This past Father’s Day, I decided to sit down and have a sort of movie marathon with my dad. As we sat down in front of the TV, my dad quickly noticed something: almost all of his favorite films were playing on the different cable networks that we had. He was ecstatic, I was less so. In recent years, and specifically in the last few years that I had worked at movie theatres, I have noticed a trend in the films that my dad, and many other dads/men around his age, seem to enjoy.
The Ringer posted a fantastic article late last November, titled “Introducing the Dad Movie Hall of Fame.” In the article, the various writers debate which films should go into this hypothetical hall of fame, eventually deciding on various sports biographies and war films. However, in their piece, I believe they missed three crucial film franchises that are essential to the “dad film” canon.
There are three film franchises that my dad seems to love above the rest: the Jack Reacher franchise (Jack Reacher, dir. Christopher McQuarrie, 2012 and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, dir. Edward Zwick, 2016); the John Wick franchise (three films so far all directed by Chad Stahelski, 2014-2019); and the Jason Bourne franchise (five films, all directed by different people, 2002-2016). As I worked in my movie theatres, I noticed that the people buying tickets for the new releases from these franchises all seemed to look and act similarly to my dad. It was no coincidence that these franchises all happened to be playing on Father’s Day then, since they all appeal to this dad demographic.
The main characters in these films are all so similar that it is almost difficult to tell them apart. Both Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne are characters adapted from action novels, where as John Wick is a fully original character. Reacher and Bourne seem to be the most alike, as both had experiences with the military and tend to go on covert missions as part of their job descriptions. Bourne also has some similarities with Wick since both of their character arcs deal with vengeance and become assassins or hitmen. Sometimes the characters have a love interest, sometimes they are fighting on behalf of their love interest. They all travel around Europe and somehow all have to deal with Eastern European criminals. All of the characters share the same traits: they are headstrong, they are loyal, they have strong morals, and they all seem to work outside of the justice system and use a sort of vigilante justice, which is what this demographic seems to love. They seem to enjoy characters that do the right thing, no matter the circumstance, and want to try to emulate.
The films themselves are also filmed in a similar style. These films all fall under the action/thriller genre, which means they typically rely on large elaborate scenes filled with fights, weapons, dangerous looking stunts, sweeping camera angles, and quick cuts. These set pieces are used to drive the action of the story forward, to build conflict between their chosen main character and whatever enemy they have to fight. The use of these scenes, however, usually means that the plots of the films are simplified to a concept: Bourne has to find out the truth behind his past, Reacher has to independently investigate a crime, Wick has to find and kill the people who killed his dog. The films focus on one thing, their need for their idea of justice, and form a plot around that specific trait.
The combination of the simplified and similar plots, the similar versions of characters, and the elaborate fight scenes could be why these film franchises appeal to this dad demographic. The films with their simplified plots are fairly easy to follow along (in case dads fall asleep during a scene), the fight scenes are exciting to watch (and, if the scenes are loud enough, can wake up dads from that short nap), and the characters are people that they want to be.
The “dad film” canon just continues to grow with the additions of these similar film franchises and will forever be on television at the same time every Father’s Day.