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101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up – my version

For my 5 year old sons birthday, his cousins (and aunt, who occasionally writes reviews for this site) sent him this book:

Which is awesome.  It’s been really fun to look through it with him, to explain how star ratings work, and to take notes on some of our favorite movies (we definitely disagree about “Toy Story” – I give it four and a half stars, he only gives it two, because the neighbor boy is too scary.)

But of course, because I’m me, I have to question some of the things on this list (Pearl Harbor?  Seriously?) and some of the things left off (not nearly enough Studio Ghibli.) So, here’s my edited list, with some explanatory notes, and a secondary list afterwards of flicks that would make “151 movies to watch before you grow up.

(One more note: the book organizes movies by topic, which means you’ve got super kid-friendly movies like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” next to more questionable ones like “Edward Scissorhands.”  I’m going to organize my list differently – by what’s age-appropriate.  Of course this is always rough, because kids are different, so what’s appropriate for one 13 year old maybe totally traumatic for another.  So I’m not going to put specific ages on it – they’re just in order, ie, a kid will likely enjoy “Ponyo” before he’ll enjoy “The Muppet Movie,” before he’ll enjoy “the Matrix.”  Hope that makes sense.

Anyway, here’s the list.

1.The Princess and the Frog  The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Nothing wrong with The Princess and the Frog, and the first Winnie the Pooh movie, made in 1977 by Disney, is a classic, and its episodic nature makes it a great place to start toddler on movies.  

2. My Neighbor Totoro

The first movie I showed my daughter, when she was four.  I love the sense of ordinary wonder, the story of two little girls exploring the world of their new house and backyard. 

3. Ice Age Ponyo

4. Finding Nemo

Ponyo is actually a retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” with the romance replaced by friendship.  These two movies are visually similar, and I think my kids enjoyed the whirling, swirling seascapes in them when they were still too young to really follow the plots. 

5. Despicable Me

6. The Incredibles

7. Happy Feet Inside Out

8. The LEGO Movie

9. Toy Story (all 3 of them) 

10. A Bug’s Life

11. Wreck-It Ralph


13. Brave

14. Babe

It’s taken a long time for my kids to consider a live action film not “for grownups,” but they’re finally coming around. 

15. Up

16. Miracle on 34th Street

17. Mary Poppins

18. The Little Mermaid

19. How the Grinch Stole Christmas How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Replacing the Jim Carrey movie with the TV special. 

20. Monsters, Inc.

The premise here is fairly complicated for a kids’ movie – when I first showed it to my kids, they were unable to grasp why the monsters were scaring the little kids. 

21. Shrek

First introduction to the ideas of meta-narrative and parody.  Kids need to be pretty familiar with the way a fairy tale is supposed to go, or all the jokes fall pretty flat.  Another one I introduced to my kids too young, and had to shelf for a while. 

22. James and the Giant Peach

23. Beauty & the Beast

24. The Lion King  Song of the Sea

I never much liked the Lion King, with its story about winners who belong in the Prideland and losers who will ruin it for everybody if you let them in.  Felt a little too much like middle school.  I much prefer the morals of Song of the Sea, about learning how to express your emotions in healthy ways before you turn to stone. 

25. Frozen

26. Ratatouille Big Hero 6

I enjoy Ratatouille, but feel like its better qualities go right over the heads of kids.  

27. School of Rock The Jungle Book

Probably the Disney musical (pre-1990) with the best music.  Also some of the scariest bad guys.  That’s a major consideration when you’re picking movies for kids under 6 or so.

28. The Wizard of Oz

29. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey  Swiss Family Robinson

Another perfectly adequate movie, replaced by a better one. 

30. Home Alone

31.How to Train Your Dragon

32. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

A kids’ first crack at subversive cinema – the idea that you can do things in movies that would not be allowed in real life.  (Just to be clear, we’re talking about the Gene Wilder version, not the horrible Johnny Depp version.) 

33. Star Wars (all 3 of them, but not the prequels) 

34. The Parent Trap

How old are kids when they start thinking about divorce, and the idea that their parents may not stay together forever?  

35. E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial

Because the absence of Elliott’s father really haunts this film, giving it its melancholy undertone. 

36.The Sandlot

37. The Secret Garden

First introduction to period drama. 

38.Iron Man  Superman

39. Harry Potter (all of them – spaced apart about every year or so) 

The early ones are appropriate for younger kids, but they get pretty dark from “Goblet of Fire” on.  

40 . Mrs. Doubtfire  Spirited Away

One of the book’s choices that made me really scratch my head.  Replaced by one of my favorite Studio Ghibli flicks

41.  The Iron Giant

42.  Pirates of the Caribbean

43. The Muppet Movie

How old do kids need to be to understand that the jokes are bad on purpose, and that’s what makes them funny? 

44. Spider-Man

45. Cool Runnings  The Love Bug

46. A Christmas Story

47. The Sound of Music

48. Hugo  The Adventures of Tintin

49. Seabiscuit Bad News Bears

50. A League of Their Own Singin’ in the Rain

51. Wall-E

52. Whale Rider

53. The Red Balloon

54. Children of Heaven

55. Where the Wild Things Are City Lights

I love the Maurice Sendak book, but the movie was just a bunch of whining life-size puppets.

These last six are all going to challenge kids in different ways, hopefully broadening their horizons and making them think, on some level, about what movies can do.  Some grownups never embrace subtitles or silent films.

56. The Lord of the Rings

57. Avatar  Princess Mononoke

58. The Hobbit City of Lost Children

Why would I invite my kids to watch a bloated entry from a world already wonderfully realized when I can introduce them to another weird, wild world instead? 

59. Fantastic Mr. Fox The Dark Crystal 

I liked Mr. Fox, but its charms are awfully grown up.  And here’s another chance to spark my kids’ imagination with a movie that scared the bejeezus out of me when I was little. 

60. The Goonies

61. The Karate Kid

62. Fly Away Home  Freaky Friday

Both versions, are good, actually. 

63. Raiders of the Lost Ark

64. Ghostbusters

These last two are movies to save until after you’ve had “the talk” with your kids. 

65. Jurassic Park

66. Back to the Future

67. The Princess Bride

Kind of a more sophisticated “Shrek,” in that kids need to be able to see that it’s a send-up of fairy tale stories in order to really understand it.  

68. Bend It Like Beckham Stand By Me

69. Field of Dreams

70. Chariots of Fire 42

71. Remember the Titans Cool Hand Luke

72. Titanic  Big

73. Miracle

74. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

75. It’s a Wonderful Life

76. Forrest Gump

77. The Nightmare Before Christmas

78. Spellbound

79. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

80. Edward Scissorhands

81. Batman The Dark Knight

There’s a lot of Tim Burton on the back end of this list, and moody teenagers are probably Burton’s ideal audience.  Still, I can’t imagine a teen watching Burton’s Batman and not finding it terribly cheesy.

82. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

83. Pretty in Pink  The Breakfast Club

If I have to pick one John Hughes movie to show to teenagers, it’d be The Breakfast Club.

84. To Kill A Mockingbird

85. Lincoln Amistad

Lincoln is a good movie, but is mostly about backroom politics and horse-trading.  Amistad isn’t as good a movie, but introduces slavery in America in a way that will be more palatable for young teens. 

86. Pride & Prejudice  Romeo + Juliet

I can’t really imagine ever getting a teenage boy to sit through Pride & Prejudice.  Romeo & Juliet, though, has guns and violence.  And I’d rather introduce teens to Shakespeare than Jane Austen.  

87. Dead Poets Society

88. Harold and Maude

89. Super Size Me

90. Apollo 13

91. Gremlins

92. Pearl Harbor Les Miserables

I don’t get this.  I’ve never encountered anybody that considered Pearl Harbor a good movie. Is it on the list because it’s historical? Why not “Saving Private Ryan” or “Schindler’s List” or any number of other, better war movies?  

93. Life is Beautiful

I thought about taking this off the list, as it’s hardly appropriate for kids.  But instead, I’m leaving it here at the end.  Because I think one of the most important think you learn as a young adult is that sometimes you can’t heroically stop the bad guys, all you can do is make the best of a really bad situation.

The rest of these are movies I haven’t seen, replaced by ones I would put on the list.

94. The Brave Little Toaster The Emperor’s New Groove

95. Drumline The Prince of Egypt

96. Chicken Run Shaun the Sheep Movie

97. Holes  Kung Fu Panda

98. Space Jam Robin Hood

I have a really hard time believing a movie starring animated characters and basketball players from 20 years ago is going to age well. The 1973 Robin Hood, though, has aged very well. 

99. Rudy  Monty Python and the Holy Grail

100. Mean Girls The Perks of Being A Wallflower

101. March of the Penguins  101 Dalmatians

See what I did there?  

Other great movies for kids of all ages:  

  • Puss in Boots
  • Wallace & Gromitt: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Star Trek
  • Life of Pi
  • War Horse
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence
  • The Matrix
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Say Anything
  • Grease
  • Frankenstein
  • Bride of Frankenstein
  • King Kong
  • Duck Soup
  • Our Hospitality
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • Lady and the Tramp
  • The Absent-Minded Professor
  • Flight of the Navigator
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Posted in by Will Krischke, Lists.

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