There must’ve been something in the water in Hollywood during the 80s and 90s. For a short and glorious period of time, those magic makers and dream weavers who create films were able to achieve something almost unfathomable. They made being a kid even better than it already was. They realized the possibility of our imaginations and said, “I’ll see you and raise you one.” They cranked out movies of such fantasy and delight that we were able to watch on screen all the things we wanted to do in real life, as well as some we hadn’t even considered before. They created a sense of magic, wonder and adventure that couldn’t help but influence my take on the world. What follows is a list of movies that made not just a writer and world traveler, but who I am today.
To this day, The Goonies is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s got everything you could want: action, adventure, a love story, car chases, booby traps, gangsters and even pirates! While I love pretty much every second of this film (even the deleted scenes!!), it’s more than just entertainment. It shows kids (and even grown folks) that being weird and unpopular isn’t just okay, it’s cool! I mean, there’s no way that preppy jock Troy would’ve ever been able to find One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. Know what I mean? Remember: Goonies never say die.
The combination of David Bowie’s sexy androgyny and Jim Henson’s creatures makes Labyrinth both one of the coolest and creepiest kids’ movies ever. It’s also just unbelievably compelling to watch. The thing it taught me growing up is that you can’t judge a book by its cover; sometimes the weirdest looking characters are the ones who will help you along your journey.
The NeverEnding Story
Heartbreaking, beautiful, and inspiring, The NeverEnding Story shows a parallel fantasy world full of racing snails, gnomish scientists, and flying dog faced dragons. Through Bastian and Atreyu’s adventures, we learn a very important moral: that apathy and cynicism are the easiest way to kill dreams. I’d rather be a dreamer than a cynic any day.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Amongst the brilliant imagery and special effects that only Terry Gilliam can pull off, the story of Baron Munchausen unfolds. In it, the elderly Baron go through many different trials to save a city from the attacking Turks. The Baron’s bluffing, bravado, and bullshitting throughout the film taught me that not everything is as it seems, and that sometimes you’ve gotta fake it ‘til you make it.
The Princess Bride
Everything about The Princess Bride is perfect. I mean, it even has Andre the Giant in it! Does it get any cooler than that? While the movie is mostly about the undying love of a princess and a farm boy turned pirate, I took something different away from the movie than “love conquers all.” After seeing Wesley (the farm boy/pirate) conquer Vizzini (a genius), Fezzik (a giant), Inigo Montoya (a master swordsman), and eventually Prince Humperdinck (a powerful monarch), I learned that with enough cunning and cleverness, you can succeed in just about any situation.
Acting as a sequel to Peter Pan’s previous escapades, Hook catches up with Peter after he’s finally left Neverland and is an adult with his own kids. Peter has to go back to Neverland to rescue one of his children and, in doing so, once again becomes the boyish Peter Pan. What’s great about Hook, other than the amazing special effects (and the tree house where the Lost Boys live), is that it teaches no matter how old you are, you can always go back to being a kid. This is awfully reassuring since I turned 31 a couple months ago!
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Ah yes, the story of a boy and his bike. Pee-Wee Herman has the coolest bike in town until it gets stolen. Pee-Wee then traverses the country meeting all sorts of weirdos (even ghosts!) in search of his beloved bicycle. He stops at nothing until he finally finds it at a studio in Hollywood and steals it back. What did I realize from this movie (other than that I was terrified of Large Marge)? I learned that if there’s something you really love, never give up until you get it. Also, that there’s no basement in the Alamo.
I’ve always been a fan of anything with swords, dragons, and magic, so Willow is one of my favorite movies from the 80s. Stuck with the burden of having to protect a human baby, a dwarf named Willow goes on a series of adventures in order to get the child back to safety among its own people. While Willow starts the movie as a farmer, by the end he’s a powerful sorcerer who ultimately takes down the evil queen. The morals of this story are easy: don’t underestimate anyone, big things come in small packages, and sometimes have acorns that will turn you to stone!
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
I’ve always been such a history nerd so the thought of traveling through time and collecting some of history’s greatest figures sounds like the ultimate vacation to me. There’s a lot that can be learned from this film (like never share an ice cream sundae with Napoleon), but the thing that still sticks with me today is the mantra of Bill & Ted’s future band, Wild Stallions: “Be excellent to each other.” I think we can all appreciate that one.
The Karate Kid
Boy gets bullied. Boy meets weird old Japanese man. Boy beats bullies in karate competition. While there’s more to the Karate Kid than just that, there’s a simple thing here I noticed as a kid that I’ve taken with me ever since. It’s this: No one is gonna do shit for you, but if you work your ass off, you can achieve anything. Even catching a fly with your chopsticks.