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11 Must See Movies For Kids

Do you foist films with messages on unsuspecting children? Here’s my list, what’s yours?

The average child costs $500,000 to raise to age 18 and the process takes great patience and energy. But, on the flip side, you get to foist your favorite movies on a captive audience. Seems like a fair trade to me.

When our kids were small we started a list of the films we most wanted them to see before they went off on their own. These weren’t necessarily our all-time favorite flicks but they were memorable movies with messages we hoped they’d absorb.   

My list starts with films I’d show to kids as young as 6 and progresses to movies for older teens. Most are about doing the right thing, despite the cost.  

  • Hoosiers – A small farm town high school basketball team triumphs in a story of determination and redemption.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life – George Bailey painstakingly saves his town from the greedy Mr. Potter and gets to see what life there would be like if he’d never been born.
  • Chariots of Fire – Two Olympic sprinters – one Jew and one devout Christian -- struggle to reconcile their beliefs with the demands of the British establishment.  
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Jimmy Stewart’s naïve Sen. Smith fights corruption in Washington. 
  • Inherit the Wind – A fictionalized account of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial in which legal giants do battle over evolution and freedom of conscience. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – A small town Southern lawyer defends a black man against a trumped-up rape charge during the Depression, as seen through the eyes of his young daughter. 
  • 12 Angry Men – A lone dissenting juror takes on his fellow jurors – and their prejudices – over what they believed was an open-and-shut murder case. 
  • Glory – The story of one of the first black infantry units to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War. The final scene is so moving, tears start to flow as soon as I hear the first strains of the haunting music. 
  • A Few Good Men—“You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson thunders at Tom Cruise in this courtroom drama about Marines on trial. The screenplay, written by Aaron Sorkin, is riveting.
  • A Man for All Seasons – The story of the price Thomas More paid for following his conscience in refusing to support King Henry VIII’s annulment of his first marriage and remarriage to Anne Boleyn. The dialog is brilliant.  
  • Gladiator – It’s pretty gory, but Russell Crowe gives a great performance as a warrior who becomes a slave who becomes a gladiator trying to stop the evil Roman emperor.
  • Schindler’s List—Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved 1,100 of his Jewish workers in Poland during the Holocaust. 


So what’s on your list of must-see movies for kids? Post them in the comment section or e-mail them to me and I’ll use some in a follow-up column.

Margie Peterson August 04, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Great ideas for movies, Walt and Jonathan. We love the Toy Story movies but I'd forgotten all about the Little Rascals. Also, I'm not sure my kids remember The Sound of Music -- they saw it so long ago. We'll have to get that again.
Pamela Porter August 04, 2011 at 06:13 PM
That even though dreams can sometimes be temporarily waylaid, hope can keep them afloat.
Susan DeYoung August 07, 2011 at 07:29 PM
I loved your article!!! Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a great movie for students to learn about perspectives in Holocaust history. When older students learn about capitol punishment, The Green Mile is a great film. When studying diversity and tolerance, Sandra Bullock's movie, The Blind Side is amazing.
Joe R. Frinzi August 15, 2011 at 01:05 PM
Some good kid films I like include The Indian in the Cupboard, Iron Giant, The Secret Garden (1993), James and the Giant Peach and A Little Princess (1995).
Jonathan Gerard August 15, 2011 at 03:12 PM
Another great one is "Ruggles of Red Gap." A British gent loses his man-servant (Charles Laughton) in a poker game to a crude nouveau riche American (Charles Ruggles) from the wild west. The American teaches the man-servant about American democracy while the man-servant teaches the crude American about values, too. It includes the most moving recitation of the Gettysburg Address you'll ever hear.

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