In real life, loving and supportive fathers run the gamut from fun-loving and goofy to serious and insightful, stay-at-home to daily commuters, biological to chosen, cis to trans, happy-go-lucky to dour and moody.
But in superhero stories, dads tend to fall into one of three categories: emotionally distant, actually evil, or dead. Thor’s father Odin and Iron Man’s father Howard Stark both hide their emotions from their children. Batgirl’s father Commissioner Gordon is too busy cleaning up Gotham to notice that his daughter is Batgirl. The respective fathers of Invincible Mark Grayson, all of the Runaways, and Gamora and Nebula either reveal their evil plans in an unwelcome surprise or taunt their kids with their twisted philosophies. The fathers of the three most iconic superheroes, Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man? They’re all dead.
So it’s pretty exciting when a superhero story not only gives us dads who are alive and not evil but are actually pretty good at being dads. Bucking the trend, some superdads are present for their kids, supportive, and emotionally available.
With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of the best superhero dads from movies and TV (a comics-based list would be much longer and very different). I’ve limited this list to those who fit the definition of good dad described above, and to those whose who aren’t mainly defined in the story by their absence/tragic death. So while film and television have given us some great moments with both of Superman’s dads Jonathan Kent and Jor-El, and I love Linus Roache’s performance as Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins, neither of those guys make the list. I’ve also left off folks who have some loving traits, but ultimately make destructive choices for their children—sorry, Big Daddy from Kick-Ass. Finally, I’ve left off those who are presented as bit players in the background of the larger story.
10. Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy)
And right out of the gate, it looks like I’m breaking my own rules… Okay, I get it. For 100% of The Guardians of the Galaxy and 90% of The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the space pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) treats Star-Lord Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) like an annoying problem he should have solved years ago.
But then comes the end of Guardians 2. Upon learning that his biological father Ego, the Living Planet (Kurt Russell) loves him only for the way he mirrors himself, Peter comes to realize that he owes so much more to the example set for him by Yondu—something Yondu himself acknowledges by telling Peter, “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy. I’m sorry that I didn’t do none of it right.”
While that line could be dismissed as an emotional sledgehammer to slam audience sympathies into place, it comes at the end of a journey of self-discovery by Yondu. Through his relationship with Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Yondu realizes that he’s spent much of his life pushing away those he loved, including Peter. No, he doesn’t make up for every wrong he’s done to Peter, but Yondu does own up to his mistakes and offer some of the most important words a father can say to a child: “I’m sorry.”
9. Tony Stark (Avengers: Endgame)
…On the other end of the spectrum, we have Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who barely makes this list for the opposite reason: whereas Yondu takes decades to finally embrace the value of his relationship with Peter Quill, we only get a tiny glimpse into Stark’s time as a father. For most of our time with the MCU Tony, he’s arrogant and hedonistic. Across his three solo films, Tony learns how to be self-sacrificing and less controlling. In his other MCU appearances, Tony’s arc shows him learning how to be a mentor and a leader, most notably through his interactions with Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
After the five-year-jump in Avengers: Endgame, Tony has moved on. Having traded in his fancy life among the New York elite for a quiet country home with his wife Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), Tony now puts his family above everything else, including raising his little daughter Morgan (Lexi Rabe). It can be argued that Morgan, who only appears in two scenes with Tony, exists only to add schmaltzy stakes to Iron Man’s story, like a cute kid added into the final seasons of a dying sitcom.
But that misses the role Morgan plays in Tony’s story. His love for her not only inspires him to participate in the Avengers’ time heist and help them restore their loved ones but also drives him to do it right, to make sure that she’s not erased. With Morgan, Tony becomes the man he was always meant to be, even when he was partying and shooting dice in Vegas: a charming and brilliant person, committed to bringing up the next generation into a better world.
8. Clark Kent (Superman & Lois)
For decades now, writers have worried that Superman doesn’t connect with modern audiences. “He’s too perfect, he’s too invincible,” these writers complain, and they’ve tried to change Superman to reimagine him for these readers/viewers. Some of these changes were relatively successful, such as the not-quite-invincible Superman from John Byrne’s Man of Steel comics and the Justice League cartoon show. But more often than not, these creators took the boring and easy way out by making Superman angsty, if not outright evil.
But over the past ten years, it seems writers have finally figured out a better plan: make Superman a dad. Yes, this conceit had a disastrous beginning in the (otherwise pretty good) Superman Returns, which makes Superman into a deadbeat. However, since longtime Superman scribe Dan Jurgens gave Superman and Lois a son, Jon Kent, in Convergence #2 (2015), writers have reimagined the Man of Steel as fallible and vulnerable, without taking away his power.
The CW series Superman & Lois doubles down on this approach by giving Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) two sons, Jonathan and Jordan (played by Jordan Elsass and Alex Garfin, respectively). Each week, the show brings us plenty of super-powered, multidimensional action. But its real tension comes from watching Superman being honest with and supportive of his sons, making his love for them into both a strength and a vulnerability more immediate than exposure to kryptonite.
7. Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning)
If Superman ever needs help balancing the role of being a superhero while raising super-powered kids, he can always seek out advice from his fellow Arrowverse hero Black Lightning (Cress Williams). Like Superman, Black Lightning devotes both his civilian and superhero lives to inspiring others, in the former case by serving as a high school principal devoted to the safety and wellbeing of his students.
Much of the series’ best episodes follow Jefferson as he does his best to support and guide his daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), a task made more difficult when they both manifest their own powers. Throughout the show’s four seasons, Jefferson makes mistakes and often disagrees with his daughters. But he never acts out of anything but love and respect for them, even as he sometimes struggles with their identities as the superheroes Thunder and Lightning.
No episode better illustrates this dynamic than when Jennifer discovers her electrical powers towards the end of season one. After Black Lightning is killed in an attack from Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) and Painkiller (Jordan Calloway), Anissa fends them off using her Thunder powers while Jennifer uses electricity to recharge her father. Although the scene is full of larger-than-life superhero action, complete with powers and costumes, it is at its heart a moment of two women seeing their father at his weakest and restoring him through their love.
6. Trigon (Teen Titans Go!)
Yes, Trigon is a demonic overlord from an alternate dimension who constantly tries to turn the Earth into a burning hellscape. But as Teen Titans Go! reminds us, he’s really just a dorky dad who loves his daughter Raven.
Okay, I admit that the rubric I described earlier should preclude Trigon’s inclusion on this list. But there’s one thing that Trigon has going for him, something possessed by no other superdad: he’s an unrepentant dork. With his doofy smile and terminally uncool sweater vest, Trigon represents quintessential dad-ness, without a very handsome Paul Rudd or Jesse L. Martin around to make it look cool.
Plus, he truly wants the best for his daughter. And for a demon man, what could be better than destroying the earth and swallowing the souls of her friends? It all shows that he does care.
5. Scott Lang (Ant-Man)
Like many cute kids in superhero stories, Cassie Lang (Abby Ryder Forston) runs the risk of being seen as a plot device meant to shave off any rough edges of ex-convict Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). But director Peyton Reed and his team of screenwriters manage to make the father and daughter relationship feel vibrant and complex. That’s especially true when it comes to Scott’s relationship with Cassie’s mom, his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer, underused once again), and her step-dad Jim (Bobby Cannavale), who are always able to put aside their differences to do what’s best for her.
In fact, it’s Cassie who consistently brings Scott back to reality, no matter how far out things get. That grounding happens literally on a plot level, when his thoughts of his daughter pull Scott out of the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and when a teenage Cassie (played by Emma Fuhrmann) reorients him after the Blip in Avengers: Endgame. All that, and he builds a giant ant-maze to keep Cassie entertained while he’s under house arrest!
Throughout his several movie appearances, Scott has been a thief, a superhero, a time-traveler, and a convict—but each time, we’re reminded that “father” is the identity closest to his heart.
4. Victor Vásquez (Shazam!)
In a lot of ways, Shazam! is a strange, uneven movie. Parts of it are genuinely delightful, with Zachary Levi playing an adult superhero with the mind of young teen Billy Batson (Asher Angel). In between these goofy scenes, director David F. Sandberg pulls from his horror roots to film some genuinely upsetting stuff, including the villainous Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) unleashing demon hoards on his enemies.
These tonal shifts paint a picture of a world filled with both wonder and real darkness, while the presence of the latter makes kindness all the more important and necessary. And that emphasis on kindness means that Billy Batson’s foster parents Victor and Rosa Vásquez become two of the movie’s most important heroes. Cooper Andrews plays the part with a gentleness to match his sizable frame, making Victor the warm-hearted center of a buzzing foster family which includes Billy’s five new brothers and sisters.
No matter what horrible things happen to Billy, including a heart-breaking revelation about his mother, Victor is there for him. Striking the perfect balance between giving the boy enough space and offering attentive support, Victor is an ideal model for bringing love and hope into a sometimes cruel world.
3. Joe West (The Flash)
On paper, making Joe West the adoptive father of Barry Allen seems like a disastrous idea. Not only does the move solidify the relatively recent revision to Barry’s origin story, in which his father Henry was framed for the murder of his mother Nora, but it makes things a bit odd when it comes to the love of Barry’s life, Iris West. I mean, aren’t they basically brother and sister now?
But after one look at Joe’s proud, loving smile, and all those pesky questions go away. We’re just happy that Barry has someone in his life who loves him that much. Played as a sentient ball of kindness by Jessie L. Martin, Joe West endures with a smile every weird plot thread the long-running CW series throws at him, including multiple realities, another speedster son, and a daughter who develops mental abilities while still in utero.
Like any CW show that runs past two seasons, The Flash gets pretty silly, and like any story about Barry Allen, audiences are asked to forgive some pretty bonehead moves. But we watch it all just so we can see Joe give Barry one more proud, beaming smile.
2. Mr. Incredible (The Incredibles)
In the world of The Incredibles, superheroes are born, not made. But as the two films have shown us, super dads face more of a learning curve. And that’s not always an easy process for Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), a guy who seems to have everything. After all, when we meet him at the start of the original The Incredibles, he’s the world’s greatest superhero, loved by all.
But throughout The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2, Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, must radically alter his self-perception and his goals. In the first film, Bob lets his desire for the good old days lead him right into a villain’s trap, one he only escapes by realizing his love for his family. In Incredibles 2, Bob takes the next (and most important) step, moving out of the spotlight and into a very unfamiliar role, becoming the homemaker while his wife Helen, aka Elastagirl (Holly Hunter), brings home the bacon.
And you know what? He does a great job! Yes, he’s barely keeping the kids alive and hardly saving the house from destruction, but sometimes that’s a superheroic feat all by itself. And rather than throw a fit and run off to pamper his fractured ego, Mr. Incredible does the best he can for his family, and that’s about as incredible as it gets.
1. Jefferson Davis (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Honestly, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) shot straight to the top of this list on the back of the “I love you, dad” scene alone. Rather than let his son (Shameik Moore) walk alone through the old neighborhood, Davis picks up Miles and drives him right to the front of his fancy new science school. And then, he refuses to leave until everyone can hear father and son exchange “I love you’s.”
Of course, the moment mortifies Miles, and it is very funny. But that’s not what the scene is about. Jefferson isn’t trying to embarrass his son. He’s making sure that Miles knows that his father is proud of him and that he should also be proud of all he’s accomplished. He doesn’t want Miles to care about all those eyes on him, all those great expectations that he feels.
Nothing captures that better than the scene right before the film’s climax after the other Spiders have webbed up and left Miles behind, convinced that he can’t do what they need him to do. Still caught in the webbing, unable to move or talk, Miles listens as his dad comes to the door to reconcile after a fight and talk about the death of his brother Aaron, Miles’s beloved uncle. In one of the most emotionally vulnerable scenes in any superhero film, Jefferson lays it all out. He doesn’t force Miles to answer him, he doesn’t lash out. Instead, he admits his sorrows and his fears, but most importantly, he expresses the immense pride he feels for his son: “I see this spark in you—it’s amazing, it’s why I push you. But it’s yours. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll be great.”
In that one scene, Jefferson captures both the joy and pain of being a father. It can hurt to love someone so much, to see greatness in them that no one else sees, not even the child themselves. And yet, it’s the most exciting and humbling thing in the world to know that you get the responsibility of helping that person make their own way in the world.
Being a dad is a great responsibility that’s not always embraced in superhero movies, but I can’t imagine anyone doing it better than Jefferson Davis in Into the Spider-Verse.