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The Top 10 Movies Starring Kids, According to the Directors of ‘I Declare War’

The Top 10 Movies Starring Kids, According to the Directors of 'I Declare War'

Drafthouse Films’ latest “I Declare War” is an all-out action film sure to appeal to lovers of the genre. The twist? The characters are all 12-year-old kids. With the film opening in theaters this Friday, August 30th (it’s also currently available on iTunes and VOD), we asked the filmmakers, Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson, to list their top movies featuring kids that don’t patronize young audiences. Below are their top ten picks:


There are movies *for* kids, and there are movies *about* kids. We tend to prefer the latter, when they’re done well, because movies targeted directly at young audiences tend to be patronizing. You might even say they sometimes misunderstand their audience… and make the bad assumption that kids are kind of stupid. Or an easy touch for a kicked-in-the-nuts joke or fart humor. The fact is, in our experience anyway, kids aren’t stupid — they just think a little differently than adults.

The idea behind “I Declare War” was to tell a story about how it felt to be 12 or 13 years old and try to capture that difference in thinking before we got too old to remember it. It’s an age when everything feels life threateningly intense, everything seems permanent, and at the same time it’s somehow socially acceptable to commit unspeakable emotional violence to each other. Jason wrote the story because he played war at that age. The movie was shot in the exact woods where Rob played war as a kid. It was easy to connect with the material.

One of the key elements we worked to maintain was the decision not to patronize the characters because of their age. The movie we wanted to see was going to be a little more referential to real life at 13 (or at least to the way we remembered it) and we really wanted it to be something parents could watch with their 13 year olds… and not end up wanting to burn their own eyes out. We grew up with films that fit that bill, but for some reason they seem to be few and far between these days.

Anyway, here’s a list of movies featuring young people that actually behave like real young people, in all their pain and glory.

“Paper Moon
Why do people shit on young actors all the time and just assume that performances by kids are inherently bad? How many Oscars do people under the age of twelve need to win to change the public’s mind? Tatum O’Neal won hers at age TEN for her hilarious and hyperactive performance in this Peter Bogdonavich masterpiece.

“The Witches”

When you see Nicolas Roeg’s name on a movie marketed to children, then you know there’s probably more going on than a typical family film. This movie shows incredible empathy for just how frightening it is to be young, when everything is unknown and almost every adult feels like a threat.

“Bad News Bears” (2005)

Man, did Richard Linklater get kids right when he made this follow-up to “School Of Rock.” We need more movies where kids swear. They’re good at it. It should be celebrated. Unfortunately everyone in the world is stupid and this film got shit on when it was released for some reason.

“Small Change”

Truffault is the king of making movies about children. He never, ever forgot what it felt like, and right up until the end of his career he could always be counted on for an empathetic celebration and lamentation of everything that makes childhood wonderful and terrible.

Here’s a movie about the real power of a kid’s imagination: 11-year-old Anna draws a house in crayon one day and that night wakes up inside her drawing. The next day she draws her father inside the house to help her, but accidentally gives him an angry expression, turning her dream into a nightmare where she’s being chased by a monstrous version of her Dad. Remember when your own imagination scared the shit out of you?

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”
You know what? It has to be on the list. It’s not just that it’s such a monument either. When I re-watched it the thing that struck me was the honest and complicated portrayal of Elliot’s family. Their relationship is filled with tough moments, heartbreaks, and sacrifice. It’s actually pretty damn dark… but you never get the sensation they’re going to end up on “Jerry Springer.” These are people who rise to the occasion with dignity, regardless of the cost, and family comes first — because that’s what you do. It’s worth noting that the both the alien and the initially terrifying government stormtroopers have a fair share of dignity too. Imagine that, no over the top black and white antagonist and we still get all the conflict needed…

“Pan’s Labyrinth”

Ugly can be breathtakingly beautiful and beauty, at least for it’s own sake, is sure to fade. Or at least work out pretty badly for everyone involved… Whatever, you get it. If that was all that was here it would probably still be enough to be make the list, but there’s more. There’s the raw wonder of visiting a completely new world played against the raw wonder of an unflinching look at a world you’re very familiar with. Either of those would have put this on the list too, but you don’t have to chose. You get both, with wonderful performances and a shit load of tension on top. I admit there’s some stuff in here that might be a little tough for an extremely young audience, but most of it’s worth the risk.And sometimes it’s healthy to want to cover your eyes.


Another film that simply has to be here. This roller coaster has some pretty rough edges and at the time these weren’t edges we saw regularly on the big screen. They’re were just…  dirtier. Actually, there’s almost no ‘gloss ‘to speak of. Maybe that’s what made it feel so real and gave it a sense of possibility that was so infectious you stopped noticing and fell for the ride. Afterwards you got your friends together and broke a bunch of your parents shit looking for your own lost treasure map — and it actually felt like you might find one.

Super 8”

Man, what a set up. It’s understated, powerful, and doesn’t spoon feed. It trusts that the audience came here to pay attention, that they’re watching… and then lets the pictures do the work. Basically, good cinema. I shouldn’t even have to call this out, but I am. And this film is so accessible to a younger audience that you have to give them (yeah those guys) credit for not dumbing it down — or maybe they figured the kids would engage less if they made it easier? I don’t know, but part of me wants to. The other part doesn’t care because it works. I love it when a film has clear expectations of the audience and tries to make them work while enjoying.  Add that to the powerful potential of kids collaborating to successes beyond their years — hell, they save the town and manage to make their own movie — and you’ve got a good thing happening. The ending was a mild disappointment, but I think it’s because I’m old and jaded. I’ll still be watching this with my kids.

“Christmas Story
My parents still have the letter I wrote Santa asking for the Millennium Falcon. I’m 40, but I totally remember unwrapping it…  it’s almost an out of body experience, still so vivid that I can tell you what I was wearing. I remember the blue struts on the landing ramp were pretty flimsy and eventually broke — you know the first ding on your new car? Thank god for crazy glue. The Millenium Falcon was (and is) the present by which I judge all other presents. “A Christmas Story” is the only movie I can think of that genuinely captures the sense of childhood dread… If I don’t get this, how will I ever go on in this incomplete life? You watch this movie and you know that level of desire — the need —  is on the dicey edge of right and wrong for all kinds of reasons… but damn do you want Ralphie to get that gun. You make a choice for the little guy, climb on his team and root for him regardless of all that ‘shoot yer eye out’ crap. I mean, it’s Christmas, right?  Plus, he’s got two eyes. The strength here for me — like so many of the movies on the list — is that it takes you to this complicated place (given Ralphie’s perspective) but never takes the fun away from you. And it doesn’t hurt that the world Ralpie lives in is presented, proverbial warts and all, in a completely non patronizing manner — he’s part of a real family, not just some kid who’s gonna learn a hard feel good lesson.

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