So you’re a parent, and you have a kid that isn’t necessarily a little kid anymore. They still like Disney films and cartoons meant for a young age, but they are also taking notice of the movies and television that you watch on your own. It’s a tough transition for a parent to expose their child to some more mature material. These movies aren’t over the top in their violence, but rather films with high adventure with a heart to them, as well as great comic timing to get a laugh out of a little boy or girl.
The best gateway for kids who are beginning to explore more films and television that aren’t for kindergartners is the action genre. Yeah, there are your John Wicks and your slew of sleazy action films from the 1980s, but there are also some great ones that are a great blend of high-risk action and adventure, matched with the fantastical feeling that brings out the kid in all of us.
10 Last Action Hero (1993)
Last Action Hero turned 30 years old this summer. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and is directed by John McTiernan (Predator and Die Hard). It’s a film that spoofs a lot of action films from the decade prior to its release. It’s meant to wink at its audience. Last Action Hero is perfect for any young fan of movies because, at its core, it really is kind of about the love for movies. Danny Madigan (Austin O’ Brein) is a lonely kid who goes to the movies a lot while his mom works.
When he is given what is believed to be a magic ticket from the theater’s projectionist, he ends up getting transported into the world of his favorite action movie hero, Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The movie’s fantasy element works for children, and the action and violence are prevalent but never distasteful. It’s one of Schwarzenegger’s funniest and most underrated performances, as he spoofs his celebrity persona for two hours.
9 Masters of the Universe (1987)
He-Man is one of the most iconic action heroes of all time. With a cartoon that many children watched during the 1980s, it was only a matter of time until the live-action film adaptation would hit the big screen. Masters of the Universe stars Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella under heavy makeup as the evil Skeletor. The writing, set design, and special effects all fit the bill for a cheesy eighties action fantasy film. But given that adults can turn off their brains a bit while watching it, maybe they can teach their children to turn it off as well and just enjoy the fun it has in it.
The movie also makes it very relatable for kids because it takes He-Man off of his scary world and brings him and Skeletor to earth to track down the cosmic keys, which were discovered by a couple of teenagers. One of which is a girl named Julie, played by a young Courtney Cox.
8 Hook (1991)
This isn’t the only time a Steven Spielberg film will be on this list. But Hook is undoubtedly one of his most underrated films. Taking the story of Peter Pan and putting him in the real world and making him an adult with a family and responsibilities who has lost sight of the child he used to be was a genius call. Peter Banning (Robin Williams) visits his old family in London, but once his kids are taken in the night by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), Peter must learn how to fly again and go to Neverland to reconnect with The Lost Boys and Tinkerbell (Julie Roberts), the gang he left behind to fend for themselves years ago.
Hookhas all the lore of the Peter Pan mythology grounded in reality. Dustin Hoffman is unrecognizable as Captain Hook. A John Williams’ score that pulls at your heartstrings. It’s a model of storytelling that only Spielberg could do so well.
7 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Potentially, by now, you have a kid that has read a little bit of the comics or at least is generally aware of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 1987, TMNT got their first animated series, something that may have even been a gateway for kids at the time into other parts of the TMNT universe. Three years later, they got their first live-action film. Seeing the turtles in live-action move like everyday people and talk how they do in the show and the comics is a real treat for fans young and old.
Some of the villains of the series have a dark, scary feel to them that parents should be aware of when they watch the original live-action film and its sequels with their kids. But that’s the great thing about TMNT. It may not be the greatest popular comic book adaptation of all time, but it never loses its tone with the goofy teenage turtles from the sewer and the menacing villains that make up the storylines.
6 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Johnny Depp delivered an Oscar-nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the first film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Some would like to say, it’s two and a half hours of Johnny Depp doing a Keith Richards impersonation, but regardless, it’s highly entertaining. It was the first film ever released by the Walt Disney Pictures banner that was rated PG-13. There’s high adventure, sword fighting, executions, Jack Sparrow getting drunk, and ghostly undead villains.
The film is very kid-friendly, but maybe closer to double-digit numbers in age. Early-age children may still find it jarring with the battle sequences and scary at times. The Curse of the Black Pearl is a rite of passage for young film lovers, because there are hardly any great pirate movies out there.
5 The Karate Kid (1984)
With the success of Netflix’s Cobra Kai for a younger generation, parents need to make sure that their children are eventually aware of the origin story of that show. There have been many rip-offs of The Karate Kid since its 1984 release, even a reboot in 2010 with Jackie Chan and Jayden Smith, where he is taught Kung Fu, not Karate, even though it’s still called The Karate Kid. Anyway, in the original film, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is new to Southern California, and the bullies in town make sure to let him know he is not wanted. He befriends Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), who teaches him self-defense through Karate.
Though the film deals with teen violence and bullies, the core message of the film is self-discipline and respect being taught to Daniel. He learns martial arts in a graceful manner. The Karate Kid maintains a message of having respect for yourself and having the willpower to overcome obstacles in life. Something a parent must instill in their child.
4 Jurassic Park (1993)
Spielberg is at it again. Jurassic Park is like two movies in one. The first half is a beautiful tale of scientific evolution and is full of information on dinosaurs, something that a lot of kids can get behind. Dinosaurs are a common trend with kids from the moment they can pick up a toy and comprehend what something is before they can even form words. In the second half of the film, where dinosaurs get loose, you may have to be careful. It does turn into a bit of a horror film. Despite its genre being action/adventure, you do see people getting eaten by T-Rexes, tense close calls with raptors.
Spielberg could’ve just stuck with making horror films for his career if he wanted to; it’s a genre that got him started in the business. Jurassic Park is a kind of gateway horror, as they call it. So, alarm your child going in, and if they’re up for it, see how far they want to take it. A proper age would be between 8 and 10 years old to give this one a chance.
3 The Rocketeer (1991)
Underrated but needed to be high on this list. Disney’s The Rocketeer may have been a crap shoot upon its initial creation, but it has turned into a cult classic among Disney’s live-action films of the nineties. The Rocketeer is based on the comics by Dave Stevens about a stunt pilot who discovers a jetpack. He straps the thing on, as well as a flashy helmet, and becomes a flying hero known as The Rocketeer. The story takes place in World War II, so of course those darn Nazis want to get ahold of the jetpack.
This is a must-watch for any young boy or girl who wants to see high adventure in a way only Disney could. The film doesn’t cross many lines and stays very grounded in the tone it is trying to give to its audience. A perfect fit for an introduction to action films for a child.
2 The Goonies (1985)
The Goonies is the kind of film that, even if you find it playing on cable television, and it’s halfway in, you stop what you’re doing and finish it. A film chock-full of titans of the eighties in the cast. Corey Feldman, Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Academy Award Winner Ke Huy Quan, Joe Pantoliano, and Anne Ramsey, just to name a few. It is a film for both adults and kids. The adult messages are so well embedded in the writing that they fly over a kid’s head, and the humor the gang of misfits all share with each other is so identifiable.
Credit to screenwriters, Christopher Columbus and Richard Donner, who also directed it. The element of a group of friends going on an adventure to find buried treasure to save their town is so near and dear to a child’s imagination. Goonies Never Say Die!
1 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Since its release in 1981, the very first Indiana Jones has almost turned into a rite of passage for movie lovers. The first few sequels are also just about as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s the first that takes it home. There is so much high adventure, character arcs, and pulp movie magic that graces your screen when you watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is the film and the sequels you may need to test the waters with your child. There are horrifying deaths for the villains in Indiana Jones.
But they’re Nazis, and Spielberg, like most of us, doesn’t really agree with their opinions on things. There is so much magic in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a roller coaster full of thrills, laughs, scares, and hatred for snakes. This is undeniably the most popular action movie to introduce your child to.