22 films from the 80s I want my kids to watch before they’re 11
Little Miss E asked me recently if I liked watching Frozen when I was a little girl. “It didn’t exist when I was a little girl,” I told her to much bemusement. “Okay then Mummy, what were your favourite films when you were little?” she asked me. And so I told her about Labyrinth and The Goonies and An American Tail and so many more besides. It got me thinking about all the brilliant films that were such a big part of my 1980s childhood. Films that were absolute classics back then; films with classic one-liners which have become part of the national lingo; films which might look dated compared to today’s special effects but which were groundbreaking for their time. Films which, now I have my own children, deserve to be watched again.
And so here, in alphabetical order, are 22 films from the 1980s that I want my own children to watch before they leave primary school aged 11. Are there any you would add to my list?
Do your children enjoy any of the films you used to as a child? I’d love to know what you think, either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
You might also like:50 children’s TV show theme tunes from my 1980s childhood
1. An American Tail (1986 – U)
Even as a child this film made me cry, so I know I’ll have no hope now I’m a mum and my emotions are even more heightened than they ever were. I loved this story of Fievel Mousekewitz as he and his family moved from Russia to America in search of freedom. Even thinking of little Fievel getting lost, and he and his sister singing Somewhere Out There in those squeaky little voices as they hope to find each other, brings tears to my eyes. Are you brave enough to watch it?!
If not, here’s the more upbeat There Are No Cats In America instead.
2. Back to the Future (1985 – PG)
Admittedly, I’ll be waiting until my children are a few years older before I show this one, as even though it’s a PG, there’s quite a bit of violence and unsavoury language in it. They will probably laugh at how people in the past imagined the future to be – but I hope they love it as much as I did. Time travel, meeting your parents as teenagers, good triumphing over evil and Marty McFly rocking out with his guitar – what’s not to love?!
3. Big (1988 – PG)
Did every kid in the 1980s want a giant keyboard so they could play chopsticks like Tom Hanks?! And did you make a wish at every fairground machine to be big and wake up the next morning disappointed it hadn’t happened? Again, there are a few more grown-up themes in this film so I’ll definitely be waiting a few years before introducing it to my children – but it’s an absolute classic that I can’t wait to share with my children.
4. ET: The Extra Terrestrial (1982 – U)
The tale of a lost little alien, three million light years away from home, and his friendship with 10-year-old Elliot and his sister Gertie, is an all-time classic. Those bikes suddenly taking flight; the famous ET phone home scene; ET appearing to die but reviving himself. Sheer brilliance! And what kid doesn’t love a film where the children save the day?
5. Flight of the Navigator (1986 – U)
The 1980s certainly were obsessed with aliens! This film follows 12 year old David, who falls in a ravine and knocks himself unconscious. When he wakes, he returns home to his house – to discover he’s actually been missing for eight years and his family thought he was dead. It transpires he was abducted by aliens.
6. Ghostbusters (1984 – PG)
“If there’s something strange, in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” Ah, the soundtrack for school discos everywhere from the mid-80s onwards. I remember being a bit scared of this the first time I saw it, but it’s actually really funny in parts as a group of ssupernatural scientists set up a business trapping ghosts. They’re remaking it with an all-female lead cast – and so now seems a good time to introduce 2010s children to the original. Altogether now, “I ain’ afraid of no ghost!”
7. The Goonies (1985 – 12)
This is a brilliant coming-of-age adventure story that follows a group of kids as they try to save their neighbourhood from greedy property developers by searching for lost pirate treasure. There are some brilliant characters in The Goonies – such as Chuck and his Shuffle Truffle and Sloth and his infamous quote “Hey you guuuyyyyss!” I love this film! It’s an absolute classic. I was really surprised to see it had a 12 rating. I know it has some scary bits in it, but I’d say 9 or 10 would be more appropriate.
8. Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989 – U)
Rick Moranis stars as an inventor whose shrinking machine does not seem to be doing its job – until one day, a freak encounter sees him shrinking his children and their friends. Not realising what has happened, he sweeps them up and throws them out with the rubbish, where they are at risk from everything from the lawnmower to gigantic insects. It might look a bit outdated now, but it’s a perfect family film.
9. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981 – PG)
I must confess, I wasn’t much of an Indiana Jones fan as a child. Should I have admitted that? Am I about to be trolled by Indiana fans?! When I told Cardiff Daddy I was writing this article, this was the first film he thought of and he told me I had to include it. It certainly is a classic. The fast-paced action and adventure film sees Harrison Ford – in his trademark hat – racing against the Nazis to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant. I’m quite looking forward to watching this now I’m a grown-up. Four Oscar wins and one of the highest growing films ever: what did 1980s me know anyway?
10. The Karate Kid (1984 – PG)
“Wax on; wax off.” Those four words were part of the lingo back in the mid-1980s. I’m sure my primary school playground wasn’t the only one full of kids waving their hands around saying the infamous phrase. An all-time film great, The Karate Kid follows new kid in town, Daniel, who gets bullied by a gang of karate students for dating one of their ex-girlfriends. The wise old martial arts master Mr Miyagi takes him under his wing and teaches him karate so that he can enter a tournament and beat the bullies. I re-watched that final fight scene while I was writing this article – and it was just as emotionally tense as I remember.
11. Labyrinth (1986 – U)
This is one of my all-time favourite films. I absolutely love it. My children haven’t watched it yet as I think they’d be scared of a goblin king stealing a baby, not to mention the sight of David Bowie in tights and that bulge! They have seen the YouTube clip of Dance Magic Dance many times though and think it’s hilarious. Cardiff Daddy told me not to include this film because he’s still scared of it. I hope he gets over that before he has to watch it again with our three!
12. The Land Before Time (1988 – U)
Forget Jurassic Park. This is my favourite film about dinosaurs. This is the story of Littlefoot, a young Apatosaurus, whose mother is killed. He tries to escape the famine and plague that is overtaking the world and make it to the safety of the Great Valley. On the way, he meets a host of little dino friends in this gorgeous tale of friendship and courage.
13. The Little Mermaid (1989 – U)
I was about 11 when this film was released and probably thought I was too cool for Disney films. But not any more! Now I have three kids aged 5.5 and under, I have the perfect excuse to indulge my love of Disney animations. This is actually one film on the list that my children have already seen – many times. Everyone seems to love the most famous songs such as Under The Sea and Kiss The Girl, but my favourite is the deliciously menacing Poor Unfortunate Souls sung by the evil sea witch Ursula.
14. Little Monsters (1989 – PG)
Did anyone else have a crush on Fred Savage? I loved him in The Wonder Years and I loved him in this film too. He plays Brian, a little boy who has moved to a new town. Brian keeps getting blamed for things he didn’t do – and it turns out these things are being done by Maurice, the monster under the bed who introduces him to a world where there are no rules and no parents to tell you what to do. It does get a bit frightening, as Brian starts to turn into a monster himself, and the monsters kidnap his little brother – but as with all good 80s films, the kids soon save the day. I can only find this available as an expensive USA import, so I might have to wait a while before I can watch again.
15. The NeverEnding Story (1984 – U)
Never mind my children watching this, Cardiff Daddy has just told me he has never watched The NeverEnding Story. How is that even possible?! The tale of Bastian, who finds himself drawn into the fantasy world of an ancient book as he hides away from the school bullies, is an absolute classic film. It is set in the land of Fantastia, ruled by the Childlike Empress, who is dying. A boy warrior called Chiron has been summoned to find a cure – but as the story progresses, Bastian himself is summoned into the story and finds only he can save the Empress.
16. The Princess Bride (1987 – PG)
I don’t think I appreciated quite how funny this film was when I was a child. Back then, I was more into Princess Buttercup, and romance and adventure and being rescued from kidnappers and pirates. I watched it again recently and it’s absolutely hilarious – so witty. Plus it has Fred Savage in it as part of the narrative, which sees a grandfather telling his sick grandson a story. And as you all now know, he was one of my 80s crushes!
17 and 18. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980 – PG) and Return of the Jedi (1983 – U)
The original Star Wars was released in 1977 so it doesn’t make this particular list – but the sequels most definitely do! They’re some of the most important films ever made with some of the movie world’s most iconic characters in the form of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vedar. I know Cardiff Daddy is especially excited about watching these films with our three children in the coming years. Little Man O, aged 3¾ already thinks the light saber he was given is the best thing ever. I can’t wait to see his face when he watches the films for the first time.
19. Teen Wolf (1985 – PG)
What 80s kid could forget the sight of Michael J Fox, dressed in his yellow basketball kit, transforming into a werewolf mid-game? His character Scott went from high school and basketball loser to star player and all-round popular guy. But it’s not long before he realises his old self wasn’t so bad after all.
20. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
I remember seeing this in the cinema. It was so unusual for its time and unlike any film I had watched before, combining animation and real-life action. A humorous take on 1940s detective movies, it’s set in ToonTown, and follows detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) as he tries to get to the bottom of whether Roger Rabbit murdered his love rival, Martin Acme, and uncovers scandals that threaten the existence of the town. As a mum, there are two slight things that bother me about this film. The lack of a question mark in the title and what my children will make of Jessica Rabbit and her unrealistically voluptuous body.
21. Willow (1988 – PG)
I haven’t seen this film for years. Decades, probably. But I remember I loved it. The fact it was created by the legendary George Lucas and Ron Howard didn’t mean much to me back then. Nor did the fact that it used ground-breaking special effects. I loved the adventure and danger and the tale of the sacred child destined to end the reign of the evil sorceress. It’s amazing to see Warwick Davies and Val Kilmer looking so young in a film which was a life-changing, career-defining moment for both of them.
22. The Worst Witch (1986 – U)
I wasn’t sure whether to include this film in my list in case it makes me lose all sense of credibility. But hey, it’s my blog and I absolutely loved this as a child, so it makes the cut. Based on Jill Murphy’s book – which Little Miss E is currently reading and enjoying as much as I did as a child – The Worst Witch follows Mildred Hubble and her fellow witches at Miss Cackle’s International Academy for Witches. I adored the film – but no one I’ve asked seems to remember it! I was beginning to think I’d imagined it, until I found it on YouTube. In full! The theme song, Growing Up Isn’t Easy, was just as I remembered it.
* I’ve loved all the responses to this one! So many brilliant comments on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve had a few more suggestions of films to include, again in alphabetical order.
Batteries Not Included
Look Who’s Talking
Return To Oz (I’d left this one off my original list because it absolutely terrified me!)
Santa Claus The Movie
Have you watched, or are you planning to watch, any of these classic 1980s children’s films with your own kids? Are there any you would add to the list? I’d love to hear any I’ve forgotten in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
You might also like this post – 30 signs you’re a child of the 2010s
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One of my favourites as a kid was All Dogs Go To Heaven. I now own it in DVD – great song in it about sharing pizza 😉 xx
Oh yes, I remember that film! Another one to add to the list x
Brilliant – what a great list, and some I must admit I’ve never seen! The Goonies is still one of my absolute favourites, and we always used to watch the Labyrinth on the last day of term at primary school! And if my memory serves me correctly going to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the first time I went to the cinema! It’s funny as I’m halfway through penning a post about children’s films, having watched the Lion King for the first time myself the other day! Great post x
Ooh, I look forward to seeing your film post. There are so many classics out there I want my children to watch. x
I’ve been introducing my three year old to 80s cartoons heman and dungeons & dragons.
Oooh, your three-year-old is braver than me! D&D used to scare me!
love love love this! They made the best films in the 80s and I’ve already started introducing my little boy to some of my favourites. He’s almost 3 but he absolutely loved the Labyrinth!! I thought the goblins might scare him but nope, he thought they were hilarious! We’ve watched ET a few times but he gets abit impatient as it takes a while to get going…although I love it, it’s probably my favourite. In fact, my son is called Elliot for that very reason! Never Ending story was another fave although the bit where the horse dies is so sad, that scarred me and my sisters for life. Bit like American Tale, I totally couldn’t watch the clip you posted – way too sad!!
Although it’s not quite 80s (it was released in 93), Hocus Pocus is another fave from my childhood. We had it on video and watched it at least twice a week!!
That’s lovely he’s named after the Elliot in the film. Hopefully he’ll appreciate it more when he’s older. Hocus Pocus is fab, I’d forgotten all about it until you mentioned it. Might need to do a 90s film article too!
Oh my … so memories and so many awesome films, though I can’t believe there are some I haven’t seen – I will have to fix that!! I really want Boo to watch them too when she is a bit older. Can’t beat 80’s movies =)
It took me ages to write this because I kept on stopping to watch clips on YouTube! As you say, so many memories! Hope Boo enjoys them as much as you did. 🙂
This brought back so many memories! I had a lump in my throat at The Land Before Time – had forgot all about it! I LOVED Flight of the Navigator – it was one of my favourite films as a child. I watched it as an adult and was a bit disappointed but think I had over-hyped it in my head! I can’t wait to watch it through S’ eyes when he’s a little older though 🙂 Oh… and I’ve never seen Labyrinth – which I know is a mortal sin and must be corrected ASAP!
Oh yes, please watch Labyrinth! I hope you enjoy it – it’s one of my favourites. Yes, I think watching it through their eyes will be a very special experience. So many classic films! x
Loved reading this – brought back memories. I was scrolling down looking for Top Gun which is PG – it’s my favourite film ever 🙂
Ah, I love Top Gun! In fact, I have a very happy memory of watching it at about 2am in the morning when I was in labour with my second baby back in 2011… it was a very long labour and I was sat on my ball, bouncing away wondering if he was ever going to be born. I thought it was a 15 rating though? I will definitely be introducing them to Top Gun and a whole host of other 80s films for them to watch when they are a bit older.
This has brought back so many memories from my childhood! i loved most of these films and the little mermaid is still my favourite film to this day. My two year old loves the land before time and watches it all the time on netflix xx
Glad to hear you could relate to it – and that you have been introducing your two-year-old to such a classic film! It took me a while to finish this post because I kept on watching clips on YouTube and reminiscing!
Such a great list! I made my partner watch The Little Mermaid recently to be sure he liked it, as I suspect I’ll be playing it a lot for my little one. Oh and I love “Poor Unfortunate Souls” too.
Aw, The Land Before Time makes me cry … I know. I definitely plan on watching these and cartoons from my childhood with baba, the kids shows of today are so mind numbing/baffling to me!
I have to suggest Beetlejuice, Gremlins and a bit of an oddball and guilty pleasure – Mannequin; all PG I believe. The Rescuers was ’77, but a wonderful animated children’s film too, I love the voice of Eva Gabor.
Glad it’s not just me that cries at The Land Before Time. Such a classic film.
I think my children would be scared of Beetlejuice and Gremlins! I think they’re both 15s actually – I did a bit of research for this post into film ratings and decided to keep it as films for younger children! I thought about Gremlins and then I remembered the food blender scene! Maybe I need a follow-up post of films for them to watch as teenagers!
Ah, I guess IMDB is giving the US ratings. Oh dear, all I remember is Gizmo being adorable, I see your point! I did watch both as a kid, but it’s peculiar and very personal what affects different children. I remember being freaked out by Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and The Worst Witch :).
Yes, absolutely! I was terrified of Return to Oz as a child, so much so I don’t think I could even watch it now! Cardiff Daddy was petrified of Scooby Doo when he was younger! Funny how we’re all so different!
Great list! My older two are 14&13 years and have watched all but 2 on the list 🙂 x
Oh my I absolutely love ALL of these!!! I now want to make Z watch an American tail. Do you remember flight of the navigator? I loved that movie too 🙂
Yes, a great film! It’s in my list actually. I love 80s movies!
Great list – and so glad you included The Princess Bride, one of the quirkiest, most-difficult-to-pigeonhole films ever.
It was a totally different experience for me watching it as an adult. So much I hadn’t seen as a child.
Love these, however I’m not a Starwars or Indiana Jones Fan. Shhh don’t tell anyone. Teen Wolf such a classic and Big, two great films and Vice Versa. So many xxx
Yes, some more classics there for when they are a bit older. I love 80s films!
I hate to nitpick but its An American Tail not Tale.
Great list! Good memories! Also, Secret of Nimh, Time Bandits, Last Starfighter
Some of my favourites here although I watched them with my children. The Goonies, of course, Flight of The Navigator, Big oh and ET! My favourites Stand by Me, War Games and Ghostbusters.
I realise this is a really old page but just had to say that I LOVED The Worst Witch film too. It was definitely my most-watched video, even more than Mary Poppins and The Lion King!
Just watched “The Boy Who Could Fly” last eve with my littles. They loved it!