Parenting can be an extremely hard gig. This will be ring true to anyone in the world who has children, and even truer to those of us out there who struggle to be everything society teaches us a parent should be. However, even though it's probably the hardest job in the world, it's also the most rewarding one! The relationships formed between mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are incredible, and most parents in this world will do anything and everything for their kids. Because they love them unconditionally.
Sadly, however, this is not always the case in the real world, and there are plenty of terrible parents out there. This also applies to the movies, which have shown us all manner of godawful parents over the years! It doesn't matter what type of film it is or what genre it exists in; chances are, there will be some sort of familial relationship at play. It's just a universal theme.
This has meant that, in cinematic history, we've had bad parents of all shapes and sizes; from supervillains who spend more time thinking about how to conquer the world than looking after their children, to the more realistic depictions of broken people who perpetuate a cycle of abuse on their kids.
This quiz will cover the length and breadth of cinema. How many truly bad cinematic parents can you match to the movies they appeared in?
These parents left their young son behind when they went on holiday...twice
Leaving one of your children behind to fend for himself while the family goes on holiday is pretty bad parenting. That's a given. However, considering it was a complete accident, and the parents do everything in their power over the course of the film to get home to their son, maybe we could forgive it. But then they did it again in the sequel! Poor Kevin McAllister was left behind in New York City to face the same amusingly incompetent criminals he faced in the first movie! Come on, Mr and Mrs McAllister! Twice?!
This dad went loopy and terrorised his wife and son in a spooky hotel
"HERE'S JOHNNY!" Admittedly, this bad dad's murderous tendencies were not entirely of his own choosing. He did chase his wife and child all over the scary hotel they were staying in with an axe and tried to kill them on multiple occasions, though. So, yeah, the ghosts at the Overlook Hotel effectively drove Jack Torrance to madness. Under normal circumstances we might be inclined to forgive ol' Jack...except there's also that scene where we find out he dislocated his son's shoulder during a drinking binge, before even stepping foot in the hotel... Bad dad!
This psycho father subjected his daughter's fiance to all manner of awful treatment
This bad dad appeared in all three movies of a beloved modern franchise and, while the character was undoubtedly hilarious and a signature comedy role for Robert De Niro...he was an awful, awful parent. Witness his stubborn refusal to learn any lessons from his mistakes, across all three movies. Witness him being openly hostile to his future son-in-law (and anyone else he feels isn't good enough for his beloved daughter Pam). Witness him repeatedly interfere in their relationship, including accusing his son-in-law of infidelity and insulting his parenting skills. And then there was the time he hooked him up to a lie detector and grilled him...on the very first weekend they ever met! Yikes.
Cate Blanchett played the ultimate cruel stepmother here
In 2015 Kenneth Branagh directed a live-action version of this classic fairytale, which had previously been a beloved Disney animated movie. Cate Blanchett took on the role of the wicked stepmother to Lily James' good-natured and magical stepdaughter. Her father remarries after his wife dies, and lets just say he chooses badly! Lady Tremaine, played by Blanchett, is jealous and cruel, and when the father also dies, she forces her to do all the chores in the house and forbids her from eating with the family.
This supervillain barely even paid any attention to his maladjusted son
Another supervillain bad dad here! What is it with supervillains being terrible parents? Or having terrible parents themselves? Willem Dafoe played Norman Osborn in this 2002 superhero smash hit, the billionaire owner of Oscorp and something of a mad scientist. Naturally, he experiments with a drug developed by his company, goes insane and becomes the villainous Green Goblin. But that's not before being seriously absent in the parenting department to his surly teen son Harry (played by James Franco). Poor Harry felt so neglected by, but also loyal to his dad, that it led to him becoming a supervillain too!
This hapless PI kept involving his daughter in dangerous cases
Another comical deadbeat dad here, in the handsome form of Ryan Gosling! In this wonderful 1970's set Private Eye movie, Gosling played down-on-his-luck PI Holland March, a man who wakes up, fully clothed, in a bathtub full of water at the beginning of the movie. Clearly, this is a man who likes the sauce. Unfortunately, he also seems to like involving his precocious daughter Holly in his often dangerous cases. Yes, he does make vain, half-hearted attempts to tell her to stay away, but she still winds up in harms way several times during the movie.
This mother's 'Munchausen syndrome by proxy' (where she was keeping her own daughter sick) was exposed
This was quite an upsetting piece of cinematic bad parenting. Coming around halfway through M. Night Shyamalan's breakthrough spooky drama, we follow young Cole (the boy who can see dead people) as he is convinced to actually listen to the ghosts he is seeing, as they might be trying to tell him something. He talks to one, a young girl who died of a chronic illness. He goes to her funeral reception at her home, and is led to a videotape which shows footage of her mother poisoning her food. He shows this tape to the father, thereby saving the girl's sister's life.
This scientist dad had a knack for zapping his children with his experimental technology
Mercifully, after a few heavy entries, we're back in 'madcap funny bad dad' territory for this entry. Phew! In 1989, nerdy funnyman Rick Moranis played inventor Wayne Szalinski for the first time; he would go on to portray the character twice more in sequels. In the first movie, Wayne accidentally zapped his two children (and his neighbour's kids) down to a quarter of an inch with his electromagnetic shrink ray. He then threw them out with the trash, and they had to navigate their way back into the house. Whoops!
These rich parents kept their deformed baby in a cage, then dumped him in the sewers
This despicable display of parenting comes before the opening credits of this dark superhero movie, as we see how the main villain of the film came into this world. Born with some physical deformities, including flippers instead of hands and a grotesque long, hooked nose, he was kept in a cage by his parents, who regarded him with horror. They then took him out into the city in his baby carriage...and dumped him in the sewers! It's only by sheer dumb luck that he survived to become the supervillain we would all grow to know! Shocking.
This alcoholic trailer-park mom had a complicated relationship with her son
In this semi-autobiographical 2002 drama, rapper Eminem played a fictionalised version of himself as he grew up as an aspiring rapper in Michigan. In the movie his name was Jimmy 'B-Rabbit' Smith Jr and he lived in a run-down trailer park home with his alcoholic mother Stephanie (Kim Basinger), sister Lily and mom's abusive live-in boyfriend Greg (played by the future General Zod, Michael Shannon). Basinger plays the role somewhere between love and exasperation, and it's obvious that life has beaten her down; but she still ain't exactly mother of the year material!
This evil space dad cut off his own son's hand
This case of poor cinematic parenting is one of the most famous of all time. Which makes sense, considering the bad dad in question is the most evil and feared villain in a galaxy far, far away. Ahem. The hero of the series, of course, spends almost the entirety of the first two movies with no idea that the villain was actually his pops, And when that reveal comes, towards the end of the second movie...it's a doozy. "NNNOOOOOO!!!"
This vicious mother routinely verbally and physically abuses her overweight daughter
This searing 2009 drama, which was based on a 1996 novel by Sapphire, featured a breakout performance by Gabourey Sidibe as the title character, an overweight and illiterate 16 year old who is pregnant with her own father's baby for the second time. The fact that her own dad sexually abuses her is grim and hard to watch, but the film then also shows the emotional and physical abuse she suffers at the hands of her mother Mary (played by Mo'Nique). The film is a difficult watch, but ultimately is an important and amazingly acted story.
This bad parent actually shot his daughter in the chest while 'training' her
We begin our quiz with a parent who truly loves his daughter, and devotes his life to training her to become a hero who can fight the evils of this world. Of course, his training methods may involve teaching her how to brutally murder people. And he makes sure she knows what it feels like to be shot in the chest. You know, so she'll avoid it in future. "A handgun bullet travels at more than 700 miles an hour. So at close range like this, the force is going to take you off your feet, for sure. But it's really no more painful than a punch in the chest," Oh dear!
This step-dad emotionally and physically abuses his step-son
Speaking of being an awful step-dad... Robert De Niro makes his second appearance in this quiz for his performance as the vile Dwight Hansen, the abusive stepfather to young Tobias Wolff (played, in an early role, by none other than Leonardo DiCaprio) in this 1993 drama. De Niro and DiCaprio, arguably the two best actors of their respective generations, are spellbinding in the film, and the story of the ongoing battle between their characters is riveting. The movie was actually based on a memoir by the real Tobias Wolff, an esteemed American author.
This eccentric oddball screws up all of his kids with his bad parenting
Gene Hackman plays the truly atrocious dad in question here, in this quirky 2002 Wes Anderson comedy drama. He plays the patriarch of a family of three child prodigies: Chas is a math genius, Richie is an expert tennis player, and adopted daughter Margot won a grant for a play she wrote in Ninth Grade. None of this stops Hackman from leaving the family, however, before coming back into their lives when they are screwed-up adults. But how does he win back their affections? Well, by faking stomach cancer, of course! Yeesh.
This religious zealot physically and mentally tortured her sheltered daughter
This 1976 horror movie is a stone-cold classic. Directed by Brian De Palma (Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables) and based on a book by Stephen King, it features one of cinema's most memorably malevolent mothers. Margaret White is a religious zealot and highly abusive mother, who locks her scared and naive daughter in a small closet whenever she starts her period; it's the result of sinful thoughts, after all. Hell, Margaret is so awful that when her daughter begins to develop telekinetic powers and takes her revenge on her mother, the audience is totally cheering her on (even when it gets pretty grisly)!
"If you're not first...you're last."
Gary Cole plays a brilliantly terrible father in this Will Ferrell comedy. We see in flashbacks early in the film that Cole said something extremely important to his impressionable son: 'If you're not first, you're last.' Words to live by, right? We thought so, and so did Ferrell's character. Until his dad came back into his life and told him he didn't even remember saying that phrase. You know, the one his son based his whole life around. And why didn't he remember? Because he was probably high at the time!
This abusive dad played a part in making his son a rampaging monster
We're back in superhero movie territory for this entry, only this time it's the hero himself who had daddy issues. Pretty big ones, too! Eric Bana played Dr Bruce Banner, a scientist experimenting with gamma radiation. It transpired over the course of the film that his biological father (played with perfect menace by Nick Nolte) had also experimented on himself in years previous with animal DNA, and had passed it on to his son biologically. We also find out he was physically abusive to Bruce, and then he transforms into a big electrical monster at the end of the film and fights Bruce to the death. As you do.
This guy might have been the ultimate supervillain, but he was a dismal dad
Mike Myers has created some genuinely iconic comedy characters over the course of his career. For our money, though, the finest is Dr Evil, his Blofeld-inspired take on a James Bond supervillain. Dr Evil is constantly coming up with schemes for world domination, which he concocts in his evil lair (sometimes a hollowed-out volcano and sometimes a submarine). However, in the second movie in the franchise, we truly see him as he really is: a deadbeat dad to his son Scott Evil, who was genetically engineered in a lab but simply isn't evil enough for his dear old dad's liking. Tragic.
This politician mother brainwashed her own son
We finish off our quiz with an honest-to-goodness brainwashing from a mother to a son. Which, we think you'll all agree, isn't cool. At all. Meryl Streep played Eleanor Shaw in the 2004 movie (which was a remake of the 1962 original). She is a US Senator and is extremely manipulative and ruthless, and we see how she uses mind control to maneuver her son Raymond (Liev Schreiber) into place to become President Of The United States. Oh, and she also uses trigger words to 'activate' him into killing people who get in her way. Nasty.
This All-American mom was actually a vicious serial killer
Kathleen Turner played Beverly Sutphin in this cult classic black comedy from 1994. Beverly appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be a typical suburban housewife. She was married to Eugene, a dentist, and they lived in blissful domesticity with their teenage children Misty and Chip. However, Beverly was secret a maniacal serial killer, who couldn't seem to stop herself from murdering people over even the most trivial of things. She ran her son's math teacher over with her car, and bludgeoned her neighbour to death with a leg of lamb!
The Wormwood's treated their genius daughter horribly
Harry and Zinnia Wormwood are truly terrible parents. In this 1996 adaptation of a best-selling children's novel, we watch them routinely mock their daughter, who is a genius, and refuse to let her go to school. They ignore her most of the time, while Harry is at work, Zinnia is at bingo, and brother Michael is at school. And, worst of all, Harry rips up her library copy of Moby Dick and forces her to watch televsion instead. Talk about stifling a child's gift!
This bad mom's influence over her deranged son can be felt from beyond the grave
Any mother who can screw up her son so badly that he grows up to become a serial killer who dresses in her clothes and speaks in her voice MUST have been a particularly special brand of awful. Congratulations Norma Bates, you are a unique breed! Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 horror movie is a masterclass in tension, and features a superb performance from Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the psychologically damaged killer in question. We even find out that Norman exhumed mom's body (whom he had killed), and kept it in their house, treating his abusive mother as if she was still alive. Creepy!
This hitman gets his son caught up in his dangerous world
Tom Hanks is one of cinema's greatest actors. He also is an immensely likeable on-screen, and you'd be hard pressed to find a movie in which he played an out-and-out villain. However, in this 2002 crime film directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty), Hanks is cast somewhat against type. He plays a hitman for the Irish mob in 1931 who seeks vengeance against the gangsters who killed his wife and young son Peter. So, he is avenging his family? That doesn't make him a bad dad, right? Well, the problem is that he takes his other son, 12 year old Michael Jr with him on his path of vengeance, putting him in mortal danger on more than one occasion.
This killer step-dad pursues his step-children after killing their mother
We're going all the way back to 1955 for this story of a corrupt Reverend who becomes a serial killer, travelling town to town while preaching his own brand of religion. He marries the widow of a criminal he shared a cell with, as he believes the widow's children know where a large sum of money was hidden by their criminal father before he died. He then murders the mother and chases the children down the river after he finds out the money is hidden inside a toy doll. Now that...that is some pretty awful step-parenting!