Some recent, some decades-old, all classic—here are a handful of the films your son should watch. Some he may stumble upon on his own, but others might need not only an introduction but also some bribery. Today’s CGI fests are non-stop, with one eye-popping scene after another. The first 20 minutes of some of these can really drag for a kid used to huge explosions opening every film he sees. So expect some fidgeting. But do what ya gotta do; these are must-sees…
Rebel Without a Cause
It’s amazing just how many of today’s teens will wear a T-shirt with James Dean’s face on it, yet not know it’s James Dean! And for the few who do, many of those have never seen the best of the three movies he made in his short life.
The melodrama can be comical at times, as Dean and Sal Mineo (and even a young Dennis Hopper) occasionally come across as complete hams. But Dean epitomizes the angst-ridden youth, and his father’s desperate and clumsy attempts to connect don’t help things. Look, your kid’s watching five shows like this every week on The CW already, but Rebel is the OG.
Revered by many film critics as one of the best films ever made—if not the best—and the only time both a movie and its sequel earned the Best Picture Oscar, you still gotta know one thing going in: Your son is going to struggle with its pace, and maybe even snicker at Brando’s legendary affectation as Vito Corleone.
But once the bullets begin flying and an enraged brother takes a trash can lid to the head of his brother-in-law for hitting his sister, he’ll know he sees something important. As a son, a brother, a ma,n and, definitely, a moviegoer.
With Creed 3 beginning production any day now, chances are good your boy is going to discover downtrodden, heart-of-gold boxer Rocky Balboa all on his own. But, man, you gotta be there with him when he does.
Or, as the case may be, make sure he does. Rocky remains the ultimate underdog story, and Stallone’s lovable lug who just… won’t… stay… down will have you and Junior bonding in a Philadelphia minute.
Now that the boy has already decided James Caan is the man, thanks to The Godfather, it’s an absolute must (I think new dads are even told this as they prepare to take their son home from the hospital), that the two of you watch this classic. Interestingly, many don’t seem to remember that this was actually a TV movie and only saw a theatrical release afterwards because it was such a hit.
But that fact does little to lessen its impact. It’s about football. It’s about a dying white player bonding with his black teammate and roommate (the first in the history of the NFL). And it’s the #1 “guy-cry” flick of all times. Yes, “guy-cry.” It didn’t take off like “rom-com.”
The Bad News Bears
The cursing may be off-putting, considering just how seriously you take that sort of thing. Still, Walter Matthau’s drunken little league coach and the rag-tag crew of awful baseball players he is stuck with is the ultimate tale of embracing the suck.
Sure, the boys eventually begin playing better, especially once Matthau’s Coach Buttermaker puts his gifted, estranged daughter on the mound (Tatum O’Neal). Still, it’s the fact that they ultimately lose (spoiler alert) and were totally fine with it that makes this a real winner. Plus, it’s funny as hell.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Straight up, you can introduce your son to Indiana Jones when the tyke’s, like, four. Indy is all things at once—whip-smart and whip-toting, an adventurer of the highest caliber. With its soaring theme music and throwback sensibilities, this horse-riding, snake-hating, hard-scrabble archaeologist remains a character that resonates with all little boys.
Another installment is actually coming (and Harrison Ford is… um… up there), which is a testament to the character’s enduring charm. Plus, if and when he decides he loves it, skip right to the third Indy film, where Sean Connery shows up as Indy’s scene-stealing curmudgeon of a dad.
The Empire Strikes Back
You read that correctly. I am suggesting the follow-up to Star Wars, as opposed to our crash course in Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford’s second-best character ever). Just dive right in; the water is fine.
Significantly faster than its predecessor and twice as action-packed; this time around, we also get Yoda. And every boy needs to see Yoda training a frazzled Luke Skywalker. Plus, the greatest reveal in cinematic history happens right here, and it involves a father introducing himself to his son after lopping his hand off. Perfect!
Field of Dreams
Challenging on many levels, the Kevin Costner classic makes the cut largely because it’s all being about a grown man still reeling from the passing of his father—so much so that he’s pretty darn sure the old man wants him to clear out his crops and replace them with a baseball diamond. In the middle of nowhere. So he does. Then his dead dad thanks him, and a bunch of dead players play some ball. Just don’t tell your kid any of this going in. Somehow, Field of Dreams just works.
A Bronx Tale
Robert DeNiro is cast here as the bus-driving everyman whose love for his son, even while he watches the kid idolize the neighborhood mob king, trumps all else. So much so that he swallows his pride to take second place in his son’s eyes, going off to work every day, worrying that the lad will follow in the mobster’s footsteps… Sure enough, he does.
That’s when dad is ready to take on the mob and the beatdown that comes with it every day if he has to, just to protect his son. Heartfelt, sometimes funny as hell, and sometimes violent as hell, this whole thing is somehow now a hit Broadway musical!
Look, the boy’s gotta meet Clint. There are all sorts of ways you can do it, too. You can go the Dirty Harry route (I’d suggest Sudden Impact), one of his “Spaghetti westerns” (I’d suggest The Outlaw Josey Wales), or even go a bit off the grid to underrated gems like Every Which Way But Loose or Gran Torino, but Eastwood is an institution. From 1992, Unforgiven is Clint at his cowboy best, taking down Gene Hackman at his cowboy worst (meaning he is a bad, bad man, here). The accolades were aplenty, and both Eastwood and Hackman walked away with Oscars.