There are few things as strong as a parent’s love for their child, and this is a theme that Hollywood revisits time and time again, exploiting the traditional role of the father as the protector while pushing some film fathers to go to extreme lengths when faced with the possibility of losing their children.
The formula is usually pretty simple: a man in power has specific skills and gets on the bad side of a shadowy organization or criminal mastermind, bad guys then take his kid, causing the man to hulk the f*ck out and show the bad guys that they messed with the wrong dude. Obviously there are variations, but for the most part, people know what to expect. However, that doesn’t mean that this tried and true plot line doesn’t bring about some truly thrilling films.
On the 30th anniversary of Commando, one of the classic action-Dad movies, let’s look back at a list of film fathers who have a very specific set of skills and no quit when it comes to saving their spawn.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has done his fair share of campy action films, and Commando is one of the very campiest. As a retired Black Ops commando, Schwarzenegger takes on South American criminals who thought that they could blackmail him into reinstating a deposed dictator if they kidnapped his daughter, played by Alyssa Milano, in one of her earliest roles. They were wrong. Things get predictably violent, and Arnold delivers one of his greatest lines to date: “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? I LIED.”
Back before everyone witnessed his public meltdown, Mel Gibson was a fixture of ’90s film. In the 1996 hit Ransom, Gibson plays a multi-millionaire whose son is kidnapped and held for — you guessed it — a ransom of $2 million. While Gibson may not be a warrior like most of the others on this list, he uses what he has at his disposal when the Feds can’t get the job done: his wit. It’s a classic cat and mouse thriller about a man who would do anything to get his son back and a guy who is way too into the movie, The Time Machine.
Air Force One (1997)
Who wouldn’t want Harrison Ford to be President? Featuring a peak villainy Gary Oldman (the goatee and accent help), Air Force One was one of the biggest action hits of the ’90s. The story is pretty basic: when Russian terrorists hijack the world’s most famous plane (no, not the Quinjet) in order to get their leader released from a Russian jail, President Indiana Jones springs in to action to protect his family and the fate of the free world. Using his military background, Marshall takes no prisoners and demands that the terrorists get off his plane. Which is a nice sentiment, but factually inaccurate when you recall that Air Force One is actually the people’s plane and wholly funded by our tax dollars… what?
The Patriot (2000)
Mel Gibson is at it again, this time in the Revolutionary War era. As a war hero who just wants to raise his family in peace, Gibson’s Benjamin Martin is pulled back into the conflict (despite being too old for this sh*t) when one of his sons is ruthlessly murdered by a British officer. In order to protect his other children, Martin sees no other way than to once again fight for his country, but not before exacting some bloody revenge on the officers that killed his son.
Taken has become the most celebrated film of the Badass Dad genre, with Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills doing what paranoid parents everywhere think that they would do in his situation. As he punches his way across Europe to save his teenage daughter from a sex slavery ring, Neeson enters the second phase of his career: action star. While the film ended up spawning two lesser sequels, the first remains thrilling.
Also, does this happen if not for Neeson’s Taken-fame?
As impressive as Rob Roy was, probably not.
Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)
There was a 12 year gap between Die Hard: With A Vengeance and Live Free Or Die Hard, and in that time, Bruce Willis’s John McClane went from renegade cop to super soldier who uses cars to take out helicopters. When cyberterrorists (Hey, Timothy Olyphant!) kidnap his daughter, McClane will do whatever means necessary to get her back. Rescuing your daughter from terrorists is a pretty decent way to overcome an estrangement.
Prisoners was one of the best sleeper hits to come out of 2013, anchored by mesmerizing performances by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a man desperate to find his kidnapped daughter and her friend, with Gyllenhaal as the detective on the case. In this twisty drama, Jackman takes matters into his own hands, and the shocking ending will stay with you for days.
San Andreas (2015)
Ok, so the real villain in this film is Mother Nature herself, as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is racing across a crumbling California in order to rescue his daughter, played by True Detective‘s Alexandra Dadarrio, from the elements in San Andreas. Johnson continues to be a pleasant and compelling figure on screen, and let’s face it: to find a foe big enough to challenge The Rock, the biggest earthquake in history is probably a pretty good place to start. Still, I wonder if it would be more intimidating if it had Gary Oldman’s goatee and Russian accent from Air Force One.