Illustration by Dave van Patten

Movies We Watched With Dad

Cuz every dad has his favorites

When you think of a “dad movie,” what do you think of? Shameless action films like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon? Beloved classics like The Godfather or Citizen Kane? Fish-out-of-water comedies like Uncle Buck or My Cousin Vinny? Whatever you consider to be a “dad movie,” we wanted to know what dads are actually watching — be it a typical “dad movie” or perhaps an underrated rom-com. We asked the MEL staff and all of the Daddy Issue contributors what movies their dads are quick to turn on, and what it’s like to watch a movie with dad.

My dad loves School of Rock. I didn’t know this was his favorite movie until, one day, he said it out loud. “This is my favorite movie,” he declared as it played for maybe the 100th time in the background on TBS. Even though it played on TBS a lot, my dad would watch it all the way through every single time, without fail. I have a sense he called it his favorite because it was the only movie our family could really enjoy together — my and my mother’s rom-com sensibilities, my little brother’s penchant for cheesy comedy and a shared weakness for little kids playing instruments. It’s not that I don’t believe it was his actual favorite, but it was the only movie we could all agree on and that was good enough for him. — Lindsey Weber

I don’t remember the first time I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail with my dad, which means it’s about as integral to my earliest memories as Looney Tunes and whatever other stuff my parents shared with my brother and me from their own childhood. Dad would recite the dadliest jokes from the movie ad nauseam — the bridge keeper’s questions, the killer bunny, the insulting French guard — even throwing in some Monty Python’s Flying Circus lines like the ones from the Dead Parrot Sketch for good measure (even though it would be years until I actually saw the sketch itself). All of which was great, because those were the jokes that were funniest to an elementary schooler anyway.

Holy Grail was an especially great movie to watch with kids, it turns out, because the sillier gags were a gateway of sorts to appreciating subtler intellectual and absurdist humor (see: the Constitutional Peasant, the other 99 percent of Flying Circus) that became personal favorites later on in life. But that combination of highbrow and lowbrow describes my dad’s sense of humor to a T — goofy shit that’s also deceptively intellectual. (Coincidentally, I just got back from a vacation during which I found a pair of coconut shell halves at a thrift store and brought them back as a souvenir for him.) — Devon Maloney

One of my father’s stranger quirks is that he doesn’t really care for cinema. He doesn’t hate movies, but he doesn’t make a point to seek them out and finds many of them boring. In fact, he tends to shy away from most fiction — his consumption habits almost exclusively include reading Bob Woodward books, screaming at Rush Limbaugh through his car radio and hate-watching Fox News.

He absolutely adores music, however, and I vividly remember him once making us all watch The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s 1978 documentary about The Band’s farewell concert. We were at an Indiana lake house owned by my parents’ close friends Debbie and John, a middle-aged white-collar man who spent his free time playing bass in a classic rock cover band called The Executones. John and my dad watched the documentary with boyish glee, singing along to all the songs and shouting out the names of the various musicians (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris) who sat in with The Band during their final set. It was nothing short of shocking to see my dad in that state. He was a stern disciplinarian, a former high school football coach whose voice could still strike fear in the hearts of young boys. Even my most mischievous friends were exceedingly polite around him. Yet here he was, giggling at a bloated Van Morrison doing drunken high kicks while singing “Caravan.”

Nowadays, The Band is my fallback answer to “What’s your favorite band?” This is partially me being a troll — saying The Band is my favorite band almost always leads to a “Who’s on first?”-type exchange with the person I’m speaking to, because The Band is woefully overlooked by your average music fan. But it’s also kinda true. I don’t know of a single band that’s as endlessly listenable as The Band. Meanwhile, I consider “Caravan” one of the greatest songs ever recorded. These preferences aren’t coincidental. — John McDermott

My dad thinks like and wants to be James Bond. He loves cars, gadgets and, well, Pussy Galore (the character). What that says about him depends upon whom you ask. But I must have been 7 and my brother 5 the first time we watched Goldfinger with my dad. After that, it became a weekend routine. He would hum the theme song from the hallway on Saturday mornings, and before we even saw his face, the play button on the VHS player had been pushed (hardly any other tape was ever inside).

If you were to ask him, I doubt he’d tell you that it’s his favorite movie or even that Sean Connery was his favorite Bond (he’s partial to Pierce Brosnan). But for some reason that was the VHS we had and the one he loved to watch most. We must have watched that movie more than 100 times. A few years ago my brother and I bought him that VHS for Father’s Day as a sort of memento, but it’s been years since the three of us sat in our boxers to watch Connery race a female spy through the Swiss Alps and took turns discussing the science behind body paint and breathing. — Andrew Fiouzi

My dad’s favorite movie was Clueless. He found it to be hysterically funny. He was particularly fond of Cher’s (Alicia Silverstone) father, Mel Horowitz, played by the criminally underrated Dan Hedaya. Mel was someone who, I think, was easy to identify with if you were a father, and was even easier for my dad because they were both Jewish, and my dad loves anybody who’s funny and Jewish.

There was one scene in particular that he continues to quote (and then laughs like a bastard about) to this day: Cher’s friend Tai (played by Brittany Murphy) is sitting, obliviously, in a seat at the head of the Horowitz family dinner table. Mel walks in the room and bellows “Get out of my chair!” at which point Tai immediately reseats herself on the side of the long table. What makes this scene funny was Mel’s terrifying (and terrifyingly funny) over-the-top reaction to his seat being taken, and the speed and smoothness with which Tai immediately switches seats. Because of that movie, “Get out of my chair” will forever be a part of the Gross family lexicon. — Jeff Gross

Before I called my dad to ask him what his favorite movie is, I made four guesses. Turns out, he named them all: “Oh, probably Field of Dreams, Hoop Dreams, Miracle on 34th Street and Hunt for Red October.” The reasons why I love my dad are entirely wrapped up in those four films, all of which I like, too.

Field of Dreams we saw together in Chicago during the summer of 1989, when I was away from home for the first time, for an academic camp, and was badly missing my family. Seeing the film with him forged a bond between us — the story’s father-son dynamics heightened by the separation we were feeling at the time. I can’t imagine he doesn’t think of that Chicago weekend whenever he watches the movie nowadays.

Hoop Dreams was something I introduced him to, taking him to a theater in Los Angeles after it had come out. I knew he’d respond to the storyline — a documentary about two high-school basketball players with NBA aspirations — because it took place in our home state of Illinois and involved hoops. But he also appreciated the film’s chronicling of two families, their struggles and their devotion to one another.

Miracle on 34th Street stars Edmund Gwenn as a man who claims to be the real Santa Claus. It’s a story about believing in the magic of Christmas, but I think for my father it’s also a film about faith. My dad raised me Catholic, and I suspect that he enjoys Miracle partly because it’s about accepting that some things are beyond our understanding. Throughout my life, he’s quoted one of the film’s most famous lines: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

And The Hunt for Red October is just a damn good thriller. The movie is very much like my father: unflashy, smart, wryly funny, utterly dependable. It’s the only film of the four we’ve never watched together. I should rectify that. — Tim Grierson

The only thing I remember watching over and over again with my father were New York Yankee games. There were no movies — just the familiar cadence of Phil Rizzuto’s color commentary over Bill White’s play-by-play. If the Yanks were home, I was directed to hoist a pinstripe flag up the pole in the front yard. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking either, which was a welcome relief for me — an angsty gay teenager sitting alone with his father for long periods of time. The silence was mostly broken up by the swallowing of cheeseburgers and guzzling of shitty chardonnay. I found great comfort watching those games with Dad; I still do. — C. Brian Smith

The rest of my family was never big on movies. I was the one who loved pop culture and television; the one who would rent John Waters’ Hairspray over and over again and beg to stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live. People are stunned when I tell them I’ve never seen any Indiana Jones or James Bond movies, but it’s because they weren’t important to my parents, so they didn’t become important to me.

But I clearly remember the first time my dad showed me Rashomon. Even though he told me how much he loved it, I initially blew him off, uninterested in some old, black-and-white Japanese film. I was quickly drawn in, however, and we sat together and watched Kurosawa’s masterpiece the whole way through. Although at times I found it to be violent, upsetting and a little boring, the value of the movie was what it taught me about my father. The varying perspectives and intricate storytelling appeal to his rational, puzzle-solving mind, as well as his vast capacity for human empathy and passion for justice. When the movie ended, I felt like I understood those parts of him better. Rashomon isn’t my favorite movie, but I’m glad that it’s his. — Eloise LeBel

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