10 Movies That Shaped My Youth—That Will Shape My Daughter's Too

by Turney Duff
Originally Published: 
Movies to watch with your daughter: Stand By Me (1986)

When I was growing up in the 1980s, I loved watching movies. Still do. My 9-year-old daughter likes it OK. But when we do cozy up on the couch, we usually pop some popcorn, search for candy in all my secret spots and top it all off with some soda. (You can tell I’m up for Father of the Year.) Then we turn off all of the lights and press play. Although we don’t talk much during the film, it’s a bonding moment. I usually get stuck rubbing her feet at some point. And rubbing tiny little toes counts as bonding. Sometimes I like to take a peek at her while she’s watching. I love seeing whatever particular emotion is beaming from her face.

In the first 9 years of my daughter’s life, I usually didn’t get to pick the title. My recommendations weren’t considered—but that’s been changing slightly over the last six months, ever since I let her watch Pitch Perfect on cable. That’s when she started taking my endorsements a bit more seriously because, though I may have rushed the age appropriateness for that film, she loved it. And we are sooooooooooooo going to see Pitch Perfect 2 together when it comes out in theaters this May. We’ll just keep it as our little secret.

If you’re a Gen Xer like me, then certain movies helped shape you as a child and are now part of your DNA. And like me, you can probably still quote them. The movies that I loved growing up I now want to share with my daughter, even though I might be setting myself up for disappointment. You know when you absolutely LOVE a movie and you’re willing to watch it a second, third or tenth time with someone because you want them to get the same exact joy that you got from watching it? Then when the final credits start to roll, you look over at your friend and they say, “It was all right.”

“All right? But that movie changed my life.”

“Yeah, it was all right,” they say.

So it’s not always an automatic thing—sharing your favorite movie. But I still want to do it. I originally tried to keep this list focused on the 1980s, but a few from the early ’90s kept sneaking their way onto it.

So here are ten movies I’d eventually like to watch with my daughter.

Movies to Watch Today

© 20th Century Fox

1. Free Willy (1993): We can find friends in the most unlikely places.

I agreed to see this movie on one condition: My friend Julie T. had to promise not to tell a living soul that we were going to see Free Willy. I had my manhood to protect, or so I thought. But I loved it. I mean, how can you not? A delinquent boy and an equally antisocial killer whale bond and become friends. And then the boy ultimately helps free Willy. My daughter loves animals, and the ending might even be good for a tear or two.

2. The Goonies (1985): Dare to dream.

I can’t believe it will be 30 years this summer since the movie was originally released. It’s the epitome of a popcorn movie: A band of preteens sets off on an epic adventure to save their entire neighborhood. Strangely, I have a craving for a Baby Ruth.

3. E.T. (1982): Everyone gets homesick.

I cried the first time I ever saw it, maybe even the second. When that little red heart stops beating inside that cute little fella, it’s gut-wrenching. Ugh. And it’s nonstop adventure when a lonely boy and his siblings try to help a stranded extraterrestrial return home. And just like Dorothy taught us, there’s no place like home.

4. Big (1988): Don’t grow up too fast.

What kid hasn’t wished they could grow up faster? It’s every child’s fantasy. This is by far one of the best age-changing comedies. And what we learn from Tom Hanks’s character shows us that becoming an adult is not as great as advertised.

Movies to Watch in a Few Years

© Columbia Pictures

5. Stand By Me (1986): It’s the journey, not the destination.

This coming-of-age story, which was adapted from Stephen King’s novella The Body for the big screen, reminds us what growing up is really like. And it’s not easy for anyone.

6. The Outsiders (1983): Don’t believe in stereotypes.

This movie is about so much more than income inequality. It’s so wonderful to see the guys who are often portrayed as “the villain” get humanized. You just need to “Stay gold, Pony Boy, stay gold.”

7. The Breakfast Club (1985): You see us as you want to see us.

There’s really not much more to say about this classic that hasn’t already been said. My guess is that my daughter will see a little bit of herself in each of the characters. And I think that’s the point.

Movies to Watch a Few Years After That

© New World Pictures

8. Heathers (1988): Popularity is a bitch.

This is the first movie I saw that made me realize I loved independent films. It’s fun, quirky, and hysterical. I’m not sure there are any greater lessons in life than to realize that we’re all insecure—just don’t ask us.

9. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): If you have sex too early, you’ll surely get pregnant.

OK, I almost took this off the list because I remembered some of the content. But I came up with a plan for when I someday watch this movie with my daughter: Right before the baseball dugout scene with Jennifer Jason Leigh losing her virginity, I’ll make an excuse to leave the room. This movie is too much of a classic to not watch at some point.

10. The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Everybody knows it puts the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again.

Some people might question my parenting skills for recommending this movie to my daughter, but it’ll only be when she’s old enough. This movie was so well done. And it will make you think twice about getting into the back of a white van to help a stranger with a cast on his arm.

Honorable Mentions: The Karate Kid, Coming to America, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Top Gun, Gremlins, Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Sixteen Candles, Raising Arizona, Aliens, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Shining, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

And for the record… I’ve never seen Dirty Dancing.

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