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Movies Starring Real-Life Fathers and Daughters, Ranked

Ewan McGregor’s new film is personal for him. The story of a father and daughter on a road trip, “Bleeding Love” examines these characters’ frayed relationship as they try to heal old wounds. But while the drama isn’t strictly autobiographical, some of its themes — addiction, the trauma of divorce on children — definitely echo McGregor’s own life. Making those themes even more resonant is the fact that his daughter in the film is played by his real-life daughter Clara, who co-wrote the original story. 

Those who check out “Bleeding Love” will undoubtedly be intrigued by the real-world parallels. (Both Ewan and Clara have battled addiction, and she made some inflammatory comments when her dad divorced her mother and married actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.) But the two of them seem to be in a better place today, although the movie can, at times, feel like them exorcizing past tensions, struggling their way toward reconciliation.

This is hardly the first movie in which an actual father and daughter both appear — and, perhaps not surprisingly, they often play father and daughter on screen. In honor of “Bleeding Love,” I decided to rank the most famous examples of real-life father-daughter pairings. I only picked films in which the two actors have significant screen time. (Brad Pitt’s baby daughter was briefly in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and Will Smith’s girl Willow has a cameo in “Legend,” so for my purposes, those films don’t count.) One word of warning: Most of these movies run the gamut from terrible to mediocre. But the two that top this list are beloved classics. 

6. Johnny Depp and Lily-Rose Depp: “Yoga Hosers” (2016)

Before Johnny Depp’s legal issues and money woes — before his ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of physical and sexual abuse — his career was already in serious trouble. In the mid-2010s, after a series of bombs, he inexplicably appeared in some forgettable Kevin Smith horror-comedies as Guy LaPointe, a wacky manhunter and detective. Hiding behind makeup and prosthetics, Depp first showed up in “Tusk,” which briefly featured his daughter Lily-Rose, but she had a starring role in the follow-up, “Yoga Hosers,” in which she and her equally yoga-obsessed pal (Kevin’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith) have to do battle with evil forces, helped by Guy. Creatively, this was a profoundly fallow period for Johnny Depp, who seemed interested only in amusing himself with his self-indulgent acting stunts, but nobody comes off well in this disastrously unfunny film. 

5. Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray Cyrus: “Hannah Montana: The Movie” (2009)

Depending on how old you are, Miley Cyrus may be someone you initially thought of as “the daughter of that country singer who did ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’” But as Miley has become a legitimate, grown-up pop star in her own right — she recently won the Grammy for Record of the Year for “Flowers” — it might be easy to forget that she started out as the kid on the Disney Channel sitcom “Hannah Montana,” in which she played a seemingly ordinary teen whose alter ego is that of the world-famous singer Hannah Montana.

On the heels of the show’s success, Disney decided to adapt the program into a feature-length film, which once again starred Cyrus and her dad Billy Ray, who portrayed her concerned, corny father. “Hannah Montana: The Movie” was a run-of-the-mill star vehicle, although they have a cute rapport. Still, it’s clear that music is this family’s specialty — not acting.

4. Angelina Jolie and Jon Voight: “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001)

When Angelina Jolie was a girl, she appeared briefly in her dad’s movie “Lookin’ to Get Out.” But as Jolie became an A-lister, she returned the favor, with Jon Voight playing her father in the first Lara Croft film. At the start of “Tomb Raider,” Lara believes he is dead, but after seeing him in a dream, she goes on an adventure, eventually granted one last chance to speak to him. 

The film was a standard early-21st-century blockbuster, but it set the stage for a tabloid spectacle when, a year later, Voight spoke with the press, declaring, “I’ve been trying to reach my daughter and get her help, and I have failed and I’m sorry.” Jolie sent out her own statement, which said in part, “I don’t want to make public the reasons for my bad relationship with my father. After all these years, I have determined that it is not healthy for me to be around my father.” 

What was the cause of their friction? Voight suspected it was because he cheated on Jolie’s mother when she was a baby, while others assumed it was because of their very different political views. (He’s a major Trump supporter.) But in recent years, the two have tried to mend fences, with Jolie saying in 2017, “We don’t really talk politics well. We talk art very well.”

3. Clara McGregor and Ewan McGregor: “Bleeding Love” (2023)

Ewan McGregor and his daughter Clara have stressed that “Bleeding Love” isn’t autobiographical, but Ewan’s sorrow and guilt as this unnamed father definitely suggests an acknowledgment of the pain he caused Clara when he left her mother for another woman. Unfortunately, this tender drama is mostly interesting because of who’s playing the main characters — the story’s emotional high points aren’t especially searing, and the road-trip narrative turns out to be fairly predictable. Still, there’s something undeniably raw about the performances, suggesting that the film was a form of therapy for Clara and her dad. “Bleeding Love” may not add up to much, but one can’t help but hope it did the two of them some good.

2. Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda: “On Golden Pond” (1981)

Two-time Oscar-winner Jane Fonda snatched up the rights to Ernest Thompson’s Tony-nominated play for one reason: She wanted to make it as a film with her dad. Fonda had not always had the closest relationship with her father, Hollywood legend Henry, but “On Golden Pond” allowed them to work out their issues in a drama that, in some ways, mirrored their own. The story of an aging husband (Henry Fonda) and wife (Katharine Hepburn) who reluctantly look after their daughter’s boyfriend’s kid, the film at its heart is about a father and his adult child finally reconciling, which Jane was keen to do in real life. In fact, during a pivotal scene between the characters, Jane improvised a line.

“I purposely did something that hadn’t been rehearsed because I wanted him to be surprised,” she said last year. “And when I said, ‘I want to be your friend’ and I touched his arm … he flinches. … I saw that he was emotional.” That moment, and the movie as a whole, has inspired waterworks in viewers for decades, especially for anyone who wishes they could say something similar to their estranged parents. (Henry Fonda died three months after winning Best Actor. He wasn’t well enough to attend the ceremony, but his daughter tearfully accepted in his place.) 

1. Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal: “Paper Moon” (1973)

As enjoyable a movie as “Paper Moon” is, it’s difficult to separate its considerable merits from the heartbreak that visited Tatum O’Neal afterward. She had never acted before, going on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as a 10-year-old — still the youngest person to take home the Oscar. In this Peter Bogdanovich gem, she plays Addie, an orphan who teams up with a con artist, Moses (Tatum’s dad Ryan O’Neal), to run scams across the Midwest in the 1930s. It’s a remarkable performance, especially from someone so inexperienced and so young, but she and her father made for a rollicking comedic pair, Addie constantly putting Moses in his place. 

But the film’s commercial and critical success, along with Ryan's behavior, put a permanent strain on their relationship. “He loved me,” she said last year, “but then hated me, because I won the Academy Award.” Tatum O’Neal battled addiction, while her father had a series of troubled romantic relationships, struggling to be faithful to his partners, and reportedly being abusive to some of them. (In 2009, he admitted that when his longtime lover Farrah Fawcett died, at the funeral he hit on a “beautiful blonde woman,” not realizing it was Tatum.) 

When Ryan O’Neal died in December 2023, Tatum wrote, “I’ll miss him forever and I feel very lucky that we ended on such good terms.” For fans of “Paper Moon,” it was a relatively happy ending that few would have expected, although their rocky real-life relationship will always add an extra poignance to this quintessential 1970s film.

Tim Grierson

Tim Grierson is the Senior U.S. Critic for Screen International

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