Captains Courageous (1937)
This Golden Age
adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's book holds up remarkably well, and would be worth attempting to foister upon some more adventurous younger viewers, the kind who don't run screaming at the prospect of a black and white film. Freddie Bartholomew plays a spoiled little rich kid who falls off his industrialist father's ocean liner and is picked up by a fishing boat. There he learns about hard work and being a good person under the paternal tutelage of a Portuguese fisherman played by Spencer Tracy, the most Dad-like actor who ever lived. If this film's heart-wrenching finalé doesn't stir your father/son emotions, then you are truly made of stone.
The Godfather (1972)
The most celebrated aspect of this much-celebrated film is the transformation Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) makes throughout the film from the earnest young lover we meet at the start of the film to the hardened killer we see at the end. It's all pretty much in the name of pleasing the title character, his papa. Paternal obligation never found a more potent metaphor.
Stand By Me (1987)
The central father/son relationship in this film is particularly strained. Playing Wil Wheaton's stern pop, ubiquitous character actor Marshall Bell (Total Recall) is seething paternal resentment personified, one of the most terrifyingly distant cinematic dads ever. But it all works because director Rob Reiner demonstrates a level of empathy for the strains of the father/son relationship that would make Steven Spielberg jealous.
Big Fish (2003)
This Jon August-scripted, Tim Burton-directed adaptation of Daniel Wallace's novel wears its father/son heart on its sleeve from the get-go, but never fails the clearly-stated intentions. Billy Crudup attempts to reconcile with his sick father Albert Finney, a notorious tall-tale teller. Ewan McGregor plays the young Finney in the lushly-rendered mountaings of his stories. Anyone looking for the emotional release of a stellar father/son weepie need can always rely upon this film to deliver.
Midnight Special (2016)
Anyone who enjoyed Stranger Things should check out this recent retro sci-fi drama which succeeds as well as it does thanks largely to the strong father/son dynamic portrayed by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon and child actor Jaeden Lieberger. On the run from the government and a cult that wants to channel the boy's "abilities", Shannon's paternal dedication both stirs and wrenches the heart.
For the sake of completion, here are five great father/daughter movies:
Pretty In Pink (1986)
Molly Ringwald's relationship with her father, played by scuzzy screen legend Harry Dean Stanton, is one of the sweetest renderings of the father/daughter relationship ever put to film.
The Professional (aka Léon, 1992)
A child-like hitman (Jean Reno, in his international breakout role) teaches a young orphaned girl (Natalie Portman in her star-making debut) the ways of his trade, forging a unique parternal relationship with her. See also: Kick-Ass (2010).
Out of Sight (1998)
When Dennis Farina (RIP) demonstrates his acceptance of Jennifer Lopez's romantic proclivity for criminals in this Steven Soderbergh thriller adapted from Elmore Leonard's book, it made for one of the best father/daughter moments in cinema history.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint's deeply felt surrogate father relationship with Hilary Swank is what gave this film its impact.
The true genius of Christopher Nolan's masterpiece is how poetically it sold the infinity of space as a metaphor for love, as represented by the relationship between Matthew McConaughey and his daughter, played by Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain.