FOR LITTLE ONES (7 and under):
1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Why it’s still good: It teaches valuable lessons about empathy while also being really fun and exciting.
Be aware: Any kid with a heart will cry buckets the first time they see this, but it’s worth it.
Notable performance: Drew Barrymore when she was a teeny-tiny kiddo!
2. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Why it’s still good: The music is probably the best of any Disney movie, and will lead to spontaneous singalongs for the rest of your life.
Be aware: Like most Disney “princess” movies, it’s kind of a bummer if examined with too close of a feminism lens. But the songs are so good!
Notable performance: Um, Prince Eric.
3. Flight Of The Navigator (1986)
Why it’s still good: It’s like E.T. with more robots.
Be aware: There are some dated cultural references, but the adventure holds up.
Notable performance: Pee-Wee Herman lends his voice to Max.
4. An American Tail (1986)
Why it’s still good: Adorable mice singing heartbreaking songs? OK!
Be aware: Might inspire a lifelong fear of cats.
Notable performance: The legendary Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp!) is the voice of Henri.
5. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Why it’s still good: It will make you and the kid weep a hundred million tears.
Be aware: It will make you and the kid weep a hundred million tears.
Notable performance: Tod and Copper are voiced by Mickey Rooney and Kurt Russell. MICKEY ROONEY and KURT RUSSELL.
6. The Land Before Time (1988)
Why it’s still good: Because until you see this movie, you don’t know how CUTE dinosaurs can be.
Be aware: Thought you didn’t have any tears left after The Fox And The Hound? Wrong!
Notable performance: Diana Ross voiced the balladeer, but was uncredited.
FOR KIDS (8+):
7. The Princess Bride (1987)
Why it’s still good: Because it’s one of the funniest, most quotable movies of all time. Duh.
Be aware: Once you introduce this movie to kids, they’ll want to watch it all the time and they’ll quote it senselessly for the rest of their lives.
Notable performance: Cary Elwes at peak foxiness.
8. WarGames (1983)
Why it’s still good: The themes of technology, video games, government creepiness, and war are even more relevant now than they were when it came out!
Be aware: It’s sort of intense, especially scary if you’re a libertarian family.
Notable performance: The overwhelmingly sweet romantic tension between Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy!
9. BeatStreet (1984)
Why it’s still good: The dancing and music is better than all of the Step Up movies combined!
Be aware: They say the f-word about four times, even though it’s rated PG.
Notable performance: Gorgeous Rae Dawn Chong, who’s played the love interest of both Arnold Schwarzenegger AND Susan Sarandon over the course of her career.
10. Beetlejuice (1988)
Why it’s still good: It is PERFECT for a Halloween sleepover. Not too scary, but just creepy enough.
Be aware: The teen character is depressed and suicidal—but all is resolved by the end.
Notable performance: Winona Ryder, setting the bar for goth teens 4ever.
11. Gremlins (1984)
Why it’s still good: It’s super fun and funny, but with a worthwhile secret message about how consumerism is a bummer.
Be aware: They talk about how there’s no Santa.
Notable performance: The mogwais when they’re still cute!
12. Ghostbusters (1984)
Why it’s still good: The silly special effects don’t even matter because the real point of this movie is the humor and charm, and that is totally timeless.
Be aware: Be prepared for lots of “who you gonna call?” jokes every time you pick up the phone. Oh: and there’s implied oral sex, but it’ll fly over the head of younger kids anyway.
Notable performance: I could never choose just one.
13. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Why it’s still good: One of those ideas that doesn’t seem like it should work at all, but it somehow magically does.
Be aware: Jessica Rabbit might inspire complicated feelings. Also, there’s a lot of (super cartoonish) violence.
Notable performance: Jessica Rabbit was voiced by the legendary Kathleen Turner, who is amazing. Obviously.
14. Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1985)
Why it’s still good: It’s a gentle, fun introduction into teenagedom that is perfect for a 12 year old who’s fascinated by high school.
Be aware: Girls will just want to have fun after they watch this.
Notable performance: Shannen Doherty as Maggie Malene, def.
15. The Goonies (1985)
Why it’s still good: It’s fast-paced and rollicking enough not to be boring for even the shortest of attention spans.
Be aware: Swear words or whatever. But no one will notice because you’ll be having such a great time!
Notable performance: Sean Astin AKA Samwise Gamgee was the cutest kid ever.
FOR TEENS (13+):
16. The Breakfast Club
Why it’s still good: Because what you’ll find out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, princess and a criminal.
Be aware: There’s pot and depression. But we’re talking about teenagers, and the lessons are wonderful.
Notable performance: Choosing just one would be antithetical to the heart of this movie.
17. Adventures In Babysitting (1987)
Why it’s still good: This movie just has some kind of kid magic—guarantee, they will think it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen.
Be aware: Younger kids will also love this movie if you allow it, but there’s a Playboy magazine and sexual themes.
Notable performance: Vincent D’Onofrio is lookin’ super fine (and nuts) in this movie as “Thor” (Mr. Dawson).
18. Back To The Future (1985)
Why it’s still good: It’s still really funny.
Be aware: His mom tries to make out with him and it’s the most awkward thing ever. Also, more profane than you might have remembered!
Notable castmember: Crispin Glover! Steals every scene he’s in.
19. The Outsiders (1983)
Why it’s still good: Kids will love this movie. It’s just gritty enough to be interesting, and it’s a great intro into more adult films.
Be aware: Someone dies.
Notable performance: Hard to choose just one, but Patrick Swayze as Darrel Curtis is pretty spectacular.
20. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
Why it’s still good: Written by Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) and directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless)—where could it possibly go wrong?
Be aware: Only for people who aren’t concerned with their kids seeing sex, drugs, and other themes. But although Fast Times is ostensibly a comedy, it teaches some really valuable lessons about all of the above.
Notable performance: Phoebe Cates!!!!!!!
21. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Why it’s still good: Because Ferris is the best friend you always wanted and Sloane is the coolest girl and Cameron is all of us inside our heart of hearts. Also fun to watch it again with Fight Club in the back of your mind. Just think about it.
Be aware: I don’t know, this movie is awesome. Enjoy it!
Notable performance: The most underrated part of this film is Jennifer Grey as Jeanie Bueller, especially in her scene with then-hot Charlie Sheen.
22. The Lost Boys (1987)
Why it’s still good: It’s the best teen vampire movie ever made.
Be aware: It is scary and there are maggots.
Notable performance: BOTH Coreys are in this movie!
23. Lean On Me (1989)
Why it’s still good: It’s based on a true story and it will inspire lots of interesting discussion about education, how adults should talk to kids, and how to handle “at-risk youth”
Be aware: Lots of language and racial epithets—there to serve the story, though.
Notable performance: Morgan Freeman is amazing.
24. Shag (1989)
Why it’s still good: Because every girl needs a Myrtle Beach weekend.
Be aware: Even though this movie is rated PG, there’s a lot of adult (aka sexy) themes. The messages are great for teenagers, but not appropriate for younger kids.
Notable performance: Annabeth Gish as Pudge, the most relatable character that ever was.
25. Say Anything (1989)
Why it’s still good: The boombox! Lili Taylor! John Cusack’s tiny perfect face! EVERYTHING.
Be aware: The love lessons are actually kind of questionable?
Notable performance: John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, spoiling men for the rest of your goddamn life.