Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers. —Some old person brazenly inventing a Socrates quote ca. 1953.
The more things change, the more they stay the same—a truism that never feels more accurate than when you look at the hand-wringing, pearl-clutching articles of today’s average newspaper columnist and compare it to the moral panic with which every commentator in era of human history has viewed the upcoming generation. The kids, authority would have you believe, are just not all right. Fortunately for the beleaguered young people getting ready to march in demonstration against the negligence that has characterized U.S. childcare, education and gun safety policy, it seems like Hollywood at least knows how they feel.
And so, for no particular reason today, of all days, we present the 25 best movies with the age-old theme of kids versus adults. We gathered these titles with some important criteria in mind. Specifically, these are stories of minors striving against adults, not merely a younger set bucking the authority of the old (so, sadly, no Iron Eagle). With a couple of too-telling-to-omit exceptions, these films come down hard on the side of the youth in the face of adults who simply don’t have their best interests in mind. And, most importantly, these all feature a group of kids who mostly go it alone, largely without adult help, against an antagonistic force that has the weight of authority or heavy-handed violence behind them.
1. Toy Soldiers (1991)
Directors: Daniel Petrie, Christopher Choyce
The “Die Hard in a___” genre was going strong in the dying days of the George H.W. Bush administration, but where Steven Seagal’s overrated Under Siege did everything it could to make its hero a glowering super-man, Toy Soldiers brings the action and the stakes down to a human level. Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, and several of their classmates are a group of worse-behaved-than-the-other-kids at a boys-only prep school for troubled youth, run by Louis Gossett Jr. and Denholm Elliott (Marcus from Indiana Jones in one of the last roles before his death the following year).
These are kids who use their frustrated ingenuity to sneak into the basement and tap the phone line so they can drink vodka disguised as mouthwash and solicit phone sex. When their school is taken hostage by Colombian terrorists who don’t look or sound particularly Colombian, Astin and his bros reflexively rebel, playing a tense game of inside reconnaissance with the goal of taking down their captors. This is a movie where injury and death are treated as constant threats, to which the stellar cast of young actors respond with realistic nerves. It also suggests that being well-behaved is no preparation for a crisis. —Kenneth Lowe
2. Camp Nowhere (1994)
Director: Jonathan Prince
I knew more than one kid who hated his or her summer camp experience. There’s a lot to potentially unpack in the ruthless efficiency with which a whole cottage industry has popped up to essentially take kids off their parent’s hands now that every household has been harangued into being a two-income one. Camp Nowhere is not interested in any of that, and that’s okay, because it hangs much of its charms on Christopher Lloyd being a reprehensible, child-endangering scoundrel. A much-put-upon kid whose nickname is literally Mud (Jonathan Jackson) schemes alongside his best friends (including Allison Mack!) to essentially blackmail Lloyd’s unhinged aerosol cheese salesman into being the legal adult they need in order to run a massive scam on their parents: Their own fake summer camp, where they will can have their own summer on their own terms. To sell this hilariously illegal ruse, Lloyd dresses as four totally different camp counselor characters, promising disinterested parents that their kids will be psychologically tortured in accordance with their vicarious dreams.
There are fun turns from Lloyd’s Back to the Future co-star Tom Wilson and even M. Emmett Walsh and Kate Mulgrew, but the real selling point is how blithely this movie treats the sheer audacity of its main characters’ scam. Mud and his pals rip off their parents to the tune of thousands of dollars, drive without a license, purchase a whole season of Legends of the Hidden Temple’s worth of ’90s Nerf guns and video games, and commit what I’m pretty sure are a half a dozen distinct instances of wire fraud. You might wonder if it’s worth it just to get out of drama camp for a few weeks, until you think back on your own summer camp experiences and realize that, yes, yes it is. —Kenneth Lowe
3. Wild in the Streets (1968)
Director: Barry Shear
Pop music scared the ever-loving shit out of the old folks back in the ’60s, and Wild in the Streets is the earnestly ridiculous end point of that moral panic. This list simply could not be complete without it, because it is a transparent strawman argument, positing that kids who are calling out for an end to war and maybe some responsibility on the part of their elders must be headed straight for fascism, man. The story follows Max Frost (Christopher Jones), showing his confused and abusive upbringing by negligent and self-involved parents and following him as he becomes a pop singer with a rabid following. The movie was shot in the days when the voting age in the United States was still 21, and real political consternation was swirling around whether somebody should be forced to fight in a military that did not allow him to vote.
When he’s used by a grasping candidate for the Senate as a political prop, Frost realizes he can harness the rapturous adoration of the crowd to become his own demagogue. In no time at all, he and his cackling group of acid rejects (including an underused Richard Pryor, for real) badger Congress into lowering the voting age to 14. (It’s a slippery slope, lowering that voting age to 18, can’t you see?!!) Sons and daughters turn against fathers and mothers, and it all ends in Frost becoming a dictator presiding over a country that ships everybody over 35 to camps where they’re fed a steady diet of LSD and watched over by black-clad goons. It is as silly as it sounds, and a prime candidate for a rowdy bad movie night if you want a reminder of how old people think of you. —Kenneth Lowe
4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Director: David Yates
“The world’s not divided into good people and Death Eaters,” says Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). “We’ve all got light and dark in us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.” In the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series, the conflict explodes from the relatively simple one the protagonist has been embroiled in for the past four episodes—it’s not Harry versus Evil Guy or even kids versus adults any more, though those plot lines certainly solidify. As Defense Against the Dark Arts and ultimately all of Hogwarts is taken over by a character arguably more hideous than Lord Voldemort (the simpering and cruel Dolores Umbridge, played pitch-perfectly by Imelda Staunton and her endless pink boucle suits), it’s kids versus adults at the end, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends staging a showdown with Death Eaters in the Ministry of Magic, and ultimately an agonizing fight between Harry and Voldemort. But this installment of the series is also about much more than that: renegades versus institutions, good adults versus bad adults and good kids versus bad kids (among whom, Sirius correctly notes, no one is purely one or the other). It’s Hogwarts versus the Ministry, The Order versus the Death Eaters, truth versus lies and, most importantly, Harry versus Harry. The fifth film (and its source book) marks a developmental milestone for the young protagonists: While they’re not yet adults, they’re also definitely not children any more. They’ve lost the luxury of seeing in terms of “good” and “bad” and have to contend with the messy reality that (almost) everyone is a little of both. —Amy Glynn
5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Director: John Hughes
John Hughes’s love letter to Chicago stars Matthew Broderick as a teenager who might be the dictionary definition of the word “scamp.” Neither the premise nor the stakes are particularly complicated: Ferris (Broderick) feigns illness, commandeers his girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara), and his bestie, the melancholic Cameron (Alan Ruck)—not to mention Cameron’s dad’s prized vintage Ferrari—for a little carpe diem time. The adults in the conflict are high school principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who’s determined to catch Ferris and nail him for truancy, and, on a more subtle and theme-deepening note, Cameron’s distant, demoralizing father (spoiler alert for anyone who’s been living at the bottom of Loch Ness since the Ford administration: The Ferrari does suffer for the sins of its father). The most truly compelling “adult combatant” in this lighthearted comedy is the domineering grownup called Time: Ferris has to be back in bed looking pasty and wan before his parents get home from work. And time, unlike Principal Rooney, can be handled in more than one way: The film is both a race against the clock and a pretty cute ode to slowing down, smelling the roses and, of course, taking over a parade float for a little Wayne Newton lip synch. —Amy Glynn
6. A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Director: Brad Silberling
While the cinematic release adaptation has nowhere near the riches of either its source material or its serialized Netflix interpretation, if there were ever a movie about noble and crafty children enduring an incredible series of frying pan to fire leaps at the hands of grownups both evil and simply hapless, it is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The tale of the three Baudelaire children, orphaned when their parents die in a suspicious fire, is a hilariously dire one, as they are pursued through a … well, a series of events that are generally not fortunate, by Count Olaf (Jim Carrey, in one of the best-ever uses of his signature manic style), a “guardian” and terrible actor who makes it clear he’s after the Baudelaire fortune, which is being managed by the hapless Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) until Violet turns 18. The film went through a lot of growing pains in development and only covers the first three of the 13 books in the series, but it does retain the Gothic-absurdist-steampunk esthetic of the original books and features some excellent performances (and some hilarious uncredited cameos). As things go from bad to worse for the crafty yet oddly doomed orphans, it’s hard to say whether evil or stupidity seems likelier to lead to their untimely demise, but they endure both with craft, aplomb and tremendous literacy. This film is truly one in which there are few adult allies and whenever one does appear, his or her life seems to meet an almost immediate and untimely end. Luckily, the kids have smarts, inventiveness, and perhaps most importantly, each other. —Amy Glynn
7. Akira (1988)
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
The sum total of anime cinema from the early ’90s to present day is marked by the precedent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and a cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Taking place 31 years after after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the former and teetering precariously on the cusp of social upheaval. The film follows the stories of Kaneda Shotaro and Tetsuo Shima, two members of a youth motorcycle gang whose lives are irrevocably changed one fateful night on the outskirts of the city. While clashing against a rival bike gang during a turf feud, Tetsuo crashes into a strange child and is promptly whisked away by a clandestine military outfit while Kaneda and his friends look on, helplessly. From then, Tetsuo begins to develop frightening new psychic abilities as Kaneda tries desperately to mount a rescue. Eventually the journeys of these two childhood friends will meet and clash in a spectacular series of showdowns encircling an ominous secret whose very origins rest at the dark heart of the city’s catastrophic past: a power known only as “Akira.” Like Ghost in the Shell that followed it, Akira is considered a touchstone of the cyberpunk genre, though its inspirations run much deeper than paying homage to William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Akira is a film whose origins and aesthetic are inextricably rooted in the history of post-war Japan, from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the “Anpo” student protests of that era to the country’s economic boom and the then-nascent counterculture of Bosozoku racing. Akira is a film of many messages, the least of which a coded anti-nuclear parable and a screed against wanton capitalism and the hubris of “progress.” But perhaps most poignantly, at its heart, it is the story of watching your best friend turn into a monster. Akira is almost single-handedly responsible for the early 1990s boom in anime in the West, its aesthetic vision rippling across every major art form, inspiring an entire generation of artists, filmmakers and even musicians in its wake. For these reasons and so many more, every anime fan must grapple at some point or another with Akira’s primacy as the most important anime film ever made. —Toussaint Egan
8. E.T. (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship which resonates with children and adults alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time and the moment Spielberg’s career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains today perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. It’s also a classic example of the “the adults don’t understand or are actively against us” film. —Michael Burgin
9. The Goonies (1985)
Director: Richard Donner
For most kids, there’s something completely terrifying about packing up your things, making new friends and moving to a strange location. But unlike most kids, the Goonies have to deal with these problems while finding a pirate’s treasure, escape the Fratelli family of fugitives and still try to stay together as a group of friends. In The Goonies, members of the group are kidnapped, forced into captivity with a mutant, made to walk the plank and even fight an octopus (off-screen). While at its core, The Goonies is an adventure and a comedy, there are enough real obstacles and dangers that the stakes therein can become quite horrifying for some kids. —Ross Bonaime
10. Detroit Rock City (1999)
Director: Adam Rifkin
One of the ways one can tell whether or not a movie made for a niche audience works as mainstream entertainment is if the story and the characters still resonate with audiences who don’t fit into the narrow market the product is catering to. That’s why I know that Detroit Rock City works, because although not being a Kiss fan in the slightest, I always have a blast watching it. It does a great job as a loving tribute to the band while constructing a simple yet charming high school rock comedy about a quartet of friends doing everything they humanly can to score tickets to a mega concert by their favorite band. This is one of those films about the ’70s that gleefully fetishizes the period as every known pop-culture item from the time is on display here, from the disco vs. rock battles to Stretch Armstrong. Director Adam Rifkin gives his film an over-the-top look that resembles more of an idealized version of the period depicted through unashamed nostalgia glasses than a more realistic visual approach. This style fits Detroit Rock City’s goofy characters and storylines that border on self-parody, while reaffirming its rebellious attitude. —Oktay Ege Kozak
11. Heavyweights (1995)
Director: Steven Brill
Written by Judd Apatow and starring a cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor, Jerry and Ben Stiller, and a hilarious young Kenan Thompson, Heavyweights follows the adventures of a group of overweight young boys shipped off to Camp Hope, a fat camp run by the elder Stiller’s character and his wife. It’s established early on that the camp has been a fun and laid-back place that all the kids love attending yearly, but the kids arrive only to find that Jerry Stiller lost the camp due to inept financial management and Ben Stiller’s vicious con artist has taken over.
Ben Stiller’s glowering weirdo routine—in which he is the only one who is unaware of how straight-facedly insane he’s being—is used to great effect. Apatow’s script makes sure to show us that these kids, and most of the adults around them, are generally good, positive people who support each other. Things only go off the rails once Stiller’s craven ulterior motives come into play and he turns the camp into an abusive, brutal place where lunch can be cancelled “due to lack of hustle.” As always, it’s up to the kids to better their circumstances, even if the clear-headed adults mean well. —Kenneth Lowe
12. Red Dawn (1984)
Director: John Milius
Red Dawn works on two completely different tonal points: First and foremost, it’s a hilariously entertaining right-wing paranoia fever dream about those damn, dirty commies taking a red crap on Uncle Sam and apple pie by invading the good ol’ U.S.A. with their filthy tanks and machine gun paratroopers. Of course, the Rooskies and the Cubans have enough resources to invade every inch of the United States at the same time, from New York, Washington, all the way to Bumfuck, Colo., where our ’80s heartthrob cast resides. This results in a handful of all American high school kids taking down the communist block all on their own while looking badass in the process. Soaking in hysterical melodrama and over-the-top performances, with Harry Dean Stanton’s “Avenge Me!” moment and instant meme, John Milius’ film works as prime ’80s action entertainment. Yet on the other hand, Milius manages to create a fairly impressive fable around how war embitters all while robbing them of their youthful soul. The kids become tough and dedicated during the fighting, having to even execute some of their own in the process. The fairly somber tackling of this theme within such wanton craziness is an impressive piece of tonal juggling. —Oktay Ege Kozak
13. Holes (2003)
Director: Andrew Davis
The premise of a group of juvenile prisoners being forced to dig holes in a scorching desert in order to find a treasure for an abusive warden (Sigourney Weaver) sounds like it could only fit a solemn and dismal indie drama. But the director here is Andrew Davis, an action helmer who knows how to extract mainstream fun out of any subject, so Holes turns into a rollicking adventure about a group of plucky child prisoners fighting against the shady and nasty adults for their deserved piece of the treasure. The back-story of the treasure and some supernatural-adjacent plot points turn it into a bit of a convoluted experience, but Davis keeps the pace afloat. At the very least, Holes should be the go-to title for those yearning to soak in the adorable child actor period of Shia LaBeouf. —Oktay Ege Kozak
14. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
First, my five-year-old son’s review of this movie: “I’d like to see this movie one million times. [Pause, deep in thought.] And I think if I saw it one million times, I’d want to see it one million more times.” My feelings were somewhat more restrained, but I get his enthusiasm. It’s a movie about flying a dragon. That’s the only thing that trumps pet robots and dinosaurs. And even if that’s the film’s real raison d’être—much of the screentime is given to aerial training, aerial romance, aerial battles—the result is fun and thrilling, and plenty of snappy jokes and sight gags will keep audiences of all ages entertained. On the first viewing, anyway; I make no promises for the next 999,999. —Josh Jackson
15. The Hunger Games series (2012-2015)
Directors: Gary Ross, Francis Lawrence
is Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old protagonist who thrusts herself into the spotlight of her horrible autocratic society when she publicly chooses to sub in for her sister in the annual battle royale that the government puts on just for sick thrills. The Hunger Games movies and its two sequels-split-into-three-other-movies follows her as she becomes the central figure in a rebellion to overthrow her cruel government.
There are parallels to the callousness of American war in the 21st century, to the numbing effect of a society where your ability to perform and torture a narrative out of your suffering becomes a survival skill in itself, and the uneasy feeling that even your rebellion will be co-opted by other insidious adults looking to cash in for their own purposes. The movie’s imitators—series like Divergent or The Maze Runner—are less interested in that than in the pervasive opinion that society is always out to exploit and control youngsters. Makes you wonder why so many authors and filmmakers have been telling such stories in recent years. —Kenneth Lowe
16. The Faculty (1998)
Few people remember The Faculty, a sci-fi horror starring just about every actor you can think of. Seriously. Elijah Wood stars as Casey, a nerdy high schooler who thinks that aliens have taken over the faculty at his school. It’s very Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with loads more gore and a good dose of dark humor. Casey starts the movie as a dweeby boy, but by the end of the film has become a strong, worthy hero. Wood would go on to star in a number of other horror movies, but The Faculty gave him his first taste of the genre. —Danielle Ryan
17. Battle Royale (2000)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
It’s OK to compare Battle Royale to The Hunger Games movies—or, rather, to find how the lasting accomplishments of the latter franchise were essentially done better and with so much more efficiency by the former—because you probably will anyway. Battle Royale, like the immensely successful four-film crash course in crafting an action star who is really only a symbol of an action star, chronicles a government-sanctioned battle to the death between a group of teens on a weird, weapon-strewn island. (There are even regular island-wide announcements of the day’s dead as the sun sets on the remaining children.) Yet, Battle Royale is so lean in its exposition, so uninterested in dragging out its symbolism or metaphor, that one can’t help but marvel at how cleanly Fukasaku (who had a full career behind him when he made this, only three years before he died) can lend depth to these children, building stakes around them to the point that their deaths matter and their doomed plights sting. What the director can do with such a tenuous premise (which The Hunger Games takes multiple films to do, and without a single ounce of levity) is astounding—plus, he wrangled Beat Takeshi Kitano to play the President Snow-type character, which Kitano does to near-perfection. That Battle Royale II sets out to up the stakes of the first film, especially given the first film’s crazy success in Japan, is to be expected, but stick to the first: Battle Royale will make you care about kids murdering each other more than you (probably) would anyway. —Dom Sinacola
18. Class of 1984 (1982)
Director: Mark L. Lester
Here’s the thing about most of the films on this “kids vs. adults” list—they almost overwhelmingly side with the “kids” as our de facto protagonists. They’re films about emergent youth cultures, and although they may view those cultures with a certain exoticism or promise of titillation, they’re not opposed to the new wave they profess to document. With Class of 1984, on the other hand, it’s not nearly so clear. Made in 1982 and featuring the same sort of emergent pastiche of punk-inspired teenage characters that you’d see in an American film like Return of the Living Dead, the film chooses to subvert expectations by making a young teacher, rather than a student, the central protagonist. And the kids he’s forced to deal with truly are a bunch of empathy-barren monsters—it’s no wonder that the trailer promises the protagonist is going to “give the class of 1984 the lesson they deserve.” In its own, strange way, Class of 1984 is almost a moral panic movie about the state of youth culture in America … but simultaneously one that predicts the mainstreaming of ’80s musical subculture into the nostalgia we recognize it as today. —Jim Vorel
19. Class of 1999 (1990)
Director: Mark L. Lester
Where Class of 1984 was billed as a “serious” exploration of ’80s counterculture teen cliques, the semi-related sequel, Class of 1999, instead makes the jump into exaggerated lunacy and shameless titillation. Imagining a version of the U.S.A. that has somehow been mostly conquered—yes, genuinely occupied—by gangs of nihilistic, mid-’90s teenage punks, it feels something like a twist between Dangerous Minds and The Terminator or Chopping Mall, with its “killbots.” Military combat robots are retrofitted to teach math and social studies, and the results go pretty much as you’d expect, as students are torn to pieces for minor infractions as the robots go rogue and run wild. It’s gratuitous schlock, plain and simple, as evidenced by the prominent appearance of one Malcolm McDowell as the scientist creator of the robots, but damn it if Class of 1999 isn’t a riot to watch these days—especially if you can manage to do so with a group of viewers who were high school students in roughly 1999. You’ll have a difficult time finding a more hilariously exaggerated portrayal of ’90s teen culture. —Jim Vorel
20. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
Director: Goro Miyazaki
From Up on Poppy Hill is the only filmic evidence I have yet seen to support the assertion that somebody could ever feel nostalgic for a time during which they never lived. Goro Miyazaki hits this tale of young love and the conflict between tradition and progress out of the park. Set in Yokohama in the year leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, it follows high school girl Umi, still mourning the father taken from her by the Korean War. She falls in—and falls in love—with Shun, a politically active young classmate leading the drumbeat to protect an old school clubhouse from demolition to make way for more Olympic facilities. As the two find the strength to fight for their ideals, they struggle with the possibility that their love could be forbidden.
Poppy Hill’s visuals, its swinging score, its animation of bustling crowds and old-timey public transit and sparkling water and delicious food, and its moments of tense stillness all put you back in 1963 and, more than likely, your own memories of summer lovin’ in Japan that you have now even though they didn’t happen to you. I do not like this kind of movie at all, yet it hooked me from the first few minutes straight through to the end. If you don’t cheer at the end credits of this one, go see a cardiologist—your heart may have been stolen by a misunderstood witch. —Kenneth Lowe
21. Election (1999)
Director: Alexander Payne
Tracy Flick, Reese Witherspoon’s character in Election, is a louder, ruder version of Hermione Granger with all of the ambition but 10 times the snarkiness. During the film, Tracy is running for president of her high school and throughout the campaign, it’s clear that she knows how to play hardball. She outmaneuvers her opponents as well as Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) to eventually emerge victorious, and while, at times, her morals are questionable, we have to applaud her for her relentless determination to get to the top. —Stephanie Fang
22. City of Ember (2008)
Director: Gil Kenan
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The kids in a society are mindlessly forced forward into whatever dead-end careers are available based on the whims of adults, all the while forcefully disallowed from questioning how the unsustainability of that society’s technology might be causing everything to be drawn closer to an inevitable environmental collapse. That’s the premise of City of Ember, which sees two newly employed kids (one played by Saoirse Ronan) fighting to escape the clutches of their inept government (run by Bill Murray!) so they can find a way out of the subterranean steampunk city that has never seen the sun and discover a path to the surface, where they believe the post-collapse environment may be suitable for habitation again. It’s a fun adventure film, and a rebellious statement about the unthinking march of progress we seem to be swept up in. —Kenneth Lowe
23. Masterminds (1997)
Director: Roger Christian
Masterminds is not a great movie. The plot is very close to Toy Soldiers, in that a smarmy criminal takes over a rich prep school with an eye toward kidnapping and ransoming the young heirs within. What it has in its favor, however, is that the smarmy criminal is Patrick Stewart, who brings every bit of his acting chops to the proceedings in a film that at times does not deserve him. It’s an X-treme ’90s hacker film with all of the Die Hard trappings that ends with a dune buggy race through the sewers, and Stewart is here for it. —Kenneth Lowe
24. Unaccompanied Minors (2006)
I was subjected to air travel plenty as a kid, and so it’s easy to see the appeal of a movie like Unaccompanied Minors, which spends a good portion of its running time with kids evading authority by bopping around the behind-the-scenes expanses of an abandoned airport in the midst of a holiday-wrecking bout of inclement weather. Determined to slip the leash of an overbearing security manager (Lewis Black, enjoying his role as a low-stakes villain), five unaccompanied kids overcome their initial tensions to figure out how to get home by Christmas. This is the definition of a simple and straightforward kid’s caper, but ask yourself: Don’t you feel like slogging through the airport is just another time you’re being condescended to and shuffled about without your say so? —Kenneth Lowe
25. Pleasantville (1998)
Director: Gary Ross
There are a few points in Pleasantville that don’t age well: It is a bit much to have a movie without a single black person in it using the vocabulary of segregation at times for pathos. But it’s also a movie that uses the cherished institution of the post-war American sitcom to tackle ideas far larger than any that sitcoms ever even touched.
Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon slog through their daily existence in a high school environment that repeatedly sneers depressing statistics in their faces about how screwed is the world they are about to inherit and also seems to have turned Witherspoon into a total mean girl. Maguire wants nothing more than to zone out to the eponymous TV show, a cheery Leave It to Beaver analog that doesn’t challenge him in any way. When their squabbling over the remote breaks the TV, freaking Don Knotts shows up to give them a remote that traps them in the two-tone world, having assumed the identities of the show’s son and daughter. Their presence disturbs the predictable, sexless life of the show’s fictional world, and pits the young people of Pleasantville against the panicked old guard, who have everything to lose from an upending of the order that keeps them pampered and fed and worshipped as the man of the house. What must that be like? —Kenneth Lowe