Yes Day
Photograph: Netflix

36 great tween-friendly movies to add to your watch list

These are the tween-targeted movies adults will fall in love with too


It’s not easy being a tween, nor is it easy being a parent of one. As the phrase suggests, tweenhood is a sort of purgatory: your child is no longer a kid but not yet a hormonal, bratty know-it-all who lives to defy you. It’s a short-lived but awkward time, and that awkwardness affects just about everything, including movie nights. In the past, you might have been able to get away with just about anything fast, loud and colourful. Now they’re getting a little more discerning. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for costume dramas and John Grisham legal thrillers. Is there anything that can satisfy their suddenly picky taste, let alone entertain the whole household?

Well, yes, indeed there is – and you’ll find 36 of them here. These are movies designed to explode the pleasure centres of anyone between the ages of ten and 12 and also keep grown-ups from groaning, because, truth be told, it’s a lot of the same stuff you loved at the age: ’80s blockbusters, silly comedies, adventure flicks, The Karate Kid, etc. They’re timeless and appeal to just about any generation. Throw one of these on and you’ll be a hero, at least for one night. 


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Best movies for teens to add to your watch list

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

Kickstart an evening of witchcraft and wizardry with the inaugural story of the beloved Harry Potter series. When a young boy learns about his true identity and magicial powers, he soon finds himself on Platform 9 3/4 en route to Hogwarts, a boarding school unlike any other. Adventure awaits for our budding new wizard. Rated PG. 

2. The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021)

An instant animated classic, the team behind Into the Spider-Verse’s Netflix hit is part road-trip comedy, part apocalyptic sci-fi actioner and all incredibly funny. It’s also a visually stunning, endlessly quotable family film that truly gets the generational divide between the front and back seats of the Mitchell’s station wagon, finding sympathy both for the online generation and the adults struggling to make more analog connections with their kids. Throw in a pair of cute robots, a slobbery dog and a sentient smartphone voiced by Olivia Colman and you’ve truly got something for everyone. Rated PG.


3. The Baby-Sitters Club (1995)

The '90s classic follows a group of young girls who want to turn their baby-sitting jobs into a legit summer camp, but there's a grumpy old neighbor who's determined not to let that happen. Along the way there are family issues, health scares and of course, crushes. Rated PG. 

  • Film
  • Drama
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Queen of Katwe (2016)

Like the mostly lovely Akeelah and the Bee (minus the troubling racial stereotypes), Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe takes one of the least-exciting competitions out there – chess – and transforms it into the linchpin of a triumphant underdog story. Centering on a true story of a Ugandan teen ascending from the slums to the World Chess Olympiads and featuring solid turns from David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, it’s essentially a sports movie that ditches footballs for bishops. Rated PG.


5. The Goonies (1985)

When Mikey’s family home faces foreclosure, he and his misfit friends know it’s up to them to save it… but how? That’s when they discover a treasure map and set off into an underground cave system to find it, putting them at odds with a fearsome criminal family. They really don’t make kids adventures like this anymore – certainly not with a character like Sloth, anyway. Rated PG. 

  • Film

We’ve all been babysat; some of us have done some babysitting. Thankfully (or sadly) it never went anything like as kerblooey as in Chris Columbus’s cult ’80s comedy that has Elizabeth ShueŸ’s child-oversight specialist exposing her young charges to a range of Chicago-based perils. Instead of dinner, a bit of TV and bed, it’s gangsters, blues clubs and an encounter with Thor (played by an all-in Vincent D’Onofrio). Technically, that may make this scrappy but loveable caper part of the MCU.


7. The Princess Diaries (2001)

High school is never without its challenges—mean girls, unrequited crushes, to name a painstaking few. But what happens when a teen's normal turns royal? In Meg Cabot's famed YA tale, Anne Hathaway stars as Mia Thermopolis, who discovers she's the princess of Genovia...and she has a pesky granny who has a few tricks up her sleeve. How will the teen cope with a new title, learning about her late father's past and, you know, getting that Mustang up a hill in the pouring rain (another one of those high school horror stories). Rated PG. 

8. Freaky Friday (2003)

It’s not often that a movie’s third remake ends up being the one that sticks in popular consciousness, but for millennials, the Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis iteration of the family-friendly body-swap comedy is a generational touchstone in a way the 1976 original (and certainly the mid-’90s TV version) never was. Lohan, at the peak of her promise, is a punky teen who wakes up one morning to find she’s exchanged corporeal form with her uptight mom, played by Curtis. The experience naturally brings them closer together – but not after some hilarious hijinks as each tries to literally walk in the other’s shoes. Rated PG. 


9. To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

Netflix dropped this high-school romantic comedy for the ages in 2018. It’s about Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor), a 16-year-old who writes – but doesn’t post – letters to her five crushes that they’ll never know about… until one day they do. THE HORROR. And yet from the ashes of this social catastrophe something sweet and funny and profound comes about. Watch it, then watch the sequels To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You and To All the Boys: Always and Forever. 

10. Back to the Future (1985)

About the only thing that’s aged in Robert Zemeckis’s timeless time-traveling adventure is Huey Lewis. Everything else still feels as fresh as the day it was released, owing to Michael J Fox’s relatable cool and Christopher Lloyd’s ability to do ‘harebrained’ better than any cartoon character. Just be prepared to answer some potentially difficult questions about Marty’s mom having a crush on her own son. Rated PG.


11. 13 Going on 30 (2004)

Jenna is an awkward teenager who desperately wants to escape junior high and skip straight to adulthood. Imagine her surprise when she awakens one morning to find her wish granted and that her adolescent brain has been magically transferred into the body of Jennifer Garner. Yes, that sounds an awful lot like the plot of 1988’s Big, but this gender-swapped take has two things setting it apart: Garner’s charming, goofy-sweet performance, and a time-travel element that makes the romance with her now-grown childhood best friend (Mark Ruffalo) a lot less creepy than the Tom Hanks-Elizabeth Perkins version. Rated PG-13. 

12. Holes (2003)

Louis Sacher's bestseller-turned movie follows a young boy who is wrongfully convicted of a crime and must either do jail time or work in a camp. He chooses the latter and is forced to dig holes in a desert under the guidance of a warden who's got his mind on one thing: buried treasure. Rated PG. 


13. Jumanji (1995)

The best entry-level introduction to the manic live-action wonders of Robin Williams (sorry… Hook isn’t as good as you remember), Jumanji doubles as a raucous special-effects bonanza with light scares and a whole lot of kid-friendly adventure. Sure, it’s become a bit dated, but it still stands up as a perfect Saturday matinee yarn… or a double feature with the Dwayne Johnson-starring reboot. Rated PG.

14. The Princess Bride (1987)

Ridiculously charming, endlessly quotable (“My name is Íñigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”) and totally timeless, it’s impossible to resist this swashbuckling romance about a princess, a farmhand and a quest for revenge. In the spirit of all good fairy tales, it’s about love at its dreamiest and most escapist. An eternal mood-enhancer – just like the William Goldman book that it’s adapted from. Rated PG. 


15. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Growing up means acknowledging that Ferris Bueller is kind of a jerk, but for those stuck in their adolescent between-years, there ain’t no one cooler than this snarky, well-coiffed Chicagoan.  Most teens who ditch class end up eating lunch at Dairy Queen then sneaking home to play video games, but Ferris dreams a bit bigger. He takes his girlfriend and best bud to a Cubs game, performing in a downtown parade and fully outwitting his overzealous principal. You’ll love it no matter if you’re a dweeby, sporto, motorhead or wastoid. Rated PG-13. 

16. The Parent Trap (1998)

Nick and Liz decide to go their separate ways, but they have two twin girls (both played by Lindsay Lohan in her breakout role) caught in the middle of a nasty split. As a result, each parent claims a child and disappears into the void. But, nearly 12 years later, the girls are unknowingly sent to the same sleepaway camp, where they discover their other half and devise a plan for their parents to reunite “face to face.” Their “brilliant beyond brilliant idea”? To swtich places. Can Annie and Hallie pull off this switcheroo seamlessly, or will the stylish and conniving Meredith Blake cause a few roadblocks? If you've seen the 1961 Hayley Mills original, you already know... but that doesn't make it any less fun. Rated PG. 


17. A Cinderella Story (2004)

Sam's anonymous correspondence with a guy makes her evil step-mother's antics more tolerable. When she agrees to meet her unknown fellow at a school dance, she freaks out upon her discovery, in typical teenage fashion. You know this story. But it's all in the details, and here they're fantastic. Rated PG. 

18. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Equally lovable and heartbreaking, The Fault in Our Stars is a YA sensation that had us tearing up during book club meetings and movie outings. Hazel and Gus—two teens stricken with cancer—are the cause. They meet at a support group and romance ensues, but their relationship is threatened by a relapse. Even adults will appreciate this emotional John Green story. Rated PG-13. 


19. The Karate Kid (1984)

Who could’ve guessed that this little sports drama, about a bullied high school kid (Ralph Macchio) who learns self-respect via the martial arts, would cast such a long, lasting shadow over popular culture?  Every kid who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and knows every line and leg sweep by heart, that’s who. Want to know a secret, though? The 2010 remake, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, is pretty dang cool, too. Rated PG

20. E.T. (1982)

Would you trust your baby brother and sister to keep a secret? Elliott does. When he discovers an alien, he lets his siblings in on the news. But it's not going to be easy keeping an extra terrestrial under wraps from everyone else—especially when E.T. is sick. Rated PG. 


21. The Hunger Games (2012)

When it comes to fearless teenage heroes tackling terrifying odds, Katniss Everdeen is right up there with Harry Potter. As the Hunger Games books’ army of fans will know, her courage comes with a side order of nobility—she volunteers as tribute for the Hunger Games to save her sister—and a whole lot of skill with a bow and arrow. Rated PG-13.

22. Drumline (2002)

Set amid the extremely competitive world of southern pep bands, Drumline reimagines the traditional sports drama as a battle between percussion groups, and it’s absolutely infectious. Like a more musical (and believable) cousin to Bring It On with a dash of Step Up, it’s a thunderous underdog story graturing breakout performances by Nick Cannon and Zoe Saldana and some truly thunderous musical performances. Rated PG-13. 

  • Film

Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union bring the charm in this explosively entertaining and endlessly funny film about rival cheerleading squads squaring off during the state championships. Don’t let the niche subject fool you: this one is a riot that has more than earned its enduring cult appeal thanks to its endearing performances and genuinely thrilling acrobatics. Rated PG-13.

24. High School Musical (2006)

We're all in this Disney fan-favorite together. Troy doesn't want to disappoint his father, but he'd rather swap his basketball for a mic and try out for the school musical, especially after Gabriella gives him a little push. Will the two be able to audition for the show in peace, or will a jealous peer make the process all the more grueling? Ratings not available. 


25. Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)

The Bakers' motto is clearly “The more the merrier.” But the family of 14 finds that things aren't so easy when they uproot their kids to a new town, school and home. Will parents Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) be able to fulfill their career goals and keep their 12 youngsters happy? Not without some chaos along the way! Rated PG.

26. Enchanted (2007)

Giselle (Amy Adams) is a fairy tale princess who can't wait to join forces with the love of her life, but when his evil mother sends her to NYC, this leading lady who likes to belt her heart out will have a whole new problem on her hands in this riotously funny storybook sendup. Rated PG. 


27. Spy Kids (2001)

It's a case of role reversal in this action-packed flick where two spy kids attempt to save their mom and dad from evil. The film comes from the mind of Robert Rodriguez, who proves that his unique action vision applies as well to family fare as it does to films like Sin CityRated PG. 

  • Film
  • Comedy
Pitch Perfect
Pitch Perfect

A slyly subversive take on those obnoxiously cheery performing-arts dramas of the Step Up ilk, this leftfield hit about warring a cappella groups is hard to resist, even if you’re not inclined toward enjoying movies where good-looking kids dance aggressively at one another – or in this case, sing. It’s got a few winky-winky jokes aimed at more mature audiences, but your kids will be too busy humming Anna Kendrick’s ‘Cups’ – a legit hit song – to even register them. Rated PG-13.


29. Ella Enchanted (2004)

If you haven't seen Anne Hathaway's early 2000's princess flicks, you haven't lived. In this retelling of the children's book, Ella must attempt to break the spell where she's forced to obey all orders bestowed onto her...fortunately the handsome Prince Charmont is by her side to lend a hand. Rated PG. 

30. School of Rock (2004)

Jack Black is at his Jack Black-est portraying a struggling yet hyper-enthusiastic musician who weasels his way into a substitute teaching gig and helps a group of band nerds – and the school’s buttoned-down principal – unleash their inner rock stars. Your little zoomer may have no idea what a guitar looks like, but no generation can resist Black cranking the ham levels to 11. Rated PG-13.

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