School in a Book: Classic Films

I am not a movie buff. Still, I don’t want to miss out on the shows and films that even today, inform our shared cultural conversation. There’s a lot to learn here about love, hope and coming of age–and about writing an awesome screenplay, too.

Essential Classic Children’s Films, Shows and Musicals

  • The Wizard of Oz (1930s)
  • Snow White (1930s)
  • Bambi (1940s)
  • Pinocchio (1940s)
  • Dumbo (1940s)
  • Old Yeller (1950s)
  • Sleeping Beauty (1950s)
  • Cinderella (1950s)
  • Alice in Wonderland (1950s)
  • Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1960s)
  • The Jungle Book (1960s)
  • Charlotte’s Web (1970s)
  • The Muppet Movie (1970s)
  • Benji (1970s)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1970s)
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1970s)
  • Star Wars: A New Hope (George Lucas, 1970s)
  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (George Lucas, 1980s)
  • Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (George Lucas, 1980s)
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielburg, 1980s)
  • Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1980s)
  • The Neverending Story (1980s)
  • Goonies (1980s)
  • The Karate Kid (1980s)
  • Ghostbusters (1980s)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernell (1980s)
  • Anne of Green Gables (series) (1980s)
  • Anne of Avonlea (series) (1980s)
  • Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielburg, 1980s)
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielburg, 1980s)
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielburg, 1980s)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (1980s)
  • Return to Oz (1980s)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1990s)
  • The Little Mermaid (1990s)
  • The Lion King (1990s)
  • Aladdin (1990s)
  • Home Alone (1990s)
  • Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1990s)
  • The Sandlot (1990s)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2000s)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2000s)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2000s)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2000s)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2000s)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000s)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2000s)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2000s)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010s)
  • Frozen (2010s)
  • Tangled (2010s)

Essential Musicals

  • An American in Paris (1920s)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1950s)
  • Oklahoma! (1950s)
  • White Christmas (1950s)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (1950s)
  • Guys and Dolls (1950s)
  • South Pacific (1950s)
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1950s)
  • The King and I (1950s)
  • Calamity Jane (1950s)
  • West Side Story (1960s)
  • Pollyanna (1960s)
  • Oliver! (1960s)
  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960s)
  • Cabaret (1960s)
  • Dr. Dolittle (1960s)
  • The Sound of Music (1960s)
  • Babes in Toyland (1960s)
  • The Music Man (1960s)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960s)
  • My Fair Lady (1960s)
  • Fiddler on the Roof (1970s)
  • Grease (1970s)
  • Godspell (1970s)
  • Jesus Christ, Superstar (1970s)
  • Hair (1970s)
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1970s)
  • Annie (1980s)
  • Footloose (1980s)
  • Little Shop of Horrors (1980s)
  • Cats (1990s)

Essential Classic Christmas Films

  • It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1940s)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1940s)
  • A Christmas Carol (1950s)
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1960s)
  • Frosty the Snowman (1960s)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1960s)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (1960s)
  • A Christmas Story (1980s)
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1980s)
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (1990s)

Essential Classic Films for Older Kids and Adults

  • The Arrival of a Train (1890s)
  • Nanook of the North (1920s)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1920s)
  • Night Mail (1930s)
  • Frankenstein (1930s)
  • M (Fritz Lang, 1930s)
  • Triumph of the Will (1930s)
  • You Can’t Take It With You (Frank Capra, 1930s)
  • It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1930s)
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 1930s)
  • The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1930s)
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1930s)
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s (1940s)
  • How Green is My Valley (1940s)
  • Casablanca (1940s)
  • National Velvet (1940s)
  • From Here to Eternity (1950s)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1950s)
  • Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1950s)
  • Rebel Without a Cause (1950s)
  • Roman Holiday (1950s)
  • The African Queen (1950s)
  • The Silent World (1950s)
  • The Three Faces of Eve (1950s)
  • Ben-Hur (1950s)
  • Night and Fog (1950s)
  • The Train (1960s)
  • Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1940s)
  • A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1950s)
  • East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1950s)
  • On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1950s)
  • Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1950s)
  • North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s)
  • Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s)
  • Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s)
  • Suspicion! (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940s)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s)
  • To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s)
  • Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s)
  • The Lord of the Flies (1960s)
  • Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1960s)
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1960s)
  • The Sorrow and the Pity (1960s)
  • Titicut Follies (1960s)
  • Salesman (1960s)
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance (1960s)
  • 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1960s)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960s)
  • How the West Was Won (1960s)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1960s)
  • Doctor Zhivago (1960s)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1960s)
  • Planet of the Apes (1960s)
  • The Graduate (1960s)
  • Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan, 1960s)
  • The Absent-Minded Professor (1960s)
  • Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allan, 1960s)
  • Il Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960s)
  • Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1960s)
  • The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960s)
  • Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
  • Roots (series) (1970s)
  • Saturday Night Fever (1970s)
  • The Exorcist (1970s)
  • Summer of My German Soldier (1970s)
  • Saturday Night Fever (1970s)
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1970s)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1970s)
  • Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1970s)
  • Orchestra Rehearsal (Federico Fellini, 1970s)
  • Freaky Friday (1970s)
  • Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1970s)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1970s)
  • Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1970s)
  • Big (1980s)
  • Airplane! (1980s)
  • The Princess Bride (1980s)
  • Babette’s Feast (1980s)
  • Sophie’s Choice (1980s)
  • Das Boot/The Boat (1980s)
  • Zelig (Woody Allen, 1980s)
  • The Atomic Cafe (1980s)
  • The Times of Harvey Milk (1980s)
  • Clue (1980s)
  • Parenthood (1980s)
  • Field of Dreams (1980s)
  • Moonstruck (1980s)
  • Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1980s)
  • Radio Days (Woody Allen, 1980s)
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1980s)
  • Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1990s)
  • Fight Club (1990s)
  • Life Is Beautiful (1990s)
  • What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1990s)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990s)
  • American Beauty (1990s)
  • Raise the Red Lantern (1990s)
  • Following (1990s)
  • To Live (1990s)
  • True Romance (1990s)
  • The Last Days of Disco (1990s)
  • Pleasantville (1990s)
  • The Truman Show (1990s)
  • Naked Lunch (1990s)
  • Gummo (1990s)
  • High Art (1990s)
  • Run Lola Run (1990s)
  • Man on the Moon (1990s)
  • Pi (1990s)
  • Hoop Dreams (1990s)
  • Being John Malcovich (Spike Jonze, 1990s)
  • Barton Fink (Joes and Ethan Coen, 1990s)
  • Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990s)
  • Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1990s)
  • Four Rooms (Quentin Terantino, 1990s)
  • Jackie Brown (Quentin Terantino, 1990s)
  • Pulp Fiction (Quentin Terantino, 1990s)
  • Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Terantino, 1990s)
  • Primer (2000s)
  • Memento (2000s)
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000s)
  • A Scanner Darkly (2000s)
  • American Psycho (2000s)
  • American Splendour (2000s)
  • Secretary (2000s)
  • Swimming Pool (2000s)
  • The Princess and the Warrior (2000s)
  • Igby Goes Down (2000s)
  • The Lives of Others (2000s)
  • Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2000s)
  • Kill Bill Volume I & II (Quentin Terantino, 2000s)
  • Don’t Look Up (2020s)

Additional Recommended Films: Documentaries

While the main criteria for the films on these lists is cultural and artistic significance, I also wanted to include movies that aren’t important as such, but that contain interesting, relevant information; little-understood niches; and unique perspectives–which is where the following documentaries come in. Some are socially relevant; most are disturbing; and all are in some way educational.

  • 13th
  • A Lego Brickumentary
  • Amanda Knox
  • Being Elmo
  • Bowling for Columbine
  • Chernobyl (series)
  • Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Food Matters
  • Food, Inc.
  • King Corn
  • Sicko
  • Free Solo
  • Going Clear
  • Herb and Dorothy
  • How to Survive a Plague
  • Icarus
  • Jesus Camp
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  • March of the Penguins
  • The Planet Earth series
  • Shirkers
  • Sour Grapes
  • Spellbound
  • The Barkley Marathons
  • The Rachel Divide
  • Three Identical Strangers
  • Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman
  • Trekkies
  • Waiting for Superman
  • Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?
  • Our Father (series)
  • The Real Bling Ring
  • Trainwreck
  • Bad Vegan (series)
  • The Puppetmaster
  • The Tinder Swindler
  • Seaspiracy
  • What the Health
  • Athlete A
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (series)
  • The Game Changers
  • Cowspiracy
  • Hope Frozen
  • Capturing the Friedmans
  • Keep This Between Us (series)
  • My Scientology Movie
  • The Deep End (series)
  • Drunk History (series)
  • Intervention (series)
  • Catfish
  • I Shouldn’t Be Alive (series)
  • I Survived (series)

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5 comments

  1. Some of those are a little ‘rough” perhaps for children in a recommended list.
    However, more than half in the children’s section I love to watch – “Princess Bride” and “Labyrinth” are great and one of my very favorite movies is “The Little Mermaid”.

  2. Mollie Great Movie list !!!! I also love Spirit. It is from Disney and tells the Story of the Old West. Cinema Paradiso it is an Italian movie. I love La la land and Green card with Gerad De pardiew. I am not sure how to write his last name.
    Pirates of Caribean . The Tourist with angelina Jolie and Johnny Deep.

    Great movie list !

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