A recent edition of Max Read's newsletter presented what he called "notes toward a theory of the Dad Thriller" — an aesthetic discussion of a unique filmic subgenre that, though common, has not been sufficiently defined by critics. Enter: the Dad Thriller. You know the type of shit, that Dads just love:
The Dad Thriller was a genre of movie made by Hollywood studios in the 1990s1, marketed mainly to men and presented sincerely if not always accurately as intelligent and sophisticated entertainment. The Dad Thriller draws on courtroom dramas, spy movies, the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, and the action blockbusters of the 1980s. (See Fig. 1.) The vibe is "action movie you might be able to convince your wife to see because it's sort of about politics, science, and/or legal stuff."
Though the genre is capacious and its borders porous, Dad Thrillers share certain thematic and narrative concerns. They are generally stories of men, often with families, professional degrees, and successful careers, who find themselves unexpectedly battling bureaucracy, conspiracy, irrational violence, imminent natural disaster, or some combination of the above as they confront an existential threat to their, their family, their country, or their planet's safety.
The Dad Thriller is adjacent to, but distinct from the blockbuster action, science-fiction, or disaster movie, specifically due to the veneer of political or moral sophistication attached to the Dad Thriller. (Admittedly, this can be a subtle distinction. As an example: While Deep Impact is a Dad Thriller, Armageddon likely isn't.) While there are many independent and foreign movies that share themes and concerns with Dad Thrillers, the Dad Thriller is specifically a product of Hollywood studios and the attendant culture machine.
There's something here, too, about the commodification of a certain kind of American masculinity, that explains why the Dad Thriller genre has avoided such trope-y categorization thus far. These are the type of films that appeal to Boomer Men in particular, who have largely lived in a culture that assumes them as the "default" or "norm." Thus, while Dad Thrillers might be as formulaic as a Lifetime movie, they've been treated with a certain reverence that makes it culturally taboo to dismiss them for their clear commercial qualities.
Read goes impressively in-depth with his taxonomical film analysis of the Dad Thriller genre. He even makes charts:
If this sounds like it's up your alley, the whole post is worth a read:
'90s Dad Thrillers: a List [Max Read / Read Max]
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