There are a lot of great fathers in movies. These aren’t them.
This article contains spoilers for Breaking Bad, The Devil’s Rejects, Joe Dirt, Rosemary’s Baby, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, and Kill Bill.
Father’s Day is a time to celebrate our excellent dads and all they’ve done to better our lives and expand our knowledge of the world. But not all dads are good dads—some of them kind of suck, actually—and we feel it’s important to recognize those shitty father figures in the world, too. (Plus, you can’t just throw Mom under the bus.)
So, dads and dads-to-be: Take note. Here’s everything you don’t want to do when it comes to the care and keeping of your kids. And kids? Next time you think your pops is The Worst, just remember: At least he’s not literally Satan.
1) Sling Blade (1996)
Doyle Hargraves is not the biological father of Frank Wheatley (a young Lucas Black)—his real father committed suicide when he was young—but he may as well be. He hangs around the house constantly (he only goes to his place to cheat on Frank’s mom), calls his buddies up so their bad rock/country band can practice in the night’s late hours, then explodes at them for discussing controversial stuff like “writing down vocals” and “playing gigs.” He gets so mad about this talk, that he shoves one band member in a wheelchair into a wall.
But they’ll practice again, because people never really let Doyle Hargraves (such a good name for an asshole) out of their lives. Or will they?
This one’s actually a twofer: Sling Blade (actual name: Karl)’s father is pretty terrible as well, having once charged Karl with burying his aborted brother in the backyard while he was still alive. No, this is not a “life is all roses” movie—but it’s so well written that it’ll still leave you with hope. It’s honestly one of the best American films of all time. So watch it.
2) The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Is Captain Spaulding, indeed, a bad father? He drops everything in his life to help out his fugitive children (a feat he’s gotta know will cut his 10-year lifespan down by about nine years and 363 days). A good father would do that sort of thing for their kids when they’re in trouble—hence the hesitation to include him on here.
Then again: He did raise a family full of blindly murdering, raging psychopaths. Maybe that’s the fault of genetics, but if so—statistically speaking—you’d think at least one of the Firefly children would have said, “hey guys, um… I’m going to check out community college and go into radiology instead of just murdering people that come to our house.” Maybe they did, and they’re just not in the movie, but I’m going on what I’ve got to work with, here, and that’s that all his kids turned out to be murderous assholes. So the fact that they all (spoiler alert) die in the end to the tune of “Freebird” must be considered the ultimate consequence of Spaulding being a bad father. Inclusion on list: Earned.
3) Joe Dirt (2001)
Joe Dirt’s dad is a pretty bad one: He intentionally left him in a trash can at the Grand Canyon when he was only 8. When Dirt’s journey to find his parents finally comes to a close, with Dirt’s story being a national sensation at this point, he arrives at his parents’ trailer with an army of TV cameras and his parents cop to leaving him there on purpose. Then, they try and sell some ceramic clown dolls to people watching at home.
The only good thing about Joe Dirt’s dad (last name: Nunnemaker, because he was such a jerk that he gave his son a different last name, and that name was “Dirt”) is that he’s played by Fred Ward. So at least he’s hilarious.
4) Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
There’s a slim chance that Walter White isn’t actually a bad father; the whole series walks the line of “Is he bad, or is he protecting his family?” And, in the end, the real enemy might just be cancer itself (and the American healthcare system, since it basically says the shitty fuckmess of private healthcare is the reason that all your favorite characters are dead).
In the end, he does provide for his family (maybe—there’s some debate out there about where that money for them most likely ended up), but he does it after five seasons of cheating, lying, killing, and being almost entirely absent.
So, ultimately? He’d have been a better father without the meth. (Side note: Personally, I still like the guy—I just think he was a bad dad, even if that was the opposite of his original intention).
5) Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
When we learn at the end of Vol. 1 that the Bride’s daughter with Bill is still alive, we fully expect him to be training her to be an assassin or something, making her sleep under the house and occasionally taking her out to the woods to kill her own food with arrows and cook it over fires that she’s made herself by rubbing sticks together.
So it’s a little weird when (spoiler alert) the Bride finally gets to the last name on her Kill List (Bill), and his house looks like somewhere Danny Tanner might raise a child in. The kid watches cartoons, eats cereal… She’s downright normal.
So is Bill a bad father? Well, he appears to take good care of his daughter, but he did try to have her mother killed, and he does lead a ring of misfit assassins. So, at the moment, yes. Check back in during her rebellious teenage years.
6) Hot Rod (2007)
Ian McShane’s Frank is a big fan of tough love: He regularly spars with his stepson Rod (Andy Samberg) and beats the daylights out of him. He mocks Rod’s inability to grow a mustache, and he think Rod’s dreams of becoming a famous stuntman are stupid (which, to be fair, they probably are). One argument with Frank leads to Rod going into the woods to dance off his anger, which is one of maybe 3,000 reasons that this movie rules.
When Frank needs a heart transplant, Rod gathers his team (all of whom were absolute nobodies at the time of filming and are straight-up A-listers in Hollywood now) to help him prepare to jump 15 buses. His plan: to raise enough money to save Frank’s life. Why? So he can fully recover before he smashes in his face.
Frank has a good heart (not literally—I mean, he needs a transplant, after all), but his love/hate relationship with his son and the fact that he hits him really hard in the face with a sparring stick, are pretty incontrovertible proof he’s earned a spot on this list.
7) Mad Men (2007-2015)
Confession: I’ve only seen two and a half seasons of Mad Men. I know that makes me a bad person, but the show is an hour long, and after hopping off the binge-watching train to catch up with Breaking Bad instead, I got so far behind on the show that I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to it.
But even two and a half seasons is enough to know that bad dads are everywhere in this show. Evidently in the ’50s, if you lived in the city, you were either a horrible, neglectful father that regularly cheated on your wife, or you were gay. (Yes, I know the show moved past the ’50s, but I’m willing to assume the cheating and neglect and alcoholism remained through the ’70s. Call it a hunch.)
The show should also be noted for its unintended result of making Don Draper, maybe the show’s worst dad, the sexual fantasy of a lot of people. The lesson*: Wear a suit, be an asshole, keep your mouth shut, and succeed in every aspect of your life (except the part that involves your family). ‘Merica: Corporate Style.
8) There Will Be Blood (2007)
Daniel Plainview did nicely adopt a kid whose actual father had died. But as his ego inflates and his mind goes to crumbles, Plainview screams at his adopted son that he’s just “a bastard from a basket,” so I’m pretty sure it cancels out.
There Will Be Blood is probably not the first movie that comes to mind when you think “hmm, which film could use a sequel?” but I’d honestly be quite curious to find out how Plainview’s kid turned out.
9) American Beauty (1999)
Lester Burnham isn’t really the worst dad; he’s pretty typical, really. Emotionally estranged from his daughter in high school, generally bored with his life—all of this feeds into the massive midlife crisis and existential dilemma that is American Beauty.
Now, I’ve never been a parent, so it’ll be at least 18 years (and hopefully a few more) before I might know what it’s like to have an 18-year-old daughter with a hot friend. I’m sure I’d notice, maybe even think about it a second too long, but I’d like to think that it’d stop there, that when she walked by, I’d think, “man, if I were in my 20s…,” and then get back to reading The Economist. The fact that Lester obsesses over Angela, to the point of changing his diet and starting a grueling workout regimen, is what qualifies him for this list. The fact that his daughter recognizes his obsession, and he still continues with it—that seals his fate on here.
10) The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014)
One of the last releases of Robin Williams’. I don’t know if he’s actually the angriest man living in Brooklyn, but he definitely scores above average. After discovering that he’s terminally ill and will be dying either very soon or very, very soon, he attempts to record a message to his son on a camcorder, to tell him how much he loves him, but he ends up getting angry and worked up and then he passes out.
He hasn’t had the greatest relationship with his son. Ever since his son told him he was going to pursue a career of dancing, rather than follow his father’s footsteps and join him at his law practice, he’s basically ignored him. He’s not a great husband, either. He’s married to his job, and discovers that (spoiler alert) his wife his having an affair with a much older man (like, in his 70s) who he’d always assumed was just an innocent neighbor. The odd thing: He’s not even that bothered about it. He just wanted to make sure he could have sex with his wife one more time before he died, and the whole affair thing is more or less just an obstacle to that happening. He’s angry to enough to have long ago written off the possibility of a perfect ending to his life.
11) Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
As this is the last movie on the list, I’m going to issue a spoiler alert right here: If you haven’t seen this film, just stop reading the article now and go do so. Now.
Yes: It was directed by a man that sodomized a 13-year-old girl while she was drugged in Jack Nicholson’s bathtub. Either try and ignore that or don’t; maybe knowing that will just make the whole thing creepier, considering how strange it is that a man who committed that crime made one of cinema’s greatest allegories about feminism.
Anyway, the spoiler: The father here is, quite literally, Satan. So, as far as bad dads go, this one probably takes the cake. It doesn’t get any worse than Satan—unless you subscribe to a religious mythology closer to Lovecraftian stuff, in which case maybe there is. (I read At the Mountains of Madness, and I’d rather shake hands with Satan any day than meet whatever the fuck that thing in that novella was.)
The husband is a pretty massive dickhead, too. Actually: Everybody but the main character, played by Mia Farrow (whose involvement with the film led to her divorce from Frank Sinatra, because he felt she was spending too much time at work), is a Grade-A monster. After all, they all (even the fucking nice old people) help to drug Farrow and strap her delirious body to a bed, so that Satan can rape her.
And that’s pretty fucked-up, especially for 1968.
Screengrabs via Netflix | Remix by Joey Keeton