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Essential Movies Every Kid Should See

Recently, Entertainment Weekly released an impressive list of the 55 Essential Movies Kids Must Experience (Before They Turn 13). I painstakingly read the list, and decided I must be incomplete as an adult, because I managed to miss EIGHTEEN of these classics. Perhaps you’ll be more well-rounded than I.

MuppetMovie_Buds1. The Muppet Movie (1979)
G, 95 mins., directed by James Frawley
Starring the Muppets, Charles Durning

This was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I watched it ALL.THE.TIME. I alternated between the original and The Great Muppet Caper. Loved Fozzie and his Studebaker. And of course, Steve Martin’s classic waiter role.

2. Toy Story (1995)
G, 81 mins., directed by John Lasseter
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen

Toy Story was cute. I think I saw the second one. Not really sure. But of course, every kid needs to know about Woody and Buzz.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Unrated, 26 mins., directed by Chuck Jones
Starring the voice of Boris Karloff

Another favorite. I much prefer this to the Jim Carrey version.

4. Babe (1995)
G, 89 mins., directed by Chris Noonan
Starring James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, and the voice of Christine Cavanaugh

And here it is….the first essential movie I missed. I know it’s about a super-cute talking pig. (Cuter than Wilbur? Really?)

5. Mary Poppins (1964)
G, 139 mins., directed by Robert Stevenson
Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson

I walked around literally all of last Friday singing, “Let’s go fly a kite….” It easily gets stuck in your head, even after all these years.

6. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

G, 90 mins., directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Starring the voices of Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson

One of my favorite Disney movies. I actually went through a phase in my teen years when I collected the Disney VHS movies of my youth. This was one of them.

7. The Little Mermaid (1989)
G, 83 mins., directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring the voices of Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Pat Carroll

Another Disney gem. In ninth grade, I performed a lip sync routine to an Ariel song, while wearing green jeans and holding a stuffed Flounder. True story.

8. Finding Nemo (2003)
G, 100 mins., directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
Starring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould

Absolutely lovely. I get to relive my childhood through my kiddo, as he recently discovered Nemo.

9. The Red Balloon (1956)
Unrated, 34 mins., directed by Albert Lamorisse
Starring Pascal Lamorisse

Okay, what?! Really? I watched this in school as a kid, and I thought it was awful. In preparation for this, I watched the trailer, and I’m still stumped as to what makes it so great. Please, explain.

10. Pinocchio (1940)
G, 88 mins., directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske, et al.
Starring the voices of Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards

Pinocchio kind of creeped me out as a kid. Especially when he turned into a donkey. Sorry, spoiler!

11. Annie (1982)
G, 127 mins., directed by John Huston
Starring Aileen Quinn, Carol Burnett, Albert Finney

Eh. I thought Annie was a little annoying. And Carol Burnett was almost as creepy as Pinocchio. Then again, it has been more than 20 years since I’ve watched this. Maybe I’m being unfair.

12. The Kid (1921)
Unrated, 68 mins., directed by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan

Never saw it. I have done a fair amount of reading about this movie, Charlie Chaplin, and Jackie Coogan, though. Did you know Jackie’s parents stole all his childhood-actor-fame money?


13. WALL•E (2008)
G, 98 mins., directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin

Never saw it. There is a point when you’re an adult but don’t yet have children when it’s odd to watch a kid’s movie. This release fell into that time zone for me.


14. The Sound of Music (1965)
G, 174 mins., directed by Robert Wise
Starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer

Absolutely lovely. A joy to watch, even today. And those songs! Who doesn’t love them, AND still sing them? Nobody can resist “Doe, A Deer……”


15. The Lion King (1994)
G, 88 mins., directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Starring the voices of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons

Hakuna Matata, right?


16. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
PG, 102 mins., directed by Victor Fleming
Starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Margaret Hamilton  

This movie has a strong personal meaning for me. Love it. Have loved it since I was four years old. Can still sing all the songs.


17. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
G, 103 mins., directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds

Nope. Missed it.


18. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Unrated, 96 mins., directed by George Seaton
Starring Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne

Missed it, too. I’m not a huge fan of black and white flicks. So sue me.


19. The Iron Giant (1999)
PG, 86 mins., directed by Brad Bird
Starring the voices of Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel

Honestly? I’ve never even heard of this. Oh, I was in college….I wasn’t watching cartoons. Much.


20. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
PG, 115 mins., directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

Ellllllliooooootttttt. Who can forget Drew Barrymore’s famous scream? And I’m pretty sure Reese’s Pieces stock increased dramatically that year.


21. Elf (2003)
PG, 97 mins., directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel

I’d much rather watch this at Christmas than that old black and white one listed above. In fact, I make it a point to watch this every year, along with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Olive, the Other Reindeer.”


22. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
PG, 98 mins., directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera

Nope. Missed it. Didn’t have a kid yet.


23. Star Wars (1977)
PG, 121 mins., directed by George Lucas
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness

I remember watching this frequently as a young one. I seriously doubt I could sit through it now. And I have no desire whatsoever to do so.

24. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
PG, 152 mins., directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Not a sci-fi magic wizard fan. Missed it.

pee-wee25. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
PG, 90 mins., directed by Tim Burton
Starring Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily

Yes! Pee-Wee was awesome, until he turned into a pervert. This is the one when his bike got stolen, right? And he met Large Marge? Good stuff.

26. March of the Penguins (2005)
G, 80 mins., directed by Luc Jacquet
Narrated by Morgan Freeman

I admit it, I saw this as an adult, without kids, on purpose. I think I own it, actually. It’s beautiful. And it’ll likely make you cry.

27. Home Alone (1990)
PG, 103 mins., directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

Another one of my faves that I watched on repeat. Still a great one today, ya filthy animal.

28. The Black Stallion (1979)
G, 118 mins., directed by Carroll Ballard
Starring Kelly Reno, Mickey Rooney, Teri Garr

I vaguely remember watching this as a child. I never went through that horse obsession phase that most girls do, so I didn’t really care.

29. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
G, 89 mins., directed by Mel Stuart
Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum

Creepy. Colorful. Classic. I always laughed at Grandpa Joe and Grandpa Josephine….and all those grandparents in the same bed. I know they were poor, but really?

30. Yellow Submarine (1968)
G, 85 mins., directed by George Dunning
Starring the Beatles

Don’t hate me; I don’t really like the Beatles that much. I didn’t even know they were in a movie. Missed it.

bob-hoskins-who-framed-roger-rabbit-died-ftr31. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
PG, 104 mins., directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner

I was a big fan of this one, but the detective was SO MEAN. Roger was annoying, but I loved the animation in this one.

32. The Incredibles (2004)
PG, 115 mins., directed by Brad Bird
Starring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter

Nope. Time zone warp. Missed it.

33. The LEGO Movie (2014)
PG, 100 mins., directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring Will Ferrell and the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

Nope. Missed it. (Come on, it just came out. I’m not that far behind.)

princessbride193434. The Princess Bride (1987)
PG, 98 mins., directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” ‘Nuff said. And little Fred Savage. Awww.

35. The Goonies (1985)
PG, 114 mins., directed by Richard Donner
Starring Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Anne Ramsey, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman

This is weird…I think I’ve only seen The Goonies once, at a slumber party in second grade. Huh.

36. A Christmas Story (1983)
PG, 94 mins., directed by Bob Clark
Starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, and Darren McGavin

Every year. The leg lamp never gets old. Fa-ra-ra-ra-raaaaa!

37. West Side Story  (1961)
Unrated, 152 mins., directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Starring Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno

I left the Broadway version of this at intermission because I thought it was ridiculous, and I couldn’t get past the fight-dancing. Oooh, you’re so bad, with all that pirouetting! I haven’t seen the movie, and I imagine I’d fall asleep.

large_its_a_wonderful_life_bw_blu-ray3bw38. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Unrated, 130 mins., directed by Frank Capra
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore

One of the few black and whites that I did like. It may be because I had this weird girl-crush on Donna Reed when I was a kid.

39. Duck Soup (1933)
Unrated, 68 mins., directed by Leo McCarey
Starring the Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont

No. No way.

40. Back to the Future (1985)
PG, 116 mins., directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson

Everyone has seen this. Right? RIGHT?

41. Young Frankenstein (1974)
PG, 106 mins., directed by Mel Brooks
Starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, and Cloris Leachman

Literally one of my favorite flicks of all time. I know, it’s black and white. I know. But I truly love it. And my husband refuses to watch it with me, so I haven’t seen it in years. (He won’t watch Airplane!, either, which breaks my heart.) PUT. THE CANDLE. BACK!

42. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
PG-13, 105 mins., directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder

Beautiful. I feel like I should go watch this again.

43. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
PG-13, 178 mins., directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen

No. I just can’t do it. And it’s like, four hours long, right?

44. The Karate Kid (1984)
PG, 126 mins., directed by John G. Avildsen
Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue

I still think of Mr. Miyagi every time I try to kill a fly.

45. Stand By Me (1986)
R, 89 min., directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland

Excellence in all forms. RIP, River Phoenix.

46. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
PG, 87 mins., directed by Wes Anderson
Starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray

I have not seen this. But I saw a still from the movie, and it looks really creepy.

47. Big (1988)
PG, 104 min., directed by Penny Marshall
Starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard

Another lovely movie that I’ve seen more times than I can count. Thank you for introducing me to FAO Schwarz.


48. Some Like it Hot (1959)
Unrated, 120 mins., directed by Billy Wilder
Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Joe E. Brown



49. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
PG, 115 mins., directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

Not really my style, but I’ve seen it at least once.


50. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
PG-13, 143 mins., directed by Gore Verbinski
Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightley

I got over my Donna Reed crush and moved on to Kiera Knightley. This movie was fun, although Johnny Depp was a little odd. Then again, it’s Johnny Depp, so….yeah.


51. The Avengers (2012)
PG-13, 143 mins., directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston



52. Titanic (1997)
PG-13, 194 mins, directed by James Cameron
Starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio

Oh, the most tragically beautiful love story of all time. Even if you haven’t seen it, you know how it ends. Spoiler: the ship sinks.


53. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
PG-13, 120 mins., directed by Ang Lee
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Chow Yun-Fat

No. Why would I?


54. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
129 minutes, directed by Robert Mulligan
Starring Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford, Brock Peters

This is another black and white that actually is on my favorite list. Mainly because I loved the book.


55. Jurassic Park (1993)
PG-13, 127 mins., directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum

I still think this could happen.


Well, what do you think? Have you seen them all? Are there any movies you thought should be on the list that aren’t?


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