“I learned it from you, Dad”: 15 father-son acting pairs and the movies they appeared in together

“I learned it from you, Dad”: 15 father-son acting pairs and the movies they appeared in together

1. Will and Jaden Smith in The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006)
Will Smith and his 14-year-old son Jaden will star together in the upcoming After Earth—co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose track record of late is none too strong—but the father-son nepotastic relationship goes back quite a ways. Jaden and Will starred as dad and kid in 2006’s The Pursuit Of Happyness, the true-ish story of a homeless guy who must struggle to win a job as a stockbroker while caring for his kid. (Jaden was 8 at the time, playing a 5-year-old; the real-life son was a toddler.) Will was nominated for Academy and Golden Globe Awards for his role, while Jaden was stuck with an MTV Movie Award and a pair of Teen Choice Awards. In After Earth, they'll once again play a father and son in peril, this time on a future version of Earth. (The Shyamalan twist: Jaden is actually the father! No, not really.) 

2. Bob and Chris Elliott, Cabin Boy (1994)
When looking to cast someone to play his incredulous dad in any given project, Chris Elliott never really had to search outside his family tree. Chris cast Bob Elliott, one-half of the comedy duo Bob And Ray, as his dad twice: first in the short-lived-but-much-loved TV series Get A Life, and then again in the well-received-but-box-office-bust Cabin Boy. While Get A Life called for the Elliotts to act out what was presumably just an amped-up version of their actual relationship, Cabin Boy went a step further. As hotel owner William Mayweather, the elder Elliott sends the younger, fancier Nathaniel Mayweather on an ocean adventure. High-sea high jinks ensue, ending with William expressing his eternal disappointment in his son for abandoning his regal ways for a life of fishing and perpetual stench. It’s hopefully not what the relationship is like in real life, but it’s incredibly endearing all the same.

3. Tom and Colin Hanks, That Thing You Do! (1996)
Though Tom Hanks had directed a TV movie in the early ’90s, it wasn’t until 1996’s That Thing You Do! that the mega-movie star really threw his full, genial back into working behind the camera. Though he pops up in the film as manager Mr. White, Hanks main role in That Thing is as director, and as such, he got a little leeway to throw his family into some of the movie’s scenes. Then-19-year-old son Colin, for instance, pops up as a page during the film, escorting Liv Tyler’s Faye from her car to her seat in a TV audience. Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, and daughter Elizabeth Hanks also appear. It’s worth noting that this role was the younger Hanks’ first in a film or on TV, and he’s appeared in a number of things since, including 2001’s Band Of Brothers, of which his dad produced two episodes.

4. Gary and Jake Busey, Straight Time (1978)
Jake Busey’s acting career began in earnest in the ’90s, when he appeared in such films as PCU, The Frighteners, and Starship Troopers. But he made his movie debut at the age of 6 in Straight Time, playing the son of a career criminal (Gary Busey) whose heroin habit causes problems for his recently paroled friend, played by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman sets up a jewelry-store robbery and hires the elder Busey to act as getaway driver, but the panicky junkie leaves the robbers behind, and everything turns to shit. Although Hoffman is sympathetic, his code obliges him to kill his old pal in retribution. The obvious physical and emotional connection that comes through in the Buseys’ moments together onscreen—something that even a trained adult actor would find it difficult to convincingly fake—adds extra poignancy to an act that, in a movie that’s concerned with tracing the roots of ruined lives, amounts to one more boy who’s going to grow up without a father.

5. Henry and Peter Fonda, Wanda Nevada (1979)
Henry Fonda sired a Hollywood dynasty, but it wasn’t until late in life that he appeared onscreen with either of his kids, who were becoming counterculture icons and political activists at the same time that his own career was cooling off, his image becoming staid and square. Peter directed and stars in the weird modern Western Wanda Nevada, in which he plays a gambler who searches for gold in the Grand Canyon after winning his co-star, the 14-year-old Brooke Shields, in a poker game. Henry turns up in a cameo, hiding behind a mangy beard and goggles, as a demented prospector they meet in the desert. Two years later, Henry would co-star with his daughter Jane in his last theatrical feature, On Golden Pond. He won an Oscar for that one, but he looks as if he’s having more fun here.

6. Charles and Michael Chaplin, A King In New York (1957)
Michael Chaplin was in two films that his father both starred in and directed. First came Limelight (1952), which opens with an introductory scene that features brief, unbilled appearances by both Michael and his older sister, Geraldine. Five years later, Charles Chaplin wrote a larger role for his son into A King In New York, the next-to-last film Chaplin directed and the last in which he had the starring role. He plays a king in exile from a mythical country who befriends a precocious 10-year-old, played by Michael. Sadly, the director of The Kid was feeling besieged and in no mood to celebrate the beauty and comedy of childlike innocence, and so Michael plays a prematurely disillusioned, speech-making intellectual whose family is in trouble with Chaplin’s arch-nemesis at the time, the House Committee On Un-American Activities.

7. Ed and Keenan Wynn, The Great Man (1956)
Beloved comedian Ed Wynn and his son Keenan first acted together in Rod Serling’s Requiem For A Heavyweight, produced in 1956 for the live television drama Playhouse 90. In the TV play, Ed, in his debut role as a dramatic actor, portrayed an over-the-hill boxer’s cut man, a kindly old guy who was too saintly for the business he was in, and Keenan played the boxer’s heartless, predatory manager, a role he took so he could be on hand to lend his father moral support during a difficult career transition. Both of them were so effective that the actor-director José Ferrer quickly cast them in his show-business exposé The Great Man, in roles that bore certain similarities to the characters they’d just played.

8. John and Patrick Wayne, The Searchers (1956), The Alamo (1960), Big Jake (1971), etc.
Patrick Wayne’s acting career wasn’t entirely a sidebar to his father’s stardom; he continued to appear on TV and in movies into the 1990s, and starred in the last of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad pictures, Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977). But the first 20 years or so of his filmography are dominated by movies in which he appeared alongside John Wayne, including four—The Alamo, The Comancheros, The Green Berets, and Big Jake—that the Duke reportedly had a hand in directing. The 800-pound gorilla on his IMDB page is John Ford’s much-revered The Searchers, in which his role as an eager but inexperienced young soldier named Lt. Greenhill functions as an in-joke. There’s a Colonel Greenhill off somewhere calling the shots, indicating that the newbie got his job through connections, and the older men torture the lieutenant over it, trying to get him to refer to his commanding officer as “my Pa” instead of “the Colonel.”

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9. Jack and Chris Lemmon, That’s Life! (1986), Dad (1989)
Chris Lemmon made his movie debut with a tiny part in one of his father’s starring vehicles, Airport ’77. Almost 10 years later, he had a larger role, as the son of the despairing, 60ish architect played by Jack Lemmon in Blake Edwards’ That’s Life! (A family affair, That’s Life! co-stars Edwards’ wife, Julie Andrews, and was shot using their Malibu home as a principal location, with a supporting cast that includes two of Edwards’ and Andrews’ daughters and Lemmon’s actress wife, Felicia Farr.) Clearly comfortable with a career lived to some extent in his father’s shadow, Chris Lemmon also appeared in the 1989 family tearjerker Dad, playing his father’s character in flashbacks.

10. Lloyd and Beau Bridges, The Fifth Musketeer (1979); Lloyd and Jeff Bridges, Tucker: The Man And His Dream (1988), Blown Away (1994)
Both Beau and Jeff Bridges got their start in show business on their father’s 1950s TV series Sea Hunt. Lloyd teamed up with his oldest son, Beau, in the oddly cast swashbuckler The Fifth Musketeer, in which Beau plays the dual roles of Louis XIV and Philippe Of Gascone—better known to you kids as the man in the iron mask—while Lloyd, Alan Hale, Jr., José Ferrer, and Cornel Wilde ride to the rescue as the aging Musketeers. Nine years later, when Jeff starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man And His Dream, Lloyd appeared in a small, uncredited role as the villainous U. S. Senator and lackey of the big car manufacturers, who is out to break the heroic Tucker for designing cars that are too good for Detroit’s liking. Jeff and Lloyd had a more substantial, bittersweet team-up six years later in the action film Blown Away. Jeff plays a bomb-disposal expert being stalked by an IRA terrorist, and Lloyd plays his doting Irish uncle, who becomes collateral damage.

11. Stellan and Alexander Skarsgård, Melancholia (2011)
After starring in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, Paul Bettany told interviewers that he’d agreed to do the film only after his close friend Stellan Skarsgård, who had worked with Von Trier on Breaking The Waves and Dancer In The Dark and was also set to appear in Dogville, had assured him that the director’s reputation as a sadistic, bullying lunatic was overblown. Bettany claimed Skarsgård later apologized for having lied to him, saying, “I just couldn’t bear doing it without you.” The fact that both Skarsgårds are in Von Trier’s Melancholia doesn’t necessarily prove that the father’s loyalty to his favorite director outweighs any obligation he has to protect his son, but it kind of suggests as much. In the long wedding-party sequence that takes up the first half of the film, Alexander feeds his virile-sexy-stud image into the shredder by playing the hapless husband whose marriage breaks up after he is cuckolded on his wedding night, while Stellan is the bride’s boss who, in the great tradition of characters played by Stellan Skarsgård, does what he can to make sure a terrible situation keeps getting worse.

12. Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, A Time To Kill (1996)
Although Kiefer Sutherland made his debut in a tiny part in a movie that also featured his father, Max Dugan Returns (1983), since his career has really been underway, the two have only appeared in the same movie once, as part of the cluttered cast of the John Grisham adaptation A Time To Kill (1996). Whatever their personal lives are like, the Sutherlands seem to occupy radically different places in the pop-culture landscape—the father who starred in counterculture movies like M*A*S*H and was part of the anti-Vietnam War revue FTA, and the son who’s had his greatest success as the embodiment of the post-9/11 payback spirit on 24. So it is in this movie, in which Donald plays a lovably dissolute, disbarred Southern lawyer who speaks hard truths in a cornpone accent, while the son, still typecast as villainous or weird, is a mean cracker who reacts to the death of his rapist brother at the hands of a black man by reviving the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

13. Paul and Scott Newman, The Towering Inferno (1974)
None of the supporting players in The Towering Inferno got more attention than Scott Newman, who played an agoraphobic fireman who had to suck it up and rappel down an elevator shaft. The movie starred Scott’s father, Paul, but such was the nature of their relationship that rumors that Paul had gotten Scott the job competed with rumors that the father didn’t know his son was in the cast until he saw him at the wrap party. Having made his debut in one of the biggest hits of the year, Scott Newman appeared in a few other movies and TV shows but died of an overdose of Valium and alcohol in 1978. His family set up a drug-and-alcohol awareness program, the Scott Newman Center, in his honor.

14. Gerard and Guillaume Depardieu, The Wonderful Crook (1975), All The Mornings Of The World (1991), A Loving Father (2002)
Considering the busy schedule Gerard Depardieu has maintained in the French film industry for some 40 years, it would seem peculiar if his son had become an actor and the two of them had never worked on the same film. Guillaume made his film debut at just 4 years old, playing the son of the title character, played by his father, in The Wonderful Crook. 16 years later, they co-starred in Tous Les Matins Du Monde (All The Mornings Of The World), playing the composer Marin Marais at different stages of his life; eight years later, they played the younger and older versions of the hero in a TV miniseries of The Count Of Monte Cristo. They finally had the chance to play different characters and have scenes together in the ironically titled A Loving Father (2002), but a few years later, Gerard announced in a magazine interview that he was publicly disowning his son in reaction to Guillaume’s tabloid antics. Guillaume died from pneumonia in 2008.

15. Jerry and Ben Stiller, Zoolander
Ben Stiller’s send-up of the fashion and modeling industries is decidedly a family affair: His mother, comedian Anne Meara, figures into a brief gag involving an egg and Will Ferrell’s impossibly coiffured designer Mugatu; Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor, co-stars as the reluctant love interest of her husband’s dim-bulb male model, Derek Zoolander. Zoolander is also a comedy wracked with father issues, so it’s fitting that the avatar of paternal disappointment, Jerry Stiller, also appears alongside his son. The elder Stiller comes off looking better than Jon Voight’s grizzled Zoolander family patriarch, however: In the guise of Derek’s manager and surrogate father, he tamps down the fuming presence of his signature role, Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza. He still does plenty of yelling, sure, but it’s a tough-love sort of yelling, possibly a message from the film’s writer-director that his dad isn’t the high-strung grump he played on TV.

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