Iron Man tops our Father's Day 2019 picks for best sci-fi and fantasy dads

They might get themselves killed or put their own kids in danger. But we're buying them all ugly ties for Father's Day anyway, at least in spirit.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
6 min read
Watch this: Rad dads of sci-fi and fantasy: A Father's Day tribute

Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for various shows and movies.

Science fiction has a father problem, and if you don't believe it, just sit down and watch the Star Wars saga a few dozen times. Whatever George Lucas' personal therapist is earning, it's probably not enough. Making the Mother's Day version of this list was a lot easier.

Still, if you mix fathers in with those who served as father figures, and open up the list to include fantasy as well as sci-fi, a decent list emerges. Happy Father's Day, boys. Too bad some of you are dead.

Love-you-3000 dad: Tony Stark

Iron Man, a dad? The billionaire playboy, played perfectly by Robert Downey Jr., was always putting his life in danger and heading off to exotic corners of the earth to battle supervillains or aliens or giant robots or whatever. Sure, he cared deeply about Pepper Potts, and he was a definite surrogate father to Spider-Man's Peter Parker, but Tony Stark, family man? 

Surprisingly, he made a great one in Avengers: Endgame, where he was a caring father to young Morgan at the Stark lake house. "I love you 3000," he told her in a touching and memorable line. She lost him far too young, but she's got a cinematic universe full of memories.

Chief dad: Jim Hopper

Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) lost his daughter, Sara, to cancer when she was only 7. That loss obviously changed him, and he began drinking, smoking, sleeping around and overusing anti-anxiety medication. But then Eleven, a young girl whose own parents had been taken from her, showed up in his life. Hopper didn't slip easily into the role of perfect father, and the two had some screaming fights as they tried to find equilibrium. But as Stranger Things' third season approaches, it's clear he'd fight any monster, human or otherwise, to protect the girl who's become his family.

Sheriff dad: Woody from Toy Story

Sheriff Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) isn't really a dad, but then he's not really a sheriff, either. In the world of Toy Story, though, he's easily the loving father figure for not just the kids in his life, but for the other toys, too. Just watch the previews for Toy Story 4, out June 21, and see how Woody welcomes Forky, the somewhat-creepy spork that little Bonnie turned into a toy that only a kid could love. When Forky decides he's hitting the road, it's Woody, naturally, who grabs pal Buzz Lightyear and sets out to bring him back. May we all have a Sheriff Woody in our lives, if not in our toy boxes.

Honorable-till-death dad: Ned Stark

We're still not over it. Now that Game of Thrones has wrapped up, we have to face the fact that we're still not over it. People died in every episode of the HBO hit, often in horrible, bloody, agonizing ways, but no loss has stabbed at the audience's heart as much as that first-season episode where Ned Stark (Sean Bean) loses his head to that sniveling little weasel Joffrey. Even in his last moments, Ned was thinking of his children, trying to save Sansa's life and prevent Arya from seeing his execution. There were plenty of terrible deaths after his (Shireen! Theon! Missandei! HODOR!), but we'll never recover from losing Ned.

Captain dad: Benjamin Sisko

Captain Benjamin Sisko of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" may not get as much attention in the pantheon of Star Trek captains as Kirk or Picard, but when it comes to dadhood, he leads the fleet. He was a dedicated single dad for years to his son Jake, and their relationship brought out the tender humanity of a tough and dedicated officer. "What you see on the screen is real, he's like my own child," actor Avery Brooks said of his relationship with young actor Cirroc Lofton. 

But you wouldn't want to get on his bad side. Just watch this video of various Sisko yelling scenes -- the one where he yells, "You're Starfleet officers, start acting like it!" is recognizable to just about any kid who's managed to get in trouble with dad. 

Watcher dad: Rupert Giles

Rupert Giles wasn't Buffy Summers' father, but as Watcher to her Slayer, he was a father figure few could challenge. His British accent and attitude played perfectly off the down-home all-Americanness of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the rest of the Scooby Gang. Even though Giles admits his childhood dream was to be "a fighter pilot, or possibly a grocer," Watcherdom was in his blood, and for that viewers are thankful. 

Like any parent, he went through a tough time when he thought Buffy had outgrown him, but that proved untrue, though their relationship changed accordingly as she grew into her powers. And he landed some of the show's best lines, as when Xander asks him, "Am I right, Giles?" only to be told, "I'm almost sure you're not, but to be fair, I wasn't listening."

Butler dad: Alfred Pennyworth

Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered when he was young, and the boy who became Batman would've been lost without the father figure he found in butler Alfred Pennyworth, who loved him as his own. Different men played Alfred over the years, and he was drawn differently by comic artists, too. Alfred was sometimes sassy, sometimes cool and collected, sometimes a warrior, but one thing never changed. He loved "young master Wayne" as his own, and fiercely defended both him and Wayne Manor with aplomb. Batman may be the star of the movies and comics, but Alfred is forever their heart.

Super surrogate dad: Adam West's Batman

When  Adam West died in 2017, the classically campy '60s "Batman" series (and film) he starred in received a fresh appreciation. I've already praised West's game tackling of a goofy show that put him in many a bizarre situation, but let's credit him, too, for his fatherly role with young Robin (Burt Ward). Ward delivered the wide-eyed teen helper role with never-ending enthusiasm, but like a good dad, West's Batman struck different notes depending on the situation. He could be just as excited as his young comrade, or play the benevolent teacher and impart (sometimes) useful information, or take on the role of the boss directing the work of a trusted assistant. He never lost a fight, and he never lost his cool. 

Ward remembered West with high praise after West's death, saying, "I loved him. ... All we did was laugh."

Magical dad: Arthur Weasley

Harry Potter lost his parents as a baby, but the second he met Molly and Arthur Weasley, parents of his pal Ron, he knew he'd found a surrogate family. While Molly scolds the boys for taking the unreliable enchanted flying Ford Anglia, Arthur is more interested in getting them to tell him how the car performed. His love for Muggles -- he works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, after all -- makes complete sense in the context of his open, curious personality. Author J.K. Rowling has said she once wanted to kill Arthur off, but thankfully decided to drop the boom on other characters instead, leaving the elder Weasley as the closest thing Harry has to James and Lily Potter. Lucky for Harry, he even got to be related to them, eventually by marrying their daughter Ginny.

Force-ful dad: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

When fans think of fathers and the Star Wars series, they likely think of Darth Vader and Luke, or perhaps now Han and Kylo. Not exactly great father-son experiences. (Yes, Vader had his redemption moment, but too little, too late.) Lucky for Luke he was given several father figures who didn't nearly kill him and chop off his hand. 

There's Yoda, of course, but we're speaking mainly of Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi, played masterfully by Alec Guinness in the original movie. Watch Guinness' nuanced performance as he saves, encourages, cajoles and almost invisibly guides a balky Luke to take his first steps on the path to his destiny -- like a dad would, if he hadn't already turned to the Force-choking dark side.

Super dad: Jonathan Kent

It's tough to be a dad, and it's even tougher to be a dad to a superpowered kid from a planet far, far away. Superman, aka Clark Kent, aka Kal-El, would have been a different being had he not been adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raised the mysterious boy with the morals and strong character that serve him well as he discovers his role in the world. Jonathan Kent's been played by many actors and drawn by many artists (and sometimes given a different first name), but two favorites are the "Smallville" version (played by John "Bo Duke" Schneider) and Golden Age star Glenn Ford playing the role in 1978's "Superman," which starred Christopher Reeve.

Originally published June 16, 2017.
Update, June 13, 2019: Adds new super dads.