The movie, it could be argued, is the definitive ‘Dad’ form of entertainment. What else combines a shedload of behind-the-scenes gadgets with a reliable source of pub quiz-grade trivia? What other medium combines facts about Renaissance architecture with Ewan McGregor parachuting out of an exploding helicopter?
Even amongst the most dad-friendly method of storytelling, however, there are stand-outs. Those films universally beloved by men over 35, films that scream ‘dad energy’ with the ferocity of Oppenheimer’s nuclear bomb. But just what makes a movie a ‘dad’ movie?
The first and most obvious port of call is the historical drama. All dads, as we know, love a bit of history – and the more historically accurate a picture can be, the better, especially if the need for accuracy actively impedes the narrative of the story. This is mainly so the dad can point at the TV, nod sagely, and explain the period detail of the knot-tying technique demonstrated in Master and Commander.
Of course, not every historical period is ripe for the daddening. Ancient Rome? Yes. World War Two? Certainly. Regency England? Not a chance – unless, of course, the action is largely confined to a big ship.
In a vein which often, but not always, crosses over with the historical drama is the special interest movie. Ron Howard’s Rush, Bennett Miller’s Moneyball and Ben Affleck’s most recent film, Air, all fall into the category of films about a globally popular hobby which can, for its runtime, trick you into thinking it’s actually quite niche and interesting. These, unique on the list, are the films dads will never show to their kids. They are theirs, and theirs alone, the home-alone-on-a-Saturday-night movie which they don’t expect or need anyone else to find joy in.
Special mention has to go to the space movie, of course, a genre combining so many dad-friendly interests that it forms a category in itself. A group of men isolated from their families to do science together in a mode of transport hurtling into uncharted territory? The likes of Apollo 13, First Man and Interstellar are in a league of their own.
Not every dad movie has to be dull, though. Far more important than any feature of the films themselves is the date they were released. The dominance in popular culture of father-flicks from the 80s and 90s speaks more to a dad’s age when they came out than their accurate portrayal of a space shuttle docking sequence. Most passionately defended dad movies hit the silver screen when their beholder was, let’s say, between the ages of 15 and 25.
For most young people today, then, dad movies are overwhelmingly skewed towards the 1980s action blockbuster – Die Hard, Predator, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Older dads might be drawn to the 70s disaster movie boom, with DVD shelves stacked with anniversary editions of Towering Inferno, Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Harken back another decade, and you get into Western territory, another dad genre favourite, with A Fistful of Dollars, Once Upon a Time in the West and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid scratching a number of fatherly itches. What’s important, though, is that they saw these films when they were a wee lad, and just want you to enjoy the same experience – isn’t that nice?
Partaking in your dad’s filmography isn’t without its risks, though, and no true dad movie is complete without a moment to watch in painful silence as unspeakable horrors/delights play out on screen. It’s at this point a dad is likely to remember that Aliens isn’t quite the lighter, more playful sequel to Alien he remembered or that Blade Runner has that weird, non-consensual sex scene right in the middle.
So while many of the films listed here are, like your dad, getting on a bit, in a few years, we’ll undoubtedly be entering a few more modern classics into the ever-expanding dad canon. What they’ll be isn’t an exact science, however. Will Ridley Scott – a pioneer of the genre already – strike for the umpteenth time with 2015’s The Martian? Is Spielberg’s late-career journo-drama The Post long and stately enough to earn a place on the list?
We’ll have to wait and see. For now, kids, give your dad a hug. And for any dads reading – happy Father’s Day. You have a great taste in films.