Debate Club: Iconic families in genre

Debate Club: The most iconic families in genre movies

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Tim Grierson
Nov 21, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

For this week’s Debate Club, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving by paying tribute to the most iconic families in genre films. With all apologies to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — which didn’t make the cut but gifted us with the terrific pairing of Dr. Jones and his father, Dr. Jones — these five families articulate different aspects of what it's like to be born into close-knit, sometimes contentious clans.

Maybe you have to band together to fight killer robots. Perhaps you have to adopt a lovable extra-terrestrial. Or, heaven forbid, maybe you're that one super-creepy family that's killing everyone in the community. Regardless, we hope you and yours have a great holiday — just be sure to keep an eye on Jack-Jack.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Sawyers in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre films

You know, every family has to have a thing. The Incredibles fight crime. The Skywalkers fight the Empire. And the Sawyers (later the Hewitts, in the reboots), well, they wait for motorists to be stranded by the roadside, and then they kill them and make them into chili that they sell at gas stations.

Everybody's gotta have something. Who are you to stand against a small family-owned business?

E.T. family

The family in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Elliott's family in E.T. never gets a surname, which is a sign: they are, particularly in the early '80s, like every family, or at least many families, of the time.

Steven Spielberg modeled the family after his own divorced home growing up, and the family here is just trying to hold itself together, with the rebellious older brother figuring himself out, the youngest daughter a little confused by everything and the middle kid, the one everyone ignores, who just happens to make a best friend who's a space alien.

There's a sadness to the family in E.T. but also a resilience: the movie is, in many ways, also about a family finding itself after being nearly torn apart. This family loves each other... it just takes an alien to help them figure out just how much.

Linda Hamilton, Sarah Connor, The Terminator

The Connors in the Terminator films

No, not the family on Roseanne. (First of all, they spell it differently.) We're talking about the Connors of the Terminator franchise who discover that, oh hey, they're responsible for leading humanity's revolt against the machines that try to enslave them.

Linda Hamilton gave genre movies one of the all-time best moms as Sarah, who in The Terminator is running for her life from Arnold Schwarzenegger's assassin robot and in Terminator 2 is a buff warrior prepared for her second go-round with that metal monster.

OK, sure, maybe Edward Furlong isn't the most compelling John Connor in T2, but that's sort of the point, right? He's meant to still be a bratty kid, someone who needs to grow up to become the hero we need.

And let's not forget Michael Biehn as John's unlikely father Kyle. In The Terminator, Kyle's just trying to stop Arnold from killing Sarah — he wasn't planning on making love to her.

The Incredibles

The Parrs in the Incredibles films

A family comedy in the purest sense, The Incredibles is such a blast because the whole family is out there fighting crime together. In fact, the only time we see the Parrs (aka the Incredibles) struggling as a family is when they are not out there fighting crime as a unit.

It's not just that the family that stops bad guys together stays together; it's that they're only happy when they are truly being themselves. It's through their connection with each other that they are the best not only individually, but collectively. No one knows us — and what's best for us — more than our families.

And Jack-Jack might still be more powerful than all of them.

Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, Star Wars: A New Hope

The Skywalkers in the Star Wars films

Make all the "Ew, Leia kissed her brother in Star Wars" jokes that you want. If you can forget that little plot rewrite — and, we understand, it's impossible to forget it — then it's pretty easy to see George Lucas' franchise as the greatest family saga in sci-fi history.

The Oedipal pull of the Star Wars series is powerfully mythic. Amidst the film's fabulous lightsaber battles and outer-space chases, what we have here is a fraught father-son drama — not to mention an understated tragedy about twins separated at birth, never knowing the other existed until fate intervened to bring them together to defeat the man they have no idea is their dad. The familial angst only continues in the new sequels — man, Kylo Ren has major daddy issues — and suggests that, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, nobody had therapists.

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