Break out the popcorn and settle the whole family in front of the goggle box. It’s time to introduce your little ones to these classic and retro nostalgic movies – and relive your own childhood while you’re at it!
Ahhh…those evergreen movies from our own childhoods always seem to bring out those warm, fuzzy feelings, don’t they? Then there were those that seemed really cool back when we were still in school – hey, they weren’t all that bad! While today’s kids have no lack of quality movies boasting super CGI effects and all, there are some oldies but goodies that every child should watch before they’re all grown up.
Here are some ideas to get those weekend family movie nights started. We’ve sorted these nostalgic movies by what age group they’re best suited for, and then by what year they were released. Of course, no two kids are alike, so parents, it’s always up to you to decide when your kids are ready.
Nostalgic Movies that will Enchant Preschoolers (4 years and up)
Most of these are musicals or animated films, or a fun combination of both. Of course, you may start them younger if you wish, but on average, kids from four years of age will best be able to appreciate these nostalgic movies.
1. Mary Poppins (1964)
One of the greatest family movies of all time, this is a tale of a magical nanny with her bottomless carpetbag and amazing circle of friends. Played by Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins takes the children under her wing on exciting adventures, and will have both them and your kids singing, dancing and laughing their heads off.
2. The Sound of Music (1965)
Another Julie Andrews’ classic, this film is about a novice nun who becomes the governess to seven children against the backdrop of World War II. It also contains arguably the most well-known children’s tune in history next to the ABC song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Who doesn’t remember every word in ‘Do-Re-Mi’?
3. Charlotte’s Web (1973)
Based on the classic novel by E. B. White, this animated musical is a heartwarming tale of friendship and loyalty, with enough comical bits to keep the kids amused. The theme of the story is the cycle of life and death, although this is handled very gently. The live-action remake in 2006 starring Julia Roberts and a young Dakota Fanning is also worth a watch.
4. Annie (1982)
The film adaptation of the Broadway musical about the little redheaded orphan Annie is as charming as it gets. She is rescued from the perpetually drunk Miss Hannigan who runs the orphanage when she goes on ‘trial’ to be adopted by a rich politician. Its 1999 remake and 2014 updated version, while entertaining, didn’t quite match up.
5. An American Tail (1986)
A young mouse named Fievel is separated from his family on their migration from Russia to America in this musical animated film. While he experiences many perilous moments along the way, his bravery and positive attitude see him win the day. His voice breaking while he sings ‘Somewhere Out There’ never fails to break our hearts too! Fievel’s adventures continued in the 1991 sequel ‘An American Tail: Fievel Goes West’.
6. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
This early masterpiece from Japanese filmmaker and manga artist Hayao Miyazaki will appeal to young and old alike. Re-released and dubbed in English by Disney, it’s voiced by real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning. This beautiful story sees the sisters befriending a fantasy creature named Totoro who helps them through a difficult time in their lives.
7. The Land Before Time (1988)
This is the perfect introduction for the little ones to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Follow the adventures of baby dinosaurs as they go on a long journey to find a new paradise. Cute and funny yet educational, kids will learn about climate change, natural disasters and the cycle of life, even while rooting for these adorable prehistoric heroes.
8. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Two dogs and a cat have to find their way home in this heartwarming and witty live-action adventure story. Kids will laugh through all the madcap action and perch on the edge of their seats at perilous moments, even as they cheer for the threesome as they traverse mountains and valleys.
Nostalgic Movies that will Amuse Younger Kids (7 years and up)
A mix of musicals and adventures, these nostalgic movies are perfect for the stage where kids can’t stop asking ‘why’. Expect to answer many questions as you watch them together – that’s what you’re there for, after all!
9. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
It’s true, there are scenes from this classic musical that may scare the little ones, mostly those with the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West and her creepy flying monkeys. But the movie that shot 16-year-old Judy Garland to fame is so well-loved by every generation, even the grandparents will want to join in this movie night!
10. Fantasia (1940)
Segments of this early Disney experimental animated film may be rather slow and draggy for today’s kids. But woven amid the darker sections are stories of enchanting dancing flowers, unicorns, hippos, and stunning sequences showing the relationship of sight and sound. Fans of classic Mickey will remember some of his funniest moments with a magical broomstick.
11. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Co-written by Roald Dahl, this movie is every child’s fantasies come to life. It’s a whimsical story of an eccentric inventor who converts a broken-down car into a super vehicle. The flying car takes him and his kids on a magical adventure. The title of the movie is both the name of the car and the unforgettable earworm of a song.
12. Oliver! (1968)
An award-winning (six Oscars including Best Picture!) adaptation of a Broadway musical, this is a memorable retelling of the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Young Oliver starts off in an orphanage – remember that heartrending scene of him timidly asking for “More?” gruel. He runs away, joins a team of pickpocketing street urchins, before eventually finding his forever home.
13. Pete’s Dragon (1977)
An entertaining live-action movie featuring an animated dragon who befriends a little boy named Pete, this is a great one for kids who have imaginary friends. Because that’s exactly what people think Elliott is, until the adorable dragon helps saves the day! The 2016 remake, also by Disney, is a great tribute with updated effects.
14. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
An outstanding alien movie that’s perfect for kids, it explores the precious friendship between 10-year-old Elliott and one of the most iconic creatures in movie history. This fantastic science-fiction adventure will have everyone thrilled and touched simultaneously. And who could forget six-year-old Drew Barrymore’s precocious performance as Elliott’s little sister?
15. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Ten-year-old Bastian runs from school bullies and dives into a wondrous world through the pages of a mysterious book he finds in an old bookstore. The kingdom of Fantasia is being slowly consumed by ‘The Nothing’ and can only be saved by a human child. This live-action fantasy film and its 1990 sequel encourage kids to love books and dream big.
16. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
This lighthearted Disney comedy is about four siblings who get shrunk to the size of ants, thanks to one of their nerdy scientist dad’s inventions. They end up in what is now a humungous backyard filled with gigantic hazards. Their adventures include nearly drowning in a puddle, escaping a mean scorpion, and riding on a giant honey bee!
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Nostalgic Movies to Thrill Older Kids (10 years and up)
Exciting, funny and sometimes even a little scary, some of these nostalgic movies will have kids laughing non-stop, while others cover more serious themes. Parental guidance and discretion advised!
17. Ghostbusters (1984)
This cult classic with the hit theme song combines action, comedy and a few rollicking frights – beware that librarian! Three eccentric parapsychologists start a dubious ghost-catching business and end up saving New York City from supernatural hauntings. The fun continues in its 1989 sequel, and girl power takes over in a fun 2016 reboot.
18. Gremlins (1984)
Released with a PG-13 rating for scary scenes including a Gremlin being chopped up, this is a slightly dark comedy with a twisted sense of humour, yet remains an entertaining family movie nonetheless. What starts out as the adorable pet Mogwai ends up causing all kinds of mayhem when it multiplies and then morphs into the meaner Gremlims.
19. The Karate Kid (1984)
Another cult classic, this had many teenage girls cooing over Ralph Macchio back in the day. The rather cliché underdog-makes-good story is made extra special by his chemistry with karate sensei, Mr Miyagi. The movie covers themes such as racism, bullying and teen romance. While its sequels failed to match up, a 2010 remake starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith is surprisingly stellar.
20. Back to the Future (1985)
Similarly riding on the exceptional chemistry between teenage loser Marty McFly and mad scientist Doc Brown, the blockbuster time travel tale stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Two sequels remained faithful to the storyline, but never quite attained the magic of the original. Kids today will love the thrilling ride as much as kids did back in 1985.
21. The Goonies (1985)
This is a rambunctious action-fantasy flick boasting a bunch of rowdy adolescent misfits on an uproarious adventure – what’s not to love? The Goonies find an old map that leads them on a treasure hunt. They end up unearthing the long-lost fortune of legendary 17th-century pirate, One-Eyed Willy.
22. Stand by Me (1986)
This coming-of-age story sees four pre-teen boys in a small town who go on a hike to find the dead body of a missing child. Not for your average under-10s, it is a poignant and very real portrayal of adolescents growing into maturity. These include peer pressure, bullying, parental abuse and standing up for self – issues older kids will surely identify with.
23. Dead Poets Society (1989)
This is another one that the older kids will love because it challenges them to get introspective. Set in an oppressive elite boys’ boarding school, Robin Williams plays an unconventional and inspirational teacher to a class of teenagers searching for their path in life. While it’s full of uplifting themes of seizing the day, self-expression and self-belief, do note that it also deals with the suicide of one of the boys.