The way fathers have been portrayed in film, literature, and TV has evolved throughout the decades. While sitcoms tend to box them into having more goofy, bumbling personalities (a departure from the more macho, strict figures of years’ past), there’s no one way to paint a father in pop culture, as the stark difference between Captain von Trapp and Gomez Addams will show. For Father’s Day, we’ve rounded up 12 iconic fictional dads from books, movies, and TV shows, and peppered in their best quotes as well.
Victor Hugo’s 'Les Misérables' features characters from almost every walk of life, all easily becoming iconic figures of literature, but today the spotlight is on Jean Valjean. Hugo’s protagonist is kind and compassionate, and even as he’d become hardened after spending years in prison for stealing a piece of bread to feed his sister’s children, his heart never faltered. He eventually adopts Cosette, and gives her a loving, comfortable life.
His best quote: “I am reaching, but I fall, and the night is closing in, as I stare into the void, into the whirlpool of my sin. I’ll escape now from the world, from the world of Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean is nothing now! Another story must begin!”
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George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life
Christmas classic 'It’s A Wonderful Life' tells the story of George Bailey, a man, father, and husband who gives up his dreams to help others. In the beginning of the movie, he contemplates suicide, but his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, shows him just how beautiful a life he’s led, touching the lives of so many people and being such a loving and doting husband and father to his wife, Mary, and their children.
His best quote: “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word, and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.”
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Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s 'To Kill A Mockingbird' has given the world yet another great fictional dad hero, Atticus Finch, played on screen by the dashing Gregory Peck. He’s a single father to Jem and Scout, and his disposition as a lawyer—kind, fair, and just—follows his values and principles at home.
His best quote: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
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Captain von Trapp, The Sound of Music
Okay, so he’s not entirely fictional, but Captain von Trapp as portrayed specifically by Christopher Plummer in the 1965 film adaptation of 'The Sound of Music' is one of the most iconic fictional fathers in pop culture. He might have been cold and distant for a time because of the death of his wife, but upon meeting Maria, he returns to his old charming, kind self: A man who loves music, his children, and his country.
His best quote: Is not actually a quote, and is instead a wordless, angry shot of him ripping apart a Nazi flag.
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Gomez Addams, The Addams Family
When I think of Gomez Addams, I immediately think of a husband who would go to great lengths for his wife, but that doesn’t mean Gomez isn’t an iconic fictional dad. His gentle, sensual masculinity is never threatening to his wife, Morticia, and his contentment and happiness with family life and his children is clear as day whether you’re watching the movies, the television shows, or the musical.
His best quote: “I would die for her. I would kill for her. Either way, what bliss.”
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Maxwell Sheffield, The Nanny
Maxwell Sheffield may have fallen into the trap of the bumbling, goofy father of television, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there when his kids needed him. Like Captain von Trapp, he became a different person upon the death of his wife, but once that flashy girl from Flushing waltzed into his life, he once again became his old, lively self.
His best quote: “If I found a woman who loved my children, could make me laugh and that I found attractive, well, I’d never let her go.”
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Uncle Phil, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Like Uncle Ben, Uncle Phil wasn’t the protagonist’s biological dad, but the way he raised and treated Will like his own shows just how wonderful and great of a human and father he is. He is loving and kind, selfless and encouraging, and there’s no one else we’d want as a father figure for Will—or anyone else, for that matter.
His best quote: “Will is not a coat that you hang in the closet then pick it up when you’re ready to wear it. His life goes on! He’s not supposed to be here for you, you’re supposed to be here for him!”
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Uncle Ben, Spider-Man
Uncle Ben may not have been Peter’s biological dad, but he treated Peter like he was his very own. If it hadn’t been for him, Peter probably would’ve just been a boy with spider powers, not using his special abilities for good. There’s just no denying the impact that Uncle Ben and his subsequent death had on Peter.
His best quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
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Gus Portokalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
In 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' Toula’s dad is reminiscent of every other immigrant dad who just wants the best for his children and his family. He may have some old-fashioned values, but at the end of the day, his love for Toula rises above everything else. Don’t tell me you watched the end of this film and *didn’t* tear up when he gave Toula and Ian—spoiler alert!—a deed to their own home.
His best quote: “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.”
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Luke Danes, Gilmore Girls
Before Luke found out that he was a dad to April, he’d already been one to Lorelai’s very own, Rory. On her birthdays he would blow up balloons and prepare her favorite meals, and showed up at every single important occasion in her life: her graduation from Chilton, her birthday parties, and her move to Yale. He may be the town grump, but there’s no denying that he has a soft spot for the Gilmore girls, and is so much more of a dad to Rory than Christopher—her actual dad—will ever be.
His best quote: “Today, whatever you want, on the house,” he tells Rory on her birthday. “Wow, I feel important,” she says. “You are important,” he replies.
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Sam, Bill, and Harry, Mamma Mia!
The entire premise of 'Mamma Mia!' is one of the most absurd things in the world, and yet I absolutely love it. Sophie is getting married, and she sends out three invitations to three different men whom she suspects is her father. She was sure she’d know the moment she sees them, but when they arrive, she is absolutely puzzled. It doesn’t matter though, because all three of them are her dads, and they all love and cherish their shared daughter and their daughter’s mom, Donna.
Their best quotes: “Look what you’ve done with the place,” Bill tells Sophie. Her husband, Sky, jumps in. “She wanted to make her mum proud,” he says. “As if she hasn’t done that all her life,” Harry interjects, and there are tears streaming down my face.
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Randall Pearson, This Is Us
As dad to three daughters, Randall struggles with anxiety and perfectionism, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a devoted and loving parent. Throughout his life he’s had challenges and difficulties, just like everyone else, but he makes sure to approach everything with, first and foremost, love, kindness, and respect.
His best quote: “All you can do as a parent is try to pack the days with as much good stuff as possible and hope that it outweighs the bad.”