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TV and Movie Dads From the ’80s and ’90s, Ranked

The live-action dads we love, and the ones we love to hate.

Sarah Burns · about 1 month ago

A father’s role is complex: They’re part teacher, part playmate, and sometimes, part disciplinarian. They’re widely known for dispensing knowledge and wisdom to the best of their abilities, fixing broken toys when they can, and having corny one-liners at the ready.

But what makes a dad a GREAT dad? In real life, that’s pretty hard to pin down, but in TV and movies — where everything is oversimplified — dad traits can be broken down to a few basic extremes: 

The Barely There Dad

Al Bundy

Sony Pictures

Sometimes this dad swoops in at the very end to provide fatherly advice; other times he just pops up long enough to do a classic bumbling dad thing and then say something like , “Sorry sweetie!” over some canned laughter. This kind of dad is either the star of the show, or around just long enough to remind the audience that these kids they’ve been watching do indeed have a dad.

The Overbearing Dad

Major Dad

CBS

On the other hand there are some dads who will just NOT go away. It’s wonderful to have a great relationship with your dad, but at some point it’s kind of weird that dear ol’ Dad is just hangin’ out with his kids and his kids’ friends all the time and often behaving like the kids he’s (in theory) supposed to be watching. 

The Boorish Dad

Tim the Tool Man Taylor

ABC

This character is often referred to as a “man’s man.” He has a “Man Cave,” retreats to the garage, shuns all housework, and most of the childrearing — except for doling out punishments. 

The Bookish Dad

Steven Keaton

NBC Productions

He’s sensitive and nurturing, he listens to the kids, and he takes on the housework with ease because mom has a high-powered job that keeps her busy. When they’re not giving pep-talks to the kids, or sparking audience laughter with their adept reversal of traditional gender roles, these dads are often shown reading the newspaper, or enjoying a book in their home office, before inevitably being interrupted by whatever shenanigans the plot requires. 

With that in mind, we present to you 20 dads from the ’80s and ’90s, and where they fall on our extremely scientific Matrix of Dadliness:

The Dad Matrix

Sony Pictures; ABC, NBC Productions; CBS; The Walt Disney Company; 20th Century FOX; TriStar Pictures

Uncle Phil

Uncle Phil

NBC Productions

Stern but fair. Generous. Accepting. Wise. Uncle Phil clearly loved his family, and he even spoiled them on occasion. Despite his occasional temper (avoid him when he’s got that look!) Uncle Phil would admit when he was wrong, was willing to listen, and had a great balance of being a part of his kids’ lives, and knowing when to butt out. 

Dan Conner

Dan Conner

ABC

Anyone who puts up with Roseanne for that long must be a saint. Dan was goofy, usually broke, but would do anything for any of his kids, and while his character started out as couch-locked, beer-guzzling, and lazy, Dan grew over the years and was depicted cooking meals and doing household chores without it being the butt of the joke.

Carl Winslow

IMG 6320

ABC

With neighbors like Urkle, who needs enemies? Carl is remembered for the occasional temper tantrum, but with the insanity of his house almost being destroyed multiple times, one could hardly blame him.

Jack Torrance

IMG 6335

AllStar Warner/Bros. Entertainment

Going insane and trying to kill your family ain’t gonna earn you a No.1 Dad mug, that’s for sure.

Darth Vader

Darth Vader

The Walt Disney Company

He doesn’t even bother trying to be a part of his kids’ lives until they’re old enough to bring into the family business. One could make the argument that he didn’t know he had a daughter due to some complications with The Force, but either way, trying to kill all your kids' friends is totally not cool.

Ray Barone

Ray Barone

CBS

I didn’t forget to include him on this matrix. He’s not there because he’s basically still a child himself. Grow up, Ray!