When I think back on my film experience and the impact it has had on me, I wonder just how different my journey would be if I had watched a larger variety of movies as a child. After all, children are quite impressionable and what you see at a young age can have a big impact on your tastes as an adult, whether you know it or not.
Aside from the copious amounts of Godzilla films I saw as a kid, there was also plenty of Star Trek films, in particular “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan,” and the classic Disney animated and live action movies, ranging from “Pinoochio” and “Sword In The Stone,” to “The Rocketter” and “The Beauty And The Beast.”
Despite where I am now with cinema, I watched nearly the same movies as a child that most others would have watched too, including the “Star Wars” films and classic Steven Speilberg flicks.
But what classic films would I show to kids today? Well, that’s what we’re here to look at today. These are the ten movies that children need to see.
These are movies that kids would not only enjoy, but want to come back to over again, that they would find more reasons to enjoy as they grow older. These films are also a good starting point for those who want to get their children into classic cinema. No restrictions on the age of these movies, though I’ll be doing my best to stay away from more recent films like “Frozen” since your children have probably seen those movies by now. Also, no Rated-R movies, because that only makes sense.
I will also be avoiding some easy picks, like the “Star Wars” films and the “Toy Story” movies, just to add some variety to this list.
And as a side note – I do not have any kids of my own, but do wish to have some one day.
“Raiders Of The Lost Ark” (1981)
Let’s start with something simple – One of the most fun and energized movies I have ever seen.
When you think about it, there is not much to the story of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark.” It’s an adventure around the globe, as one eccentric man tries to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on an ancient artifact.
But then you think about that plot and how hilariously awesome it sounds.
“Raiders Of The Lost Ark” was made as a tribute to the classic pulp adventures of the 1930s and 1940s, but what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created ended up being something stronger than any of those old adventures achieved.
This was due entirely to the character of Indiana Jones. On the surface, he seems simple enough – well-mannered, selfless and courageous. But then you learn more about the adventures he has been on and the things he has had to do and you see the side of him that makes you want to get up and join him in journeys. Indiana is the man who every young boy wishes he could be.
Throw in some timeless and exciting action sequences you have an awesome and unforgettable action film that people of all ages can enjoy.
“Mary Poppins” (1964)
This makes the list because good musicals that children can enjoy are often hard to come by, but are sometimes the most satisfying films to watch as a kid.
As a child, and still as an adult, the concept of music is lost on me. Possibly because I’m more of a visual person than I am audio, or that music is so loud and fast-paced that I often can’t hear anything. But when you combine the two into a movie musical, the result is enticing and one of a kind.
On the opposite end of the spectrum as “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” we have “Mary Poppins” a Disney musical made at a time when musicals were on their way out. But where “Raiders” is exciting, “Mary Poppins” is cheerful and uplifting.
It also shares a point that you’ll be seeing a lot in this list: Teaching the audience moral lessons that you can use throughout the rest of your lives. But “Mary Poppins” is so simple in its message that it sometimes gets missed. The audience gets so lost in the catchy musical numbers and spectacular dance choreography that a lesson doesn’t seem that important.
Then, near the end of the film, there’s this one musical number – “Feed The Birds.” If you listen to the lyrics and hear the story behind it, along with the faded images of an old woman feeding a hoard of birds at this giant cathedral, you’ll understand “Mary Poppins” can be both tragic and heart-warming at the same time. There’s a reason “Feed The Birds” is Walt Disney’s favorite song.
“Spirited Away” (2001)
Creativity and imagination are at their highest when a child witnesses a new level of imaginative ideas. For that, look no further than the work of Hayao Miyazaki and “Spirited Away.”
This film feels as though you’ve been transported to an entirely new world. A world that you can’t fully comprehend, but you don’t really want to. That would take away the charm of Miyazaki’s work. His films are at their best when his animated world is the main character and our protagonist is just a passenger with us for the ride.
There are so many breath-taking scene that I don’t think I could name them all. The train sequence with the shadow man with very little dialogue but a tense of dread always looming over, the bathhouse segment where all sorts of strange and imaginative creatures, any scene where there is flying over the vast oceans and landscapes.
This is one of the most beautiful animated movies, if not the most. It’s amazing to think it was almost all hand-drawn animation by Miyazkai and his crew. Very little of it is done by computers, an oddity by today’s standards. But because it is an oddity, we got an animated film that sets the standards to which all other Fantasies are compared to.
“Duck Soup” (1933) & “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948)
It is never too early to introduce your child to classic comedies.
Comedy is one of those subjects that even a child can grasp, especially when it’s not mean-spirited or hateful comedy, like in many movies and television today. Rather, the comedy comes from the situation and the characters involved in that situation. Reactions and timing become the jokes and the payoff ends up being hilarious.
For this category, I could not choose between the best Marx Brothers film, “Duck Soup” or the quintessential Abbott & Costello where they meet the Universal monsters. So, why not do both?
“Duck Soup” is a great example of perfecting a range of comedy, from slapstick to wise guys to reactions. If one Marx Brothers’ style is not your liking, there are two more where that came from (though there is a fourth Marx Brother, but we don’t talk about him). The mirror sequence is considered one of the best uses of comedic timing for good reason.
“Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” works on a different level. It relies more on the relationship between the title characters, as their personalities clash. Watching these two outrun monsters, only for their bumbling nature to get in the way, always provides a good laugh. This film is also a good introduction to the Universal horror monsters, without needing to watch films like “Dracula” and “The Wolf Man.”
Both films are great examples of why good comedy is timeless.
“North By Northwest” (1959)
I’m going with an odd choice here.
Though I did not watch any Alfred Hitchcock films as a child, I could see his films being enjoyed by kids, especially “North By Northwest.”
I would describe “North By Northwest” as a James Bond movie, if James Bond didn’t know who he was. It has more similarities to “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” than one would think – suspenseful action sequences, witty banter, a charismatic (somewhat) reluctant hero and a consistent sense of dread and danger.
The difference between the two though is that “North By Northwest” takes everything in stride. The main characters will take the time to shoot the breeze with other characters and exchange one liners. That’s because our “hero” is having fun with this entire situation, whether he knows it or not. This makes Cary Grant’s performance all the more enjoyable to watch.
Another one that is great fun, with a bit more adult humor than “Raiders.” Just leave that to your child’s imagination.
If I put it one of Myazaki’s films in this list, it is only fair that I put in a Pixar movie too.
In the last few decades, film studios have tried to force the “save the environment” message down children’s throats. “Frengully – The Last Rainforest,” “Avatar,” “Pocahontas,” “The Lorax” and so many more, each one sucking more than the last. The problem is that each of these attempts have said things children already knew or did not care about to begin with.
“WALL-E” however, offers up an environment message without ever forcing it upon the audience and providing a unique experience with an Earth that has been devoid of humans for 700 years.
In fact, the film isn’t so much about saving the environment as it is about our dependence on technology and what that does to ourselves and our surroundings.
Yet the film never loses sight of what it is really about – A love story between two robots. Regardless of what the film wants to say about our current state, the story of WALL-E and EVE remains the focal point. Everything these two do is for each other, not for the good of all people.
This makes “WALL-E”‘s message so much more powerful and effective, when we see what technology can do to us, while still being subtle about it.
Combine this with gorgeous animation of space and an empty Earth, the first third of the film having no dialogue at all and a love story that is timeless, and you have an animated film that gives even “Spirited Away” a run for its money.
“King Kong” (1933)
Much like classic comedies, classic monster movies can be enjoyed at any age.
I remember watching this film with my dad when I was five years old and having a blast. Each action sequence felt fresh and exciting, King Kong was always ready to throw down and take on any challenge. I never thought about how old the film looked, because the effects looked just as impressive today as they did back in 1933.
All leading up to one of the greatest climaxes in film history, with Kong on top of the Empire State Building, clutching the love of his life in one hand and fighting off fighter planes with the other.
This one is amazing to watch, no matter how old you are.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)
Speaking of great climaxes, let’s talk about the best ending to any film, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The films that I find myself coming back to over time are the ones with a simple approach to their message and character struggle. Ones where our heroes go through dilemmas and challenges that we face every day and do not try to glorify any of it.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” shows not only the struggle of one man, but the life and impact of one man and the town he lives in. George Bailey is one of the most relatable, sympathetic and honest characters in cinema and it is all topped off by a performance by James Stewart that can make just about any one cry.
I’m not ashamed to admit that the last ten minutes of “It’s A Wonderful Life” make me cry every single time. Because it is the best kind of crying – tears of joy. Joy that everything has worked out so perfectly and that not only is their world a better place, but your heart feels like it belongs in that world as well.
Whether you are watching this at Christmas or in the middle of July, “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a perfect film for everyone.
Not only a good introduction to classic cinema, but also into classical music.
“Fantasia” is a one of a kind film, taking famous pieces of music and setting them to animation. Some are somber and quiet, while others are loud and boisterous. Each piece moves like a river, each with its ebbs and flows, but then also rocky terrain and even massive waterfalls.
People like to discuss the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence because of Mickey Mouse, but my favorite has always been the sequence on The Night On Bald Mountain, as the devil summons his legion of minions, brings forth hell fire, turns beauty into disgust and conducts it all like an orchestra set to the most hellish song.
So many wonderful and memorable sequences that it is hard to put into words just how awe-inspiring “Fantasia” really is. It is best to just let you and your children see first hand at what the miracle of animation can carry out.
“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
Let’s end with the most adult kids movie on this list.
Tim Burton has a strange appeal that makes adults relate to his work, but kids are fascinated by it. I remember watching films like “Batman,” “Beetlejuice” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as a kid and being mesmerized by how dark yet alluring his worlds were. Maybe it was because, admist all the creepy and disturbing imagery, there was this one guy who chose to be a loner and live the life that he wanted, regardless of what others thought.
Of those types of Burton films, “Edward Scissorhands” is the definitive one. Not only is Edward the typical loner found in a broken-down Frankenstein-like castle in a neighborhood of houses that all look the same, but he lives up to the title and becomes a crime against nature.
I almost wanted to include this in my list of ten must-see monster movies, but then I remembered that Edward Scissorhands is far from a monster. He might be an outcast, but he did not choose to be like that. He was born into the world with giant scissors for hands and he has no control over how people react to him.
In that regard, I think more kids can relate to “Edward Scissorhands” than you would think. Combine this with a kind and caring performance by Johnny Depp, Tim Burton’s usual eccentric art style and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Danny Elfman, and this is a creepy yet heart-warming film.