Best movies to watch with your kids (with suggestions for every age group)

Last Updated May 2020
By Sian Babish

While the kids are on home instruction, there’s no better time than now to school them — on 80s and 90s movies, that is. These decades are pop-culture treasure troves from which many of our fondest memories are plucked. 

That’s why you and the kiddos should curl up on the couch and revisit your favorite flicks. Believe it or not, many of them are rich in educational value, even if it’s a matter of drawing the line with feathered bangs. 

Our team rounded up essential 80s and 90s cinematic masterpieces for you to share with your kids as they begin on their new favorite class, Film Studies 101: The Wonder Years. 

Rated PG

Sister Act (1993)

Witness protection doesn’t need to be boring, especially when you send a Vegas lounge singer into a nunnery for selling out her mob boyfriend. Sister Mary Clarence brings a little jazz to the sisterhood, and you’ll probably sing along to this one — much to the chagrin of the kids.

Other subjects covered: Music theory, criminal justice, religion

Also available at: Disney+

 

The Sandlot (1993)

The summer of 1962 is a formative one for this motley crew of young baseball players. From awkward interactions with girls to dealing with bullying, it’s an all-ages relatable story. And yes, there are plenty of inside jokes that only true baseball fans will appreciate.

Other subjects covered: Bildungsroman, baseball history, bullying

Also available at: Starz

 

Beetlejuice (1988)

Introduce the kiddos to Lydia, a teen undergoing major life adjustments. Moving and making new friends in less-than-ideal situations isn’t easy, especially when you befriend the ghosts of tenants past in your new home — some of whom have colorful personalities.

Other subjects covered: Blended families, real estate ethics, exorcisms

 

Life is Beautiful (1998)

In an attempt to shield his son from the reality of Nazi occupation in Italy, a quirky Jewish bookshop owner turns their new way of life into a game. The lighthearted approach to keeping young Guido out of harm’s way without further traumatizing him is truly touching. 

Other subjects covered: WW2 history, European geography, family dynamics

 

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Soul-sucking witches from 1693 surface 300 years later to give young Max a run for his money in Salem, Mass. Kids will be enthralled with his journey, as it shows how the actions of a single person has the potential to impact — or save — an entire town.

Other subjects covered: Early American history, time management, the effervescent Bette Midler

Also available at: Disney+

 

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Whoa! Bill and Ted are the unintentional professors of this crash-course in world history. Join them as they adapt to ancient cultures and interact with historical figures — in a most excellent way.

Other subjects covered: the French Revolution, Greek philosophy, DIY repairs

Also available at: Starz

 

Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)

The concrete jungle of New York City is a far cry from where Mimi-Siku was raised in the remote Canaima region of Venezuela. Upon arrival, he has to get used to Western traditions, a father he’s never met, and unexpected shenanigans involving the Russian mob.

Other subjects covered: Cultural diffusion, New York City architecture, table manners

 

Top Gun (1986)

Follow Kenny Loggins’s advice: Ride into the danger zone. Few things are as cool as Maverick rocking Ray-Bans and breaking the sound barrier. Cruise through the skies in style — and in preparation for this summer’s second installment to the iconic 80s blockbuster. 

Other subjects covered: Aerospace engineering, gravity, classic 80s music

Rated PG-13

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

A star-studded cast does Shakespeare justice in this modern spin on The Taming of the Shrew. High school can be the cruelest of times with unrequited love, impenetrable cliques, and popularity contests. Personality perseveres, though: being nice matters, and true love can prevail. 

Other subjects covered: Courtly love, sibling rivalries, puberty

Also available at: Disney+

 

Jurassic Park (1993)

Who doesn’t love a nature versus nurture story told through misadventures in a dinosaur theme park? Kids can flex their problem-solving skills by coming up with ways to escape velociraptors running amok — and may emerge as budding paleontologists. 

Other subjects covered: Evolution, GMOs, the dangers of portable toilets

 

Titanic (1997)

Follow the larger-than-life story of Jack and Rose, star-crossed lovers divided by class, set on the ill-fated Titanic. Besides learning about the ship’s history, you’ll also explore how this mega-budget movie managed to pull off its special effects.

Other subjects covered: Early 20th century history, cinematic history, anatomy of a ship 

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Think it’s hard to relate to a high school slacker cutting class when you miss school? Think again. Ferris Bueller plays hooky and bites off more than he can chew trying to evade the principal. It’s a great lesson on the snowball effects of decision-making — not to mention joyriding. 

Other subjects covered: Driver’s education, historic Chicago, the dramatic fourth wall

Also available at: Netflix

 

Clueless (1995)

This satirical commentary on 90s Valley girls is very loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma. Slice through the vivacious verbiage to see the true heart of the story. Cher’s tireless mission as a social butterfly reveals good intentions, despite hang-ups with designer clothing.

Other subjects covered: 90s fashion, British Romantic literature, epic closet organization 

 

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Running with scissors is not encouraged, and neither is falling in love when you have them for hands. This Franken-fantasy love story is endearing and illustrates the importance of not judging others by their appearance. Besides, we’re all one snip away from having our hearts broken, too. 

Other subjects covered: Human anatomy, Johnny Depp as a film icon, landscape architecture

 

Wayne’s World (1992)

Your kids will never hear an electric guitar the same way again. This 90s spectacle incorporates all things pop culture, including the music and fashion of the era. It’s also fascinating to draw similarities between this low-budget basement show and modern-day live-streaming.

Other subjects covered: History of social media, 80s classic rock and metal, fashionable flannel

Rated R

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Sixteen is already hard enough, and things get more complicated when your sister’s wedding overshadows your birthday. Follow Sam as she becomes embroiled in a challenging relationship with her crush and navigates the antics of nerdy teenage boys.

Other subjects covered: Sex education, Molly Ringwald as a cultural icon, event planning

Also available at: Starz

 

Coming to America (1988)

When Crown Prince Akeem of Zamunda breaks with tradition and refuses an arranged marriage, he travels to none other than New York City to find an independent woman. East and West collide during Akeem’s courtship attempts, which are awkward and borderline inappropriate.

Other subjects covered: Cultural diffusion, courtship, international travel 

 

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1994)

To be fair, this film is technically PG-13, but it should be R. Set in jolly England, this comical delight is an un-PC retelling of Robin Hood. Toilet humor abounds, including a character named Latrine. The puns are awful, the names are worse, and if you do nothing else, duck and cover when Blinkin picks up a crossbow.

Other subjects covered: Medieval times, scriptwriting, personal hygiene