Here is a list of the some of the movies that guided my childhood and informed my preferences later in life even to this day. I was born in December of 1982 so do the math where I haven’t and realize that I was probably irrevocably altered by Tim Burton for better or worse.
Top 11 “Iconic” Films of My Childhood
11 The Goonies (1985)
This one is thick with so much eighties nostalgia that if you sliced it, it would bleed such radical blood. The movie is an adventure movie where a bunch of kids and some teenagers search for pirate treasure which is pretty awesome. It was even more awesome when I was a kid. The kids stuck together no matter what and they struggled to keep the faith of their mission. Forget Mikey, I always liked Data as the awkward inventor type. That’s mostly how I felt as a kid. I even liked to wear a long jacket a lot like he did. Even back then the movie felt kind of wistful and slow in places. While it is inspiring, the “our time” speech feels kind of sad as well.
10 Star Trek IV (1986)
I remember being a Star Trek fan long before I was a Star Wars fan. I don’t remember who introduced me to the series but by third grade my friends and I were poring over technical drawings. I never really cared too much about how the ships were put together. I cared more about what the plans said about what life on the ship was like. In my opinion, Star Trek IV is the most enjoyable out of the original six. Sure the crew had aged quite a bit by this point but it’s so interesting to see a future society interact with a more contemporary society. It’s also the funniest Star Trek movie (Generations is actually a close second). I often hear or read about this movie being demaned as the “Dumb Whale Movie” but it’s way more memorable than most of the other movies.
9 Clueless (1995)
This was a surprise hit in my family about the time when I was thirteen. The movie is so good at being a parody of nineties culture that it’s easy to miss that there’s actually a pretty introspective message to it all. Besides, it’s the closest I’ll probably ever get to reading Emma. I think this movie is the first time that I felt safe watching and enjoying a “girl” movie, a distinction that is getting harder and harder to make. It was rare that I watched and enjoyed a movie with so little explosions but Clueless is funny and the characters are relateable. Well, they’re not as relateable now but they were when I was a young teenager.
8 Crybaby (1990)
Any list of movies I enjoyed in my childhood has to include a movie from my hometown of Baltimore. I’m Baltimore through and through and wherever I’ve been, I have always had the city deep in my heart. Not only that but John Waters has always spoken to the weird, geeky and sometimes dark side of me that is fun to explore. The first exposure I had to his movies were a few glimpsed scenes of Serial Mom before it was shut off. Crybaby is the story of a love story amidst the battle between the Squares and the Drapes, a local motorcycle gang. All of this takes place in the suburbs and rural areas ouside of Baltimore. This movie helped prepare me for how cliquish school would get. It’s also way, way better than Grease.
7 Back to the Future II (1989)
The Back to the Future series is awesome. The team up of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox made for screen chemistry that was off the charts. The first movie was good but I actually prefer the sequels as they up the stakes considerably without dilluting the product. I struggled to decide whether I should put 2 or 3 in this spot but I opted for 2 for several reasons. 1) Where else are you going to find a movie where Michael J. Fox plays three different characters while somebody does a Crispin Glover impression? 2) The future sequence is great because it’s completely optimistic and not a crumbling, post-apocalyptic mess. 3) It is the most science fiction heavy of the series and introduced alternate universe theories to mainstream pop culture. On top of all of that, it’s a great mix of funny and dark and inspiring.
6 Jurassic Park (1993)
I was pretty sure as a young boy that liking dinosaurs was just a fact of life for young boys. I mean, all of the television, toys and theme parks seemed to tell me so. Jurrasic Park was a no-brainer and I’m sure that’s what Amblin and Universal were thinking. Of course, that movie could have ended up being a cash grab but they chose some good source material and injected a lot of heart into it. I remember watching the movie for the dinosaurs but loving it for the people. The cast is amazing and the special effects hold up so much better than some of the cgi monstrosities that showed up just a few years later. Even Jeff Goldblum looked good in this one even though he’s usually kind of a cartoon character.
5 Beetlejuice (1988)
Tim Burton was always pretty much the patron saint of all of the somewhat gothy, geeky and misunderstood kids of the world. For everyone else he was probably an entertaining director who had some hits and some misses but was financially successful. I was always in the first group and Tim Burton’s style of weirdness definitely resonated with me in ways that I felt my friends couldn’t understand. Now, Beetlejuice isn’t exactly a brilliant film but it’s a whole lot of fun. It was the first time where I saw horror movie material used for comedy instead. At this point, Tim Burton’s art direction was still very new and exciting and it feels like there were more hits than misses. It didn’t hurt that Delia Dietz was one of my dream girls.
4 Ghostbusters (1984)
Again, a supernatural comedy/adventure movie that took what should have been scary and made it hilarious. The movie took Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis at the height of their careers. Bill Murray is especially on point as a snarky asshole with a heart of gold. Of course, the three hapless scientists (and later also the awesome Winston) are up against a world of ghost trouble and an elder god. The comedy, effects and story still hold up even when a lot of other eighties movies look completely dated (like The Goonies). The movie actually has some tense and scary moments but most of it is really fun. I was two when this came out so I definitely saw it a little later on VHS but in my late teens I finally got to see it in a movie theater.
3 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
I worshipped Indiana Jones when I was a kid. I even got my folks to buy me an official Indiana Jones leather jacket and fedora. Thankfully for everyone involved, they did not buy me a whip because I would probably still be wearing an eyepatch. Indiana Jones was the ultimate hero for me. I was a smart kid but I disliked team sports but I loved being physically active. I could imagine myself swinging through temples and dealing with bad guys while using my brains to sort out ancient mysteries. I also never liked snakes either. I chose the third movie for this list because it is my favorite of the series. To me the movie is immensely helped by the addition of River Phoenix as young Indy and Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr. The first movie feels like it drags a little in places and the second one has an insufferable female lead.
2 The Addams Family (1991)
Just like my early exposure to Tim Burton movies, this movie spoke to not only how different I felt but my desire to be different. It made it ok to “wave my freak flag high” which is what any geeky kid interested in the darker side of fiction probably wanted at the time. I was most taken at the time with young Wednesday Addams (another fictional character I had a crush on). She seems bored with what other people were interested in and had her own passions that she embraced. That’s exactly how I felt. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate one of the best casts any movie has ever had. Raul Julia and Angelica Huston in particular are captivating. It all makes me nostalgic for a television show that I never watched in the first place.
1 Batman (1989)
This was the alpha and omega of my childhood. This is the movie that spawned my interest in comic books which in turn led me to walking several miles to blow my allowance at the local comic book shop. Of course, it didn’t do that right away. Before this, the only Batman I had seen was Adam West who was goofy and looked like he’d have trouble fighting a plastic bag. I didn’t understand that the Batman television show was intentionally awful and that finally somebody had convinced Hollywood to do Batman somewhat seriously. All I understood was that Batman was kicking butt and his costume looked awesome and this was so awesome. I still love the tone, the dialogue, the pacing and the cast on this one. This is the best of the original four Batman movies and set the bar high for Joker portrayals on film. It’s also the only movie on this list that I actually saw in theaters, most of the others I saw on VHS months or years after their release. For that reason and many others, this movie will always be magical to me.