This is the only minor cheat of this list, but it’s a damn worthy one. Melvin Van Peebles’ raw and influential blaxploitation flick opens with young Sweet Sweetback (played by Melvin’s son, Mario) loosing his virginity in a brothel. Years later, Melvin plays Sweetback as a bad brother stickin’ it to the man. So, while the two technically don’t appear on screen together, both father and son are memorable in their respective roles.
Ryan & Tatum O’Neal – Paper Moon (1973)
Although the off screen relationship between this pair was often disastrous, both O’Neals did great work in Peter Bogdanovich’s classic. As a result, Tatum famously became the youngest Oscar winner in history when she nabbed Best Supporting Actress.
Henry & Jane Fonda – On Golden Pond (1981)
Henry Fonda was known not to get along with many people, his children included. One might be so bold to suggest that the estranged relationship between Henry and Jane Fonda’s characters in On Golden Pond was not dissimilar to their own, and perhaps their working together acted as a sort of catharsis. Either way, watching Jane graciously accept her father’s Oscar for this film, just five months before he died, lends us to believe that all’s well that ends well.
Martin & Charlie Sheen – Wall Street (1987)
This might be my favorite pair on this list, as I think both Sheens delivered truly phenomenal work in Wall Street. I love the wildly contrasting business ethics of Bud and Carl Fox. The son, Bud wants to make more, to earn more, to be more. The father, Carl is fine simply being himself. The arguments between them prove to be the basis for Wall Street’s moral center. Without a dad like Carl, would Bud have fallen too far?
Diane Ladd & Laura Dern – Wild at Heart (1990)
If Martin and Charlie Sheen are the “best” on this list, then Diane Ladd and Laura Dern have to be the most fun. With daughter playing as a punch-drunk, love-obsessed, sex-crazed goddess and mother as a manic-depressive, bat shit crazy, insatiably jealous matriarch. David Lynch knew what he was doing when he decided to play these two off one another. Priceless. (Note: Ladd and Dern deliver exceptional and far more restrained performances in Rambling Rose.)
Janet Leigh & Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween H20: 20 Yeas Later (1998)
I know, I know, this mother/daughter combo have much more substantial screen time with each other in John Carpenter’s The Fog. But I LOVE their brief time together in this Halloween sequel.
“If I could be maternal for a moment,” Leigh tells Curtis. “We’ve all had bad things happen to us. The trick is to concentrate on today.”
The way the score slightly ventures to Bernard Herrmann, the sight of Leigh’s car... ahh, the pleasure of self-reflexive slight of hand.
Jerry & Ben Stiller – Zoolander (2001)
“I got a prostate the size of a honeydew and the head full of bad memories. It’s time to set things straight.”
Know what old Jerry set straight? That he can still go toe-to-toe with all the contemporary comic greats.
Will & Jaden Smith – The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
You know what I love most about Will Smith’s work in The Pursuit of Happyness? The fact that he wasn’t afraid to be a dick to his son. He yells out of frustration and neglects out of distraction, painting an authentic picture of a grown man in great duress. There’s an honesty to Will’s work in this movie that isn’t found in many of his performances. Which, in turn, appears to have upped Jaden’s game significantly.
Tom & Colin Hanks – The Great Buck Howard (2008)
The Great Buck Howard isn’t a particularly great movie, but it does contain two memorable scenes of father and son. The film centers on Colin Hanks’ character dropping out of law school to “go for it” in L.A. Poppa shows up twice to give his son a stern lesson in life. The kind of lesson in which your father tells you life doesn’t always turn out how you want it to, but you stick with it despite. Money over opportunity. Success over dreams. They’re two honest moments in an otherwise forgettable film.
Stellan & Alexander Skarsgård – Melancholia (2011)
Although this father/son pair don’t share many moments together in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, they both deliver rather solid performances. Alexander steps in as the carefree, aimless husband to Kirsten Dunst’s depressive Justine, while Stellan plays Justine’s complete asshole of a boss. Both are perfectly amusing for very different reasons, and remind us that this is one hell of a talented family.