Remember when you used to suffer through the 27th showing of Finding Nemo, just to do the whole ‘family movie night’ thing with the kids? I reckon I can still quote that movie from beginning to end (and we still all laugh at how my middle used to be terrified during the scuba diver scene). Thankfully, our children have much better tastes in movies these days. There is, however, some dissension as to which films should make the list of good movies to watch with your teens.
Little kids all seem to just like the same thing. Older kids… don’t. They grow up and decide for themselves what they like and don’t like. Annoying, isn’t it?
At our place, my son is into obscure indie films and tends to watch based on who the director is (he’s keen to go into the industry, so there’s that). My youngest seems to like cliched teen romance movies and reruns of Brooklyn 99. My middle fortunately isn’t that fussed (just don’t make her watch Finding Nemo ever again).
How do we find movies that everyone will want to watch together, and should we even bother trying?
Movies are a quality time shortcut
Yes, we should be bothered trying. Spending time together having a shared experience is how we stay connected to our teens and tweens. In fact, research by Penn State showed that spending quality time with parents is just as important for teenagers as it is for toddlers.
“Our research shows that, well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents’ psychological and social adjustment,” concluded Susan McHale, professor of human development and director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.
Sharing a movie together feels like a shortcut to a bonding experience. Just go easy on the sex scenes, yes? Surely the only thing more cringey than watching a sex scene with your parents is knowing that your parents actually have sex. Eek, look away, people. I’ll try to add a sexy warning, just to be safe.
A note on ratings and age recommendations
Righto, time to break out the movie downloads. I’ve seen every single one of these films and have recommended an appropriate starting age based on my own understanding. Keep in mind that my tolerances and values will be different from your own, so I’ll include a link to the Common Sense Media review for each film so you can double check what others have to say.
In my opinion, one of the best things about my kids turning older is sharing movies I truly love with them. Note that there are some SPOILERS in these reviews, as I thought it necessary to warn you of some of the more sensitive content. Lots of BIG conversations are opened up by many of the movies to watch with your teens I’ve selected. Let’s get watching…
Movies to watch with your teens
Blinded by the Light
Maybe it’s because I’m a closet Springsteen fan, but I loved everything about this movie. It’s a feel-good, coming-of-age dramedy that touches on some serious themes about culture, ethnicity, racism and class. Jav is a Pakistani teen growing up in 1980s England whose three ambitions are to “make loads of money, kiss a girl and get out of this dump.” He’s inspired by (make that obsessed with) the Boss to make his own way with optimism and song. This film is by writer-director Gurinder Chadha whose previous hit Bend It Like Beckham is also a must-watch with the kids.
La Vita e Bella – Life is Beautiful (1997)
This story of a father’s heartbreaking attempt to keep the horror of being in a concentration camp from his son is one of my all-time favourite movies and it should be required viewing for every teen. It’s a story about the evils of the Holocaust, but it’s also a story about the strength of love and humanity. Italian film with subtitles
Enola Holmes (2020)
The new Netflix flick tells the story of Sherlock Holmes’ sister Enola Holmes. She’s a feminist during Victorian times, raised by a strong mother to be an independent thinker. She’s even smarter than her obnoxious brother, and definitely more likeable. This is basically a straightforward and entertaining crime caper with the added bonus of a charismatic lead (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobbie Brown). Helena Bonham Carter, Henry Cavill and Sam Clafin also star.
Dead Poet’s Society (1989)
We remember this coming-of-age film as uplifting and joyful, but it actually features many heavy and depressing moments. That shouldn’t stop you from watching it with your mature tweens and teens, though. There’s plenty of ‘seize the day’ and ‘captain your ship’ moments to balance the fact that one of the lead characters struggles with depression and ultimately commits suicide. It’s sensitively handled in the film and serves as a good introduction to have a deeply necessary talk about this sensitive subject. You’ll find plenty of resources to help you do so here.
How long since you’ve watched this cute classic? This updated version of Jane Austen’s Emma has aged well. Universal themes of finding yourself while trying to find the ‘one’ tend to do that; as do enjoyable, highly watchable characters. The self-involved vapidity of Cher and her friends feels way too familiar, but we end the film realising that people are more than the image they project to the world. It’s funny and fun and it features Paul Rudd who was 26-playing-18 and to this day is just as ageless as this classic teen flick.
Mean Girls (2004)
Another classic bitchy-girls-get-comeuppance flick, made wonderful by the fact that Tina Fey wrote the script. Lindsay Lohan is so good in this film that I got a bit sad thinking how much she went off the rails. Otherwise just a fabulously funny romp back into the cut-throat world of high school.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
This Netflix cutie is very formulaic but is made highly watchable by the charm of its two leads. Mums of tween girls will already know who Noah Centineo is (The Perfect Date, Sierra Burgess is a Loser) and relative-newcomer Lana Condor is equally as charismatic. Who doesn’t love a mismatched-couple teen romance with a cute-as plot device that throws them together? Ah, we all do!! There’s a sequel (and a third movie planned), but it’s not half as good.
The Princess Bride (1987)
You don’t expect to love this Rob Reiner movie as much as you do, but here it is. I must have seen it 27 times and I still have a laugh, so I couldn’t not include it on a list of movies to watch with your teens! My kids all loved this satirical, romantic fairytale when they were tweens and didn’t mind a re-watch recently at 16, 15 and 12. Go for it!
Don’t forget to share this lovely French flick with the kids. It’s just a delight from start to finish. There are a few light sexual encounters and a reference to suicide to navigate, but otherwise it’s a sweet film about love, loss, connection and kindness. French film with subtitles
The Intouchables (2012)
Another fabulous French film with plenty to offer the teens. Based on the plot about a wealthy, pessimistic paraplegic taking on a new personal assistant, this film shouldn’t be as uplifting and joyful as it is. But it is. In true ‘mismatched friendships’ movie style, this story reminds us that friendship can happen with anyone when we are allowed to be our authentic selves. Omar Sy as the petty criminal assistant has personality that fairly leaps off the screen. French film with subtitles
Love, Simon (2018)
I freaking love this film and think it’s one of the must-see movies to watch with your teens. Read our full review here.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018)
Another Netflix flick, this time starring the wonderful Shannon Purser alongside favourite hottie Noah Centineo in a Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired rom com. There was a fair amount of controversy over the messaging in this film (there’s a good run-through of this list here), and it’ definitely screens some very uncomfortable moments. However, it’s definitely worth watching this one with the kids in order to spark some awkward conversations about body image, catfishing, depictions of disability and a whole lot more. TBH, Sierra Burgess really is a loser, but not for the reasons she thinks she is…
Sing Street (2016)
This is one of the most underrated teen films out there. It’s an Irish feel-good musical drama from John Carney (Once and Begin Again – both also recommended) that follows budding musician Conor as he starts a band to impress a girl he likes. It’s set in the ’80s, so expect outrageously good costuming, big tunes and loads of personality. The simple story and over-the-top music are equally brilliant and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo acts a heartwarming and talented Conor.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
If you haven’t watched this much-loved teen classic with the kids, now is the time. It’s simply a feel-good, leave-your-cares-behind fun night in for everyone. “I recall, Central Park in the fall…”
Eighth Grade (2018)
Indie teen dramas have come a long way since the gloss of Reality Bites. This movie is a painfully realistic portrayal of what’s it’s like to be 13. Elsie Fisher (previously doing mainly voice overs for films like Despicable Me) is simply marvellous as socially-anxious Kayla, who can barely say hi to her classmates in person, but comes to life on her vlog channel. The kids and I agree: this is one of the best ‘teen movies’ we’ve ever seen.
A brilliant book (by Louis Sachar, review here) became a brilliant movie (and a brilliant reminder that Shila LaBeouf is not just a boof). Stanley Green is falsely accused of theft and sent to juvenille detention at Camp Lake Green in a desert in Texas. Here the incarcerated boys are forced by the warden to dig holes in the dirt every day, but why? Holes is smart, funny and completely original.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
How can this movie be almost 40 years old? Harry Ford must be about 100 years old by now… eek. It will probably play as quite kitschy for kids raised on CGI and Marvel effects, but it was always kind of tongue-in-cheek so it gets away with it. Really enjoyable adventure for everyone in the fam, provided they don’t scare too easily. Anxious kids should steer clear.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
The first movie is easily the best in the Pitch Perfect trio (second one is okay, third don’t even bother). Catchy music, loads of questionable moments that will make younger teens squirm and plenty of likeable characters to make you all laugh. Be warned that those squirmy moments are very, very squirmy.
Your Name (2016)
This story about Mitsuha and Taki, two total strangers who find they are slowly turning into each other, is delightful from start to finish. The best Japanese animated romantic fantasy film you’ll ever see…
A League of Their Own (1992)
“There’s no crying in baseball” – such a classic line and this is the Penny Marshall-directed movie where it comes from. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty and a random Madonna star in an underdog sports film with a difference. As America’s stock of male athletes is depleted during World War II, a professional all-female baseball league springs up in the Midwest, coached by a grumpy coach who’s past his prime. It’s a feel-good, shiny kinda movie that will leave you all feeling like all is right in the world.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Another ‘teen highschool flick’ that went mostly under the radar. Not sure how that happened as the acting is about 10x better than most teen flicks (Hailee Steinfeld is excellent as opinionated Nadine, and Woody Harrelson as her teacher can do no wrong IMO). It’s a very character-driven movie and possibly slower than teens expect in a high school coming-of-age flick, but it’s on a great road.
Les Choristes (2005)
The ‘based on a true story’ French boarding school movie has more than a touch of the Dead Poets about it. A music teacher at a strict boys boarding school uses music to bring the boys together. He changes the life of Pierre, who grows up to become a famous conductor who this movie is based upon. The music is beautiful and the story is uplifting, so it’s definitely worth a night in with the kids. French film with subtitles
The Secret Life of Bees (2008)
I don’t know why this movie wasn’t seen by more people when it was released. While it has some issues with tempo, the cast alone make it a must-see for me. Dakota Fanning stars as Lily, a lonely 1960s teen who runs away from a violent home to a small South Carolina town and meets the Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys) who welcome her in. The film depicts troubling scenes of racial hatred and domestic and other violence, but it’s handled carefully and overall the mood of the film is uplifting rather than heavy.
We Bought a Zoo (2011)
You can just tell that Matt Damon signed up for this Cameron Crowe film because he wanted to be in a movie his young kids could see. Naturally he chose a good one, because Matt Damon always chooses good ones. It probably helped that he’d be starring with Scarlett Johansson. Regardless of motivations, the two pull off an awesome family-friendly film about the healing power of animals and the nature of family.
Une vie de Chat (2010)
My kids have loved this animated crime caper since they were small, but it’s never too late for a viewing. A grieving girl’s cat Dino (the ‘cat in Paris’ of the English-translated title) lives a double life as a burglar. He introduces Zoe to his jewel thief accomplice Nico and draws her into their nightly prowls across Paris. The action is non-stop and thrilling and the story very charmingly touches on themes of grief. betrayal, revenge and loneliness. French film dubbed in English
The Way (2010)
This will be a much slower movie than most teens are used to, but that’s not such a bad thing. A father travels to France to recover the body of his estranged son, who died in an accident while attempting the walk the El Camino Way. He decides to make the pilgrimage himself to try to better understand his son. Emilo Estevez directs his father Martin Sheen and the film feels very authentic and low-key. For that reason, it’s profoundly affecting and will raise many rich topics of conversation with the kids.
You’ll fall in love with smart, quirky Juno MacGuff, a 16-year-old who falls pregnant to her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She initially considers abortion, but is soon searching for the perfect couple to adopt her baby (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). She’s supported through her quest by her equally quirky parents (the brilliant Allison Janney and JK Simmons). The whole movie is just a delight from start to finish.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
The movie that helped launch Keira Knightley into the stratosphere is one teens of all ages will enjoy. It’s a sporting-underdog, coming-of-age film that also explores themes of family, culture, sexism and racism in a non-threatening way. A nice way to get sports-mad boys to watch a ‘girl’ movie.
The Martian (2015)
What should theoretically be a really boring movie (man trapped in small space in space) is made gripping by the charismatic force of lead Matt Damon (can you tell I’m a bit of a fan?). There’ll be a lot to talk about with the kids afterwards: namely about what it means to live a useful life, dealing with loneliness, the importance of creativity and invention, how daily habits and routines can build a life and, above all else, what true resilience really looks like.
You know, it would be really nice to see a movie starring a ‘bigger’ actor that wasn’t about the fact that that actor was bigger. A true ‘body positivity’ move would be to just cast the larger girl and let her have a good life, you know? Dumplin’ is not that film, but it still does a pretty good job of making an overweight girl feel good about herself. Even though she’s called Dumplin’. Kudos to the way they handle her first romance in this warm-hearted film.
The comedy in this movie is pitch black, which means Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are completely in their element. This is teen peer pressure and cruelty ramped up to a 110 and it will be disturbing for many teens. Real life teen shootings have taken most of the fun out of this flick and I’m genuinely surprised it’s only rated M. That said, it’s one I’d still recommend as it satires teen life and raises some very necessary talking points.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Watch it together for Heath, in all his gloriousness.
Friday Night Lights (2005)
A high school underdog football team rises above adversity to come together as a team. You could call this movie formulaic, except it’s a bit too real and raw to be that. It’s worth noting that the original movie is much tamer than the TV series (which has a solid M rating).
This indie noir was hardly seen by anyone on release, which is a huge shame. I’m a massive Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan, so you bet I was there. It’s basically an old-fashioned detective who-dun-it coupled with high school dramedy film and JGL pulls it off beautifully. If you haven’t seen this gem, beg, borrow or steal.
Say Anything (1990)
Where did John Cusack go? I loved him when I was old enough for this film to be about me. He just kind of disappeared sometime in the early noughts, but I think we’d all like to have him back. Can you imagine growing up with John and Joan Cusack next door? But, I digress. You probably remember this boy-girl-against-the-world (and especially her parents) movie from your teen years and it still feels a little edgy. Your own teen will love it just as much.
La Tribu (2018)
This offbeat Spanish comedy is a truckload of fun – but you may find yourself wondering how they manage to pull it off. Exhibit A, the plot: A corporate bigwig ruins his career and marriage after a shamefully embarrassing encounter with an intern. He attempts suicide, but fails at that too. The resulting amnesia means he has no idea who he is or that he has such a broken past. Luckily he’s rescued by a woman, her “mommies” dance class and the pretty dance instructor. Exhibit B: there’s a lot of cheesy dancing. But, hey, you will LOVE this somehow adorable story anyway, so do give it a try! Spanish film with subtitles
The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)
I’m a huge fan of Wes Anderson and this is one of his best. Three unquestionably odd siblings are reunited together and with their father after their father announces he is dying. It’s the most off off-beat comedy you could possibly wish for and you’ll love every moment. Note that beneath the dark comedy it’s extremely heavy and graphic, including an attempted suicide.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
This is one of the cutest, sweetest dysfunctional family road trip movies around. It has an amazing cast (Toni Collette, Steve Carroll, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin) and a sharp script that uses dark humour to deal with the not-even-remotely-funny topics of depression, drugs, divorce and suicide. The main takeaway is the importance of family and that’s a theme worth celebrating.
Le Scaphandre et le Papillon – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2008)
This is a challenging one due to its slow content and subtitles, but it’s worth encouraging your teens to watch it with you. Younger kids might find this based-on-a-true-story film sad and slow moving, but mature teens should finish the movie feeling inspired and humbled. Jean-Dominique Bauby’s story of suffering from a huge stroke at 43 and becoming the victim of ‘locked in syndrome’ is claustrophobic, unsettling and devastating – he can only communicate by blinking his left eyes. But it’s also a powerful account of a different perspective and raises all kinds of questions about what makes a ‘good life’. Brace yourselves, but don’t miss it. French film with subtitles
A rocking Beatles soundtrack, sweet romance and a little bit of fantasy means this movie is probably the most fun you could have watching a movie. Jack (a very cool Himesh Patel) has an accident and wakes up to a world where the Beatles never existed – which means he can pass all their songs off as his own. Ed Sheeran also makes an appearance.
Lady Bird (2018)
Lady Bird was the first time I took my son to the cinema to see a more ‘mature’ film and it features a very in-your-face sex scene. Talk about trial by fire! See our full review here.
Mary and Max (2009)
A quirky Aussie indie animated film that’s highly entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s the story of a friendship between Mary, a lonely eight-year-old in Melbourne, and Max, an equally lonely 44-year-old New Yorker. There’s a pervasive melancholy throughout the film, but it’s very touching and thoughtful. It will make you want to search harder for true friendship in unlikely places.
My Left Foot (1989)
Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his performance as Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and can only use his left foot to do things. The movie highlights the strength of his mother, who never lets him dwell on his shortcomings, and his own inner strength to rise above societal expectations. A beautiful story, beautifully told.
The Diary of A Teenage Girl (2015)
This one has a massive ‘sex ahead’ warning. It’s basically the whole premise of the movie as 15-year-old Minnie explores her sexuality in the 1970s. It’s handled with care, but it’s very graphic and very frank. No judgement here, but many parents will feel uncomfortable knowing their teen is watching this, let alone watching it with them. I still recommend it for its huge heart and fearless exploration of female sexuality.
The Hate U Give (2018)
One of the best books for teens of the past decade was turned into one very fine movie. Starr Carter witnesses the shooting of her best friend by police and must find the courage to stand up for what she knows is right. Amanda Stenberg is a stand-out as Starr and the movie is a faithful adaptation of the fierce book. Read our book review of The Hate U Give here.
The Way, Way Back (2013)
Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is thrown out of his comfort zone and forced to grow up during a summer spent away with his mother (Toni Collette, always great) in this authentic gem of a film. He’s rescued by an unexpected job at a waterpark and its devil-may-care park manager (Sam Rockwell, also always great). As we meander through one very awkward summer with Duncan, we’re reminded of our own teen years and every small and large thing we had to overcome to grow up and be counted.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Another JGL winner, this time he’s romantic lead who falls in love with Summer (cute-as Zooey Deschanel). Their relationship lasts 500 days and the film explores big truths like “what’s the point of being with someone when you know they’re not ‘the one’?”. It’s quirky, whip-smart and highly watchable. Long live the rom-com!
The Outsiders (1983)
It would be interesting to see what today’s teens think of The Outsiders. I remember it being so out-there when I was in my mid-teens and saw it for the first time (I’d read the book in Year 7 as well – read our review here). An outstanding cast under Francis Ford Coppola’s direction brings SE Hinton’s classic story about the violent clash between rich Socs and poor Greasers to vivid life: Matt Dillon, C Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Emilo Estevez, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane. Stop it.
Reese Witherspoon (Tracey Flick) and Matthew Broderick (Jim McAllister) are outstanding in this smart little (very) black comedy. McAllister flips after Flick answers one too many questions correctly and sets out to ruin the overachievers chances of winning the school’s presidential race. Let’s just say, he’s met his match. Note the rating: there’s plenty of sex, language and questionable ethics in this one.
Freedom Writers (2007)
The best thing about this movie is Hilary Swank (where did she go?!). It’s otherwise a fairly formulaic entry into the ‘tough inner-city school gets inspired by quirky teacher’ genre. Let’s face it, that genre exists for a reason. It makes for fantastically watchable movies that inspire us all to try a little harder.
Easy A (2010)
It’s easy to see the star inside Emma Stone as she plays Olive Penderghast in this upbeat update of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. A tiny lie about going on a date spirals into out-of-control slut shaming. Olive is aghast, until she realises she can turn the vicious rumours and lost reputation to her advantage. Lots of sexual innuendos and discussion, but not much actual action. The judgey mcjudgersons are the real thing to be horrified about.
You’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of this whip-smart gem. It’s easily one of the best high school movies to come out in the past couple of decades. On the last day of high school best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein, my new favourite actress) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, equally adorable) decide to cut loose. What follows is crude, rude and a ton of fun as the girls discover more about themselves and their fellow classmates than they ever thought existed.
Good Will Hunting (1998)
Did you also forget about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s moving film? Their script won them an Academy Award and it’s tight, bright and darn alright. Will Hunting is discovered as a mathematical genius, but he’s got a lot of history to overcome if he wants to feel accepted. He is helped along by therapist Sean (Robin Williams) who draws on his own troubled past to help Will rise to the challenge.
Paper Towns (2015)
John Green novels translate extremely well into movies (The Fault In Our Stars, Looking for Alaska – see a list of books made into good movies here), but Paper Towns is probably the best adaptation of them all. Q has had a secret crush on his neighbour Margo since the beginning of time. When Margo goes missing, Q and his motley bunch of friends follow clues left by Margo to go on a road trip looking for her. It’s about time I included a road trip movie on a list of movies to watch with your teens!!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Charlie (Logan Lerman) has had a rough few months, including dealing with the tragedy of his best friend’s suicide and now changing schools. He meets Patrick (effervescent Ezra Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson) who help him through his breakdown. However, the past is never far behind him…
The Spectacular Now (2013)
The writers of (500) Days of Summer pay homage to classic John Hughes films in this party-boy-meets-guileless-girl dramedy. It features a teen alcoholic lead, a fair bit of sex and loads of partying, but it’s got plenty of heart. The movie touches on all the teen angsty hopes and dreams and draws honest, authentic conclusions about why living for the moment isn’t possible all the time.
Speaking of John Hughes, don’t forget to revisit all his eighties teen classics: The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful.
What are your fave movies to watch with your teens?
Feature image by JESHOOTS.com; all other images are stills from movies.