From left: Hook, Shazam, and Spy Kids.Photo: TriStar Pictures, DC Entertainment, Image: Dimension Films
Being an adult is hard nowadays. There’s the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, further escalated by bad behavior and even worse policy decisions. Sometimes, you just need to go back to the days when things weren’t nearly as complicated—even if it’s only for a couple of hours. Here are 15 movies that will help make you feel like a kid again.
Even though this list captures what we hope you’ll agree is the spirit of childhood, these movies still hold up well for adults. For the record, the reason I didn’t include classics like The NeverEnding Story and The Iron Giant is because who the hell wants to be a sad kid right now? Check out our picks and let us know if you have any to add in the comments.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
This movie has a special power. It doesn’t matter when you were born or how old you are now, it will instantly transport you to a world where it totally makes sense for a factory to grow candy in fields, churn chocolate in indoor rivers, and sing tales about how some children deserve to die. Not even Johnny Depp’s creepy face or Tom and Jerry’s surreal romp through Wonkaland can take away from the original film’s legacy.
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The Monster Squad (1987)
The 1980s were a magical time for kid-friendly entertainment. The Goonies, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Big—just to name a few. The Monster Squad deserves a seat at that table. The fun-loving romp, about kids saving their town from classic movie monsters (with costumes straight out of Spirit Halloween), is what the Dark Universe could’ve been if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Childhood fears aren’t always the most realistic. How many of us thought quicksand was going to be a way bigger problem than it actually was? One of those fears is being shrunk down to the point where everyday items like lawnmowers, ants, and breakfast cereal can kill you. It doesn’t matter how long you convince yourself that shrink rays don’t really exist, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids will put the fears of a child in you.
It’s literally about an adult learning to reclaim his inner child.
Toy Story (1995)
Pixar’s debut film convinced us that our toys really do take on a life of their own when we’re not around (that Sid scene still torments me). The series has grown with its audience over the decades, reflecting our growth into adulthood as we leave childhood toys behind. But there’s a feeling you get when you open an old box and see your favorite toy sitting there: a sense of love and loss. It’s why the original still works as well as it does. It’s that box you can always reopen to remind yourself of how things were before.
Every kid who felt like they didn’t fit in growing up related to Matilda. It’s the anthem of knowing that there’s something special inside of you that you’re having trouble communicating to the world. Watching it as an adult is a comforting reminder that it’s OK to be different, even if it didn’t always feel that way.
Spice World (1996)
This movie’s for Beth, okay? It’s my list and I get one freebie so I pick Spice World. It has aliens so it counts.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
I think Rian Johnson put it best in a recent tweet, responding to a request to say something nice about the Star Wars prequels: “[George] Lucas made a gorgeous seven-hour long movie for children about how entitlement and fear of loss turns good people into fascists, and did it while spearheading nearly every technical sea change in modern filmmaking of the past 30 years.”
The Phantom Menace may have its problems, but it’s definitely a film that’ll take you back to being a young Star Wars fan who believed that anything is possible—even as darker forces seek to lead you astray.
“Some-BODY once told me.” With that opening, Shrek established itself as a different kind of kids movie. One that didn’t want to toe the Disney line. Instead, it catered to kids (and adults) who were tired of fairy tales that said you had to be perfect to belong. I’d argue that Shrek 2 is the better movie overall, but Shrek will always leave you with a smile on your face as you dance to a catchy cover of a popular song from the 1960s.
Spy Kids (2001)
Every kid dreamed of being a spy, but only Spy Kids managed to give the profession a truly kid-friendly flair (don’t even start with Agent Cody Banks, OK, we’re not going there). The gadgets were fun, the super-spy family was adorable, and the villain was, well, pretty horrifying. I mean, god, just look at that video above. What is that?
Enchanted has its issues, like how it plays into the 2000s Disney trend of poking fun at itself in response to DreamWorks, Shrek in particular. But Enchanted works because it’s also about embracing the things that others might find ridiculous. The lesson wasn’t that Giselle needed to change her fairy tale-loving ways to be with a man, it was about finding a way to bring her joy to a world that wasn’t quite ready for it yet.
Teen Beach Movie (2013)
It’s one thing to be nostalgic for high school. It’s another to be nostalgic for that time in middle school when all you could think about was how cool high school was going to be. Disney Channel’s Teen Beach Movie perfectly encapsulates that preteen feeling—with an extra dose of nostalgia for several decades past, as it’s about a couple of teenagers who magically find themselves in a 1960s beach blanket bingo movie.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Whether you grew up with Godzilla, Transformers, or both, this is what you envisioned when your toys fought.
Paddington 2 (2017)
I can’t think of another movie in recent years that has expressed the love, kindness, and sincerity of Paddington 2. It’s two hours of that feeling you got when you walked up to a strange kid on the playground and were best friends 20 minutes later.
There have been so many comic book movies over the past two decades, and so many of them are trying to hard to make superheroes for adults. Shazam broke the mold by embracing its kid-friendly nature—literally—by making a movie about a preteen who transforms into the mighty Shazam. It’s the perfect comic book film for kids dreaming of being the next hero and helps adults see the genre once again through a child’s eyes.
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