Top Kids’ Movies: An Essential Guide for Families

185+ All-Time Favorite Movies for Kids and Teens

Sometimes there just isn't enough time to sort through thousands of movie choices, wondering which ones are high quality, OK for your family, and not boring for parents. This guide lists some of the best movies (185 and counting) that are appropriate for kids from toddlers to teens. Now you'll know just where to turn when you're looking for great films.

Filter by age-appropriateness or genre, and discover a new family favorite. At the end of each section, you'll also find tips for creative ways to maximize movie time and take the fun off-screen.

Whether you stream, buy, or rent, this Essential Movies Guide will help make any movie night a success for kids and parents. So grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy. Happy viewing!

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and are not influenced by the creators or by our funders. When you use our buy links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. We appreciate your support.

Guide Details

Age 2-6

Animated Favorites

Ages 2-6

Kids love animation, and studios from Disney to Dreamworks do it right.

AGE
3

Charlie Brown discovers the true meaning of Christmas when he buys and transforms a forlorn little tree. Simple drawings, a gently meandering story, Charles Schultz's beloved characters, and a lively musical score make this a movie the entire family will want to watch every year.

AGE
3

This delightful animated tale brings to life several chapters of A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner. With simple stories about childlike mishaps, this classic is visually and narratively appealing; the characters have varied personalities that demonstrate the rich variety one finds in real life.

AGE
4

Alice follows a white rabbit, fully dressed and muttering about being late, down a hole to Wonderland, whose inhabitants are often rude, unfriendly, and even hostile. Disney's classic animated interpretation of Lewis Carroll's tale is a great "starter" before more mature versions.

AGE
4

It's the day before Christmas, and all the Grinch can think about is how much he hates the whole season -- so he hatches a plot to stop it from coming. But can the love that Christmas embodies save his shriveled heart? This 30-minute cartoon is sweet and soothing, and kids will howl in delight. 

AGE
4

Curious, level-headed, longneck dinosaur Littlefoot and his prehistoric pals return in this animated series that promotes strength of character, dependability, self-respect, and friendship. The lovable characters ably mix positive messages with adventurous spirits.

AGE
4

This Pixar classic is one of the best kids' movies of all time. All is well with Andy's toys -- especially Woody, his favorite -- until Andy gets a special birthday present: toy spaceman Buzz Lightyear. Outstanding vocal performances and nonstop cleverness, with unpretentious imagination and energy.

AGE
5

Cruella De Vil, one of the most memorable female villains in movie history, kidnaps 101 Dalmatians so she can make a fur coat. But Dalmatian adults Pongo and Perdita, with the help of their animal friends, undertake a daring rescue. The puppies are adorable, and the movie is exciting, funny, and fun.

AGE
5

Told mostly with music and animation, the story centers on wide-eyed deer Bambi, who must find a way to endure after hunters kill his mother. Supported by his friends, Bambi grows into a strong buck and a leader of the forest. Symphonic and choral pieces add grace and elegance to a timeless film. 

AGE
5

When a prince turns away an ugly, old woman selling apples, she casts a spell that turns him into a beast. He must find someone to love him to undo the enchantment…and along comes Belle. Disney's crowning achievement won an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for Best Picture. 

AGE
5

The other animals are reluctant to befriend Wilbur, a pig fated to be served up as the humans' Christmas dinner. But Wilbur is so sweet, curious, and affable that they're won over -- and Charlotte, the barn spider, decides to find a way to save his life. Thoughtful, entertaining, and enchanting. 

AGE
5

Charles Perrault's fairy tale comes to life with gorgeously detailed and inventive animation. Little ones might cringe at the wicked stepsisters and stepmom, and Cinderella is a passive heroine rescued by a prince, but Disney's vivid and endearing characters win the day with memorable songs.

AGE
5

On a journey that introduces him to extraordinary characters and teaches him a great deal about the world and himself, Marlin must go to the end of the ocean to find his son, Nemo -- captured by a deep-sea-diving dentist who collects fish for his aquarium -- to bring him home. A visual Pixar feast.

AGE
5

Orphaned princesses must find a way to survive in this Disney film that combines show-stopping musical numbers, empowering heroines who discover their inner strength, stunning animated visuals, and scene-stealing sidekicks. The sweet themes of sisterhood and self-identity make for a delightful tale.

AGE
5

Lady is a pampered cocker spaniel who meets Tramp, a mutt from the other side of the tracks. With memorable songs and sweet characters, this classic taps into issues that will resonate with kids (like being neglected after a new baby arrives) as well as tropes (love across class lines).

AGE
5

Ariel, a mermaid princess, rescues Prince Eric, thrown from his ship during a storm. Desperate to have a life with him, she makes an agreement with a sea witch -- but will she be able to woo him in three days? A superbly entertaining musical based loosely on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.  

AGE
5

Monsters are afraid of kids, but they need to collect kids' screams to fuel their world. Unfortunately, kids are getting so hard to scare that the monsters' world is suffering from rolling blackouts. This movie is utterly delightful, with a delicious mix of heart, humor, and technical wizardry.

AGE
5

This lush Disney film -- with some frightening scenes -- is based on the story of China's legendary girl warrior, who dresses like a man and heads off to war against the Huns. She struggles at first but becomes a brave and skilled fighter, finding new friends in unexpected places. 

AGE
5

In this breakthrough anime film, Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside where their mother is hospitalized. One day, Mei meets a rabbit-like creature she calls "Totoro," who helps them through their difficult time. A true family film, with a leisurely paced story with lushly detailed visuals.

AGE
5

This classic was the first feature-length animated film in history. Girls nowadays like their princesses and movie idols with a little edge, but considering this was made in 1937, it's still timeless and chock-full of the key ingredients for a Disney success: romance, mystery, mild peril, and music.

AGE
5

This reimagining of the classic Rapunzel tale is one Disney movie that's sure to entertain both boys and girls. The messages about girl power and seeing beyond appearances are positive and inspiring; kids will learn that we all have dreams, and we should do everything we can to make them come true.

AGE
5

This deeply intellectual and profoundly moving adventure is charming -- and nearly dialogue-free for the first half hour. A sanitation robot is the only citizen of a futuristic dystopia, until a spaceship drops off a lady robot. WALL-E falls in love -- and may save mankind from unhealthy habits.

AGE
6

Street urchin Aladdin woos Princess Jasmine by pretending to be a prince, with the help of an exuberant blue genie. But before the story ends happily ever after, Aladdin must tell Jasmine the truth -- and defeat evil royal advisor Jafar! A very entertaining Disney movie. 

AGE
6

A brave chicken plots an escape from a Yorkshire chicken farm. The world is enchantingly believable, and the chickens and side characters are highly individual and wildly funny. Parents and kids alike will delight in the Rube Goldberg-like machines and split-second action sequences.

AGE
6

This early animated film is a historical experience. Much of the imagery continues to astonish, even when compared with modern, computer-enhanced extravaganzas. Remember: Numerous sequences combine ominous, dark music and violent, scary visuals, which could be frightening for some kids.

AGE
6

Nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes lives with his waitress mother in rural Maine. One night, he discovers a huge robot, who turns out to be the world's best playmate. This wonderful film, set in the late 1950s, has so much humor and heart that it's one of the best family movies around. 

AGE
6

Considered one of Disney's greatest animated musicals, The Lion King does have some scary moments. But, despite a few sad sequences and a few evil characters, the overall message of Simba, the cub of Mufasa, the king of the jungle, is one of hope, love, and family responsibility. 

AGE
6

Lonely woodcarver Geppetto wishes the wooden puppet he carved was a real boy. His wish is granted, but Pinocchio must become brave, truthful, and unselfish. This Disney classic passes the test of time for a beautiful and effective lesson on the perils of doing wrong when you should know better. 

AGE
6

Shrek, a big, green ogre, lives happily alone in a swamp until Lord Farquaad sets out to get rid of all the fairy tale characters and send them to "a designated resettlement community." Sensational animation, adventure, romance, laughter -- and plenty of potty humor.

AGE
6

After his beloved wife dies, Carl decides to live out her dream of visiting Paradise Falls. With hundreds of helium balloons, he mobilizes his house -- and a young stowaway. Visually stunning, the movie truly soars in its telling of the sweet, funny, lasting relationship of its odd-couple heroes.

  • Ask kids if a character feels less real because it's a cartoon. Can they care about Nemo or Bambi?
  • Many animated films are based on books. Hone reading skills with a familiar, favorite story.

Classics for Kids

Ages 2-6

These unique, enduring films combine creative plots with beloved characters.

AGE
6

Spunky, red-haired orphan Annie dreams of the day her parents will retrieve her. With outstanding performances by Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry, this classic musical will have you singing show tunes -- and maybe dreaming of a dog as loyal as Sandy.

AGE
6

In this musical based on an Ian Fleming novel, co-written by Roald Dahl, and scored by the Mary Poppins writers, Dick Van Dyke is a down-on-his-luck inventor who buys a used car for his kids -- but the dream machine flies, floats, and perhaps even thinks for itself. The stuff of fantasies. 

AGE
6

In 1910, a British family seeks a new nanny for Jane and Michael. In flies magical Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews, in an Oscar-winning performance), not at all what Mr. Banks was looking for but precisely what the children ordered. Rare combo of fun with a simple, heartwarming story. Plus, the songs!

AGE
6

Doris hires a Santa Claus for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but when he shows up drunk, she quickly substitutes Kris Kringle -- and Doris' daughter Susan begins to believe he's real. A heartwarming story about the importance of childhood wonder, trust, and standing up for what you believe.

AGE
6

In this silent film, Charlie Chaplin loses his job on an assembly line, and mayhem ensues. Kids will be entertained by sight gags and outrageous characters (Chaplin experiments with roller skates at a department store); grownups and teens will notice razor-sharp commentary about class differences.

AGE
6

Kermit heads for Hollywood with a menagerie of equally ambitious Muppets including Fozzie Bear, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, and Miss Piggy. Jim Henson's debut Muppet film was a technological breakthrough -- but the beauty is that the characters' magic, innocence, and sweetness hold up.

AGE
6

Trouble comes to River City when "Professor" Harold Hill arrives, posing as a salesman of band instruments and uniforms. He wants to scam the locals but falls in love with the librarian-slash-music-teacher. Impeccable production, with some of the most gorgeous music and dancing ever filmed.

AGE
6

In 1912 London, linguistics professor Henry Higgins picks cockney street peddler Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) to reshape her into an aristocrat -- but he has his work cut out for him. The witty songwriting, charismatic performances, and lush costumes and sets may help kids muscle past the three-hour mark.

AGE
6

Sharon and Susan are as different as night and day and become enemies when they meet at summer camp. But when they discover they're identical twins, they switch places to try to reunite their parents so they can stay together. An entertaining relic from a time when kids were far less knowing.

AGE
6

When someone steals his bicycle, sprightly man-boy Pee-wee Herman embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in Tim Burton's madcap comedy. This quirky film is a cult classic among devotees of Paul Reubens' bow-tied alter ego, with wild production designs, some Claymation, and lots of unusual toys.

AGE
6

Mia is a shy 15-year-old who'd like to kiss the class hunk and speak in class without fainting. Then her grandmother shows up to reveal…she's a princess! Now Mia has to learn courage. A family movie in the best sense, with a wonderful story about growing up, finding yourself, and taking chances.

AGE
6

Widely considered to be the best Hollywood musical ever made, with one of the top 10 moments: Gene Kelly splashing and singing in the rain -- a "glorious feeling" that's contagious. With classic numbers and a witty script that's unusually sharp and satiric for a musical comedy. 

AGE
6

This beloved, classic musical tells the story of Maria (Julie Andrews), an Austrian nun who's sent away to be the governess for seven uncooperative children. Maria wins them over, sharing her love of music and teaching them to sing, and helping to save them when the Nazis come.

AGE
6

This 1939 classic follows Dorothy (Judy Garland) from Kansas, where she's caught in a twister, to the land of Oz. She embarks down a yellow brick road, hoping to find the one person who can get her home. Memorable characters and a magic combination of drama, adventure, fantasy, and music.

  • Plan a soundtrack sing-along with some classic favorites ("The hills are alive…!")
  • Hang a sheet in the backyard, rent a projector, and sit on beach chairs to celebrate a classic.

Lovable Live-Action Animals

Ages 2-6

Dogs and pigs and penguins, oh, my! These adorable heroes inspire.

AGE
5

Newborn Milo, a real scamp of a kitten, meets timid puppy Otis, and it's the start of a hilarious friendship. Told with voiceovers by Dudley Moore, the story shows the pair leaving home for the first time, undergoing tests of their courage and friendship and returning home to accept responsibility.

AGE
6

Babe is an endearing little pig raised by sheepdogs who befriends the animals on a farm and ultimately becomes a herder himself, triumphing against some pretty steep odds. It's a tale about making a place for yourself in the world, and it was one of the best-loved family movie of the 1990s.

AGE
6

When their owners go on vacation, dogs Shadow and Chance and cat Sassy are left with a friend. Chance becomes convinced something's wrong and runs away; Sassy and Shadow follow. They have adventures, sharing wisecracks all the way, and finally arrive back home. Witty dialogue and well-cast voices.

AGE
6

Morgan Freeman narrates this stunning, loving documentary about the grueling annual trek made by Emperor penguins. They endure any number of hardships, and some die along the way, in their quest to mate, gestate, lay eggs, and protect them until the adorable fuzzy little hatchlings can walk home.

  • Ask kids if Babe or Milo would make a good pet. Why might a dog be better than a penguin…or worse?
  • Visit a petting zoo with your child, and talk about appropriate behavior with real cats and dogs.

Age 7-12

Classics for Tweens

Ages 7-12

These timeless, sweeping stories span continents and generations. 

AGE
7

Anne Shirley, a 13-year-old orphan, is sent to live with a new family in picturesque Avonlea. They expected a boy, but Anne, hilariously outspoken and strong-willed, transcends her issues and fulfills her dreams. Gorgeous to look at and brimming with simple truths about love, friendship, and family.

AGE
7

Banned by Mussolini, this film is considered a comedic masterwork. The Marx Brothers are the epitome of anarchy: rude, insulting, pranksterish, and loyal to no one. Laugh and enjoy -- and if some of the military madness and government misfits remind you of today's leaders, discuss with the kids.

AGE
7

The young Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor) bonds with Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) over a love of horses. Messages about dreams, risk, determination, and honesty, with two strong female role models who succeed in sports previously closed to women: long-distance swimming and British horse-jumping. 

AGE
7

This tender, enchanting, mostly silent short film about a red balloon that befriends a little French boy is a rare and invigorating pleasure. Winner of an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the Cannes Grand Prize, and the 1968 Best Film of the Decade Educational Film Award. 

AGE
7

All is peace, love, and music in gentle Pepperland until the Blue Meanies take over. The Beatles come to the rescue, meeting all kinds of strange and interesting characters. A pleasure for the eye, ear, and heart, with spectacular animation, gorgeous music, witty wordplay, and a happy ending.

AGE
8

Pauline Kael said this "may be the greatest children's movie ever made." After a shipwreck, only Alec and a horse survive. Back at home, the horse runs to a farm, where Alec meets a trainer (Mickey Rooney). They enter the formerly wild horse in a race. Breathtakingly beautiful, genuinely magic.

AGE
8

Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and a leopard star in what's generally considered the ultimate example of the screwball comedy. Masterful director Howard Hawks pulls off an outlandish plot at breakneck speed with fabulous witty repartee and romantic tension between the perfectly cast leads.

AGE
8

In 1940s Indiana, 9-year-old Ralphie is consumed by one wish: to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Part of the film's appeal is the authentic period detail, but what most engages is the timeless details of childhood, including bullies and double-dog dares. A funny antidote to cutesy TV specials. 

AGE
8

A great intro to the Beatles, this surrealistic day-in-the-life "documentary" follows the most overwhelmingly popular rock group of all time through a typical 36 hours as they ostensibly try to get to the big show on time. Along the way are gags, character vignettes, and musical set pieces.

AGE
8

Classic 1950s tearjerker about the love between a frontier family and a dog, with a now-legendary climax that could be hard for kids. Still, it's a classic and an excellent way to begin a discussion about life and death. The father is a model of wisdom and patience who validates his son's feelings. 

AGE
8

In this lavish musical adaptation, Oliver is booted from his orphanage; falls in with the Artful Dodger and Fagin's gang of pickpockets; sidesteps murderer Bill Sikes; and eventually is taken in by the wealthy Mr. Brownlow, who happens to be his uncle. Warm and memorable -- and winner of six Oscars.

AGE
8

When their ship washes ashore on a deserted island, the Robinson family must work together to survive. They build a tree house, raise farm animals, and explore for other sources of water. If you can get past the 1970s animation, this version tells the timeless tale of ingenuity and family bonding.

AGE
9

Errol Flynn stars as Lord Robin of Locksley, who's enraged at the mistreatment of his people. What's fascinating about this version is the distinctly 1930s American sensibility -- it's less a sweet and cartoonish fairy tale than it is a thinly veiled attack on capitalism and an absentee leader. 

AGE
9

George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is a man with big plans whose even bigger heart keeps him from leaving his hometown. When he wishes he were never born, an angel shows him the tremendous impact he's had on his community. Frank Capra's bittersweet, heartwarming movie is a Christmas classic.

AGE
9

This 1949 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic story of family love boasts a top-notch cast, including Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh. Four sisters face deprivation and the absence of their father during the Civil War years, but they mature into accomplished young women.

AGE
9

Audrey Hepburn (in her debut performance) plays a princess on the lam from her embassy and is discovered on a park bench by tall, dark, and handsome leading man Gregory Peck. The two spend the day playing hooky in Rome -- what more could you ask for in a romance? 

AGE
10

This iconic love story follows a hardboiled American nightclub owner (Humphrey Bogart) and his ex-lover (Ingrid Bergman) in French-controlled Casablanca in early WWII. A story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and narrow escapes, with the most memorable airport tarmac scene in film history.

AGE
10

This epic musical, which centers on a humble agrarian family, is both a boisterous, comic look at rural life in a Ukrainian village and a serious portrait of the sweeping, tragic changes the 1905 Russian Revolution forced on Russian Jews. Starts off as a joyous trifle, then delves into politics. 

AGE
10

The four hours of this epic Civil War-era melodrama boast glamorous costumes, drama, violence, intrigue, sexism, and problematic depictions of slavery, as well as swoon-inducing romance between Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Winner of nine Oscars.

AGE
11

In this Hitchcock classic, Cary Grant is superb as Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who's mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan. When his life is turned upside down, he decides the only way to get his life back is to track down the real Kaplan. Light and comic even in the tensest scene.

AGE
11

This BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's novel offers a long, hard look at the hypocrisy and bad manners of the English aristocracy as the Bennett sisters look for love among the wealthy. The acting is superb, and the story -- as gripping as it is meaningful -- has many comic moments.

AGE
11

Directed by Ang Lee, Emma Thompson's adaptation of the Jane Austen novel follows the Dashwood sisters as they try to redeem a lost fortune by marrying well and end up finding love. The loving depiction of the family as a high-spirited and supportive clan is positively endearing. 

AGE
11

One of the wildest farces ever filmed, this Billy Wilder classic follows Joe and Jerry, who flee (in drag) after accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Brilliant performances by all three stars -- Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis -- give this film a lot of heart. 

AGE
11

This classic American musical with strong social commentary updates Shakespeare's tragedy about star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, to 1950s New York City. With unforgettable music from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and Oscar-winning performances from George Chakiris and Rita Moreno.

AGE
12

This multiple Oscar winner uses the real-life figures and the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and lesser-known composer Antonio Salieri in an ornate, if lengthy, tale of envy, talent, and wicked manipulation. Some scholars may wince at the distorted history -- but the movie rocks.

AGE
12

This serious film won't appeal to young kids, but for teens it's the must-see portrait of an early 20th-century media tycoon. Made in 1941, it's thought to be the best movie of all time, both for its audacious techniques and for the depth of its characterization. Orson Welles stars and directs.

AGE
12

Richard Attenborough's biopic spans Gandhi's adult life, showing how his spiritual principles of equality, tolerance, and nonviolence inspired India to push for independence from British rule. A must-see for families with an interest in history or civil rights. Ben Kingsley as Gandhi is brilliant.

AGE
12

Set in a small Alabama town in the 1930s, the film explores prejudice and fear via the Finch family -- 6-year-old Scout, her older brother Jem, and their widowed lawyer father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck). A gentle goodness pervades despite the ugly truths portrayed. Based on Harper Lee's novel.

  • Ask your kids why these movies have lasting value. How are they still relevant, and how are they not?
  • Discuss the historical context of Gandhi. What was his goal? What do you think about his methods?

Coming-of-Age Tales

Ages 7-12

Through trial and triumph, kids come into their own.

AGE
7

In this tender and compelling fantasy about friendship and compassion, a young boy receives a magical cupboard and a key that bring to life an 18th-century Iroquois warrior who's all of three inches tall. Tweens will enjoy the story, as well as the technical wizardry of Industrial Light and Magic.

AGE
8

Resolute, self-protecting 11-year-old Akeelah has a gift for spelling. This film traces her delicate, courageous growing-up and her evolving relationships with an adult friend and her mom, but it's her relationships with other kids that stand out. Intelligent and charming.

AGE
8

A sports film for kids that isn't about winning. After lucking onto the local sandlot team, Scotty spends a blissful summer honing his baseball skills with help from his teammates. When the gang experiences what they believe is a bad omen, they're off in search of a good one to counterbalance it.

AGE
9

A stirring movie about teamwork, discipline, and second chances that features exciting basketball action and a meticulous recreation of 1950s Indiana. Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper are a high school coach and assistant coach, surprising everyone by bringing the team all the way to the state finals.

AGE
9

After you cut through all the intellectual and emotional layers, the brilliant cinematography, and the humor and excitement, this is the story of a lonely, loving child trying to be good, to do what's right, and to connect with the world of spirit. It's not often a movie like this comes along.

AGE
9

Rudy is a working-class kid for whom education is a hurdle that must be cleared to realize his dream to play football for Notre Dame. More than the wildest science fiction or fantasy story, this film will make you believe anything -- with perseverance and grueling hard work -- is possible.

AGE
9

A documentary about the 1999 National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., and especially of eight regional winners. Every family should see this: It's about ambition, dedication, and courage as well as the strength of diversity and America's commitment to opportunity. Most of all, it's about family.

AGE
10

The all-star cast, including Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donnell, and Madonna, show the unique difficulties of the All-American Girls League in pre-feminist America, as well as the skills and friendships that develop among the Peaches. Tom Hanks is hilarious as the coach; the film is funny and poignant.

AGE
10

This Oscar-nominated film is a fascinating story of contemporary Iran and a universal coming-of-age tale about the bonds of family as well as the specific circumstances of a poor family trying to make ends meet. A beautifully rendered encapsulation of the trials and suspense of childhood. 

AGE
10

A neighborhood in a Pacific Northwest coastal town is threatened with foreclosure and redevelopment when local kids find a map and clues to the loot of a 17th-century pirate chieftain -- which could save their homes. Kids will love this rambunctious, pirate-themed treasure-hunt action-fantasy.

AGE
10

This true story of a boy from a small town who dreams of becoming a rocket scientist is one of the best family movies ever made. The triumph of the underdog is one of literature's most enduring themes, and it's never done better. The script, the production design, and the acting are all superb.

AGE
10

This movie about the real-life integration of a Virginia high school football team teeters on the brink of cliché and stereotype but manages to come down on the side of archetype, thanks to a sure script, solid direction, and a sensational performance by Denzel Washington as the coach.

AGE
11

Four high school girlfriends separate for the summer but vow to keep in touch by way of a pair of magic blue jeans that perfectly fits them all. At times sentimental but ultimately sensible, it's about learning to respect what's in front of you as well as new experiences. Strong female characters.

AGE
11

Set in New Zealand, this is the story of 12-year-old Maori girl Paikaea, so named after her tribe's great leader, over the objections of the chief, when her twin brother and mother die in childbirth. The movie is not just genuinely lyrical, but, even harder to manage, lyrically genuine.

AGE
12

John Philip Sousa never dreamed marching bands could be this cool. Here they're as soul-stirring as raise-the-roof gospel and more irresistibly foot-stompingly, hip-hoppily thrilling than any video on MTV. The story may be an old one, but the details of this unexplored world make it fresh. 

AGE
12

Don't expect a highly accurate portrayal of life in the 1950s, but the relationships will feel like familiar emotional ground. So will quintessential high school moments: the big pep rally, the school dance, worrying about image, and, of course, falling in love. And, boy, can John Travolta dance!

AGE
12

This 1980s cultural phenomenon has soul thanks to the teacher-student relationship between wise Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and lonely teen Daniel (Ralph Macchio). Issues of class, race, (teen) romance, and even war are explored in the coming-of-age tale, where karate is a metaphor for life.

AGE
12

One of the highest-grossing films of all time is often considered a guilty pleasure, despite its 11 Oscars. But there's an irresistible love story starring two of the best actors of their generation (Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet); an evil villain; dazzling visual effects; and a soaring score.

  • What does it mean to "come of age"? Do you feel like you're coming of age?
  • In what ways do adults help, or hinder, the kids in these movies?  

Dramatic Stories

Ages 7-12

Intense and moving, these films illuminate the human struggle.

AGE
7

Sara is brought to a boarding school by her father, who's heading off to war. A remarkable, compassionate character, she sticks up for herself and all others and captivates the girls with her imaginative stories. A winning combination of magic, drama, boarding school bullies, and a resilient orphan.

AGE
8

A 13-year-old New Zealand girl is sent to live with her father in Canada after her mother dies in a car crash. She becomes a "mother goose" to a gaggle of motherless goslings and, with her father, helps them fly south for the winter, thus beginning to heal. A thrilling adventure, exquisitely told.

AGE
8

This documentary tracks students from three NYC public schools as they prepare for an annual citywide ballroom-dancing competition. The dedicated, enchanting fifth graders learn the difficult steps and postures for the rumba, tango, swing, merengue, and fox trot -- and learn much about themselves.

AGE
9

A touching, effervescent, and ultimately tragic biopic about the Grammy-winning Tejano singer Selena (Jennifer Lopez), who in 1995, at age 23, was killed by her fan-club president. At the center is a portrait of a principled and loving Latino family -- something rarely depicted in movies.

AGE
12

Tom Hanks plays astronaut-hero Jim Lovell in this true story of the mission to the moon that almost left three astronauts stranded in space when an oxygen tank exploded. With masterful performances and impeccable technical authenticity, it's a thrilling, heartening tale of the triumph of smart guys. 

  • Practice your poker face during difficult scenes -- kids get more scared when you look anxious.
  • Combine some of Selena's songs with dance steps from Mad Hot Ballroom for an original performance.

Laugh Out Louds

Ages 7-12

These heartfelt, madcap films are a guaranteed giggle.

AGE
7

Buddy has been raised as one of Santa's elves but discovers at age 30 that his real father lives in NYC. Buddy leaves the North Pole to find his dad, and his naive pleasure in the world is almost as endearing to us as it is to (almost) everyone he meets. Will Ferrell as Buddy is hilarious.

AGE
7

A mischievous 8-year-old gets left behind when his family leaves for a Christmas vacation in Paris. Kevin is elated -- but soon realizes being home alone isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when two bumbling burglars show up. The sweet story and great acting make this a holiday standout.

AGE
7

Carmen and Juni, the children of the world's cleverest spies, must rescue their parents -- and the entire world. This great family film has the right combination of fantasy, adventure, special effects, and sly comedy, and it's notable for featuring strong female and Latino characters.

AGE
8

This upbeat, made-for-TV movie is about a pair of teens who, after discovering a mutual love of song, overcome peer pressure to continue their newfound hobby. Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens give lively performances; both come across as friendly, well-adjusted, and immensely likeable. 

AGE
8

This film serves up every element of a classic romantic adventure -- princes, villains, evil geniuses, giants, swordfights, revenge, kidnapping, and a rescue on white horses -- with delicious humor. The storybook characters are consistently hilarious, and the film is resoundingly satisfying.

AGE
11

A cranky TV broadcaster is sent to capture a Groundhog Day celebration, but a snowstorm strands him in the town, and when he wakes up the next morning…it's still Groundhog Day. Bill Murray shines in this uncommonly sweet comedy that delivers lots of laughs and some honest sentiment. 

AGE
11

Napoleon Dynamite just can't catch a break -- and he may be clueless, but he has a great heart. The deliriously specific detail, superb use of the Idaho setting, affection for its characters, unexpected developments, and genuine sweetness keep us laughing with Napoleon, not at him. 

AGE
12

When his wife files for divorce and gets custody of the kids, Daniel is devastated. Then he hears his wife is looking for a nanny/housekeeper, so he transforms himself into a matronly old woman…Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams is hilarious in this film that's sensitive about real human problems.

AGE
12

Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a musician who lives for rock. He's loud, immature, messy, and self-absorbed. But he fakes his way into a job as a fifth-grade substitute teacher at a prep school, where he and the kids learn something new. Black is enormously entertaining, and the kids are terrific.

  • Take movie night on the road during vacations. Nothing beats the whole family laughing together.
  • Learn Napoleon Dynamite's sweet dance moves and hold a talent show. 

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Ages 7-12

Aliens, superheroes, and wizards show reality from a different angle.

AGE
7

In this Jim Henson puppet feature, a planet is ruled by cruel creatures, thanks to the power and longevity granted by the Dark Crystal. But a prophecy has warned of a Gelfing being able to end their reign, and young Jen is sent to fulfill it. Fantasy-loving kids will survive the scary parts.

AGE
7

Young Elliott discovers an extraterrestrial left behind by fellow aliens, and the two develop a close bond. But it becomes clear E.T. can't survive on Earth, so Elliott must get him home. E.T. is one of the most recognizable creatures in film history and was a cultural touchstone for a generation.

AGE
7

On his 11th birthday, Harry receives a mysterious letter from Hogwarts, a boarding school for young witches and wizards, where he's expected in the fall. School begins; Harry meets his future best friends, Ron and Hermione; and things get exciting. Truly magical. The first movie in the series.

AGE
7

Everyday life is challenging for superhero family the Incredibles, and this animated Pixar film is considered one of their best for portraying mature themes in a way kids and adults can enjoy. The human characters are vivid, believable, and utterly endearing, and the film is hilarious at every level.

AGE
7

In this adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, young James loses his parents and is forced to live as a servant to abusive relatives. He spills some magical crocodile tongues on the roots of a peach tree, which soon grows a giant peach, and six insects inside it become James' family.

AGE
7

This stop-motion animation is one of the great family films for all ages. Tim Burton's fantasy centers around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, who decides he needs to bring Christmas to Halloweentown. He'll do just about anything, too -- even kidnapping Santa. Utterly weird, totally enchanting.

AGE
7

Luke Skywalker, a lowly farm boy from the planet Tatooine, is swept into an intergalactic civil war after encountering two droids carrying secret plans for an engine of destruction known as the Death Star. A film whose story and characters have become sewn into the fabric of our popular culture. 

AGE
7

Tweens, teens, and adults will love the brilliant humor, action-adventure sequences, and complex, suspenseful plots of these three Claymation shorts, in which inventor and proper Englishman Wallace and his silent, wise dog Gromit brave a moon appliance, mechanical trousers, and a robotic dog. 

AGE
8

This 1980s blockbuster mixes science fiction with romantic comedy as Marty McFly travels back to the 1950s via a time machine, accidentally interfering with his parents' courtship. Now he must aid his father in attracting his mother to ensure his existence. Exuberant and light-hearted.

AGE
8

Inexplicably drawn to Devil's Tower, Roy and Jillian realize they're not the only ones who feel they've been called there. An enormous spacecraft shows up and returns humans taken over decades, and Roy boldly boards the ship in an intergalactic exchange program. A thrilling adventure story.

AGE
8

Keeping track of who's cursed whom and who's disguised as what can be confusing, but the major forces are clear: the war-making king vs. the well-meaning but petulant Howl. This Japanese animation investigates questions such as, Why do adults go to war? How is love scary and encouraging? 

AGE
8

Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo lives in a Paris train station. He steals from shops to get by, but when he tries to swipe a wind-up mouse, he embarks on an adventure that leads him to learn about an automaton his dead father left him and why it's important. A spectacular film from Martin Scorcese.

AGE
8

From the moment she's born, Matilda must learn to take care of herself. When her father finally allows her to go to school, it's a dream come true. The principal is a bully, but finally a teacher recognizes her exceptional abilities (including telekinesis). A fantasy based on the Roald Dahl book.

AGE
8

Young Bastian escapes his troubled life in a dusty old bookstore, becoming engrossed in a forbidden book in which boy warrior Atreyu seeks to save the land of Fantasia from being destroyed by mythical force the Nothing. Powerful message of daring to dream and soaring to new heights through books.

AGE
8
Forced to move from her home, widowed mouse Mrs. Brisby discovers an underground rat civilization; her late husband helped them escape experimentation and injection with intelligence drugs. The story's tone frequently careens from cheerfulness to grimness and is sometimes downright terrifying.
AGE
8
Christopher Reeve proved an ideal Superman, with just the right level of steadfast simplicity. The film might be a bit slow for younger viewers, but the producers' emphasis on larger-than-life moviemaking (they won a Special Achievement Oscar for visual effects) spices up the well-known story.
AGE
8
Willow is a dwarf-like person whose children find a human baby who's the chosen one to bring down the reign of terror by the magical evil queen. Good triumphs over evil in this wonderful fantasy adventure with lots of intense battle scenes and conflict, often lightened with humor.
AGE
8
Reclusive candy mogul Willy Wonka leads impoverished Charlie and four other children on a tour of his factory. The other kids prove to be brats and suffer colorful fates. However, polite Charlie wins the factory, bringing his family out of poverty. A Roald Dahl classic.
AGE
10

Although this classic monster movie is tame by today's standards, it does deal with issues of life and death and scientific ethics. Boris Karloff invites sympathy with his portrayal of a tragic, misunderstood being with the body and strength of an ogre but the mind and innocence of a child. 

AGE
10

The hilarious team of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis fight ghosts in New York City. Eventually they must face off against apocalyptic forces, who've slipped in via Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis. The 1984 film combining comedy, action, and a little scary stuff stands up.  

AGE
10

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein gets word that he's inherited his famous ancestor's Transylvanian castle. There, he discovers a secret library containing his grandfather's notes on how to bring the dead to life -- so he creates his own monster. Mel Brooks fans will rejoice at one of his funniest films.

AGE
11

Indy is in a race against the Nazis to find the secret resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the remnants of the Ten Commandments. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas forged a masterwork, and Harrison Ford proved himself to be one of the greatest all-time action-adventure heroes.

AGE
11

On a school field trip, Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered spider; the next morning he wakes up with some distinctly arachnid-like qualities. Toby Maguire is great as Peter, the supporting cast excels, and the script is excellent, with respect and affection for the source material.

AGE
11

Sullen 10-year-old Chihiro wanders into a world ruled by witches and monsters, where her parents gorge themselves on enchanted food and turn into pigs. She must overcome her whiny self to win them back. Hayao Miyazaki's magic adventure is an animated masterpiece but can be creepy for young viewers. 

AGE
12

The passionately romantic story of two sets of star-crossed lovers who face enormous obstacles, within themselves and imposed by the outside world. With breathtaking landscapes, gorgeous costumes, magnificent cello music from Yo-Yo Ma, and the most brilliantly staged fight scenes ever put on film.

AGE
12

On a secluded island, three scientists discover a jungle paradise where dinosaurs walk the Earth. Then a tropical storm strikes, and a corrupt computer programmer shuts down crucial security systems. Oscar-winning special effects, lots of frightful moments, and some good laughs.

AGE
12

Frodo Baggins is on a quest to return a powerful ring to the place where it was created, so it can be destroyed -- but he's in for some thrilling adventures. Peter Jackson's transcendent reminder of why we tell stories is astonishingly inventive; every detail is exactly, satisfyingly right. 

AGE
12

A gold medallion is the missing piece to a treasure chest that once turned a boat of pirates into the undead. The delightfully convoluted plot involves swashbuckling romance, double-crossing, sea voyages, and plenty of pirate accents. Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is undeniably fun to watch.

  • Dress in costume for A Princess Bride, or learn a few magic tricks before watching Harry Potter.
  • Have your kids play Willy Wonka and give a tour of your home -- with their imaginative adjustments.

Age 13-17

Classics for Teens

Ages 13-17

These unique, enduring films combine original plots with beloved characters.

AGE
13

Woody Allen's sophisticated take on relationships is lively and fleet, with a plethora of one-liners and hilarious, attention-getting narrative devices, such as flashbacks that let the adult Woody go back to his elementary school. Watchable for older teens but not for kids (casual sex and drug use). 

AGE
13

James Bond is asked to monitor Auric Goldfinger, an international gold merchant the British government suspects to be plotting something vaguely fiendish. With an emphasis on gadgetry, womanizing, and humor in dire circumstances, this third installment is the template for all subsequent Bond films.

AGE
13

Three decades later, this film is every bit as hilarious. God wants Arthur and his men to find the holy grail, so off they go, facing killer rabbits, randy vestal virgins, and other silly characters on their not-so-epic quest. One of the all-time best comedies for families with older kids.

AGE
13

This landmark depiction of teen alienation and delinquency was an iconic screen drama of the 1950s, serious-minded and superbly acted. With James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, it has plenty of don't-try-this-at-home moments, but in a Disney world Rebel remains forceful and un-phony.

AGE
14

Rob Reiner's classic "mockumentary" highlights the failure of a fictional band on its 1982 North America tour. The band is besieged by bad luck, and the members are so over the top it's impossible for anyone to take them seriously. Top-quality humor with classic scenes (these amps go to 11!).

  • Ask your kids why they think these movies have lasting value. What makes a movie a "classic"?
  • These films were released from 1955 to 1984. Which issues do people always seem to grapple with?

Coming-of-Age Tales

Ages 13-17

Through trial and triumph, teens come into their own.

AGE
13

The music! The clothes! The cars! Unknown director George Lucas set a standard for teen movies in 1962. Most of the young actors are famous now -- Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Suzanne Sommers, Mackenzie Phillips -- and the soundtrack is a virtual greatest hits collection from the era.

AGE
13

Calvin (Ice Cube) spends the day trying to buy back his family's barbershop once he learns the loan shark he sold it to plans to turn it into a "gentlemen's club." This unassuming ensemble comedy has a surprisingly gentle and heartfelt center, and it's impossible not to be charmed by it. 

AGE
13

A color-drenched fairy tale for any girl whose athletic endeavors were ever questioned by conservative parents. Spunky and easy to watch, it centers on second-generation Indian families in England striving to maintain traditions, but the universal theme is following your bliss no matter the hurdle.

AGE
13

Fed up with being little, 12-year-old Josh (Tom Hanks) makes a wish at a fair's mechanical swami booth and wakes the next morning in a man's body. Strong, earnest performances make the incredible credible. Intelligent and inventive. (Rated PG before PG-13 existed, the film has mature material.)

AGE
13

The boys at a prestigious prep school aren't prepared for the new English teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), who encourages them to think for themselves and "seize the day!" Older kids fall hard for this coming-of-age drama, which belongs to the ensemble cast of young male actors. 

AGE
13

A darkly sweet portrait of adolescent angst. Edward's social awkwardness and deer-in-headlights self-consciousness is adorable enough to soften the sharpest of his pointed appendages. Exposes the cynical underbelly of front-porch Americana, forcing us to find beauty and truth in the grotesque.

AGE
13

Epic in length and symbolic in treatment, the film never loses sight of its love story. The relationship between the childlike Forrest and the disillusioned Jenny is an allegory for America's loss of innocence from the 1950s to the 1980s, reflected by pop culture and socio-political events. 

AGE
13

This documentary follows two basketball standouts from Chicago from the eighth through the twelfth grades as they aspire to the NBA. A searing portrait of inner-city life in America and the extraordinary, downright unfair expectations placed on the shoulders of many young black athletes.

AGE
13

This quirky coming-of-age story centers on an "accelerated" 14-year-old boy who befriends newcomer Maggie. Viewers may cringe and even laugh at his antics, but they'll sympathize, too: no matter how clever Lucas is at covering the pain of being rejected, he's still an outsider who wants to fit in.

AGE
13

A frank portrait of teens on the cusp of adulthood, this smart, funny movie based in Seattle mines a template for coming-of-age movies -- and comes up with gold. Using stock elements of the genre -- hip soundtrack, slacker kids, and screwed-up families -- this is the stuff of great drama.

AGE
13

Four small-town, 12-year-old boys set out to find a dead body. Their unyielding camaraderie and irrepressible spirit see them through towering adversity. The film goes to considerable lengths to identify the issues and accurately portray the pressures that lead to teen disenchantment. Brilliant. 

AGE
14

In 1984 England, the police come to the small mining town of Durham to keep order during a strike. Amid the tension, 11-year-old Billy, whose main sport is boxing, is pulled into a ballet lesson. His father is furious and tells him to quit -- but Billy has to dance. Tender, funny, and touching.

AGE
14

Five high school students, who rank high and low in popularity, are forced to spend nine hours together in Saturday detention. They eventually come to realize that, underneath the trappings of the social scene, the problems they face are more similar than they think. A John Hughes classic.

AGE
14

After one successful attempt at matchmaking, Cher decides to make over the new girl at school, with disastrous results. Meanwhile, her own love life is confused, but when she starts being honest with herself she sees what she really wants. Loosely based on Jane Austen's Emma.

AGE
14

Bueller wants a break from school. Faking illness, he ropes his friends into joining him, and they hit Chicago in a 1961 Ferrari convertible. Exuberant and stacked hopelessly in favor of its chatty title character, this film is the most enjoyable and smarmiest of the smart kids/dumb parents genre.

AGE
14

This well-written, warmhearted comedy tackles a serious subject: teen pregnancy. Ellen Page plays the smart and soulful, warm and witty maverick Juno who's so unlike many of her peers and yet very much like them, too. Refreshing amid many other movies' disinterested, disaffected teens. 

AGE
14

Formerly homeschooled by her parents in Africa, Cady moves to Illinois for high school and finds herself drawn to the most popular clique. Her new friends appear sweet and supportive but are really competitive, duplicitous, and manipulative. Tina Fey wrote the screenplay and appears as a teacher.

AGE
14

The youngest daughter of an L.A. Mexican-American family wants to go to Columbia University. But her mother wants to marry her off so she can retire. A teen heroine movie that encourages girls to follow their dreams -- and that shows a teenage girl who isn't white, rich, and pampered.

AGE
15

Will, a janitor at MIT, grew up as an abused foster child. When he solves math problems that stump the students, a professor seeks him out -- and then seeks out an estranged friend (Robin Williams) to help him deal with Will. Gritty and moving, it's a powerful tale of realizing your potential.

AGE
15

In this hair-raising tour of adolescence, Sam is turning 16, but her family has forgotten her birthday. Director John Hughes recreates the little humiliations that can make teen life a living hell. An adult comedy with teen characters that has sharply observed moments and now-dated stereotypes. 

AGE
15

Jamal has made it to the second-to-last question on a quiz show, and the cops want to know how he's cheating -- the only way an uneducated boy from the slums could be winning. A big, bold, beautiful film about heroism, true love, and unfailing friendship set in rough-and-tumble modern India.

AGE
16

In Cameron Crowe's love letter to rock music, teenager William gets a big break when Lester Bang, editor of Creem, hires him to cover a Black Sabbath concert. That leads to an assignment at Rolling Stone that changes his life. A clear, affectionate eye for 1970s styles and attitudes.

AGE
16

This unique comedy charts an affair between a young man and a married friend of his parents -- which lasts until he becomes interested in her daughter. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, this is a document of an era with a lush soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel. 

  • Are the popular girls in Mean Girls good role models? What about Juno? Or Sam in Sixteen Candles?
  • Are these teens' stories simple or complex? Can you relate to their issues with school, friends, and parents?

Intense Dramas

Ages 13-17

Best viewed with a grown-up, these powerful films depict difficult issues. 

AGE
13

Altar boy Salvatore finds a substitute for the father he lost to war at the movie theater: Alfredo reluctantly teaches him how to operate the projector -- but then he develops higher hopes for his surrogate son, who finally leaves to become a filmmaker. The perfect introduction to foreign films.  

AGE
13

A political drama about the passing of the 13th Amendment and the end of the Civil War. There's no better film about how even our greatest leaders had to make quid pro quo overtures across party lines to move forward. Eloquently scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner.

AGE
13

Based on the true story of a L.A. teacher who converted apathetic students into math stars. Full of Spanish, calculus, and inspiration, it brings depth and dignity to its exploration of high school life -- rare in Hollywood. James Edward Olmos is near-perfect in an Oscar-nominated performance.

AGE
14

Will wants to live a life of no attachments, but a troubled 12-year-old boy ultimately insists on becoming the closest thing to a friend Will has ever known. A purely satisfying and enjoyable film, with a superb performance of great honesty, subtlety, and comic timing from Hugh Grant.

AGE
14

In this inspiring, wrenching drama, Celie, a Southern woman, journeys from abuse to independence. The film deals with traumatic issues, including child abuse, sexual abuse, racism, and sexism, and has complex African-American characters rarely seen in American movies. Based on Alice Walker's novel.

AGE
14

In 1936, King George VI inherits the British throne -- but he stammers. Over time, a speech therapist helps him gain the confidence and will to overcome his fears and let his voice be heard. Based on true events, with masterful performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter.

AGE
14

A heartfelt depiction of a Bengali-American family that addresses the complexity of being raised by immigrant parents. A sudden tragedy brings Gogol home, where he rediscovers the meaning of his name and begins a new life with a fiercely modern wife and a deeper appreciation for his parents.

AGE
15

Mob-family patriarch Don Corleone is on his way out, and his most promising potential heir is his war-hero son, Michael. As family members cope with the trials of gangster life, the latent power structures of society and family become evident. Rightly considered one of the greatest films ever made. 

AGE
15

Whether you find this modern musical moving or maddening, it is fascinating. In late-1800s Paris, heartbroken poet Christian pursues the mantra that the greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return. With kinetic camerawork, color-saturated tableaus, and lots and lots of music.

AGE
15

When the anchorman of a TV network finds out he's being fired, he announces he'll kill himself during his last broadcast. Often said to be the movie that predicted "trash TV," it seems especially on-target about the idea of huge, anything-for-money corporations running the media. For mature teens.

AGE
15

Marion steals money and skips town, then stops at a remote motel, run by Norman, who's cheerful but nervous. He mentions his overbearing, yet absent, mother. His hobby is taxidermy, and he happens to have the extra key to Marion's room….One of the scariest movies ever made. A Hitchcock classic.

AGE
15

This brutal, emotionally devastating, three-hour drama won several Oscars and has a powerful message about the human spirit -- but pulls no punches in depicting WWII. Steven Spielberg is a virtuoso filmmaker here, searching for the one true story that will make the Holocaust comprehensible. 

AGE
16

On one hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, residents battle despair, joblessness, discrimination, and each other. Blame is everywhere; anger predominates. Spike Lee's intense study of racism in urban America during the late 1980s. 

AGE
16

The devastating true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist in Poland caught in the horrors of World War II. Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor who lost many family members, powerfully conveys the journey of a man transformed from a highly cultured musician to a scavenging, debased shell.

AGE
16

This psychologically and morally complex tale of a trial to determine who is at fault for a murder and possible rape works to expose the near impossibility of finding absolute truth in the world, and the danger of condemning any one. The film that brought Akira Kurosawa to international renown.

AGE
16

Andy is convicted of murder and sent to prison. He befriends Red and gets a job in the prison library. Things unravel, but there's a happy ending, and the valuable lesson of friendship between blacks and whites may inspire children who haven't heard the story a hundred times.

  • Schedule a time to watch an intense film. Ban multitasking, and then discuss difficult scenes.
  • Ask teens for their own examples of hardship or prejudice that help them relate to these movies.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Ages 13-17

Aliens, superheroes, and wizards show reality from a different angle.

AGE
13

When a powerful villain appears on Earth to find an artifact that holds limitless energy, the head of secret organization SHIELD calls in the toughest team he can find: the Avengers. Quick-witted and nuanced, the film takes the best of the superhero genre and dishes it out in a fanboy-pleasing way. 

AGE
13

Every year, in a post-apocalyptic future, a boy and a girl are randomly selected to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death for the Capitol's amusement...and as a brutal reminder of the 12 districts' failed rebellion. Violent, but in a heartbreaking way.

AGE
13

Billionaire Tony Stark is abducted in Afghanistan and grievously wounded by the very weapons his company manufactures. Back in America, he vows to set things right with the help of a high-tech exoskeleton. Robert Downey Jr. elevates this film; he's funny, human, heroic, and completely engaging. 

AGE
13

A thinking person's thriller, with one of the finest performances ever given by a child, Haley Joel Osment, who plays the patient of a child therapist (Bruce Willis). At times it's scarier than R-rated films, and viewers may find the thoughtful views on life and death comforting or disturbing. 

AGE
14

Big, bold, and bruising, this is a prime example of how a high-budget, high-profile comic-book sequel can still be an actual movie -- well-made, exciting, invested, and engaging. Heath Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as the nightmarish Joker in his final role before his death.

AGE
14

American General Jack D. Ripper goes mad and sends planes to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. Officials scramble to deal with the situation, but can the attack be stopped in time? The blackest of black comedies, with a sophisticated mix of satire and politics. Teens will need some context. 

AGE
15

In futuristic, dystopian L.A., Rick Deckard, a former Blade Runner, is called out of retirement to kill a gang of rogue replicants, robots that look just like humans -- but by now they've developed human emotions and a lust for life. Considered one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time.

  • Read The Hunger Games or the story that inspired Blade Runner to see how they differ from the films
  • Even a movie based on a comic book can be extremely violent. Is there "good" and "bad" violence?