As a moviegoer, I find picking movies for my teenagers exceptionally challenging. While I’d like them to watch more “adult” fare—and they would too—the question of the effects of edgier adult-oriented content on younger minds is a real one for me.
What follows is five suggestions of films that have some technical prowess and a high-enough amount of complexity, which just might spark some curiosity and wonder in your teenagers.
Of course, every teenager is wildly different, and what some can handle, others might not be able to.
This early-mid 1990s movie, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, still holds up. Its plotting, pacing, and action will keep everyone engaged, while offering questions about individual justice-seeking and vigilantism. The movie features a surgeon, Doctor Richard Kimball, who is falsely accused of killing his wife. He’s sentenced to a hard prison term, but he finds himself free when…well, that would spoil too much of the movie. He’s pursued by a cadre of witty federal agents, and helmed by Jones, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. The movie is part detective and crime story, part chase movie. And for what it is, it’s nearly perfect.
Released a few months before The Fugitive, Groundhog Day should remind us of video-game fare: what if I had infinite lives but was stuck in the same day? How would I play the game so that I could advance to the next day?
That’s the conundrum of TV-weatherman Phil Connors, played wonderfully by Bill Murray. This movie asks gigantic life-questions while being persistently entertaining: what is the best life I could live? What is the purpose of life? Why bother helping anybody? Why bother studying supposedly pointless subjects, literature and art?
Okay, here’s a hard one. The strongest and most obvious reason to watch this one is because of the cultural influence. After somebody watches it—whether or not they love it—they will be knowledgeable of ten thousand references to this famous, psychedelic slow-burn of an experience. The movie is about everything: the place of humanity in the cosmos, what technology is for, the purpose of humanity, and on and on. Plan on spending some time after the film for discussion, and possibly venting.
I also observe that there’s a lot of Internet love from younger people for director Stanley Kubrick, who helmed this movie. If you want to venture into Kubrick territory with teenagers, I suggest his masterful war films Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.
Here I go with more early 1990s movies! This is my choice of biopic, even though there are a dozen that I could’ve selected (e.g., Amadeus). I really love Malcolm X, including Spike Lee’s direction, Denzel Washington’s turn as the title character, and Terence Blanchard’s score. The movie shows all facets of the man, warts and all. It’s structured as a kind of pilgrim’s progress story, illuminating a host of mid-20th century cultural phenomena. The journey depicted here, from radical youth to spiritual adulthood, could prove engaging for you and yours.
Arguably the greatest movie—or film anthology—ever made. You might as well give teenagers the best of the best!
This ten-episode series of interlocking one-hour films is ostensibly framed by the Ten Commandments; with each movie focusing on one commandment—or does it? Set in late-communist Poland, director Krzystof Kieslowski weaved the particular situation of communist-era Poles with universal questions of morality and how to apply it in thorny, ultra-complex scenarios. Few movies have come close to depicting the confusion and richness of lived experience like The Dekalog.
If you’d like to check out more movie reviews, follow Josh Matthew’s work here or on his youtube channel.
I’m not sure why teenagers should only watch “Mature” PG-13 movies and not anything else, but whatever.
I never said that.