It’s a lot of fun looking back at the flicks I grew up with. Some of them are heartwarming gems that continue to comfort me, others are numbing romps that I haven’t bothered with in years. But a few of them are more. More than child-pleasing distractions, more than mindless entertainment. A few of the films listed below are partly responsible for my fascination with the medium. They made me realize that movies could be more than movies. So take a trip with me down the rabbit hole of my youth, and be sure to list some of your childhood favorite flicks in the comments.
I’ve featured the picture above on this blog before, but that is me, age 2, receiving my first film. Such a large milestone at such an early age. Because of this, Cinderella will always be my favorite animated film. A few months ago, I watched the movie for the first time in more than a decade, and I was oddly inspired and invigorated. In short, it made me feel like a kid again. The power of film.
Am I the only who was scared shitless by E.T. as a kid? And I know what you may be thinking, Yeah, the scenes with E.T. running in the woods is kind of creepy. But no, I actually thought those moments were thrilling. It was everything else. E.T. hiding in the closet. E.T. pale white and dying in a ditch. E.T. stumbling around the house drunk and alone. I have no idea why these scenes frightened me so much, but more curiously, I haven’t the slightest clue why I watched them over and over (and over and over). I watched this movie so much, I burned through three different copies of that bright green VHS tape. Maybe that’s why, to this day, I would rank E.T. in my Top 25 films of all time. I’ve never not been consumed by its power.
The Monster Squad (1987)
The Monster Squad is a kind of brilliant horror comedy that expertly juggles the balance of not taking itself too seriously, but remaining smart throughout. In the movie, a band of famous monsters (Count Dracula, The Mummy, The Gill-man, The Wolf Man, The Frankenstein Monster) invade a small town and are battled by a precocious group of teens. The film was co-written by Shane Black, who was then one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood (and, currently, can be found as the director Iron Man 3). The film is filled with Black’s unique wit, and remains a pleasant horror romp to this day.
From its perfectly eerie opening credits (seriously, I wish Danny Elfman still made music like this), to its iconic use of Harry Belafonte tracks, to Michael Keaton’s go-for-broke star-making performance – Bettlejuice is Tim Burton at his absolute best. And from an early age, I was so taken with Burton’s no holds barred approach to gothic satire. Granted, I had no idea what gothic satire was when I was four years old, but it made the movie no less enjoyable.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
I warned you that some of these might not be the most… mature of films. But if I’m being truthful, I loved the hell out of this movie as a kid. I was never too fond of the first TMNT film, and I absolutely loathed the third one, but damn if I didn’t watch The Secret of the Ooze on repeat. That hilariously dated opening credits sequence (that makes it impossible to NOT crave a slice of pizza), the toy store fight, the abandoned subway station, Tokka and Rahzar, Vanilla Ice (“Go ninja go ninja GO!”) – I mean, really, what’s not to like?
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)
Amy Jo Johnson. The Pink Ranger. My first ever crush. Not celebrity crush. Not movie crush. Crush. Period. I loved her.
Bad Boys (1995)
Bad Boys certainly wasn’t the first R rated movie I saw, but it was definitely the one I got the most mileage out of. My friends and I would watch this flick damn near every weekend, throwing lines at the TV, singing the bitchin’ ‘90s tracks, being wowed by the over the top action scenes – there was nothing about it that we didn’t love. And, to get a little technical, I’d like to point out that this was the first film I saw with a soft, pre-credit opening. The kind of opening that has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of the rest of the movie, but everything to do with expert character establishment. And to think, there was a time that Michael Bay actually made a solid flick.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Usual Suspects was the first movie that, upon finishing, I immediately watched a second time, without dare leaving my seat. I know the film’s ending has been dumbed down and parodied to death, but when this movie was initially released, it was a fucking sensation. An indie flick starring people you sort of recognized, with a snap crackle script, and a denouement that fooled us all. The Usual Suspects had serious Wow Factor back in the day. Whether that’s remained or not is irrelevant to this post, what matters is that I was deceived by its charm. Exquisitely deceived, even.
People forget how big of a gamble Scream was. It was directed by a genre master who hadn’t had a hit in years, written by a guy no one had ever heard, and starred a bunch of could-go-this-way/could-go-that-way kids. But Bob Weinstein rolled the dice, and it paved way for a film I have never fallen out of love with. When Scream was released, I was a few years younger than most of the characters in the film, but there was something about them that made them so identifiable. They talked how I talked, watched what I watched, knew what I knew. Scream was (is…?) a slice of horror comedy gold that knew exactly what it was doing, and seriously reaped the benefits.
Taxi Driver (1976) and Pulp Fiction (1994)
I broke chronology and am listing these two landmarks together because both Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction had the same impact on me, at the exact same time. I saw them a few months apart when I was 10 years old, and it was with this pairing that I realized what film can be. Or, perhaps more significantly, what it can do. I realized that film is so much more than an escapist artistic medium. Movies, I realized, weren’t solely meant to entertain, they were meant to elicit emotion. To provoke thought, and fear, and laughter, and excitement, and dread, and inspiration.
Don’t get me wrong, Pulp Fiction is the most entertaining film I’ve ever seen. Period. But there was something about it that struck me so early in life. It was the way the story evolved, the way the characters talked, the way the music propelled everything. It was all so… new. Taxi Driver was different, but the same. Which is to say that although the films don’t resemble one another structurally, their impact on me was profound. Let me put it another way: Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction are, to this day, my two favorite films of all time. And believe me, that certainly isn’t a coincidence.