Raising men: Movies for boys (and teens)

I have one bedrock principle that guides my viewing choices for my children: Kids imitate what they watch. Always. No matter what.

After Star Wars, they play Star Wars; after a Nazi movie, they play Nazis.

This is the principle which caused me to ban the extreme obstacle-course program Wipeout from my house. I didn’t object to the show; I objected to the play that followed it.

Then I decided to apply the principle pro-actively. I decided to use movietime to show my boys the kinds of behavior I want them to imitate.

A few notes on the lists below.

Why boys? Girls could certainly benefit from these movies, but these are hand-selected to deliver lessons that boys in our day and age need to learn. Next month: Movies for girls.

Why is The Sandlot missing? This is a list of movies I use to inspire imitation of virtues, and it is built on my taste and judgment. You will find some glaring omissions: If it’s not there, either I haven’t watched it (I still haven’t seen The Sandlot!) or I don’t like it. I have included the goals I am going for so you can add more, on your own or in comments. Please do!

What ages? Not all of the movies below are squeaky clean. Some have scenes I always skip. Some are only appropriate for older teens. The nature of the list doesn’t permit a full treatment of each, but always preview movies before showing them, and double-check yourself (and me!) with the parents guide for any movie at IMDB.com or at KidsinMind.com.

Leo Gorcey and James Cagney from “Angels With Dirty Faces”/Public Domain

First: Show your boys heroes who sacrifice for others.

Modern movies get heroes wrong. Instead of showing sacrificial men who struggle with and for others, they often show skilled loners who are in it for themselves. James Bond is a great (bad) example of the wrong kind of hero, but there are many others, including those from some really good movies: Neo from The Matrix and Jason Bourne. Yes, Bourne doesn’t want to be a rootless, disconnected hero … but he is all the same. That doesn’t make those movies unwatchable, but you need to balance them with sacrificial hero movies.

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Life is Beautiful (1997)

The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)

Treasure Island (1950)

Les Misérables (1998)

Olivia de Havilland from the trailer for “The Adventures of Robin Hood”/Public Domain

Second: Show them heroes for whom the team is as important as individual achievement.

Another problem category of movies are those about a hero who must “believe in himself” to triumph — in other words, believe that he alone is capable, apart from the help of others. This never works in real life. Team movies are a good antidote.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Cool Runnings (1993)

The Great Escape (1963)

Miracle (2004)

The Princess Bride (1987)

Remember the Titans (2000)

Star Wars (especially, but not only, the original trilogy; 1977, 1980, 1983)

Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 (1999, 2010)

Lee J. Cobb and E.G. Marshall in “12 Angry Men”/Public Domain

Third: Show them movies where the hero keeps to a personal code.

In many movies, the hero will either do anything to win, or saves the day despite his proudly cultivated vices. It is probably best to avoid movies where heroes make light of killing (unfortunately, the Die Hard movies and many action movies). I also avoid movies where people break the Ten Commandments and thereby win, with little or no redemption required (controversially in my family, I apply this to The Little Mermaid and Despicable Me). Instead, try movies whose heroes doggedly stick to a personal code.

12 Angry Men (1957)

42 (2013)

Braveheart (1995)

Gandhi (1982)

I Confess (1953)

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

On the Waterfront (1954)

To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962)

Quiz Show (1994) (The consequences of not sticking to a personal code.)

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

“A Bug’s Life”/Public Domain

Fourth: Show them heroes who are resourceful.

I don’t know about your boys, but mine are have been known to make excuses for why something that needs to be done can’t be done. A solution: Show them heroes who did what needed to be done even when it “couldn’t” be done.

The Black Stallion (1979)

A Bug’s Life (1998)

Finding Nemo (2003)

Gettysburg (1993)

Gladiator (2000)

Saints and Soldiers (2003)

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Sully (2016)

Director Zack Snyder with actors Henry Cavill and Russell Crowe in 2013 at the world premiere of “Man of Steel” in Sydney, Australia./Public Domain

Fifth: Show them moves in which religion is respected.

Many movies have a religion problem. They want to make religious people look like weirdos and bigots; this is a problem with some great films like Field of Dreams and The Shawshank Redemption. A related problem can be found in movies in which God is conspicuously absent, like Cast Away and The Polar Express. Instead, show them movies that respect religion:

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Henry Poole Is Here (2008)

For Greater Glory (2012)

The Maldonado Miracle (2003)

Man of Steel (2013)

The Perfect Game (2009)

The Rookie (2002)

The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

The set for one of the final scenes of “National Treasure” (2004)./Public Domain

Sixth: Show them movies that respect intellectual achievement.

Lest you send the signal that only brawn, and not brains, count, try:

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

Good Will Hunting (Preview for profanity! My rule for my older boys is to avoid “imitable profanity”: Die Hard is a fun movie whose profanity guys will absolutely repeat, so I don’t show Die Hard. For older teens, Good Will Hunting may be viewable. Its profanity is less alluring.)

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

National Treasure (2004)

Ratatouille (2007)

Rudy (1993)

Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

“Schindler’s List”/Universal Pictures

Seventh: Show them heroes who accept responsibility rather than shift it on to others.

Captain Phillips (2013)

Gran Torino (2008) (Profanity warning!)

High Noon (1952)

Jurassic Park III (2001; Cinematically not the best of the series, perhaps, but best for a boys’ night)

Lilies of the Field (1963)

Old Yeller (1957)

Shane (1953)

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Schindler’s List (1993)

Marina Berti and Charlton Heston in “Ben-Hur.” /Public Domain

Eighth: Show them images you want to stay with them.

Images you see stay with you for years. Avoid movies that objectify women, using scantily-clad female forms merely to titillate audiences. (I do show movies that include non-glamorized nudity, such as The Mission and Apocalypto.) Also avoid needlessly graphic violence (which kept an otherwise helpful movie, The Patriot, off various lists here). Instead, show them movies with inspiring images that will stick with them.

Ben-Hur (1959)

The Mission (1986) (Great martyrdom and Eucharistic images)

The Miracle Maker (2000)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Silence (2016) (Read up on it first; it will provoke lots of questions.)

“It’s A Wonderful Life”/Public Domain

Ninth: Show them what a good husband looks like.

Many of the movies above could cover several categories. So could these, but these are stories about sacrificing for a wife:

Apocalypto (2006)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The Incredibles (2004)

Rocky II (1979)

Cinderella Man (2005)

Signs (2002)

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