Grownups love to reminisce about their childhoods no matter how old they are. Whether it’s playing outside unsupervised until the streetlights came on or watching restricted horror movies that kids have no business watching at a friend’s sleepover in fourth grade, everyone has their own perception of these times. It’s like a wave of nostalgia washing all over them.
As adults there can be a tendency to romanticize the past, whether it’s revisiting a favorite childhood story, movie, or memory. Of course we always cast those memories in a favorable light.
No matter when someone grew up, odds are that one of their favorite movies as a child has at least some element that is pretty inappropriate for children in one way or another. Sometimes it’s because times have changed and the message is inappropriate or offensive, only as a kid it went right over the head.
Other times we mis-remember when exactly we watched something and introduce our own children to some really complex or inappropriate, or perhaps that has more mature subject matter than we remember.
While many of the movies listed below are fine films, through the less rose colored glasses of a parent who is trying to teach their child about appropriate conflict resolution and avoiding exposure to “adult language,” these films are pretty whack in terms of the content presented, particularly when the movie has been geared towards a young audience.
Let’s take a look at movies that children watched (and still watch) all the time that are actually pretty inappropriate.
15 Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
This is a beautifully imagination filled story, that became a classic film (my preference still remaining the 1971 version), but it’s also got a very dark and twisted sense of humor about it.
Keep this in mind and you’ll be fine, however it’s interesting to note that there are fan theories that say that Willy Wonka was a cold hearted, and calculating murderer, who loved to lure children to their untimely deaths. Our story begins when lucky golden ticket holders are given an exclusive guided tour of the chocolate factory.
Since the spying of his competitors has forced Wonka to lead a solitary life some fans believe it’s caused him to go mad and plot to kill the community’s children. It’s thought he intended to lead all of the children to a terrible end, explaining why he doesn’t seem upset by any of the “terrible accidents” that happen to the children. He then wants the only remaining child, Charlie, to understand why the other children were “punished.” Watch it again and you be the judge!
Pinocchio is a lot different, and darker than I remembered it from my own childhood – it’s just a story about a puppet who wants to become a little boy, right? Many scenes of the movie could be upsetting for little viewers, although once again it might be more the adults thinking twice about some very grown-up messaging.
Examples of scenes like this include when Pinocchio is kidnapped and placed in a cage, is threatened to be destroyed, and when he nearly drowns. Pinocchio gets trafficked at Pleasure Island where he smokes cigars and drinks beer, and this is where little boys are punished for doing things grown-ups do when they start to turn into donkeys who will work as slaves in a salt mine.
There are some great themes including conscience, truth, bravery, and family. When Jiminy Cricket says, “That still small voice that people won’t listen. That’s just the trouble with the world today.” It could be a critical message that brings this film to a masterpiece level, although most little kids will just see it as a tale about why it’s important to be good.
My kids love the classic 1980’s movie Ghostbusters just as much as I did growing up, although I’ll admit that there’s a lot about this film that is pretty inappropriate. There are some scary ghosts and mature language, but that’s not all.
There is the possibility of the end of the world if the Ghostbusters don’t save the day. In terms of sexual messaging, that’s where things get most intense. Like why does Peter Venkman bring 300 cc’s of Thorazine with him on a first date?
How do you explain to your child what it means when someone fantasizes about receiving oral sex from a ghost, or what it means when a possessed woman says, “I want you inside me.” All of these things went over my kids’ heads and they simply love the Ghostbusters saving New York City.
If you want to let your kids watch this movie with friends, I’d suggest checking with the friends’ parents first. Common Sense Media recommends this film for kids 11 and over, guess I’m not winning any parenting awards this year.
12 Finding Nemo
This is one of the first movies that my children ever watched, but just the same it’s pretty horrifying. In the opening moments of the film we watch Marlin have his entire family taken away from him save for his son Nemo.
Fast forward to Nemo’s struggles with his overprotective father cramping the little clown fish’s style by being super paranoid about losing what he loves the most. Then in an act of true defiance Nemo gets lost and Marlin is sent on pretty much every parent’s worst nightmare, with the exception of a road trip with Ellen DeGeneres (Dory) as a side kick.
In addition to instilling fear into the hearts of parents everywhere, the sharks can be pretty scary, and we had to reinforce to our kids that even the sharks weren’t “bad guys,” after all, “fish are friends not food.” Common Sense Movie recommends this movie for kids five and older.
11 Peter Pan
Times have changed since this 1953 film came out, thankfully, and this film is very far from politically correct. There are some problematic stereotypes that are racist and sexist and prominent in the film. The song, “What Makes the Red Man Red” and the troubling depiction of Big Chief and all of the Indians in Neverland.
Another big theme is sexism towards women; whether it’s all of the women swooning jealously after Peter, with the mermaids and Tinkerbell trying to murder Wendy for “moving in on their man” or that Wendy’s only place in Neverland is to fulfill her only destiny as a mom.
Peter himself shows his disrespect for girls by saying, “Girls talk too much,” which is a fantastic message for young girls (eye roll). The theme of women being crazy jealous is reinforced by Captain Hook when he talks about how tricking “jealous girls” is easy. The film is worth watching, just make sure you at least have a conversation with your children about issues in the film afterwards.
The fact that the book the movie was based on was written by Neil Gaiman, a well-known adult and horror author should be a clue that this film is scary. The “other” world that Coraline discovers is something that is best described as the children’s version of what Stranger Things brought us in “the upside down”, so terrifying at best.
Mature themes for older kids about the grass not always being greener are great for tweens and teens, but there are ghost children and very frightening situations that the protagonist must face. One 11 year old reviewer on Common Sense Media wrote,
“Coraline is the creepiest and most nightmarish animation ever that will haunt you until you die…Fantastic movie, which is supposed to be a starter for horror, but I was a veteran horror fan at the time, and I still had a nightmare of that other mother tying me up and sewing buttons into my eyes. For a starter horror film, try The Nightmare Before Christmas or Beetlejuice.”
There isn’t anything wrong with the movie Up, and many children will enjoy it, mostly because a lot of the adult content will go completely over their heads. The first time I watched it was with my husband, and we looked over at each other and realized we were both hysterically crying at this heart-tugging tearjerker.
Although I have no doubt that this film would be enjoyed by many children, my own included, I don’t want to watch the movie again because I personally found it so upsetting. Many parents will delay a film because it’s scary, violent, or has language – this isn’t that type of movie.
Up covers topics of mortality, infertility, and miscarriages through a wordless sequence in the film that is beautifully moving, but extremely mature. Is it unfair to deny my children a film that Common Sense Media deemed appropriate for six year olds? Maybe, but I know they might have questions about content and why mom and dad need an entire box of tissues to make it through the film.
8 Watership Down
Just because a movie is animated doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for little kids. Many parents, my mother’s friend included, mistakenly thought it would be a good idea for a group of us young tots to watch Watership Down one afternoon, it is about bunnies after all.
A little while in, when she went to check on us she realized she’d made a big mistake! It isn’t a bad film, it’s just way too violent and mature for little audiences; there are battles between the bunnies and other animals, including humans, and these fights result in injury, blood, and sometimes death.
When Netflix added the film to their collection in 2016 The AV Club aptly observed, “Netflix and the BBC are teaming up to ensure that no generation of children goes without the character-building experience of waking up screaming at the thought of being messily devoured by rabbits, or drowned in pastoral fields of blood.”
This film won the inaugural Saturn Award For An Animated Picture and currently ranks a solid 82 percent “Fresh “on Rotten Tomatoes. Common Sense Media agrees that this movie isn’t a great movie for little kids with most reviewers, even the teenagers suggesting that parents wait until their child is at least 11 or 12 before selecting this flick for movie night.
7 Mrs. Doubtfire
We all want our children to experience the brilliance that was Robin Williams, that being said the film Mrs. Doubtfire is about divorce. This is a movie that should be skipped for a while if your children are fearing separation or divorce, unless you are prepared to make it a talking point.
There is some strong language in the movie, some drinking, and implications that Daniel (Williams) is a crummy dad because he doesn’t make a lot of money which could be problematic messaging. My big beef with the film is how a father tries to prove mom wrong by deceiving everyone and pretending to be the nanny instead of actually, genuinely working on improving his relationship with his children.
6 The Mighty Ducks
The Mighty Ducks is a fun hockey movie about team building and hard work, right? Yes, that is true, however the entire premise of the film happens because Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is being punished for getting caught drinking and driving.
Because that’s a fabulous idea, let’s put someone who is notoriously known for making terrible decisions in charge of a bunch of influence prone little kids?
The movie itself is a great classic about what sports should really mean, but the whole DUI thing is taken a little lightly. In retrospect it feels like a watered down version of the movie Role Models which was actually intended for adult audiences.
Aside from a shaky premise, maybe reinforce how bad drinking and driving is to your kids and that it’s not a joke, a little coarse language that might upset a few parents (we just tell our kids not to repeat grown up words) it still holds up as a solid family film.
I was eight when I first watched this movie at a birthday party, and it’s a classic, but the bottom line here is that it’s still a horror movie. The film has many scary scenes, and was one of the movies that caused the creation of the PG 13 rating (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was also a factor in this).
Not only will this film give your kids nightmares, there is also a memorable speech where a character talks about how they discovered Santa Clause was not real. Parents and kids alike agree that you should be at least 10 to watch this film. One parent reviewer wrote,
“My biggest complaint is that the storyline begins by humanizing the first “good” gremlin, so when the killing and horror begins, it feels really disturbing in an almost “human on human” kind of violence. I also was very uncomfortable with the casual inclusion (and glamorization/humor) of smoking and alcohol use.”
What could be scary about a board game right? I love this movie, but recognize that it’s sort of like “Jurassic Park Light” and could be particularly scary to little ones who might get overwhelmed when the numerous jungle creatures come out of the board game and wreak havoc on both kids and adults in the film.
My kids would be particularly terrified by what Mother Nature is capable of because they know there are places where these attacks are real. While Common Sense Media suggests kids 10 and older watch this film, most families believe eight is the right age to watch this fun thriller. There is some very mild swearing in the film. One 11 year old says,
3 Jurassic Park
As my kids begin to explore the wonderful world of dinosaurs I am tempted to show them Jurassic Park because I loved it, but then I remember that I was 14 when I first watched it. The science might be too boring for little kids, and many of the dinosaurs will be far too much to handle, as the raptors have adults on the edge of their seats.
A lot of people and animals are hunted and made into dinner by many realistic looking prehistoric creatures which is pretty intense. The kids in the movie are separated from most of the adults and are in danger at every turn.
It’s been suggested that watching this movie at home, with adults might be okay for dino loving kids who are nine and older, but kid reviews on Common Sense Media suggest waiting until your kiddo reaches double digits and is 10.
2 Who Framed Roger Rabbit
I remember being horrified at the “dip” featured in this movie that will erase cartoons, as a little kid. This is a basic detective story with a cartoon twist when a detective takes on a cartoon Rabbit’s case to help prove his innocence when he is charged with murder.
The film won four Oscars and has been credited with combining film noir themes with Looney Tunes. This could be a fun pick for a tween/teen who maybe feels too grown up for traditional cartoons. While most parents on Common Sense Media suggest waiting until the kids are 12 to watch the film, most kids insist that 10 is old enough.
One 13 year old reviewer says,
“This movie was TOTALLY funny! I think that Judge Doom at the end will scare little kids, But overall, the message is just because something bad happened to someone you love, doesn’t mean you should stop doing what you love. (Eddie’s brother gets killed by a toon.) Jessica Rabbit is a strong, female character.”
1 Home Alone
This Christmas movie has been a staple in our house for a couple of years, mostly because my son loves slapstick comedy, but a deeper look shows that Kevin is a bit of a psychopath in the making. The family itself talks to one another in a way that I would never tolerate under my roof, and the violence inflicted is pretty brutal.
My kids were more scared by the gangster movie that Kevin watches than any other aspect of the film, especially since a gangster is hysterically laughing while killing someone else with a machine gun. Also what parent in their right mind would let Buzz have a BB gun?
There is some light language, but overall it’s an enjoyable movie we’ll continue to watch together every year. That being said we remind our kids that if they ever find themselves “Home Alone” for real to simply go to a neighbor or call the police.
Sources: The Artifice, The Sun, Common Sense Media, The AV Club, IMDB