Introduce Your Kids To Sci-Fi With These 15 Must See, Age-Appropriate Genre Movies
Kids movies generally fall into only one of two categories: The kind you show them to keep them busy while you do something else, and the kind you share with them in the hopes that it’ll be something they remember and cherish for the rest of their lives. It’s that second kind of movie we’re talking about here, the movies you have shown or will show your sons and daughters to let them in on the things you care about. The movies you show them in the hopes that it’ll make them better people, or at least help fuel a lifelong obsession for things that are good.
I plan to spend a lot of time sharing that second kind of movie with my child, in particular I hope to pass along my love of science fiction. To do that, I’ll have to start early before their brains are stuffed full of that first kind of film, before they’ve been warped by watching The Smurfs or Beverly Hills Chihuaha. But how do you do that? I can’t wait to watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with my kid, but realize I’d probably better wait till the little bugger’s eight or even ten, unless I want Khan’s earwigs to turn her or him into a permanent bedwetter. Jurassic Park? Kids love dinosaurs but odds are mom will think severed arms should wait till their nine. I’ll have to ease them into it.
To get my kids interested in science fiction I can’t wait until they’re old enough, or settle for whatever’s playing on Cartoon Network. I hear Ben 10 is a lot of fun and Phineas and Ferb are often up to some pretty fantastical shenanigans, but when I want to start my kid on the road to sharing the wide open world of ideas that is sci-fi, this is what I’ll put in front of them.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Never has any movie done a better job of feeding that universal little boy need for a robot pal better than this one. In The Iron Giant a massive alien robot ends up on planet Earth, where he befriends a boy named Hogarth before being chased all through kingdom come by the angry US army. The first film from Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird, it’s maybe the last truly great 2D animated movie ever produced. Touching, sweet, and beautiful to look at the movie sticks with you almost unlike any other. Share it and it’s the kind of film that will stick with your kid for a lifetime. Don’t be surprised if twenty-years from now an all grown up Benjamin turns to you and says, “Hey dad, remember that time we watched The Iron Giant?”
Ghost Busters (1984)
The world needs Ghostbusters. The truly original and far too often overlooked thing about this now classic movie, is the way it approaches the supernatural with flat out science. In an age where science is scoffed at and minimized by extremists, here’s a movie from a different time when science was not only appreciated, but when pitted against the supernatural was more than its equal. “Back off, I’m a scientist!” shouted Peter Venkman before picking up his nuclear powered proton pack and charging in to save the world from ghostly mysticism and unholy evil. Science fiction and supernatural collide here, and science comes out the winner. Younger kids may be scared by some of the ghosts, but they’ll forget to be scared after the film cranks up that poppy, unforgettable theme song. Who you gonna call?
Meet the Robinsons (2007)
In Meet the Robinsons an orphan named Lewis uses his high IQ to create fantastic inventions, and ends up traveling to the future where he meets an amazing family named the Robinsons. It’s funny, in that kids and adults will laugh themselves silly kind of way, and it’s smart. There’s a lot of heart here, mixed in with some pretty eye-popping, colorful, computer animation. More than enough to keep your kids interested while the film slyly teaches a lesson about the value of perseverance and ingenuity. Planning to raise a future inventor? This might be just the film to inspire your Thomas Edison in the making.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, this movie’s a guaranteed tear-jerker. That’s alright, I want my kids to cry a little, now and then. You can’t be happy without the sad, and E.T. is just the right amount of sad for any kid of any age to handle. I mean, it’s definitely not as devastating as Old Yeller. At least E.T. lives at the end. Spielberg’s movie only gets better with age and it should only be seen in the version that still actually has the guns in it. In recent DVD releases they’ve replaced the guns with walky-talkies to make it even more family friendly, but I prefer my family to live in reality. I’ve already stockpiled a version with the guns still in it, I suggest you do the same.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
I had a lot of fun with the 2008 version of Jules Verne’s classic tale, but the truth about that Brendan Fraser movie is that it’s only really worth seeing in a theater with a pair of 3D glasses strapped to your head. Since it’s no longer playing at the local megaplex, I’d rather go with the 1959 Journey to the Center which starred, of all people, Pat Boone. The real anchor of the thing though is James Mason as Sir Oliver S. Lindbrook, leading an expedition of adventurers into the deepest parts of the Earth. There they find not just hot and steaming magma, but an entire lost world full of angry dinosaurs. This is still the best movie version of Verne’s book and though many of the effects are now kind of dated, your kids will never notice. There’s a real sense of distance and danger in this one, but since it’s from the 50s, it’s a perfect gateway into the world of science fiction’s original master.
The Absent Minded Professor (1961)
Professor Ned Brainard is a brilliant inventor whom everyone labels as a crackpot. They’re wrong. Not to be confused with the awful Robin Williams remake, this 1961 original stars Fred MacMurray at the height of his powers. His Brainard invents a substance called Flubber, which turns his old model T into a flying car and which he later uses to help a local basketball team win a game by jumping through hoops, literally. This is classic, Disney family entertainment at its absolute peak, and a great way to hook your pint-sized would be sci-fi fans into the world of black and white imagination.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Kids love giant monsters smashing buildings and they’re young enough that they probably won’t even notice the zipper on the back of Megalon’s suit. Really any Godzilla movie will do here, but this one has always been my favorite and since it also has a little kid with a giant robot pal, it may be the perfect window into the world of Japan’s most infamous export outside of those Toyota’s without working brakes. Godzilla vs. Megalon is a ridiculous amount of fun, no matter how old you are, and it’s one of the best looking Godzilla movies too. The cinematography is excellent and the story is just silly enough to be either funny or interesting at any moment. How much of this movie’s success is intentional, is debatable, but if you’re getting them at the right time your kids will probably be too young to debate it. Save that as a talking point for Thanksgiving ten years from now.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Rick Moranis accidentally shrinks his kids and loses them in the back yard, prompting a micro adventure at the macro level. A group of teens ends up wandering through a lawn turned jungle, where they ride giant ants and sleep in Legos. There’s a lot going on here, including an awkward little romance between Russ and Amy which results in a first kiss. Moranis is brilliant as the distraught, scientist father combing desperately through blades of grass for any sign of his progeny and Matt Frewer is maybe even better as the freaked out next door neighbor who can’t figure out what’s going on. The special effects are still pretty great for 1989, and they did it without all that computer generated cheating.
Flight of the Navigator (1986)
This movie defines adventure. Combining nearly everything kids love and mixing in a pretty smart science fiction premise to boot, Flight of the Navigator sends a pre-teen boy rocketing through time in an alien space ship. Stranded in the future and unaware of what’s happened, our hero ends up being held at NASA and befriending a pink-haired, painfully cut Sarah Jessica Parker. It blew my 8-year-old mind back in 1986 and it’s sure to do the same thing for a new generation of kids, prompting dreams of a world where they’re able to keep an miniature alien friend in their back-pack and a Paul Reubens voiced robot ship is just around the corner to blast the Beegees whenever things get old.
Space Jam (1996)
Here’s a strange thought: Your kids probably won’t even know who Michael Jordan is. But Bugs, Daffy, and the Tazmanian Devil will never wear out their welcome. Space Jam is the sci-fi movie to watch when you need a break from all that heavier stuff, science fiction on a kindergarten level with a lot of basketball mixed in. Maybe it’ll teach your kid to develop a hook shot while Bugs and Daffy help fight off those alien slavers, or maybe it’ll just get the kid giggling as the Looney Tunes do their looniest moves on the basketball court. All the sci-fi you feed your youngun can’t be heady, or it stops being fun. Space Jam is fun, and not much else. Put it on the freethrow line and take a granny shot. Afterward run outside with the little tyke and get some exercise.
Star Wars: The Original Trilogy (1977 – 1983)
Since we’re to start early with these movies, the original Star Wars trilogy may be a little beyond extremely young viewers. Vader is scary, the whole love triangle mixed with occasional incest between Luke, Leia and Han is a little over the average kid’s head, and in Empire our hero loses his hand. Doesn’t matter. The important thing here is that your kids see the original Star Wars before someone corrupts them with the prequels. The thing is, The Phantom Menace, with its fart jokes and marginally racist caricatures, is perfect for elementary schoolers and should they see that first, it and not the original trilogy will end up being your kid’s Star Wars. Don’t let that happen. Make sure they meet Chewbacca before some well-meaning grandparent introduces them to Jar Jar. Maybe the little tyke will be permanently scarred by the slavering, disgusting, genuinely scary rancor… but who cares. It’s worth a little desensitizing to make sure your son or daughter sees the Star Wars universe the way it was meant to be understood. Make sure they see the good ones, before they’re ruined with all that talk of midichlorians.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Here’s another one of those classic, Jules Verne gems. Better known than the 1959 Journey and sporting a bigger budget, the film follows a mad genius named Captain Nemo on a journey beyond imagination into the ocean’s deepest depths, where discoveries both terrifying and wonderful are waiting to be uncovered. Much of this film, like the crew’s battle with a giant squid, is now utterly iconic. Not all of the effects hold up, but your kids aren’t likely to notice. Everyone should know Captain Nemo.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Groundbreaking in its time, Charlton Heston’s sci-fi movie about an astronaut crashed on a planet run entirely by intelligent monkeys holds up, even with all the guys in gorilla suits. It may have the un-anticipated side-effect of making your kid deathly afraid of monkeys, or result in your daughter insisting on naming the new dog Dr. Zaius. Depends on the kid. Test your kid’s mettle by seeing what happens when they encounter this mind-bender, in a barren place where humans are slaves and the only thing you can do is shake your first and shout through the bars of your cage, “you damn, dirty apes!”
Revolutionary in its time the special effects in Tron haven’t aged well, which makes it the perfect movie to indoctrinate your kids with before they become too old and cynical to notice. Younger viewers will still be wowed by those cycles made of light and maybe while nobody’s looking your kid will learn a little about the strange way people used to look at technology, back in the 80s when it still seemed entirely plausible that there might really be little blue men running around inside our computers. Ok, maybe that was never plausible but it’s incredibly fun. I suppose you could show them Tron: Legacy too, just make sure you show them Tron first before their little eyes are spoiled by all that modern technology. Then shove your kid and his friends outdoors with a box full of Frisbees and watch them happily fling hard plastic discs at each other’s heads for a few hours. I’d call that a win win.
Back to the Future (1985)
Not just a great movie but maybe one of the greatest movies ever made, Back to the Future works at a level compatible with almost any age. Your average 8-year-old won’t understand the intricacies of time travel, but for now the kid will get off on watching that DeLorean streak across the screen trailing fire. Heck, it’s easy to imagine Doc Brown in another life, as the crazed host of some sort of children’s television show, meanwhile Marty McFly’s skateboarding antics never grow old. Eventually your kids will grow into the time travel elements too, enough that they’ll be ready for the weirdness of Hell Valley in Back to the Future Part II. But why wait around? Start their Back to the Future obsession right now, show it to them in small doses, as long as they’re willing to sit for, and go back in time to good old 1985.
These 15 movies are just the beginning. Add on to the list with your own ideas in the comments section below.