Fatherhood isn’t easy, and that seems to go double if you’re a dad in a movie or a TV show. 2021 saw some pretty exceptional fictional fathering on TV and in movies, but it also showed us some dads who fell tragically short of the mark. Here are our picks for the most notable movie and TV dads in all of 2021, brutally ranked.
We’re starting with the worst fictional dads of 2021, and counting up to the best! Some spoilers ahead, for well, everything. From James Bond to Ted Lasso, and some shows and movies you may have missed, here’s our deep dive into all the fake dads of 2021. Along with though way, if you want a few deep dives with some of these dads, we’ve offered links and insight into when we talked about them earlier in the year. Here’s the list!
20. Brother Day, Foundation
Lee Pace plays Brother Day, part of the triad known as Empire, three clones of a former emperor, Cleon I. When one clone is found to be slightly different from all the others, Day punishes him and his lover (and betrayer) by having every person she’s ever spoken to killed and locking her in sensory deprivation for the rest of her life. As if that weren’t enough, the faulty clone is later killed for not quite being up to snuff.
19. Nolan Greyson/Omni-Man, Invincible
Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons) is first introduced to viewers as a sort of bearded Superman. But, when his son comes of age and begins to grow into his own superpowers, Omni-man reveals his true motive: kill all of humanity. Yeah, kinda hard to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner with that hanging over your head.
18. Xu Wenwu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Can you be a supervillain and a good dad? It’s looking like a no. Xu Wenwu as played by Tony Leung is the ultimate baddie in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the 10 Rings. The aforementioned rings give him power and immortality, and while he paused his naughtiness long enough to start a family, the murder of his wife led to his complete turn to the dark side. He believes he can bring his wife back to life, but his son must convince of the truth, or battle him to the death. You can guess how that plays out!
17. Logan Roy, Succession
If Kendall Roy is a bad dad, his own dad, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) must take some of that blame. Logan Roy’s parenting style is the same as his business style: pit everyone against each other and see who can survive his lashings of rage and humiliation. Miraculously, he also doles out just enough slow smiles and winks to keep at least two of his kids coming back for more.
16. Kendall Roy, Succession
Is it even a dad list if we don’t include the Roys? Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) isn’t the worst father on this list (or even on the show) but he’s certainly not a great one. The father of two tweens, Kendall spends his time scheming about how to torpedo his father and his business and surrounding himself with toadies who tell him everything he wants to hear. At his 40th birthday party, his children bring him a gift which he promptly loses, leading to a truly epic birthday meltdown.
15. Silco, Arcane
Jason Spisak voices Silco, the underground heavy who seeks power above all else, in Arcane. When young Powder is abandoned by her sister after a robbery gone awry, Silco swoops in and transforms the damaged girl into Jinx, a mentally fractured killing machine.
14. Ike Herschkopf, The Shrink Nextdoor
Paul Rudd does the unthinkable: he plays unlikeable, as shrink Ike, who slowly but surely takes over the life of a wealthy patient, even convincing him to move out of his Hamptons home into the guest house so Ike and his family can move in. Ike is a portrait of envy and greed and that extends to his behavior as a father. He wanted a son, but his wife had twin girls and he makes it clear to her this was not the desired outcome when the deli order he made for his future son’s bris arrives days after his daughters are born.
13. Guy, Old
Gael Garcia Bernal’s character Guy thinks he’s taking his family on the vacation of a lifetime, unfortunately, he doesn’t know how right he is: the beach they are sent to by their resorts rapidly ages anyone who visits. Guy fights hard to get his wife and kids off the island, and when he’s too old to fight anymore, he decides to spend his last moments at peace with his family.
12. Peter III, The Great
A man who furiously kills anyone who crosses him is an odd choice for a list of dads, but here we are. Nicholas Hoult’s Peter III, son of Peter the Great, may have lost Russia to his wife Catherine, but he refuses to lose out on raising his son, Paul. The man may be a murderous tyrant, but he literally gave up Russia on the show to know his child.
11. Ian Grimm, Mythic Quest
Rob McElhenny plays Grimm, the egomaniacal creator of a super-popular MMORPG, is a deeply flawed man, and those flaws extend to his parenting. At the end of the most recent season, it was revealed that Grimm is the father of a popular young streamer. Their relationship is contentious since Grimm’s been an absentee dad, more invested in his games than he is in building a relationship with his young son.
10. The Mandalorian, The Mandalorian
Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian isn’t a biological father, but one look at his helmeted face while he’s caring for Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, and there’s no doubt how seriously he takes his responsibility for the little tyke. Though this season’s finale found them separated, there’s no doubt this passionate papa is going to do whatever it takes to be reunited with his big-eyed green son.
9. Frank Murphy, F Is for Family
Bill Burr’s Frank Murphy is overworked, underpaid, and mostly a total grouch. But Frank has his sensitive side, and when he is confronted with the death of his own absentee dad it causes him to reevaluate his relationships with his own 4 kids. Frank makes an effort, doesn’t always succeed, and always tries again. That’s a real dad!
8. Ted Lasso, Ted Lasso
Jason Sudkeis as Ted Lasso is everyone’s favorite coach, and as a dad, he’s hustling just as hard for approval. Though his son currently lives on the other side of the ocean, he doesn’t mind dropping everything for the guy just so he can be ignored over Skype Christmas morning. Take heart, Ted! We still don’t think the kids going to grow into a Nate.
Also, here’s why we thought the Ted Lasso Season 2 finale was like The Empire Strikes Back.
7. Leon, Reservation Dogs
All of the kids living in the series’ eponymous tribal reservation admire their friend Willie Jack’s father, Leon, played by Jon Proudstar. He’s an accepting, vulnerable father, and when Willie Jack is processing the loss of her cousin and his nephew, Daniel, he’s there for her. He also encourages Willie Jack to follow her dreams, wherever they may lead her.
6. James Bond, No Time To Die
It was both great and terrible that James Bond became a father this year, in Daniel Craig’s swansong, No Time To Die. As we pointed out earlier in the year, Bond’s fatherhood was a mixed catharsis; it both brought 007 into our world but made us want to be part of his world much, much less. The only reason he’s not ranked a bit higher on this list is that he didn’t really spend much time being a dad in the movie. But, because the notion of James Bond as a father was so groundbreaking and bold, we had to shake and stir things up by giving him high marks here. Nobody dads it better. (Get it?)
5. Gordo Stevens (For All Mankind)
If you’ve slept on the excellent Apple TV series For All Mankind, know this: The show is actually filled with all sorts of dad angst, dad failures, and dad triumphs. It’s also an oddly uplifting show set in an alternate timeline where the space race between the US and USSR never ended and went well into the 1980s. In Season 2, Michael Dorman’s Gordo Stevens heads back into space and in doing so, steals all of our hearts. No spoilers! But if you’ve seen the Season 2 finale, then you know why Gordo is on this list.
4. Clint Barton, Hawkeye
The Marvel Universe is full of dads, and Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton is having his turn to shine in Disney’s Hawkeye. In the miniseries, Barton has to team up with a young woman, Kate Bishop, in order to defeat some baddies and make it home for Christmas. His zest for being with his family during the season has him making the list at number 4.
3. Abbas Hardin, Foundation
Clark Peters’ portrayal of Abbas Hardin was a study in a girl-dad splendor. When his daughter Salvor is scrambling to defend their home, the desolate planet of Terminus, from invading forces and the gaze of the Empire, all seems lost. Then, Abbass makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving up his own life to help save his daughter, wife, and the entire community.
2. Vision, WandaVision
Paul Bettany’s Vision returns! This time to the small screen, where, thanks to Wanda Maximoff’s grief, he’s been magically restored to life and cast opposite her as first, husband, and then dad to their kids. Some guys need time to adjust to the idea of fatherhood. Not Vision! He had roughly half an episode to adjust to his wife’s pregnancy and the birth of kids in this ode to sitcoms-through-the-ages.
Check out Paul Bettany’s thoughts on Vision and dads in our interview right here.
1. Duke Leo Atreides, Dune
Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto takes dad-power to another level in Dune—or at the very least to a whole other planet. Not only is his instruction pivotal in educating his son Paul about the ways of leadership as they try to establish a home on Arrakis, but he actually kills himself (with a little assist from a cyanide-filled fake tooth) in the hopes of stopping the Harkonnens from killing his consort Jessica and his son. Check out Oscar Issac’s thoughts on fatherhood and Dune in our interview right here.