“Adventures in Babysitting” (1987) came out when I was a suburban 10-year-old, and even though there were no vampires, ghosts, or magicians, it felt like a fantasy film. I wanted to be one of the young kids under the watch of a cool teenager (the babysitter is played by Elisabeth Shue, wearing the world’s best coat). I wanted to go into the city with her, escape criminals, sing the blues, and arrive home, Ferris Bueller-style, before anyone knew I was missing. A few years ago, I revisited the comedy with a friend and her daughter, who was probably about 8. A much wiser and worldlier child than I was, she also loved the pace of the movie — but was smart enough to ask why suburban kids would be so scared of downtown and why the city (Chicago) looked so segregated. It held up for family discussion in new ways. Worth noting: There’s also some lovely romance, and the film features a nod to the Marvel superhero Thor, which will make more sense to kids these days than it did to me at the time. Available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu, YouTube
Excepting the CGI effects when the heroine gets decked out for the ball, there’s nothing that hasn’t aged well about this multicultural version of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (1997), with the sweet-voiced Brandy as Disney’s first-ever Black princess, opposite executive producer Whitney Houston as a luminous Fairy Godmother. Director Robert Iscove & Co. knew the cast’s strengths and ran with them; Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle Reid are a perfectly matched pair as the stepsisters, and “The Prince Is Giving a Ball” went from throwaway ensemble number to comedic extravaganza with Jason Alexander at center stage. Bernadette Peters’s Stepmother takes a star turn with “Falling in Love with Love,” a Rodgers (& Hart) back-catalog cut that you’d know never wasn’t originally there. Perhaps most important: This Cinderella showed a generation of kids a Black Cinderella and a brown-skinned Asian prince (Paolo Montalban) falling in love, in a world where mixed-race families aren’t just accepted, but so normal that it doesn’t even merit comment. Your move, Buckingham Palace. Available on Disney+.
My first movie crush was Doris Day. My second was the far more complicated and mysterious Julie Christie. I discovered her at age 10, when my parents loaded my siblings and me into the family station wagon and took us to see “Doctor Zhivago’' (1965) at the Natick Drive-In. Perhaps because I was the oldest child, I got to sit in the front passenger seat next to my father while my mother sat in the back to make sure my siblings behaved.
“Doctor Zhivago’' runs nearly 3½hours, and the little ones soon dozed off. Not me. I was wide awake, so riveted by the bewitching Christie I didn’t mind that I couldn’t quite follow the film’s plot. What was a “Bolshevik’'? When Christie’s Lara and Omar Sharif’s Zhivago finally succumbed to their long-repressed attraction and began to passionately kiss, I all but pressed my nose to the windshield. Seconds later, the scene shifted to Christie and Sharif in bed together.
I had no idea what was going to happen next — literally no idea; I was 10 — and I wasn’t going to find out on this night, because a pair of hands suddenly materialized from the back seat and were clapped over my eyes. Despite my noisy protests, those maternal hands remained firmly in place until the scene was over. It was decades before I finally saw that bedroom scene from “Doctor Zhivago’' in its entirety, and it turned out, unsurprisingly, that a lot more was implied than enacted between Sharif and Christie. The next time I saw her was when “McCabe and Mrs. Miller’' came out in 1971. A lot had changed by then — in film, in the world, in me — but Julie Christie was still bewitching. Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
I wasn’t much of a movie watcher as a kid. I was a reader. That’s how I came to “Escape to Witch Mountain,” Alexander Key’s novel about orphan tweens Tony and Tia, who possess mysterious powers and fuzzy memories they can’t explain. The story lived vividly in my imagination; at recess, a friend and I brought it to life daily, arguing over who got to play which sibling. (Tia could talk to animals, but Tony had telekinesis, which seemed to us cooler and more useful.) It can be disappointing to see a favorite book brought to life on-screen: That’s not what the characters are supposed to look like! But when we finally watched Disney’s version of “Escape to Witch Mountain” (1975) it felt right, preserving the twinned sense of wonder and alienation that drew us in. It’s a movie about feeling different, and finding both explanation and remedy for that unsettling state. Off-screen, we get to spend decades doing this. So the movie really was an escape, and a gift, for two kids trying to figure out why they didn’t fit and where and how and if they might. Available on Apple TV, Disney+, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu,YouTube
Climb into the Wayback Machine, set the dial for 1966, and ask 9-year-old me who’s the biggest movie star in the world? I’d look you right in the eye and say “Don Knotts.” The nervous-nellie comic actor used his fame as Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” to springboard to the big screen, first as a lovelorn ichthyologist who through the miracle of animation becomes a Nazi-fighting fish in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964), and then as a milquetoast reporter investigating a haunted house in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966), whose spectral organ music gives me the cold sweats a half century on. Both are available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), the Beatles’ first movie, is one of the great screen comedies. “Help!” came out a year later. A lot fun, it’s nowhere near as good. But try telling that to my 8-year-old self. The things that limit “Help!” — the forced broadness of much of the humor, the preposterous plot (Ringo is wearing a ring sacred to a religious cult, which wants to kill him to get it back, and … let’s just stop there) — these were far more appealing than the New Wave style and faux cinema-vérité of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Plus, “Help!” is in color. Color was still a big deal in 1965. Now, of course, I could endlessly watch Gilbert Taylor’s black-and-white cinematography — so much cooler than color — but that’s just another example of how “A Hard Day’s Night” went over my young head. In defense of my boyhood taste, “Help!” does have much to offer: “The Ticket to Ride” proto-music video; “The Night Before” being performed on Salisbury Plain, surrounded by tanks (I warned you about the plot); the recurring Channel-swimmer joke. That one is genius, right down to Ringo standing on a Caribbean beach and pointing in the general direction of the White Cliffs of Dover — note, not the black-and-white cliffs. Available on Amazon Prime
I don’t know if it was my favorite, but “The Poseidon Adventure,” the 1972 movie about an ocean liner that gets walloped by a rogue wave and the chaos that ensues, made a big impression on me as a kid. One reason was the stellar cast, notably Shelley Winters, whose character’s heroic death shocked me. (Winters’s performance earned an Oscar nomination.) The other reason? I couldn’t swim — I still can’t — and the prospect of being plunged into the sea with only Jack Albertson to save me was terrifying. Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, YouTube