It sure was a great year for movie dads. From every corner of the world, and some parts of the galaxy, dads stepped up in 2018 to teach their sons and daughters — biological or not — important lessons, all with grace and strength. Of course, there was a deep crop of bad dads as well (Bradley Whitford’s “I would have voted for Obama a third time” psychopath from Get Out comes to mind), but the good seemed to outnumber the bad everywhere we looked.
While we had to leave off some great father figures to narrow our list down to five (Willem Dafoe’s The Florida Project performance deserves recognition, as does Ray Romano’s nakedly honest The Big Sick turn), the final list contains what we think are the best of the best. These dads were found in everything from sci-fi and superhero movies to coming-of-age dramas and animated films, a wide swath of genres spawned some powerhouse paterfamilias that are honorable, loving, and damn fine role models. Without further ado, we present the five nominees, and the one that rose above the pack to claim the award for Best Movie Dad of 2017. Yes, there are some SPOILERS below.
Rick Deckard, Blade Runner 2049
The case for: Harrison Ford’s Deckard gives up his miracle baby daughter — born from the replicant that Deckard loved, who died in childbirth — in order to protect her, and banishes himself to the hellish landscape of 2049 Las Vegas. If that’s not a selfless father, what is? Along the way, he also makes it near impossible to find the child, whose very existence could trigger a human vs. replicant war. Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges, but no dad on this list sacrificed more than Deckard, and his reward is to meet his daughter at the end of the movie for the first time since he left.
The case against: Of course, he still left. As a Blade Runner, you would assume that Deckard’s skills would have been equally, if not more, valuable to protect Ana. He left her with the replicant movement, sure, but having a father figure around might have helped her not lose her mind, which she clearly has after being cooped for years creating fake replicant memories.
Larry McPherson, Lady Bird
The case for: A realistic portrayal of a middle class dad, Larry McPherson is his daughter’s rock throughout her struggles with her mom. Despite Lady Bird’s shame at the lack of luxuries that the McPherson has, her dad never stops supporting her throughout; it’s him that helps her out with financial aid forms for her dreams of moving to New York City for college. Larry also helps Lady Bird celebrate her 18th birthday, secretly bringing her a cupcake to share in bed in one of the most tender father-daughter moments in recent cinema.
The case against: This is more a case of the movie not giving Larry enough to work with. Clearly overshadowed by Lady Bird and his wife, Larry’s subplots (his unemployment and his life-long depression) add color to the film, but aren’t explored enough to make him the best movie dad around. There’s another movie lying within Lady Bird that explores that more thoroughly, but it’s not the one being told.
Mr. Perlman, Call Me By Your Name
The case for: That scene. If you’ve seen the beautiful Call Me By Your Name, you know the one: after Timothée Chalamet’s Elio has his heart broken by the departure of Armie Hammer’s Oliver, his dad consoles him with one of the best movie dad speeches of all time. Tender and raw, while bursting with deep truths, Mr. Perlman tells Elio that he envies the pain that the younger Perlman is feeling; he encourages Elio to feel it and let it help him grow, rather than closing himself off. It’s a beautiful scene, one that summarizes what is great about the movie, and it’s delivered with sympathy and hope. While he has other moments throughout the film (he and his wife are completely accepting of their son’s romance with Oliver, and his teaching moments are charming), the speech on the couch solidifes Mr. Perlman as a dad to emulate and aspire to.
The case against: Like Larry McPherson, the story of Call Me By Your Name is not the story of Mr. Perlman. That’s fine, because his presence is a salve whenever he’s on-screen; like he does for Elio, he provides the audience with a steadiness amidst a turbulent storm of emotions. By the time Elio sits in front of the fireplace, crying over the pain of losing Oliver, we know that he has accepted his father’s words into his heart.
Héctor Rivera, Coco
The case for: After the late-movie twist, that Héctor is actually Miguel’s great-great-grandfather and not the villainous Ernesto de la Cruz, everything that the down-on-his-luck Héctor (voiced by Gael García Bernal) does is put into a new light. Helping his descendant out might be for a slightly selfish reason at first (all Héctor wants is to not be forgotten by Coco, his daughter), but once he finds out he is Miguel’s ancestor, he sacrifices himself in order to let Miguel go back home to the Land of the Living.
The case against: Very little. While Héctor is cowardly and tries to trick Miguel on multiple occasions, it is generally for his own good. Although his selfishness is what drives the conflict in the first half of the movie, by movie’s end, he is redeemed almost entirely. Plus, his songs are really great; you’re lying if you say you didn’t cry at “Remember Me.”
Yondu, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The case for: While not technically Peter Quill’s dad (that dubious honor goes to Ego, the villain of Vol. 2), Yondu is revealed to have been both a father figure and a savior for the man named Starlord. It turns out that Ego wanted Yondu to collect his children in order to test their powers–only to kill them if the child failed. Yondu did what he was told for a while, but he refused to turn over Peter, hiding him from Ego’s all-seeing consciousness instead. At the end of the day, Yondu sacrifices himself so that Peter and the rest of the Guardians can defeat Ego, and he gets a beautiful send-off in the process.
The case against: He did threaten to eat Peter, so. Yondu treats Quill like garbage in the first movie, coming close to ruining his galaxy-saving plans on multiple occasions. Also, as noble as it is that he didn’t sacrifice Peter to Ego, he still did send countless kids to their deaths with the Celestial. Not great for ol’ Yondu.
And the winner is…Mr. Perlman, Call Me By Your Name!
While Héctor Rivera’s sacrifice shines brightly, and Larry McPherson’s quiet support of his daughter is heart-warming, Mr. Perlman can rest easy knowing that he is the best dad of 2017 cinema. Accepting, encouraging, and powerfully honest, he treats his son with a respect rarely seen on the big screen. He never talks down to Elio, especially not in the most pivotal moment of his son’s life; instead, he opens up what’s in his heart in hopes of making Elio’s hurt less. Rather than trying to solve his son’s pain with a joke or an anecdote, he encourages Elio to not waste his passion, to let it all flow into him. For that scene, and for that attitude, Mr. Perlman stands tall as the most admirable father of them all.