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This Was the Year Dad Movies Ruled the Multiplex

This Was the Year Dad Movies Ruled the Multiplex

So we still didn’t get a Master and Commander sequel— but dads (and every other fan of dad movies) got just about everything they could ask for from Hollywood this year. Boats, cars, great men of history, World War II—these are dad-movie perennials, and 2023 ticked every box. (And to reiterate,you don’t have to be a dad in order to enjoy dad movies—they’re for the dad in all of us.)

Remember Ford V Ferrari, from 2019? Undeniably great dad movie, with high production values, straightforward storytelling, and a great script about dedicated car guys (one played by dad-movies icon Matt Damon) who just wanted to go fast. That was directed by James Mangold—who returned in 2023 with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which probably fits somewhere on this year’s dad-movie continuum, though not in the first ballot. And like the old, somehow-not-apocryphal story about James Cameron pitching an Alien sequel by writing the original title on a chalkboard, adding an “S,” and then turning it into a dollar sign, it feels like maybe Ferrari started with director Michael Mann writing “Ford V. Ferrari” on the board, and then erasing everything but the last word.

The title isn’t the only similarity. Ferrari, which stars Adam Driver and opens Christmas Day, depicts some of the same races from the same time period—when Enzo Ferrari flirted with Ford for extra capital to save his company—albeit from the other side. Not since dad-movie titan Clint Eastwood gave us two takes on the Battle of Iwo Jima (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, both in 2006) have we squeezed two dad movies from a single historical event in such a short time period. As the director of Heat, The Insider, Collateral, and Last of the Mohicans, among others, it’s not like Michael Mann especially needed a car movie to add to his dad-movie-director bona fides, but no one’s complaining.

In a similar fashion, Master and Commander famously reported in its opening crawl, “Napoleon is master of Europe. Only the British fleet stands before him. Oceans are now battlefields”—just typing those words gives this dad goosebumps—it raised one important question: What about the actual battlefields? We now have an answer, courtesy of Ridley Scott and his almost-three-hour-long epic Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the famous Frenchman (okay, he was actually Corsican, but let’s not get into all that.) Sure, the film may have spent more time on Napoleon’s relationship with Josephine (Vanessa Kirby) at the expense of some of the battlefield stuff dads crave, but it still gave us a full Austerlitz scene complete with cannonballs destroying an icy lake and entombing an entire cavalry division. The sequence was memorable enough to rival great battle scenes from dad movies past, like Braveheart (“Hold…”) and Gladiator (“At my signal, unleash hell.”).

At the very least, Scott gave us two and a half hours of Napoleona, and for anyone who was still left wanting more, he has also promised a four-hour director’s cut that will run on Apple TV. That’s enough Napoleon content to make any dad-movie enthusiast shout “I was just resting my eyes!”

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