Educating Tweens and Teens on Pop Culture: The Movies I INSIST My Kids See

3 years ago

It took me a long time to gather my thoughts for this list of essential movies I want my children to see before I can consider their pop culture foundation complete. A long  time. I mean, with all the junk that can be dumped into an impressionable young mind, I had to very seriously consider what junk wanted throw in there.

A few movies have our hearts forever. Kids today (those whipper-snappers!) will never have the luxury of dialing a rotary phone, clipping a buzzing pager onto their jeans pocket, or manually shifting gears in a car. And that's sad.

I've come up with the top movies I insist that my kids to see while they're kids (or at least young adults), movies that may help teach, enlighten, open their eyes to a time gone by, or simply entertain. But, most of all, movies I'd watch right beside them. If they'll let me. 

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Image: Buena Vista Pictures

Here's Why: Oh, so many reasons. Firstly, Holy Eighties! Every kid should experience a little taste of the 1980's, and this movie, that brought Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) and her wards face-to-face with gang bangers, drunken frat boys, jazz greats, imminent death, and Thor himself, is a perfect example. Complete with steel, American-made cars, payphones, and being utterly lost in a big city before the time of technology, Chris fearlessly protects the kids and has them in bed before Mom and Dad get home. 

Scream (1996)

Here's Why: Nearly-black lipstick, fun with landline phones, and a persistent environment of fear. And then there's the iconic mask. I simply could not sleep well at night if my kids didn't know from whence that came. Also, what's better for a sleepover than watching teens get picked off one by one?

Terminator 2 (1991)

Here's Why: I'm going to try to overlook my girlhood crush on Eddie Furlong. And all the Teen Beat magazines I chopped up in its wake. Bottom line is, this movie essentially broke ground for today's technology-saturated movie industry. The action was kickass (it is, still), and the special effects were revolutionary. Some of the scenes in this movie outdo some of the CGI you see today (See: Battleship, no offense Rihanna). Bonus: Your kids will get to see the first tender moment between man and machine.

Titanic (1997)

Here's Why: Any nearly three-hour movie that makes me fork over seven dollars and twenty-five cents three times to see it in a theater is worthy of a watch. To this day, I'm still convinced James Cameron threaded subliminal messages to see it over and over between frames. You know all the words. I know all the words. The set and color scheme are beautiful and grand. And we all still cry when Jack lets go. Need I say more?

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Here's Why: I first saw this movie when I was ten. I admit, maybe a bit too young, but, like a fine wine, this movie only improves with age. It's a perfect study of the haves and have-nots, and the transformative, class-jumping power of love. Plus, there will inevitably be one kid at the table who doesn't get the 'Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner' reference. Don't let it be yours.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Here's Why: This movie introduces the construct of human archetypes, with whom your kids will deal (or be) for the greater part of their lives. Also, that crappy circumstances can make friends of even the most bitter enemies. Further, that people can put their differences aside, if only they stop to listen to each other. And, finally, they can see what the inside of a high school library looks like before they all disappear.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Here's Why: Sixteen Candles provides another valuable life lesson: you might have a few shitty days over the course of your life. In fact, you may have more than a few. And the shitty day might also fall on your birthday. Better to know this sooner rather than later.

There's Something About Mary (1998)

Here's Why: I had to sit in the FIRST ROW to watch this movie in the theater, because it was so packed. And I literally fell out of my chair laughing in the theater. It never happened before, and it hasn't happened since. And, though, a few things now might make them (at an appropriate age, of course -- let's say twenty!) laugh at their utter stupidity, I really just want to see their reaction. I also acknowledge that they probably would never want to watch this with dear, old Mom. I know. But I'm holding out hope.

The Shining (1980)

Here's Why: I'm a die-hard, lifelong fan of Stephen King. I fell out of the womb that way. If Stephen King wrote a grocery list on a Subway sandwich wrapper, I would pay to read it. That's just how I was made. That said, every teen wants to have the bejesus scared out of them by creepy children and a psycho wielding an ax. They just do. Let the walls bleed. It must be done.

The Wedding Singer (1998)

Here's Why: Despite the fact that neither your kids or mine will get the eighties references, this movie is just hilarious and adorable all at the same time. It's a comedy, a love story, and a best-of-the-eighties collection all in one. They're also bound to fall in love with Grow Old With You. I think.

Stand By Me (1986)

Here's Why: I told you I'm a King fan. That we know. But this movie - this movie shows the harshness, the edge, of human interactions before the world was set on a path of political correctness. The relationships are raw, the characters complex, and the movie deals with issues we don't readily discuss as openly as we once did - difficult family dynamics and death. Kids are mean, boys are cruel, and Stand By Me proves that we can begin to know others at a deeper level when we share unfamiliar circumstance. 

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Here's Why: I'm not going to lie. I'm not a Matthew Broderick fan, but this movie essentially introduces the adolescent to, well, questionable behavior. Bueller (Broderick), the budding sociopath, fakes sick and takes his besties on a day of hooky they won't soon forget. Your kids will learn such gems of knowledge as what a panic attack looks like, and that you can't drive a car backwards to take miles off a car. Plus, it's sort of a classic. If Bueller pulled this stunt today, with the way we use social media, he'd be caught before lunch.

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