The relationship between a father and son can be complicated. Maybe the son is full of teen angst, or maybe the father is too lost in his work, or maybe a traumatic event split them apart.
Father and son have a unique bond unlike any other, and that bond can often come under strain. And what better material for a touching, emotional, and often cathartic drama?
Here are our picks for the best movies about father-son relationships, across all kinds of genres and depictions!
15. Road to Perdition (2002)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law
Crime, Drama, Thriller (1h 57m)
Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, and Jude Law? Yes, please! Plus Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes? Don't mind if we do!
Road to Perdition was the director's follow-up to the highly successful American Beauty, and it didn't disappoint.
Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a mob enforcer who's running from the mob with his young son, who was witness to a hit. Fleeing through the 1930s American Midwest, Mike goes on more than one type of journey—discovering both himself and his connection to his son.
Road to Perdition is a vengeful crowd-pleaser that mixes old-school aesthetics with sleek, modern filmmaking.
14. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston
Comedy, Drama (1h 50m)
The Royal Tenenbaums is regarded as one of Wes Anderson's greatest movies. Its storybook narrative structure, offbeat characters, colorful and symmetrical cinematography, and absurdist humor carved him out as today's most recognizable auteur.
Royal isn't an adjective here; it's the name of the family's patriarchal leader, played by Gene Hackman. Royal is like the Vito Corleone of the Tenenbaums (if Vito wasn't a gangster and ditched his family values).
After 22 semi-estranged years, Royal tries to win back his children's love (and money) by pretending he has cancer. Two of Royal's three genius prodigy children are sons, and all three are unequivocally messed up by Royal's terrible fathering.
Chas (played by Ben Stiller) is particularly hostile to Royal without realizing that his own parenting mirrors his childhood, and Royal is ultimately what brings Chas and his kids closer together.
13. Ad Astra (2019)
Directed by James Gray
Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Adventure, Drama, Mystery (2h 3m)
"I do what I do because of my dad." Indeed, Major Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) dedicates his whole life to space travel, which lands him in the tricky position of saving humanity.
Roy is calm and willing to take on the role in ode to his astronaut father, who's presumed dead. But what happens when you discover that you've dedicated your whole life to a lie? When you find out that your hero—your lost father—is actually the villain?
Major Roy McBride spends the entirety of Ad Astra (which is Latin for "to the stars") in the shadow of his father, eager to honor him while struggling to let go of his past.
James Gray directs this glossy, melancholic, and lonely addition to the space genre of sci-fi drama films, and its gravity is grounded by performances from Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.
12. The Champ (1979)
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Starring Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, Ricky Schroder
Drama, Sport (2h 1m)
A remake of the Oscar-winning 1931 drama by King Vidor, The Champ is a boxing movie with a hard-hitting twist.
Billy (played by Jon Voight) isn't fighting for trophies or titles; he's fighting for his young son TJ (played by Ricky Schroder).
Billy has long left the brutal sport and brought up his son to believe his mother is dead. However, her sudden reappearance prompts a whole host of problems.
Drunken and jailed, Billy almost loses the one and only good thing in his life. To win TJ back, Billy must enter the ring once more—despite his age and injuries that make him so vulnerable.
Franco Zeffirelli directs this 70s sports drama that's often cited as "the saddest movie in the world."
11. Beautiful Boy (2018)
Directed by Felix van Groeningen
Starring Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney
Biography, Drama (2h)
Felix van Groeningen's biopic tells the heart-rending story of David Sheff (played by Steve Carell), whose son—despite having a picture-perfect upbringing—became addicted to meth as a teenager.
Sheff wrote about his son's addiction (and the toll it took on both him and the family) in his 2008 memoirs, which was adapted into this emotional film by Felix van Groeningen, featuring incredible performances by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.
The once-blossoming father-son relationship is put under pressure when the son distances himself, and the father's desperate attempts to save his son require a tough hand.
10. Waves (2019)
Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Starring Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alexa Demie
Drama, Romance, Sport (2h 15m)
Waves is split into two acts that almost feel like two distinct movies, but they come together to tell a most captivating story.
The first half focuses on high school senior Tyler Williams (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), whose domineering father (played by Sterling K. Brown) pushes him to the limits, as if he were molding his very own superhuman, jack-of-all-trades soldier son.
Of course, this type of pressure can only last so long. When Tyler's narrative implodes, writer/director Trey Edward Shults moves on to Tyler's little sister Emily (played by Taylor Russell).
At first, her half feels like a story of young love, but then the father figures circle back as Emily confronts her dad for pushing Tyler so hard, and her boyfriend (played by Luke Evans) decides to visit his own dying, estranged, abusive father in the hospital.
Waves is one of the most sleek-looking, aesthetically pleasing movies you'll ever watch—kind of like Euphoria meets Moonlight—but it's also got plenty of depth, strong (paternal) themes, and plot twists that you'll never see coming.
9. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Crime, Drama, Thriller (2h 20m)
Derek Cianfrance weaves together themes of guilt, redemption, masculinity, and family throughout this stylishly fractured, neo-noir crime drama film.
Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling star as a cop and a criminal, respectively, who both trigger a domino effect of consequences.
Set in New York, the inter-generational narrative shows the ripple effects of each father's decisions on their sons. Once grown, the two boys meet by chance—and develop a conflicting friendship.
The Place Beyond the Pines unfolds unexpectedly as it intertwines the lives of seemingly unrelated people who, when you take a step back and really look, are linked together in complex ways.
8. The Kid (1921)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan
Comedy, Drama, Family (1h 8m)
The Kid isn't just a great film—it's one that changed the face of cinema forever. In a pinnacle moment for the era of silent movies, The Kid revolutionized the rules of storytelling on the big screen.
For the first time ever, Charlie Chaplin combined the art of comedy with the impact of pathos. Who'd have thunk it? The Kid is one of the earliest feature films ever made, telling the story of an orphan boy who's taken in by the Tramp (Chaplin's iconic caricature).
Okay, we're cheating a little with this one because he isn't the Tramp's actual son. But he's raised and loved like one.
Charlie Chaplin produced, directed, and starred in this landmark movie, as well as creating the musical score. No wonder he's such a legend! The Kid had viewers weeping in their seats back in 1921, and (impressively) still has the same gravitas today.
7. The Road (2009)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Drama, Thriller (1h 51m)
Viggo Mortensen stars as the father of a young boy, cursed to roam a post-apocalyptic America where cannibals are on the loose.
John Hillcoat directs this sci-fi drama that offers little relief from the dire bleakness of a truly dystopian world.
It's a chilling and brutal story that documents the grueling journey from the freezing north to the promising sea.
But beyond the dramatic flourishes of mass-extinction and cannibals, The Road is a tender tale of parenthood and unconditional love in the midst of darkness.
6. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandiwe Newton
Biography, Drama (1h 57m)
The Pursuit of Happyness will always sit near the top amongst all the different movies about father-son relationships, chiefly because it stars a real-life father and son!
Will and (a very young, extremely cute) Jaden Smith star in Gabriele Muccino's biographical drama, based on the life of Chris Gardner. Chris is a struggling San Francisco salesman in the 1980s. His depressed wife works two jobs, yet they still can't make rent.
Tired of their downtrodden existence, Linda (played by Thandiwe Newton) leaves them, which forces Chris to finish his unpaid internship while homeless.
Running between offices, cheap motel rooms, and homeless shelters, Chris tries to care for his young son with no money and no time.
Poignantly acted, The Pursuit of Happyness will make you more grateful for life than ever before.
5. Honey Boy (2019)
Directed by Alma Har'el
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe
Drama (1h 34m)
Shia LaBeouf has a reputation for being a Hollywood hothead and diva, and much of his infamously odd behavior is explained in the semi-autobiographical drama Honey Boy, which he initially wrote for rehabilitation purposes.
The beautifully shot film, directed by Alma Har'el, recounts the trauma that LaBeouf faced at the hands of his unstable father.
Noah Lupe and Lucas Hedges star as the younger versions of LaBeouf (named "Otis" in the movie) while LaBeouf stars as his own father.
All the performances hit right to the core while exploring the immensely complicated relationship that LaBeouf shared with his abusive, manipulative dad.
4. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Directed by Robert Benton
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander
Drama (1h 45m)
Divorce was a little less common back in the 1970s, but the impact of Kramer vs. Kramer is still the same.
Dustin Hoffman stars as a workaholic Manhattan advertising executive whose wife (played by Meryl Streep) suddenly up and leaves him. Ted has no choice but to lose his job so he can look after his six-year-old son Billy (played by Justin Henry), which generates a lot of friction.
Not exactly father material, Ted is forced on a path of self-discovery that strengthens his relationship with Billy, which offers more than any office job ever could.
Part courtroom drama, part psychological character study, Kramer vs. Kramer is a must-watch classic, directed by Robert Benton.
3. Big Fish (2003)
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy (2h 5m)
Many families fall apart and become estranged over heated arguments that aren't always worth it. But in the case of Big Fish, it's not child abuse or abandonment that makes Will (played by Billy Crudup) cut off his father; it's his bedtime stories.
Well, bedtime, breakfast, weddings, birthdays, dinner parties... Edward (played by Albert Finney) is always telling fantastical tales about his life, and he's always claiming that the witches, giants, and werewolves in them are real. That's what gets Will riled up.
When Edward is diagnosed with cancer, Will makes the effort to amend their relationship. Director Tim Burton switches between the realistic present and whimsical past, where Edward recounts his life story (played by Ewan McGregor) in all its fantastical glory.
The magical realism in Big Fish makes it feel real in ways that many films never manage, and the father-son centerpiece is especially poignant because Burton's own father passed away three years earlier.
2. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell
Drama (1h 29m)
In Bicycle Thieves, Antonio Ricci (played by Lamberto Maggiorani) is desperate to get his bike back after it's been stolen.
Sure, it was expensive and the financial hit hurts. But more than that, he doesn't want to disappoint his son Bruno (played by Enzo Staiola) or let him see his father defeated, especially not by a petty thief.
Set in post-war Rome, Antonio struggles to keep his family afloat. His new job brings the promise of scraping by the poverty line, but it requires a bicycle to do—which is stolen.
So, Antonio takes little Bruno on a father-son odyssey around Rome in search of his beloved bicycle, which brings them simultaneously closer together and further apart.
As an Italian neorealist film, director Vittorio De Sica is under no illusion about how poverty can strip men of their choices, dignity, and morality, which Bruno comes to learn from his father. Still, Bruno takes his hand... and makes us cry in the process.
1. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Directed by Roberto Benigni
Starring Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 56m)
Life Is Beautiful is one of the most heartbreaking yet most inspiring movies ever made. Roberto Benigni really shifts things into perspective, depicting the immense powers of love and hope even in the most awful of circumstances.
The Italian war drama stars Benigni as a devoted father, who uses humor to distract his young son from the horrors of the Nazi party.
Being Jews, the two are sent to a concentration camp in Northern Italy, and the father convinces his son that the camp is actually one big game, cleverly shielding him from reality with gags and jokes.
Life Is Beautiful won three Academy Awards and was praised for its sensitive allegorical handling of such serious themes.