After our thank you to bad-ass moms for Mother’s Day, we’re following up with a similar list of wasteland dads! These men are kicking ass and taking names while also taking care of their children. A heavy task, but these guys don’t shy away from doing what’s right for their kids, no matter what they come up against or the sacrifices they have to make (usually their own lives). Thanks, dads and happy Father’s Day!
I’ve tried to refrain from spoilers.
The Father – The Road (2006 book, Cormac McCarthy / 2009 film)
This is the quintessential post-apocalypse read and watch for fans of the genre. Both the Pulitzer Prize-Winning book by Cormac McCarthy and the performance of Viggo Mortensen in the film adaptation depict a father with a steadfast love for his son that never wavers. Part of what makes the story so heart-wrenching is how we’re made to feel the same despair and hope that the father undergoes as he tries to find a place where his son can grow up safe.
Train to Busan (2016)
In this Korean zombie film, father Seo Seok-woo is taking his daughter to his ex-wife in Busan. Along the way, the train becomes overrun by zombies. Along with being a great horror movie, the relationship between Seok-woo and his daughter Su-an is the classic distant father realizing the error of his ways.
You can also check out the (somewhat) sequel: Peninsula.
Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead (TV Series)
It wouldn’t be a list of post-apocalyptic dads if we didn’t include Rick. While the jokes about his calling for his son Carl near-constantly have spawned many memes, no one can refute Rick’s devotion to his sons and daughter as he battles hordes of zombies (and worse – humans) to keep them safe. Because it’s Father’s Day, I’ve found a terrible Dad joke version of the meme for you to enjoy (?).
Joel – Last of Us (Video Game, 2013)
If you haven’t had a chance to play this game, you should check it out before the TV Show drops. The story follows bereaved father Joel as he is tasked with protecting a young girl, Ellie, through a zombie-like post-apocalyptic future. A story of a father learning to take on that role again, the game has both emotional depth and compulsive gameplay. There was also a Part II released in 2020.
Jack Hall – The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
It’s not often we get a (fairly) family-friendly apocalypse movie, but this is one that you could enjoy with almost everyone. The climate disaster film focuses on Jack, a paleoclimatologist (played by Dennis Quaid) who is attempting to rescue his son Sam (a young Jake Gyllenhaal) from a tidal wave and subsequent rapid freezing disaster in New York City. A fun movie with great special effects for the time, it was the sixth highest-grossing movie of 2004, paving the way for many copycat climate disaster movies.
Lee – A Quiet Place (2018)
Like his counterpart in the Mother’s Day list, Lee is a resourceful, intelligent, and loving parent to his children, despite suffering a heavy loss. A father who tries his hardest to teach his kids to survive in the new world they find themselves in, he’s also willing to do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
Check out our other piece about when and where to stream the Sequel!
Tallahassee – Zombieland (2009)
It’s sometimes hard to remember that Woody Harrelson is a three-time academy award nominee, given his zany and exuberant character acting in Zombieland. It’s a testament to his acting skill that he’s able to give an otherwise hilarious movie a real tear-jerker moment when Tallahassee talks about losing his son to the zombie menace. As such, it’s nice to see him bond with Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock (while also insulting the often weak-willed Columbus).
Jake the Dog – Adventure Time (TV Series)
Yes, Jake the Dog from the show Adventure Time is a dad. In season 5 (2013), we find out that Jake has become a father to five children with his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn. A rather hilarious (and surprisingly touching) episode for anyone who has adapted to becoming a father, Jake overcomes a steep learning curve (especially when it’s revealed his children have special powers).
Matthew Cotter – A Wrinkle in the Skin (by John Christoper, 1965)
It wouldn’t be a list curated by me unless there was some obscure book included! A Wrinkle in the Skin (also known as The Ragged Edge) is terse, dark, and contains many tropes of the genre as we know them today. Matthew is a horticulturalist travelling through an earthquake-ravaged Europe to reach England to find his daughter. It’s definitely not an uplifting tale, but it is a great example of early post-apocalyptic fiction.
Max Rockatansky – Mad Max (1979)
Of course, I didn’t forget Max! In the first movie, which is more dystopian than post-apocalyptic, police officer Max has a wife and child whom he tries desperately to protect from gang members intent on violence. A considerably darker movie than its sequels, Mad Max explains why Max is the way he is around kids (especially feral ones) in Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome. Reference is also made to Max’s child in Fury Road.
Ray Ferrier – The War of the Worlds (2005)
One of those almost-apocalypse movies, the 2005 movie is based on the original H.G. Wells book from 1897 (which I highly recommend). Tom Cruise’s Ray is, like the father in Train to Busan, one of those estranged movie fathers who learns the value of parenting after his children are placed in peril. A non-gory take on an alien invasion, it’s an action movie you can watch with older kids (though, to be honest, Mars Attacks! is my preferred alien-invasion movie).
It’s a great way to both relax on Father’s Day and spend time with the kids!