Inspired by the endlessly thoughtful efforts of Frannie (Laura) Dern and Michael (Sam Trammell) Lancaster, AKA the parents of Shailene Woodley’s Hazel Grace in The Fault In Our Stars, we thought we’d take a look at the best movie paterfamilias and matriarchs in moviedom. Sorry mum & dad, but we might have to trade you in because this lot take the cake. And give it to their kids.
The actors: Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson
The film: Easy A (2010)
Why them? Because they’re the funniest, hippest and most easy-going parents to fill a frame, that’s why. Not only are they both whip-smart and happy to give their equally strong and intelligent daughter the benefit of the doubt; they’re also able to realise when well-considered discipline is necessary. Sure, Emma Stone’s Olive might get herself into hot water through a few innocent lies about her sexual experience, but they understand her situation and don’t react like she’s just brought about Armageddon. Result? A well-adjusted daughter who thinks her way out of her troubles (as well as a quietly smart younger brother, for that matter). And as a bonus? They’re played by Patricia bloomin’ Clarkson and Stanley bloody Tucci – who wouldn’t want those two as their parents even if they weren’t acting?
Ideal gift: Backstage passes to a rock concert, where they’ll still be the coolest people around.
The actors: Harry Shannon and Agnes Moorehead
The film: Citizen Kane (1941)
Why them? This might not seem like the most logical choice, since the only time Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) spends with them is in abject poverty, in Colorado, where Jim and Mary run a boarding house. But when a literal gold mine is discovered on their property, the Kanes sacrifice their own happiness and send their child away to be properly educated so that he might appreciate his life of wealth and prosperity. Sure, Kane doesn’t exactly have the happiest time – the film’s most famous moment (spoiler alert) revolves around a beloved childhood possession from his young days – but he brings an awful lot of that on himself with his greed and ambition. Just think: he could have invited his parents to a Scrooge McDuck-style pool party in a giant vault of gold coins instead.
Ideal gift: A newspaper subscription to a paper that spins into focus so they can track their son.
The actor: Liam Neeson
The film: Taken (2008)
Why him? Bryan might be a bit of an overcautious father… OK, so he’s an incredibly overcautious father who also managed to screw up his marriage by concentrating on his job. But he was an intelligence operative! His job was often literally to save people, and he knows exactly how dangerous a place the world can be! It’s not like he’s grousing about daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) going out from the confines of a nice, comfy desk job. And when something actually does happen to her, he’s on the case and ready to tear down the Eiffel Tower if he has to to save her. Parents sometimes say they’d take a bullet for their kids. Bryan prefers to dish them out. We salute him and his particular set of skills.
Ideal gift: A very particular set of spa days, so he can relax for once.
The actor: Andrew Stanton (Voice)
The film: Toy Story 2 (1999)
Why him? Zurg is introduced as your basic Darth Vader-style galactic villain, happy to be evil and endlessly confounded by that do-gooding hero Buzz Lightyear. But that’s just because he was written that way, people. Even the Sworn Enemy Of The Galactic Alliance can find it within himself to change, or at least the toy version of him can. His father-son relationship with Buzz might not initially start on the right footing (Zurg tries to kill Buzz with, er, his Nerf gun), but one quick fall down an elevator shaft later and this robotic warlord is ready to play catch with his boy. It’s a happy ending, at least for the confused Buzz who thinks he’s still a real space hero…
Ideal gift: New batteries, so he can parent on, and on, and on.
The actors: Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt
The film: Cheaper By The Dozen (2003), Cheaper By The Dozen 2 (2005)
Why them? The movie itself might not be a classic (it really isn't), but we’re not counting that against them. Nope, this is purely about the fact that Tom and Kate have somehow managed to raise 12 relatively well-adjusted children without somehow killing themselves or any of their spawn in the process. True, Tom uproots the family at one point in the service of his career, and doesn’t honour democratic terms when he asks them to vote on the idea, but give the guy a break – he and his wife have dealt with 12 kids. And he’s a football coach, so he spends all day around other peoples’ annoying sprogs too. It would drive us crazy, but Tom and Kate work through their issues with their children and somehow seem to manage a happy balance even with the addition of various love interests and, eventually, grandkids.
Ideal gift: Noise-cancelling headphones, or possibly an entire noise-proofed room.
The actors: Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin
The film: Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Why them? Picture this: you’re the parents of a son and a lovely teenage daughter (Kim, played by Winona Ryder). Out on your Avon rounds, you find an artificial creature knocked together by a mad genius that gave him giant shears instead of hands. When said lad, Edward (Johnny Depp) falls for Kim, you don’t immediately spirit the young lady away to a sealed room for her own safety and demand that she stop dating people until she’s 35. That alone is something to be praised, but Peg and Bill go out of their way to defend Ed, make him feel at home and even find a way for his sharp hands to be useful in the neighbourhood. It might not end that well, but no one actually dies. Okay, one guy dies, but he was a drunken git who was attacking people.
Ideal gift: A new knife set.
The actor: Robin Williams
The film: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Why him? Sure, upon learning that his ex-wife has been granted full custody of their kids in the divorce, Daniel could have looked for a sensible job and found a decent house so as to establish trust enough for him to be granted more access. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, he goes the extra mile, slapping on a fat suit, wig and make-up and becoming hired housekeeper and babysitter Mrs. Euphgenia Doubtfire. Hilarity ensues, with burning fake breasts, whipped cream insta-disguises and that awkward moment when the kids realise who it really is. But even then, Daniel steps up, turns Mrs. D in to a successful kids’ TV host and wins the chance to see more of his kids. Hooray! If that isn't enough to convince you, remember that without Mrs. Doubtfire we would never have this, and the world would be a less entertaining place.
Ideal gift: A lifetime supply of skin cream. Doubtfire-face can be rough on the pores.
The actors: Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne
The film: Donnie Darko (2001)
Why them? Because they’re able to deal with a massive jet engine crashing into their house, on top of a troubled son (Jake Gyllenhaal’s Donnie), an outspoken older daughter Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a busy younger child (Daveigh Chase’s Samantha). And they do it all with a staggering amount of Grace under pressure. Eddie is always ready to reach out and bond with his kids, and no one had better get between Rose and her family lest she smack them down verbally. This is also the sort of family that has political discussions around the dinner table and doesn’t react to the occasional swearword – at least from the older two – as if World War Three had broken out.
Ideal gift: Rock solid home contents insurance that covers plane bits and time travel.
The actors: John Travolta and Christopher Walken
The film: Hairspray (2007)
Why them? Though Edna has her struggles with agoraphobia and worries about her weight, she and Wilbur do their best to support their fun-loving, happy-go-lucky teenage daughter Tracy, played in the 2007 movie musical version by Nikki Blonsky. When the weight-loathing likes of Amber (Brittany Snow) and Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) try to put a crimp on their girl’s style and ambition, Edna and Wilbur are right there to rally for her. They might not always be perfect parents, but they have heart and they care about their daughter’s happiness. Give a cheer, too, to the original Edna and Wilbur, played by Divine and Jerry Stiller.
Ideal gift: Chill pills. Or, as it turns out, some new outfits and quite a lot of hairspray.
The actors: Julie Walters and Mark Williams
The films: Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) – Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
Why them? They’re not the wealthiest or most famous magic-users in J.K. Rowling’s world, but they’re the most caring, devoted and entertaining parents in the entire series - and they have the added advantage over Harry’s noble folks in that they’re alive and don’t have to rely on occasional supernatural convenience to talk to their children. Providers of terrible clothes, occupiers of a ramshackle but amazing house and a beacon of kindness for Harry, Molly and Arthur are a good couple, not to mention remarkably even-tempered given that they’ve raised seven kids, all of considerable magic ability.
Ideal gift: A time-turner so they can keep up with their bustling brood, and maybe find time to put their feet up and watch Game Of Thrones occasionally.
The actors: Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston
The films: Addams Family (1991) / Addams Family Values (1993)
Why them? Creepy? Yup. Kooky? You betcha. Mysterious? Check. Spooky? In spades. And yet for all of that, the Addams’ are also excellent parents to their kids, encouraging Wednesday’s (Christina Ricci) hobbies even if she does sometimes threaten to end her brother’s life. They might be the furthest thing from conventional, but they’re really just an all-American family who happen to prefer sexy banter to apple pie. Gomez and Morticia are, after all, passionately devoted to one another even after all their years together, which should be an inspiration to us all. It's less that they're strange – they were just drawn that way, with original cartoonist Charles Addams using them to comment on family life in general, a side to the characters that continues in the movie.
Ideal gift: A fright out on the town.
The actors: Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter (voices)
The film: The Incredibles (2004)
Why them? Superheroes! They’re just like us. And in Brad Bird / Pixar’s hands, they really are just like us, even before they go into semi-forced retirement and focus on raising their powered pupae. Bob and Helen have fights like regular people and face issues corralling particularly their speedy son Dash, who is sick of throttling back on his power to fit in. But when danger comes a-calling in the form of Bob’s old fan-turned-supervillain Syndrome, you’d better believe these heroes step up and work with their family to save the day. Later in the film, they even start to allow the kids to show off a little – now that’s support.
Ideal gift: A sequel! Which it appears they’ll receive. (Admittedly, this is more for us than them.)
The actor: Gregory Peck
The film: To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Why him? Quite possibly the best on-screen parent in cinema history. Atticus is already a widower raising two kids and working as a lawyer in a small US town in the 1930s, but really raises the bar for others by being a kindly, staunchly moral man who provides a perfect role model for his children while also making sure they’re entertained. He’s the sort of upstanding white knight who would unfailingly try to do the right thing, and he’s never one to compromise his principles. Plus he has a story for every occasion.
Ideal gift: A new rocking chair from which to tell morality tales.
The actor: Linda Hamilton
The films: The Terminator (1984) / Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Why her? She’s a single mother, weighed down by the knowledge that her son is destined to lead the human race in a last-ditch battle against the metallic menace unleashed by uber-computer Skynet. We can, therefore, forgive her some occasional lapses into child endangerment, such as allowing John (Edward Furlong) to fall into foster care when she’s carted off to an asylum because of her views on the future (although, y'know, she can already be pretty sure that he'll survive to grow up). There’s also the small matter of her driving obsession with all things Terminator, which ends up endangering her only son. But when the moment calls for it, she’s the tooled-up mama bear ready to defend her son and indeed all our children. And for that, we salute her.
Ideal gift: Guns. Lots of guns.
The actors: Marlon Brando and Susannah York
The film: Superman The Movie (1978)
Why them? Sacrificing time with their child? Please. These Kryptonian parents of the century not only ensure their sprog’s safety (well, as safe as you can when you place him in a crystal star with no food and launch him into space), but they do that without thinking of their own needs. The planet is exploding around them – something Jor-El tried to tell his fellow disco-cloaked pals – and now they stay so their child may not only live, but also become a superhero on Earth. So that he’s not completely bored on the trip, Kal-El’s dad includes crystal recordings that are able to answer his questions, which are of limited use to the spaceship-bound infant but come in terribly handy years later when he notices that not everyone around him has superstrength and flight powers, and wonders where on Earth (or not) he came from.
Ideal gift: Another spaceship, big enough for two adults.