Illustration by Dan Henrick

A.V. To Z is an alphabetical survey of a specific realm in pop culture.

While fictional moms are generally, if not always, a cheery, accommodating group, fictional dads are another stereotype altogether. Often distant and aloof, if not cruel, the dads of TV, film, literature, and video games are a dodgy bunch. With Father’s Day on the horizon this weekend, then, what better time to run down The A.V. Club’s picks for the very worst fictional dads? They’re all big jerks, though each in their own special, childhood-ruining way.

A: Jack Arnold, The Wonder Years

Although he’s not the absolute worst dad you’ll see on this list, he set the bar high for the “mad dads” of sitcom television. Played by Dan Lauria, The Wonder Years patriarch worked himself into the ground as a middle-management employee trying to support his family—an admirable feat, but at what cost? Viewers will be hard-pressed to find an episode that doesn’t include a fed-up Jack putting his entire family on edge as he tries to cope with a job he loathes and the rapidly changing culture of the 1960s, an attempt that often ends with an explosion. Though well-intentioned and reminiscent of many real-life fathers, Jack Arnold is not a dad for the faint of heart. [Becca James]

Advertisement

B: Nicholas Brody, Homeland

It’s not exactly Nicholas Brody from Homeland’s fault that he’s such a terrible dad. After all, he was kidnapped and tortured for eight years, brainwashed into being a traitor against his own country. Still, his mission—inspired by the death of a child not his own—becomes far more important than his own family, and he gives some serious thought to terrorist acts. He also, strangely, admits to his daughter that he’s converted to Islam, thereby endangering her as well. At least he dies doing what he loves—spy shit. [Josh Modell]

Advertisement

Runner-up: Lester Burnham, American Beauty

Would you want a father who tried to fuck your bitchy best friend? [Becca James]

C: Craster, Game Of Thrones

Advertisement

Most of the Seven Kingdoms are ruled by despicable dads, from Tywin “Sleeps With The Love Of His Son’s Life” Lannister to Roose “Turns A Blind Eye To His Bastard’s Sadism” Bolton. However, you’ve got to travel north of the Wall to find the worst of them all: Craster. The shady ally to the Night’s Watch may provide safety and shelter to his daughters in his “keep,” but he’s also keeping them all to himself. He takes his own daughters as his wives, forcing them to bear more children, thus making him Westeros’ worst father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. And his sons can forget about tossing the pigskin around with their old man; he leaves the infant boys for dead in the middle of the woods without a fighting chance. Craster’s idea of a “time out” is sending his kids to the White Walkers. He’s such an abhorrent father, even the lawless wildlings look down on his parenting choices. [Cameron Scheetz]

Runner-up: Noah Cross, Chinatown

“She’s my sister/My daughter/My sister/My daughter… She’s my sister and my daughter.” Legendary director John Huston played the most horrifying of patriarchs as the fathering nightmare behind Evelyn (Faye Dunaway)’s claim. The Roman Polanski movie’s most devastating moment is when Cross carries away his daughter/granddaughter Katherine from Chinatown’s final scene, ostensibly to sire yet another generation. [Gwen Ihnat]

Advertisement

D: Denethor II, The Lord Of The Rings

It’s already pretty bad to actively prefer one of your sons over the other one, as Denethor II, the steward of Gondor, does. After a lifetime of preferring the elder Boromir to his younger sibling Faramir, Boromir’s death drives Denethor bonkers (or at least more bonkers than this ass-clown already was). This, of course, is when he tells Faramir he wishes he had died instead of his brother, then sends him on a suicide mission to basically carry out this wish. But when Faramir manages to come back—barely breathing—guess who tries to burn his son alive? Thankfully, Peregrin Took steps in, saves Faramir, and Middle-Earth’s crappiest dad plunges to his death while on fire himself. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving parent. [Alex McCown]

Advertisement

E: Aaron Echolls, Veronica Mars

An exceedingly self-involved mega-actor that both sleeps with and kills his son’s underage girlfriend, Lilly Kane, Aaron Echolls is the definition of a dysfunctional dad. He’s all artifice, a superstar and beloved action-movie legend who spends his nights at home getting drunk and whipping his vaguely disobedient son with a big-buckled belt. All his bad deeds come to a head when Veronica Mars—his son’s new girlfriend/old pal/friendly private eye—discovers he murdered Lilly. Echolls then tries to kill her by locking her in a freezer that he sets on fire, only to be thwarted at the last minute by Mars’ dad, Keith. He’s found not guilty of everything, as movie stars usually are, but he’s later offed by a Kane family employee, thus ridding the world of his special strain of evil forever. Good riddance. [Marah Eakin]

Advertisement

F: Col. Frank Fitts, American Beauty

In fiction, bad dads are often portrayed as the root of a hero’s psychological issues, but we don’t always get to see what makes Dad himself tick. The roots of Col. Frank Fitts’ psychosis, however, emerge in dramatic fashion as American Beauty plays out. For much of the film, Frank (Chris Cooper) comes off as a character one rung above caricature: He’s a strict, homophobic ex-Marine who’s deeply suspicious of his flighty son, Ricky. Frank tests Ricky’s urine twice a year for drug use, and when he finds out that Ricky was snooping in his dad’s prized cabinet of war memorabilia, Frank busts into Ricky’s room and beats the tar out of him. The father’s rage only deepens when he later suspects—wrongly—that Ricky is giving blowjobs to the next-door neighbor, Lester (Kevin Spacey), and he throws his son out of the house. Our image of the Colonel is transformed, though, when he ventures over to Lester’s garage and tentatively offers him a kiss, which adds a revealing layer to Frank’s gay-bashing ways. The only thing worse than a dad who hates his kid is a dad who hates his kid and himself. [John Teti]

Advertisement

G: Gary Gemeaux, The Factory

In the 2012 little-seen John Cusack-vehicle The Factory, Gary Gemeaux (Dallas Roberts) goes around Buffalo, New York abducting women and forcing them to have the children he and his barren wife (another woman he kidnapped earlier on) cannot produce. He confines these women to his basement, placing them under extreme physical and mental duress: He brutally murders one transgender women for “tricking” him, drowns another woman for not being able to provide him with children, and abducts two other women—performing a C-section on one by himself, a true hatchet job completed by a caterer. Gemeaux unfortunately manages to impregnate some of his captives, resulting in three offspring. [Becca James]

Advertisement

H: Michael Henchard, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor Of Casterbridge

It takes a fairly repugnant guy to sell his own wife and daughter at the fair. (And no, the fact that he only received 5 pounds in payment shouldn’t matter.) But to be reunited with both of them years later, only to begin treating his child like garbage in person? That takes some real grade-A shittiness. Right at the end of his life (and the book), he apologizes, which is the epitome of “too little, too late.” Hey, jerks: Maybe don’t wait until you’ve already done your worst to offer up an “Oh, my bad.” [Alex McCown]

Advertisement

I: Immortan Joe, Mad Max: Fury Road

An oil-and-water-wars veteran who forcibly imprisons and rapes five healthy women—his wives, who he also openly refers to as “his property”—in order to create suitable successors to his throne, Immortan Joe isn’t so much a father as he is a cruel genetic dictator. He already has two kids—the smart but disabled Corpus Colossus and the dimwitted but hearty Rictus Erectus—but he’s cruel to the core, determined to further his bloodline no matter what. A plastic-covered psychopath, Immortan Joe is not a guy you’d want as a dad—or as anything, really. [Marah Eakin]

Advertisement

J: Jecht, Final Fantasy X

The main character of Final Fantasy X, Tidus, has played the bizarre sport of “blitzball”—sort of like soccer, except with the players suspended in a huge sphere of water—since he was a little kid. And whenever you have kids playing sports, you also have that overbearing creature, the sports dad. Tidus’ father, Jecht, is an especially ugly example of this species. When Tidus was young, Jecht—a blitzball star himself—would encourage his child with pep talks like, “You’re out of your league!” and, “You can’t do it, kid.” Then Tidus would cry, and a drunken Jecht would make fun of him for crying. It’s no wonder that when Jecht goes missing, Tidus’ mother has to combat her son’s indifference by reminding him that if Jecht dies, “you’ll never be able to tell him how much you hate him.” Eventually, a grown Tidus does indeed get the opportunity to make peace with his dad, right before Jecht transforms into a supernatural uber-beast, because he’s a character in a Final Fantasy game. [John Teti]

K: Kratos, God Of War

Advertisement

Kratos didn’t want to be a bad dad; he just wanted to be a great warrior. But when you make a deal with one of those squirrelly Greek gods—Ares, in this case—you don’t get to control the consequences. An up-and-coming officer in the Spartan army, Kratos’ backstory begins in earnest when he asks Ares to save him from a certain defeat. Kratos needs an extra edge, and nothing tips the scales on the battlefield like a touch of divine mojo. After the amped-up Kratos has run roughshod over his enemies for a while, Ares decides to screw around with the berserker he created, so the god tricks the fighter into killing his own wife and daughter. Oops! Kratos’ tragic slip-up may have earned him a spot on our list, but at least it gives him a badass look, perfect for the God Of War box cover: An oracle curses him to live the rest of his life covered in the white ashes of his slain family, hence his pearly sheen. [John Teti]

L: Lionel Luthor, Smallville

Surprise, surprise: One of the world’s greatest supervillains didn’t exactly have the best dad. The founder of LuthorCorp was a rotten parent right from the start, treating his son coldly from the moment his wife Lillian died. Once Lex began rebelling, Lionel did everything from spying on his son, to putting thousands of people out of work, to placing his son in harm’s way, all in the name of teaching him a lesson. (Read: “Fear and obey Dad.”) Did we mention drugging and throwing his son in a mental asylum? While murder may not be the most moral of revenges, Lex’s eventual patricide is at the very least understandable. [Alex McCown]

Advertisement

M: Bill Maplewood, Happiness

In one of the most disturbing portrayals of a father ever, Dylan Baker plays Bill Maplewood in Todd Solondz’s 1998 film Happiness. There’s no way to dance around it: Maplewood is an unrepentant child rapist who’s hiding in plain sight as a meek suburban dad. When his own son asks him about his assault of neighborhood boys, he replies, “It was great.” When asked, “Would you do it again?” he answers, “Yes.” [Josh Modell]

Advertisement

Runner-up: John Milton, The Devil’s Advocate

Surprise! Your dad is Satan (deftly played by Al Pacino) and moments after you find out, he’s already asking you to fuck your half-sister so she can later spawn the Antichrist. [Becca James]

Advertisement

N: Ozzie Nelson, The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet

Ozzie Nelson may seem like a peculiar inclusion on this list, because on Ozzie And Harriet, he never demonstrated any objectionable parenting techniques whatsoever. But that’s just the problem. The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet lasted for 14 seasons (1952-66) on ABC, which is still the record for an American live-action sitcom. Thanks in part to that success, the show’s milquetoast family became the model for countless imitators in the genre—it’s hard to find a family sitcom from the ’50s and early ’60s that doesn’t feature a kind, bumbling, bland father in the Ozzie Nelson mold. Always home to provide counsel for his sons (Ozzie supposedly has a job in the show’s fiction, but it’s never identified) and perpetually even-keeled, Ozzie set a standard of fatherhood that was impossible for actual fathers to match. In the real world, after all, you have to confront unpleasantness from time to time. [John Teti]

O: O’Doyle, Billy Madison

Throughout the back-to-school Adam Sandler comedy Billy Madison—made in a time when the phrase “Adam Sandler comedy” wasn’t necessarily facetious—the dunderheaded hero is tormented by thuggish boys from the O’Doyle family. Whether they’re hitting Billy in the face with a dodgeball, pouring soup on his head, or filling his locker with manure, the O’Doyle kids all agree on one fundamental truth: “O’Doyle rules!” The source of this bellicose family pride doesn’t become clear until late in the film, when we see the kids piled in the back of a station wagon with their dad at the wheel. “Who rules?” he asks his ginger-haired progeny. When they answer with their usual mantra, we realize that Mr. O’Doyle is the reason that local schoolyard nerds have cowered in fear of the ginger-haired terror. The O’Doyle patriarch does atone for his sins somewhat when he does the world a favor by sending the family Ford hurtling off a cliff. Yes, the car was supposedly diverted by a banana peel, but it sure looks like Dad is in control as he jerks the steering wheel toward oblivion. [John Teti]

Advertisement

P: Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood

“Bastard from a basket!” When those are your father’s final words to you, you know that he’s going down in history as one of the all-time crappy dads. The central character of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece lies, cheats, and kills, but his shoddy treatment of his hearing-impaired son still stands out as one of the most uncomfortable moments of the entire film. All of his machinations have led him to this: Turning on his only family, the one person who still cared about him. Sit down, Daniel Plainview—you’re finished now. [Alex McCown]

Advertisement

Runner-up: Rowan Pope, Scandal

Is Olivia Pope’s father’s worst act faking Maya’s death and keeping mother and daughter apart for years? Ordering the death of the president’s son, a complete innocent? Being the mastermind behind any number of convoluted machinations as the head of B613, the secret American intelligence agency more powerful than the president himself, and putting his own daughter’s life at risk? No, Rowan Pope’s greatest crimes are his incessant diatribes and scenery-chomping monologues, which were fun at first but now bludgeon the life out of any scene he’s in. Rowan is also way too involved in his daughter’s sex life, pulling the strings of her various suitors. [Gwen Ihnat]

Advertisement

Q: Mayor Joe Quimby, The Simpsons

Mayor Quimby’s “secret family”

“Diamond Joe” Quimby is all-around despicable, a caricature of political excesses whose outrageous vices once made him look like the less-preferable alternative to mayoral candidate/thrice-convicted felon Sideshow Bob. That extends to the politician’s home life as well: An unrepentant adulterer, Quimby has fathered children all over Springfield, at one point defending himself from as many as 27 separate paternity suits. He has at least one legitimate son, too, but as seen at the top of season 16’s “Mommie Beerest,” little Joey Quimby doesn’t get as much quality time as some other the other kids in the mayor’s life. Then again, the kids he’s seen treating to brunch in that episode are members of his “secret family,” so even a loving gesture from Daddy Quimby is lined with despicableness (especially if you consider whom he may have asked to call him “Daddy Quimby” over the years). [Erik Adams]

Advertisement

R: Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Since his introduction in the show’s second season, Danny DeVito’s Frank Reynolds has doled out an unending stream of cruelty on his two (or maybe three?) kids. The list of times he’s abused his children is long and varied, but suffice it to say that forcing his son Dennis (Glenn Howerton) to turn tricks for his own monetary gain and setting his daughter Dee (Kaitlin Olson) on fire are good enough to earn him a place on this list. Even though he’s only legally their father, Frank’s presence in their lives has been stifling since childhood, with his egotism and gambling addiction a part of Dennis’ and Dee’s lives from the very start. Couple this with the fact that he may actually be Charlie Kelly’s (Charlie Day) biological father; it places the blame on Frank for Charlie’s status as an illiterate ball of neuroses. Even with him playing an active role in his children’s adult lives, his influence serves only to indulge their worst behaviors as he proves himself to be a wholly destructive influence. [David Anthony]

Advertisement

S: Lou Smith, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

Reappearing after a 14-year absence, Lou Smith immediately takes to winning his son over, with the implied promise that this time he won’t leave his son high and dry. As Uncle Phil (James Avery) predicted, Lou’s intent was never what it seemed, and when the elder Smith attempts to sneak out the door Phil forces him to come clean to his son. After Lou’s exit Will and Phil share a moment so touching that it’s routinely had its impact inflated by nefarious claims that it was all ad-libbed. Even with that rumor long debunked, it remains the type of touching moment only a shitty father could provide. [David Anthony]

Advertisement

T: Jack Torrance, The Shining

Jack Torrance from The Shining—the movie, we’re all picturing Jack Nicholson here—is the only dad on this list that actually tries to murder his family with an ax, which might make him the gold-medal winner. At least he fails, and has a decent excuse for his insanity: He’s possessed by evil spirits that live in the Overlook Hotel. [Josh Modell]

Advertisement

U: Uranus

The Mutilation Of Uranus

Most of the Greek gods were pretty terrible parents, but Uranus the sky god was one of the worst. After impregnating his mother, Gaia, with upward of 20 monstrous offspring, he became so disgusted by the sight of six of them—including the one-eyed Cyclopes and the 100-handed, 50-headed Hecatoncheires—that he stuck them deep inside Gaia, causing her so much pain that she sent another of their sons, Cronus, to castrate his father with a sickle. That’s one version of the story—in another, Uranus simply would not leave poor Gaia and her, uh, fruitfulness alone, necessitating the DIY vasectomy. Either way, Uranus’ severed genitals were then thrown into the sea, where they combined with the sea foam to create Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. So at least he did something right. [Katie Rife]

Advertisement

V: Shane Vendrell, The Shield

Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) was never a good guy on the underrated, massively awesome The Shield. He was a redneck, racist, dirty cop who was loyal to his team—until he wasn’t. But, like a character Goggins would later play—Boyd Crowder on Justified—there was a small sense of goodness in him. His own distorted view of that goodness led him to (massive spoiler alert) murder his wife and young son before killing himself at the end of the series. It was a horrifying shock, precipitated by another bad dad—Vic Mackey, played by Michael Chiklis—who threatened to mess with Vendrell’s family after his inevitable jail sentence. It was heartbreaking to know that there was another way out, but that the character would never see it. [Josh Modell]

Advertisement

Runner-up: Darth Vader, Star Wars

Setting aside all the terrible things Darth Vader did before revealing himself to his son Luke Skywalker, the way he rolled out his true identity was spectacularly insensitive. Why wait until you’ve driven the kid to the edge of the Cloud City reactor core in an intense lightsaber battle to give him the news? Why not invite him out to a neutral, public place—an Imperial Starbucks, maybe—and tell him there, then back off so he can process it in his own way? But Sith Lords aren’t exactly known for their sensitivity, we suppose. [Katie Rife]

Advertisement

W: Harry Wormwood, Matilda

While so many dads on this list are here because they’re violent assholes, Matilda’s Harry Wormwood is here because of the way he repeatedly stomps down his daughter’s hopes and dreams. While Matilda is a brilliant child with a love of books and of life, Wormwood is a sleazy con man who author Roald Dahl describes as looking like “a low-grade bookmaker dressed up for his daughter’s wedding.” Also described as “a cheat and a liar,” Wormwood is a crook who deals in broken-down used cars and cheaply cut corners. Though Matilda shows extreme promise in school, absorbing everything she learns and finding quiet joy in books, he tears her down, telling her in the movie adaptation of the book that, “I’m smart, you’re dumb. I’m big, you’re little. I’m right, you’re wrong. And there’s nothing you can do about it.” It’s an attitude not uncommon in the most egregiously terrible parents, and one that leads—thankfully—to Wormwood eventually getting what’s been coming to him both from Matilda and from the police. He’s also played by Danny DeVito, the only actor to appear on this list twice. [Marah Eakin]

Advertisement

X: Xerxes I, 300

Xerxes I, the villainous king of the Persians in the film 300, was a real-life guy who probably looked nothing like how actor Rodrigo Santoro portrays him in the movie. Of course, Xerxes has been portrayed in fiction numerous times, and he almost always comes out looking awful. (It doesn’t help that many of the historical accounts are Greek in origin—people who didn’t look too kindly on the invading conqueror.) Nonetheless, he had multiple kids from multiple women, and given his power-mad obnoxiousness in 300, it’s safe to say he won’t be winning any “Father Of The Year” awards. “Crazy Person Of The Year” would be more fitting. [Alex McCown]

Advertisement

Y: Yellowbeard, Yellowbeard

It’s not Yellowbeard’s fault that his son Dan (Martin Hewitt) ends up with a treasure map tattooed on his scalp. It was his wife Betty (Madeline Kahn) who made that call, while Yellowbeard was spending 20 years in prison. But the first time the addlebrained pirate meets his kid in the 1983 “Monty Python lite” comedy Yellowbeard, his first instinct is to cut the young man’s head off, and then to tote the shaved, disembodied melon around with him until he finds the treasure. Dan talks his dad out of the decapitation, and joins him on his adventure. Still, as played by Graham Chapman, Captain Yellowbeard never exactly becomes warm and cuddly. His boy remains a means to an end. [Noel Murray]

Advertisement

Z: Alexander Zalachenko, The Girl Who Played With Fire

We know that Lisbeth Salander is a fictional heroine like no other when we meet her in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, with her extreme appearance, unparalleled hacking skills, and isolation from the real world around her, preferring her virtual one. But we don’t discover what made Lisbeth Lisbeth until Tattoo’s first sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, when we meet her deplorable father, criminal mastermind Alexander Zalachenko. The book’s revealing title comes into play as we learn that 12-year-old Lisbeth torched her father to save her mother from his constant abuses. Zalachenko lost his leg in the fire and gained a revenge campaign against his daughter. Their eventual confrontation in Fire results in Lisbeth attacking her father with an ax, then getting shot in the head and buried alive. But the survival instinct is strong in this strange family, as both characters return for book three, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. [Gwen Ihnat]

Advertisement