Fathers and daughters have a special relationship in the movies, sentimentalized to the extreme in movies like the original Father of the Bride, with Spencer Tracy doting on Elizabeth Taylor. That movie came out in 1950, just as the first great decade for science fiction cinema was getting started. Every monster / space flick of the era seemed to feature a brainy but befuddled scientist with a beautiful daughter, waiting to be kissed by the police officer / brave citizen / gun-toting hero. The fathers were protective; the daughters needed to be protected.
As the decades have passed, the idea of "Daddy's Little Girl" hasn't progressed very much. Women have played more warriors and have safeguarded their own daughters, but when it comes to the father / daughter dynamic, very few relationships have been portrayed with much subtlety or depth. For a mainstream comparison, take a look at Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness, in which Mel Gibson plays a Boston police detective seeking vengeance for the murder of his daughter. The film is a tight thriller featuring an abundance of dramatic flavor. What drives the narrative forward, however, is Gibson's memory of his lost adult daughter as a little girl, the darling child with shaving cream on her face, shaving with a comb in imitation of her loving father.
Here are the top sci-fi fathers and daughters, the highlights and low lights of the genre's least appreciated family relationship.
1. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Darth Vader doesn't have any kind of relationship with his daughter as his daughter -- he thinks she's the enemy -- but it's the mere threat that he will have one that whips Luke Skywalker into a frenzy. Surely the blood shared by Darth and Leia informs the entire series.
Gordon Douglas' giant ant flick remains one of my favorites, in part because of Edmund Gwenn's performance as Dr. Harold Medford. He relies upon his lovely daughter Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon) for familial assistance, but has great respect for her intelligence as well, never discounting her ideas.
3. The Host
Even though Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is not a great success in life, he loves his daughter Hyun-seo (Ko Ah-sung) dearly. Through all the disappointments that he's faced, through all the times that he's screwed up, she's always been there, the one good thing that he's ever done. When a giant monster, spawned from a scientific experiment gone wrong, emerges from the Han River in Seoul, Korea, and snatches his daughter, Gang-du fights for her like a madman.
In Ang Lee's 2003 movie version, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) is a fleshed-out companion to Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) -- imagine having her as your ex-girlfriend -- and a real pebble in the shoe to her father, General Ross (Sam Elliott). Unfortunately, more attention is paid to Bruce Banner and his father, but I prefer the drama between Betty and The General.
Young Ellie (Jena Malone) has a warm and loving father (David Morse) who encourages her love of astronomy. Their relationship is cut short by the unexpected death of her parents, but the adult Ellie (Jodie Foster) is constantly being boxed in by men who try to act like father figures, David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt) and Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey). But no one can replace her father in her affections.
6. War of the Worlds (2005)
Make her stop! Young Rachel (Dakota Fanning) emits piercing, high-pitched screams at regular intervals, trying the patience of her father Ray (Tom Cruise), who is dealing with the dissolution of his family and, you know, the possible extinction of the entire human race. As troublesome as Ray's dealings with his rebellious teenage son and ex-wife prove to be, it's Rachel who gives him hope and motivation to become a better man and a better father.
7. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Though not related by blood -- and not members of the same species -- Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and E.T. form a more perfect bond than any absent father could ever hope to fulfill. Sure, Gertie has to compete for attention with her two older brothers, and E.T. seems to have a special connection with Elliott, but I'd argue that Elliott and E.T. are each other's B.F.F., while the wizened alien and the excitable Gertie play out more convincingly as parent and child.
8. Independence Day
President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) must comfort his child and save the free world after an alien invasion. The President always makes time for his daughter Patty (Mae Whitman), who hardly seems fazed at a worldwide disaster and the possible loss of her mother. She is what we call plucky, and it's for her benefit, in part, that the Prez is resolved to defeat the enemy, no matter the odds.
9. Deep Impact
Possibly one of the most annoying and cloying father/daughter relationships in cinematic history is the one between newscaster Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) and her father Jason (Maximilian Schell). She resents the damage he's done to her mother and hates the man he's become in her eyes; he's unapologetic and self-serving. They may be dysfunctional, yet they're still family, and are irresistibly drawn together.
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Director Stanley Kubrick's daughter Vivian plays Squirt, the daughter of Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester). She appears only briefly when Floyd calls her from outer space to wish her a happy birthday back on Earth, proving that distance can never keep loving fathers and daughters apart. (Capture from the film thanks to Timothy's posterous.)