Movies For Significant Moments in Childhood

Everyone should have a movie-watching experience that has particular resonance simply because its themes or subject matter mirrored what was happening in their own life at the time. Maybe they were grieving the loss of a pet when they happened to see Old Yeller, or they ran away from home (without anyone noticing, of course) only to see The Wizard of Oz upon their return. The movies in these instances have the power to inform/educate as well as create much-needed emotional identification. Seeing other people coping with your same ordeal can create a kind of empathy that, though they’re merely fictitious characters, is no less comforting than “the real thing.”

I will always have a special place in my heart for Cool Hand Luke because of this phenomenon. I must have been about 17 or 18 when I first saw Paul Newman cutting the heads off of parking meters and shouting at the heavens – paralleling my own struggles with faith, authority, and relationships at the time. It just spoke to me.

Whether you have some of these memories or not, we can all agree that everyone should have (one). Well if you’re a parent or one day plan to be, consider this section a go-to guide to foster these very experiences for your offspring. (And feel free to provide me with your own suggestions so I can add them for the benefit of others!)

Afflictions Since Birth/Infancy

If they’re an orphan: Angels in the Outfield, Free Willy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Heidi, Dick Tracy, Great Expectations, Despicable Me, The Bear, Secret Garden, Madeline, Tangled, Star Wars, Newsies, Pollyanna, Dark Crystal, Harry Potter series, and Annie
If they’re a twin separated at birth: The Parent Trap and Star Wars
If they’re raised by animals: The Jungle Book and Ice Age
If they have a deadbeat parent: Angels in the Outfield, Elf, Up, Radio Flyer, The Mighty, Time Bandits, Great Expectations, Night of the Hunter, Secret Garden, Kindergarten Cop, Whale Rider, and Free Willy
If they’re poor: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Gold Rush, A Knight’s Tale, Lagaan, Kes, Old Yeller, Adventures of Robin Hood, and Beasts of the Southern Wild
If they’re poor and want to swoon royalty:
Thief of Bagdad, A Knight’s Tale, A Bug’s Life, Ever After, Cinderella, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Aladdin
If they have really weird family members:
Christmas Vacation, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
If they’re disabled or special needs:
The Mighty, Simon Birch, The Yearling, Secret Garden, Princess Bride, and Finding Nemo
If they’re unfairly occupied (and taxed) by the British:
Lagaan and Rabbit-Proof Fence
If they’re prophesized to save the world and something wants to kill them for it:
Willow, The Matrix, Dark Crystal, Sleeping Beauty, Terminator 2, Jason and the Argonauts, The Neverending Story, The Fifth Element, Army of Darkness, Dark Crystal, Harry Potter, and Kung Fu Panda
If they’re prophesized to end the world:
Hellboy and Ghostbusters II

Inexplicable Events

If they’re sucked into a board game: Jumanji
If they’re seeing dead people: The Sixth Sense, 13 Ghosts, Field of Dreams, Now & Then, The Trouble With Harry, The Haunting, and Ghostbusters
If they’re transformed into an old woman, mouse, or beast at the hands of an evil magician: Howl’s Moving Castle, The Witches, Princess and the Frog, and Beauty and the Beast
If their family is transformed into pigs or bears at the hands of a witch: Spirited Away and Brave
If they purchase small poisonous fruits: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
If they went bald: Peanut Butter Solution
If the rate at which their hair grows is a major nuisance: Peanut Butter Solution
If a giant rabbit is ravaging their city: Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit
If they accidentally marry a dead person: Corpse Bride
If they’re scheduled to be killed or eaten: Babe
If they’re stranded on a desert island: The Black Stallion, Swiss Family Robinson, Life of Pi, Father Goose, and Lord of the Flies
If burglars threaten their livelihood: Home Alone and The General
If they nearly choked to death from eating: Field of Dreams
If they accidentally kill someone: The Little Fugitive, The Lion King, and Simon Birch
If they’re captured by dwarves – I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous … I mean little people: Time Bandits

Something’s Suddenly Wrong …

If they’ve had bad luck or stint in juvey: Holes and Hunt for the Wilderpeople
If they think a parent hates them: Jumanji, Hook, Clifford, The Yearling, Elf, Drop Dead Fred, Steamboat Bill Jr., Stand By Me, Star Wars, and The Sound of Music
If they feel lesser than a sibling: Stand By Me and Fantastic Mr. Fox
If an older sibling gives them a bad name: Stand By Me and Arthur Christmas
If they moved to a new town/school:
The Karate Kid, Inside Out, Spirited Away, Little Monsters, Radio Flyer, Hocus Pocus, Spiderwick Chronicles, My Neighbor Totoro, and Casper
If their house or planet may be taken away:
The Goonies, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
If they found out a parent cross-dressed:
Mrs. Doubtfire
If a pet ran away:
Homeward Bound, The Incredible Journey, Adventures of Milo & Otis, Lilo & Stitch, and E.T.
If their parents got divorced:
E.T., Liar Liar, Little Monsters, Now & Then, Spiderwick Chronicles, Drop Dead Fred, The Parent Trap, and Mrs. Doubtfire
If their wicked step-family made them into a slave:
Ever After, Cinderella, Labyrinth, James and the Giant Peach, A Little Princess, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events
If their school might close:
Madeline
If they lost something:
Children of Heaven and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
If their single parent is starting to date:
My Girl, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Parent Trap, Where the Wild Things Are, Nanny McPhee, and The Mighty Ducks
If their single parent re-married someone they don’t like:
Liar Liar, The Sandlot, Radio Flyer, The Parent Trap, Nanny McPhee, Night of the Hunter, The Santa Clause, and Ever After
If their dad is working too much to notice them:
Elf, Fly Away Home, Hook, Pippi Longstocking, Whale Rider, Nanny McPhee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Adventures of Baron Munchausen
If their grandma’s house gets repossessed:
Happy Gilmore
If a friend went away:
Milo & Otis
If a sibling has gone missing:
Secret of Roan Inish, Labyrinth, Little Monsters, An American Tale, My Neighbor Totoro, Ratatouille, Big, and The Little Fugitive
If war breaks out:
Mulan, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Father Goose, Howl’s Moving Castle, Mars Attacks!, Independence Day, War of the Worlds, The Iron Giant, and Red Dawn
If they got kidnapped:
The Rescuers, Super 8, Raising Arizona, Kindergarten Cop, Tangled, Peanut Butter Solution, The Mummy Returns, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Mighty, Triplets of Belleville, Hook, Madeline, The Goonies, Ghostbusters II, and Night of the Hunter
If someone is threatening a pet:
Wizard of Oz, E.T., Fly Away Home, Into the West, The Iron Giant, Lilo & Stitch, and Gremlins
If a pet dies:
Old Yeller, The Iron Giant, The Yearling, Ring of Bright Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Neverending Story, and Kes
If their foster parent is a witch:
Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Pollyanna
If they came from an abusive home:
Radio Flyer
If a parent/sibling is really sick:
My Neighbor Totoro, Puff the Magic Dragon, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Witches, and Big Fish
If they ever visit the hospital:
The Fall, Madeline, and Pollyanna
If they lost a friend or sibling to tragedy:
Goodbye Children, The Yearling, The Mighty, Little Women, My Girl, Stand By Me, E.T., and Bridge to Terabithia
If a grandparent just died:
Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Star Wars, and Up
If mom has died:
Prancer, Fly Away Home, Now & Then, Whale Rider, Into the West, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Bear, Bright Eyes, Nanny McPhee, Independence Day, Super 8, and My Girl
If both parents just died in an accident:
Jumanji, The Witches, and Lilo & Stitch
If parent(s) get shot down:
Bambi, A Little Princess, and Batman
If parent(s) get killed by carnivorous animals:
The Land Before Time, James and the Giant Peach and Finding Nemo
If parent(s) get killed by an evil wizard:
Hellboy, Time Bandits, and Harry Potter series
If parent(s) get killed by a relative:
The Lion King, Star Wars, and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Getting Made Fun Of

If they’re having trouble fitting in: The Sandlot, X-Men, Little Monsters, Casper, Ice Age, Sky High, Bridge to Terabithia, The Freshman, Lilo & Stitch, School of Rock, Akeelah and the Bee, and The Freshman
If they’re on a crappy sports team: The Mighty Ducks, Cool Runnings, Shaolin Soccer, Teen Wolf, and Bad News Bears
If they’re catching crap for being a tomboy: Bend It Like Beckham, Now & Then, Little Giants, Bad News Bears, National Velvet, Whale Rider, and Mulan
If they’re bullied and beaten up: The Karate Kid, A Christmas Story, Holes, Little Monsters, Kung Fu Hustle, The Mighty, Jumanji, Kes, Now & Then, The Freshman, Bridge to Terabithia, Stand By Me, and The Neverending Story
If they feel unattractive or ugly: Dumbo, Nutty Professor, X-Men, The Incredibles, Shrek, Princess Diaries, Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast, and Bend It Like Beckham
If they hear voices: Field of Dreams
If they’re teased for weight: Heavyweights, Kung Fu Panda, The Nutty Professor, School of Rock, and Stand By Me
If they’re made fun of for starting an Olympic event: Cool Runnings
If they catch crap from populars: Breaking Away, Wreck-It Ralph, The Sandlot, Spider-Man, Sky High, The Goonies, Princess Diaries, The Freshman, and Mean Girls
If they’re teased for being smart: Nutty Professor, Spider-Man, Young Sherlock Holmes, Princess Bride, and How to Train Your Dragon
If it seems like every adult is against them: Matilda and A Christmas Story
If they’re called short or small: Simon Birch, Babe, Teen Wolf, Lord of the Rings series, Stuart Little, Spider-Man, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Tom Thumb, Willow, The Rescuers, and Fantastic Mr. Fox
If they wish they were older/bigger: Big, Bugsy Malone, and Freaky Friday
If they’re made fun of for having a weird name: Holes
If they prefer art to sports: Billy Elliot
If they’re called dumb: Babe, A Shot in the Dark, Kes, Ratatouille, Ice Age, Arthur Christmas, Uncle Buck, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
If no one believes something they say: Horton Hears a Who, Chicken Little, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, The Last Mimzy, Field of Dreams, Curse of the Cat People, Lilo & Stitch, Men in Black, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Monsters Inc., Fairy Tale: A True Story, Ratatouille, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Harvey

Familiar Firsts

If it’s the first day of school: The FreshmanInside Out, and Kindergarten Cop
If they just learned to ride a bike: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
If they hate music lessons: School of Rock and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
If they’re going out on their own: White Fang, Home Alone, An American Tale, Ratatouille, Pippi Longstocking, The Lion King, Stand By Me, and Kiki’s Delivery Service
If it’s an elementary school crush: Bambi, Princess Bride, and My Girl
If it’s a middle school crush: Romeo + Juliet, Titanic, Tuck Everlasting, and A Knight’s Tale
If they’re blamed for something they didn’t do: Holes, Sherlock Jr., The Lion King, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Stand By Me
If dad is against them dating: The Little Mermaid, Uncle Buck, Steamboat Bill Jr., and Romeo + Juliet
If a girl’s got them down: Great Expectations
If parents are trying to set them up: Corpse Bride, Sleeping Beauty, and Aladdin
If they got a paper route: Newsies
If they’re scared of going to camp: Heavyweights, The Parent Trap, and Meatballs
If it’s a sick day: Finding Nemo and Princess Bride + Saltines and 7-Up
If they just discovered sexism: Whale Rider, Lord of the Rings, Now & Then, The Fifth Element, and Mulan
If they just discovered racism: To Kill a Mockingbird, X2: X-Men United, Akeelah and the Bee, An American Tale, A Bug’s Life, Beats of the Southern Wild, A Little Princess, Land Before Time, and Harry Potter
If they’re about to take a flight somewhere: Airplane!
If their parents leave for an extended period: Uncle Buck, Adventures in Babysitting, and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
If they cheated at something: Jumanji
If they’re forced to stay with a mean relative: Heidi, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, and Pollyanna
If they did a stupid dare: A Christmas Story and Safety Last!
If they made a stupid mistake or forgot something big: The Absent-Minded Professor
If they swore in front of an adult: A Christmas Story
If they don’t like how the holidays went: A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation
If they’re finally trying hallucinogens: Yellow Submarine, Alice, Dumbo, Allegro Non Troppo, Fantasia, and Watership Down

It’s Just a Phase

If they’re really into horses: National Velvet and The Black Stallion
If they like fighting, hate lovey-dovey, or vice versa: The Princess Bride
If they have an imaginary friend: E.T., Drop Dead Fred, Inside Out, Iron Giant, Horton Hears a Who, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Lilo & Stitch, Casper, Pete’s Dragon, Monsters Inc., Curse of the Cat People, and Harvey
If you’re having trouble getting them to speak: Holes, Jumanji, Kung Fu Hustle, Puff the Magic Dragon, A Night at the Opera, and Father Goose
If they ran away from home: Wizard of Oz, Where the Wild Things Are, Inside Out, Madeline, The Little Fugitive, The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Radio Flyer
If they wish they had lots and lots of money: Millions
If they want to build a treehouse: Swiss Family Robinson, Stand By Me, and Now & Then
If they’re really into movies: Last Action Hero, Super 8, and Sherlock Jr.
If they love reading: Matilda, The Mummy, Labyrinth, Little Women, and The Neverending Story
If they’re obsessed with death: My Girl, Pirates of the Caribbean, Stand By Me, and What About Bob?
If they’re wondering what their parents were like as a kid, and you’re prepared for a weird conversation: Back to the Future and Hook
If they just tried to smoke/drink: E.T., The Nutty Professor, and Pinocchio
If they’re thinking of joining a gang: Kung Fu Hustle and Romeo + Juliet
If they’re scared of monsters in their closet or under their bed: Monsters Inc. and Little Monsters
If they think parents just don’t understand: Freaky Friday
If they start acting Italian: Breaking Away
If they love dinosaurs: Land Before Time
If they love dinosaurs and being terrified: Jurassic Park series
If they love swimming: Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo
If they’re in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts: Up
If they wish they could celebrate other holidays: The Nightmare Before Christmas
If they want to flee civilization to connect with an adoptive parent: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Wanna Teach a Lesson?

Are they sitting around all summer? The Sandlot
Is their ego getting too big? Cars and Beauty and the Beast
Does your daughter want to move in with a guy? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Did they steal something? Fantasia, Aladdin, Thief of Bagdad, Over the Hedge, The Mummy Returns, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Dick Tracy
Are they sick of going on family trips? Vacation, Summer Rental, and The Great Outdoors
Do they fight with their siblings all the time? Zathura, The Little Fugitive, The Incredibles, Where the Wild Things Are, Labyrinth, The Parent Trap, and Swiss Family Robinson
Do they need to learn responsibility (especially as it relates to a pet)? Gremlins, Spirited Away, and Fly Away Home
Are they questioning Santa’s existence? Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, Prancer, The Santa Clause, and The Polar Express
Do they wish their family didn’t exist? Home Alone and Where the Wild Things Are
Do they hate a parent? Rabbit-Proof Fence and Home Alone
Do they want to jump off a bridge? It’s a Wonderful Life
Are they getting greedy and not giving? A Christmas Carol
Do they need to appreciate simple pleasures, not something big and expensive? The Red Balloon and War of the Buttons
Do they need some bravery? Kirikou and the Sorceress, A Bug’s Life, Treasure Island, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, Brave, Super 8, A Knight’s Tale, Bolt, Valiant, The Neverending Story, Last Action Hero, The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, Star Wars, Princess Bride, and Big Trouble in Little China
Do they want the latest cool toy? CJ7
Do they need to reconnect with a disciplinarian father? The Sound of Music, Bridge to Terabithia, Hook, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Little Mermaid, and Jumanji
Are they bored of their small town? The Music Man, Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Phantom Tollbooth, MirrorMask, Cars, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, and Where the Wild Things Are
Are they getting grumpy? Pollyanna
Do they hate private school? A Little Princess and Madeline
Do they watch too much TV? Willy Wonka
Do they eat too much? Willy Wonka
Do they talk too much? Willy Wonka, Shrek, and Up
Do they need an imagination injection? Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Puff the Magic Dragon, Miracle on 34th Street, Bridge to Terabithia, The Neverending Story, The Fall, Labyrinth, The Mighty, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Do they burn insects with magnifying glass? Microcosmos, A Bug’s Life, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Do you want them inherently trust no one? Clue
Do they need newfound respect for people’s possessions? Toy Story
Are they deathly afraid of dogs? The Sandlot, White Fang, and Never Cry Wolf
Do they need a lesson in working together? Chicken Run, Land Before Time, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Goonies, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Wizard of Oz, and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events
Do they never want to grow up? Peter Pan and Hook
Are they skipping school a lot? Last Action Hero, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Pinocchio
Are they a compulsive liar? Jumanji and Pinocchio
Are they generally just a naughty brat? Clifford, Pinocchio, Heidi, Nanny McPhee, Willy Wonka, and Mary Poppins
Do they want to run for student council? Napoleon Dynamite and Election
Are they too shy for girls? Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Hellboy, The Mask, Shrek, A Shot in the Dark, Beauty and the Beast, The Thief and the Cobbler, The Goonies, WALL-E, and Superman
Do they need the fear of god in them? Indiana Jones, Night of the Hunter, Legend, Frankenstein, and Whistle Down the Wind
Do they play too much video games? War Games
Do they need to take Morality 101? To Kill a Mockingbird and Pinocchio
Do they need to listen to their parents, and look out for swindlers? Jack and the Beanstalk, The Music Man, and Pinocchio
Are they really into carnivals and you want that to end? The Little Fugitive and Something Wicked This Way Comes
Are you priming them for a future in politics? Lord of the Flies, Alice in Wonderland, Election, and Animal Farm
Do you want them to think Christianity is cool? Chronicles of Narnia, Golden Compass, Angels in the Outfield, Indiana Jones series, and Millions
Do you want to teach them about environmentalism? Fern Gully, Last Mimzy, Whale Rider, Avatar, The Rescuers Down Under, and WALL-E
Do you want to train them to be a foodie? Ratatouille and Princess and the Frog
Do you want them to like history without actually learning any? Time Bandits, Indiana Jones series, National Treasure, The Mummy, Night at the Museum, The Rocketeer, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure