In the Dad Zone: Actors who Rocked Father Roles

Whether they've been typecast as feckless bumblers, incurable workaholics, lone wolves or toxic bachelors in the past, some guys know when to snap into dad mode. At the right age and mindset when the right role comes along, they step up and take the challenge. And it can pay off big.

Many of the following actors had already played characters with kids, but that's a lot different from truly parenting on the big screen. In honor of Father's Day, they deserve kudos for catching the perfect dad wave and portraying movie fathers or father figures that won our hearts.

James Stewart, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation - Sure, he was a put-upon parent in the holiday treasure It's a Wonderful Life, but George Bailey wasn't all about the kids the way Roger Hobbs was. As father to two troubled married daughters and two disaffected teens, and "Boompa" to his whiny grandchildren, he keeps foregoing the delights of beach living to solve their difficulties and fix his huge, problematic rental house. Between calamities, he fends off the siren next door in favor of wooing his own wife. Gotta love him.

Dennis Quaid, The Parent Trap - The perennial player with the devil-may-care grin, Quaid enhanced his appeal--and admirably filled the sizeable shoes of Brian Keith, the original trapped parent--by playing the devoted single dad of preteen Lindsey Lohan. Baffled by the appearance of a lookalike daughter and torn between a charming ex-wife and a wily young fortune-hunter, he's sweet and sympathetic. What girl, or woman, wouldn't want to set a snare to bring him home?

Dustin Hoffman, Kramer Versus Kramer
- Best known as a celebrated reporter, an ailing pimp and Mrs. Robinson's cougar bait, Hoffman had hardly been a typecasting victim but neither was he proven father material. Yet he nailed this portrayal of a work-obsessed New Yorker who gets a crash course in parenting after his stay-at-home wife walks out. Watching him develop caregiving chops, and fall in love with the young son he had supported in grand style but barely known, is a bittersweet, mildly miraculous journey.

Hugh Grant, About a Boy - Has any actor personified the Peter Pan syndrome in one role after another like Grant? Often redeemed by a good woman but never before by an odd child, his amiably narcissistic screen persona comes of age as this wealthy slacker-turned-father figure. Victimized by bullies as well as his needy single mum, the pathetic, stalwart 12-year-old cries out for nurturing. And when clueless, skirt-chasing Will finally rises to the occasion, we cheer for them both.

Clifton Webb, Cheaper by the Dozen - Losing none of the absurdly fastidious manner we loved in Laura and the Mr. Belvedere films, Webb adds a wacky but authentic layer of paternal love, times 12. As 1920s time-study pioneer Frank Gilbreth, he runs the house on efficiency theories, playing language records in the bathrooms and painting astronomy lessons on the walls. But his affection and pride are enormous, so he uses the hours his expertise saves for family road trips, beach vacations and school dances--way before quality time, especially for dads, was in vogue.

George Clooney, One Fine Day - His signature role as ER's resident Lothario wasn't exactly the paternal type, though he was a pediatrician, but Clooney wisely kicked off his film career playing a newspaperman and single dad. Jack's a doting but not very resourceful guardian until he's forced into an unplanned game of urban tag-team parenting on the workday from hell, with an equally busy mom he's just met. Seeing him tend to his little girl and her classmate and race to keep his job, plus alternately clashing with and courting the boy's mother, is pure fun. And a good warm-up for his masterful performance in The Descendants, where a crisis calls him into active parenting duty.

John Travolta, Look Who's Talking - The Saturday Night Fever disco king and Urban Cowboy fish out of water proved to be a natural at parenthood when he played surrogate dad to a newborn but very mouthy (courtesy of Bruce Willis) little boy. While his single mom looks for a likely stepfather in all the wrong places, Mikey knows Travolta's warm, exuberant cabbie is the only man for the job. And the right guy to give him a baby sister in the sequel.