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24 throwback films to watch with your kids

Time to stage an intervention! Sick of hearing your kids' shows on repeat? Free the remote from their clutches and settle in for a fabulously retro family film night.

There’s no escape from the family and I’m tearing my hair out (no root problem here, just baldness). Elaborate games of hide and seek are over in seconds, teenagers raise their eyes from their phones to look at you with pity, but there is a way to make it work. Homeschooling is a bust, but your children’s cinematic education starts now, with this smorgasbord of throwback films they’re going to love (or laugh at).

The Goonies (1985, PG)

“Hey you, guuuuuuuuys” make use of your lockdown weight gain and do the truffle shuffle. The Goonies is without question an absolute must. A story of friendship, adventure, comedy booby traps, bants and a celebration peoples’ differences – long before it was PC. Mikey, Chunk, Mouth Devereaux, Stef, Data Wang and Brand go in search of treasure to solve their families’ financial strife and attracting the attention of a family of criminals. The Cyndi Lauper soundtrack ticks a box too. 

E.T.: Extra-Terrestrial (1982, PG)

ET alien in hoody on a bike ridden by boy

Steven Spielberg’s classic is considered one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. Ignore the naysayers who claim it is too schmaltzy – Elliot’s encounter with alien life, the hoody-wearing ET in his bike basket, “ET phone home” line and John Williams’ epic music. There won’t be a dry eye in the house (particularly if you’re over 40). An Eighties magic moment. 

Beetlejuice (1987, 12A)

Beetlejuice Michael Keaton

Ahhh, Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. His 1997 film became the surprise lockdown hit and is now one of Netflix’s most-watched movies right now. Why? It’s perfect quarantine viewing about a couple who are living in enforced isolation filled with ghostly hijinks and an unfortunate run-in with creepy bio-exorcist Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). It all feels very 2020.

Ghostbusters (1984, 12A)

Ghostbusters; four men in boiler suits covered in the marshmallow man

Fire up the proton pack, and wipe that slime off your face, Ghostbusters is a cult classic. It may have Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-sized holes in the plot, but pah who cares? The special effects guys at the time were let loose in the sweet shop, Dan Ackroyd (he wrote the script) and Bill Murray have some witty one-liners, the soundtrack is infectious and we all love a boiler suit.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, 15)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

“Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…” You can’t throwback to the 80s without seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It may be the decade style forgot, but it’s a cinematic goldmine. John Hughes’s teen movie classic tells the story of one Ferris Bueller (starring a young Matthew Broderick), a carefree teen who just doesn’t want to go to school today. But the principal (played by Jeffrey Jones), isn’t going to let that fly, and he’s out to spoil Bueller’s perfect day. Keep your eyes peeled for Cameron Frye’s stonking mid-century home, designed by A. James Speyer, protege of Mies Van der Rohe. Property porn right there. 

Stand By Me (1986, 15)

Stand BY Me FOUR BOYS WEARING T SHORTS

Long before Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s 1986 film Stand By Me combined youth, nostalgia and corpses for an iconic coming-of-age story. The retro soundtrack and inappropriate lusting over a very young River Phoenix (yeah you’re right, all wrong) this tale (based on Stephen King’s novella) of four boys in search of a body in the woods, takes them from the naivety of childhood to the sometimes ugly truth of being a grown-up. 

Dirty Dancing (1987, 12)

The movie that launched a thousand movie quotes – ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’, ‘I carried a watermelon’, ‘This Is My Dance Space. This Is Your Dance Space’. I’ll let you fill in the blanks – and many drunk attempts at the lift, Dirty Dancing is a must-watch cheese-fest, stonking soundtrack and Patrick Swayze’s six pack. 

Gremlins (1984, 12A)

Forget the Atari 2600 and Mr Frosty ice-maker, the one Christmas present every 80s kid wanted was a Mogwai. Off the chart cuteness – don’t get him wet, keep him out of bright light, and never ever feed him after midnight. Muddy editors come with the same instructions. What’s happens if you do… Gremlins. It’s scary, funny and has a baddy that stole Billy Idol’s hairdo.

Back To The Future (1985, PG)

Back to the future marty Mcfly and Doc Brown and delorean car

Fire up the DeLorean, and go Back To The Future. The gold standard of family adventure films was a career-defining moment for Michael J Fox who plays Marty McFly. Marty forms a strange bond with an old scientist, almost kisses is mum when he goes back in time and has one of the best theme tunes EVER. 

Footloose (1984, 12A)

Footloose Kevin Bacon prom dance

Before Kevin Bacon did EE ads, he starred in the 1984 dance film, Footloose. What’s it about? Well, Bacon moves from Chicago to a small town where dancing is banned. But nobody puts Kevin in the corner, and he moves hell and high kicks to overturn this toe-tapping injustice. The role was originally meant for Tom Cruise, then Rob Lowe but Kev was sloppy thirds and this feelgood film has charm and cringe in equal measure.

The NeverEnding Story (1984, U)

Neverending-Story boy and white dragon

Love fantasy that’s strictly PG? Time to revisit The Neverending Story is a masterclass in terrifying puppets, questionable animation, and traumatizing storylines. The Neverending Story is literally about a kid sitting in an attic and reading all day creating a bonkers world with a luckdragon, busty, laser-shooting Sphinx statues and Limahl and his flwoing blond mullet singing the title track.

Weird Science (1985, 12)

If you have your own hormone raging teen, this could go one of two ways – funny family bonding film or awkward too-near-the-knuckle disaster. Weird Science is about a couple of nerds who are desperate for a beautiful girlfriend and in order to get one go down the My First Frankenstein route to create a virtual woman using a computer and a doll, infusing her with all the characteristics of their dream woman. These days, just click add to basket at Cyborgs Are Us.

The Princess Bride (1987, PG)

The-Princess-Bride man and woman in woods

Jeez, were the Eighties so bad, that we needed the escapism of fantasy films? There are a lot to choose from, but The Princess Bride is a movie that’s been covered in unicorn dust, popped on a pedestal and caused a social media meltdown when it was suggested it would be remade. It’s a love story set in a fairytale within its own self-aware artificiality. It’s also Mr M’s favourite film. Sorry, kids, there is no escape.

The Karate Kid (1984, PG) 

Karate Kids

This is one way of sharing chores in lockdown – 1) Watch The Karate Kid; 2) Tie a bandana around your kids’ heads; 3) Make like Mr Miaggi and get them dusting like they’re training for their next bout. A lesson in resilience and perfecting skills. I’d almost call it educational. 

Mrs Doubtfire (1993, PG)

Mrs Doubtfire Robin williams as a woman dancing with broom

A divorced father dragging it up as a kind Scottish nanny to continue seeing his kids. Mrs Doubtfire is one of the late, great Robin Williams’ most enduring roles and introduced his talents to children, bringing humour, humility and heart to the role. It’s a family film night regular for good reason.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, PG)

Willy-Wonka-and-the-Chocolate-Factory Gene Wilder and oompa lumpas

Johnny Depp’s weird and wonderful Willy Wonka film with its stupendous special effects is a brilliant remake, but you have to watch the 1971 original. Gene Wilder is an oddball with a lot less make-up, the little people casting agency made a mint and some of the scenes were so trippy, the entire crew was probably high as a kite throughout. I mean there’s a spinning chicken in the chocolate river tunnel scene. A ‘Just say no’ campaign, right there.

Grease (1978, PG)

Grease carnival scene Olivia Newton John and John Travolta

We’re hopelessly devoted to Grease – a movie musical that was the soundtrack to our youth. John Travolta’s smoldering Danny Zuko, Olivia Newton John’s transformation from sweet to sexpot Sandy and an unhealthy obsession with the Pink Ladies – Frenchie’s pink hair and Rizzo’s sassiness. Sing-a-long and don’t mention the fact the cast is old enough to be the Rydale High’s teachers. 

Flash Gordon (1980, PG)

Gordon’s Aliiiiive! Flash Gordon comes with a warning – it’s bad. Really bad. But in a so bad it’s good kinda way – and has even become a cult sci-fi fantasy classic. To say it has aged badly is an understatement. Basically Emperor Ming the Merciless of the planet Mongo tries to destroy Earth by remotely causing natural disasters. Cue “Flash” Gordon in his tight singlet to save the day. 

Wayne’s World (1982, PG) 

waynes-world

‘Wayne’s World, party time… EXCELLENT’ Wayne’s World is the movie of a thousand memes. For a film that’s now 38 years old, that’s quite an achievement. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey originally took their Saturday Night Live sketch and with a teeny tiny budget and just 34 days had it in the can. Yes, it’s very much of its time – goofy, grungy and has some questionable music choices, but your kids will be parroting the lines like a stuck record. 

Top Gun (1986, 15)

Top Gun Volleyball Tom Cruise

I feel the need, the need for speed! Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Meg Ryan and Val Kilmer star in this 1986 classic. Great soundtrack, gratuitous volleyball scene. Hmmm. Don’t deny yourself a night with Mav and Goose – they’ve got that loving feeling. It’s Tom before he had his teeth done and discovered Scientology, the film does feel a bit dated but it’s worth watching just to your teenagers’ eye rolls when every excruciating line is uttered by Kellie McGillis. 

Airplane! (1980, 12A)

Surely you can’t be serious. ‘I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.’ Airplane has the best one-liners ever and regularly cited as one of the greatest comedies on the planet. Starring Leslie Neilson as Dr Rumack, Julie Hagerty as the ditzy flight attendant, Robert Hays as traumatized war vet Ted Striker and a blow-up pilot, your kids may think the production values are lame, but it’s all part of its charm. A must-watch, rite of passage movie. 

Edward Scissorhands (1990, PG) 

Johnny Depp Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have long been a match made in horror heaven but it all started with Edward Scissorhands – about a gothic robot with knives for fingers plonked into Stepford Housewives-style pastel suburbia where the bored housewives have the hots for their freakish new resident and a bittersweet romance between Edward and Kim (Winona Ryder). It’s as fun as Burton’s other films but with the heart to match. Also good for hairdressing tips in lockdown.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988, PG)

who-framed-roger-rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – a mix of cartoon and live-action – felt truly groundbreaking in 1988. Starring Bob Hoskins as private detective Eddie Valiant, the film is set in 1947 Hollywood where cartoon characters and people co-exist. His job to exonerate Roger Rabbit who is accused of murder. Fun fact: curvy cartoon redhead Jessica Rabbit was once voted the sexiest screen siren, beating Marilyn Monroe to the top spot. It doesn’t take Freud to unravel that one.

National Lampoons Vacation (1983, 15)

While we’re holidaying nowhere right now, you can live vicariously through the Griswalds and thank your lucky stars this isn’t you right now. Since 1983 Ad exec Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) has come to represent all dads – well-meaning but calamitous. Laser-focused on taking his family to Wally World, this becomes less a vacation and more of a descent into a peculiar hell. Suddenly the tent in the garden looks more appealing.

Don’t see your favourite here? EEK! Pop them in the comments below so we can create the ultimate rite of passage film library.

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