does it mutate a conventional relationship into something posh and twisted? Absolutely.

Father of the Bride (1991)
“Right then, I realized my day had passed,” George Banks (Steve Martin) thinks to himself as he watches his daughter ignore his advice in favor of her fiancé’s. “She’ll always love me, of course, but not in the same way. I was no longer the man in my little girl’s life. I was like an old shoe, the kind we manufacture and get all excited about and then, after a few years, discontinue. That was me now: Mr. Discontinued.” He’s dramatic and flustered at the news of his daughter Annie’s (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) engagement, and hem and haws around all the wedding planning. The 1991 comedy is corny, sure, but it mostly misses that dreaded Father of Daughter-ness: George isn’t using Annie to learn any lessons about how women are people, too. He doesn’t feels territorial over Annie as he much as feels afraid for her, nervous about her moving out and into her own life. It shows the frustration and humor in trying not to let someone in your family grow up.

The Descendants (2011)
The most trouble I got in with Mommy was when she found out I was reading Gossip Girl. The most trouble I ever got in with Daddy was when I went to see a movie by myself and didn’t leave a note. That movie, ironically, was my favorite movie about father-daughter relationships: The Descendants. George Clooney plays Matt King, a back-up parent called off the bench. When King’s wife is in a coma, he has grapple with her infidelity and work on rebuilding his relationships with their two daughters. I got so wildly jealous of this candor between Matt and his daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley), the frankness with which they could talk about marriage and parenting and life. It made me think differently about my own dad, that maybe I was punching above my own weight sometimes, trying to do and understand things I wasn’t ready for. Anyway, I got a long lecture about this movie when I was 16 or 17, but it was so freaking worth it.

10 Great Father-Daughter Movies