The Ira Sachs Guide To Movies With Kids

Posted 4 months ago in Film Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

When we met Ira Sachs in the IFI back in September while he was here promoting his latest film Passages, he made reference to films he was showing his kids and how he wanted to educate them across all genres. He showed us his extensive list which we felt any cinephile parent may wish to share with their own children.

As we approach Christmas, the season when parents spend most time watching movies with their children, we think it is apt to share his thoughts and recommendations. Hopefully you will get to share the wonder, marvel and perplexity. One foot note is that these are suggestions, you may wish to check in advance whether you feel the material is age appropriate for your own children and if you have the answers to their questions.

“My husband Boris and I raise our two kids, Viva and Felix, with their moms, Kirsten and Tabitha, who live in the apartment next door to us. Since our kids were toddlers, we’ve kept them on an adventurous and varied movie diet, and over that time, I’ve learned a few things about children and cinema that I think other parents, or other aunts, uncles, or people who like to spend time with kids — and like the movies —  might gain from. On all other fronts, I don’t know if I have any valuable lessons to share — I make as many mistakes as the next dad — but on the path of raising cinema-loving kids, I think I’ve done many things right. Here are a few of the principles and patterns I hold to dearly.

At age two or three, begin with Buster Keaton and Looney Tunes. I don’t mean one or two Bugs Bunny cartoons, I mean the boxed set, and play as many of them as often, and repetitively, as possible. Chuck Jones is funnier than anyone, and the music is some of the best ever used in film. How better to introduce them to Yip Harburg, Schumann, Wagner and Irving Berlin, and much more fun for everyone than dragging everyone to the Philharmonic.

From four to eight, open your heart to live-action Disney movies from the 50s and 60s. You won’t expect them to be as good as they are: Swiss Family Robinson, Flipper, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Pollyanna, Old Yeller. Embrace the kids movies of the past (beautifully shot, terribly dramatic).

Watch anything and everything available in Technicolor: Leave Her to Heaven, National Velvet, Niagara, The Greatest Show on Earth (what an ending).

Don’t avoid talking about the racism, which is everywhere. Before 1970, it’s hard to find any American film where a Black person is allowed to say “no,” — Black people function in those movies purely to agree and to serve. It’s not better for Asian, Native American, and Latin characters in much of the history of cinema. Actively seek out movies that stand in contrast: The Learning Tree, Brooklyn, Akeelah and the Bee, Queen of Katwe. And older films like Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky. If any movie should be considered a kids movie, in my book it would be Do the Right Thing. 

When you can, and better on the screen, introduce the world of cinema outside of the US: Panther Panchali, Where is the Friends House, Donkey Skin, The White Balloon, I was born, but.  

By nine, you’re really ready to introduce genre films: Westerns, Comedies, Noir and suspense films. We watched every Hitchcock except Psycho and Frenzy with our kids during the pandemic — half of which I’ve never seen before.

My kids are 11, and up until now, I’ve still found screwball comedy and Jacques Tati hard for my kids. Mon Once would be preferred to Playtime or Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. And Leisen’s Midnight is a better choice than The Front Page.

My kids still don’t like Preston Sturges.

Don’t be sad when the kids don’t like your favorite movies.

Don’t tell your kids in advance of their first viewing of Wizard of Oz that it turns to color. They will be as surprised as the audience was back in 1939 and gasp with the same astonishment.

Throw in some 70s curveballs: Bad News Bears, Car Wash, Thank God It’s Friday.  

Introduce horror slowly and a little more carefully. Kids want to be excited, not scared. We’re working our way up to Psycho, by way of The Incredible Shrinking Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Carnival of Souls, and anything by Jacques Tourneur.

Disaster Movies can be fun: Poseidon Adventure, Avalanche!, Earthquake

Here’s a short list of almost definite winners, for the kids and the parents. So maybe a good place to start: Annie, The Invisible Man, To Be or Not to BeI was a fugitive on a chain gang, Heidi (Alan Dwan),

Vertigo stunned us all.

Watch the movies all the way through — adults and children should share in a commitment not to give up halfway. Once you open that door, it will be taken. Being bored and restless is for all of us central to our experience of the movies, and can be endured.

Documentaries can be fun, particularly if they involve competition, or overcoming obstacles on the road to triumph: Spellbound, OT: Our Town, Chef Flynn.

This brings me to an important tenet: don’t show your kids your favorite films. Don’t bring them down nostalgia lane. Instead, discover new things together, like Mae West, or the Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart cycle of Westerns, or pre-code Horror films. From the start, I realized that I learned, and appreciated, as much from these screenings as my kid did. Don’t think of yourself as a know-it-all, but instead as someone eager to discover the new.

Make rituals for your family — movie nights on Thursday, or going to the cinema on Sunday mornings, like church.

Don’t make a fuss if a kid doesn’t like a movie. It’s ok, and move on to the next.

When you’re trying to decide what films to show your kids, ask yourself this question, “What would Marty Scorsese have watched when he was growing up?”


Age 3 


The Freshman (Harold Lloyd)

Hold That Ghost

On the Town

A Hard Day’s Night

Age 4 

The Good Dinosaur

Only Yesterday (studio ghibili)

City Lights

Forbidden Planet

Seven Chances

The Little Prince

National Velvet


Hans Christian Anderson


Superman 2


The Navigator

Singing in the Rain

Laurel & Hardy (Two Tars)

Chaplin (The Immigrant)

Harold Lloyd (Get Out & Get Under)

Safety Last

Kiki’s delivery service





101 Dalmatians

Little Mermaid

Sleeping Beauty


Little Shop of Horrors

Fantastic Mr Fox

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The Wizard of Oz

Kubo and the Two Strings

Willy W. and the Chocolate Factory

Meet Me in St Louis

Beauty and the Beast

The Thief and the Cobbler

Queen of Katwe




Age 5


The Invisible Man

Monster Truck

Jailhouse Rock


Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

Lassie Comes Home

Lego Batman Movie


A Hard Days Night

The Nutty Professor

Smurfs Movie

Grandma’s Boy

Little Women

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Captain Underpants

It’s a Gift

Bad News Bears

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Spider-Man Homecoming

Despicable Me 3

Young Frankenstein

The Red Pony

Lego Ninjago Movie

3 Keaton Shorts

Prince and the Pauper

Paper Moon

The Man on the Flying Trapeze



My Fair Lady


Ponyo (Felix)

It’s a Wonderful Life

Edward Scissorhand



The Gold Rush

Age 6


Mary and the Witches Flower

The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T

Bringing Up Baby

Girl Shy

Black Panther


Horus Prince of the Sun

Peter Pan

The White Balloon

Godzilla vs. King Kong

Modern Times

The King and the Mockingbird

Monkey Business

Mamma Mia 2

Hotel Transylvania 2

The Meg

The Spy Who Dumped Me


Jurassic Park part 6

Son of Frankenstein


The Grinch

Small Foot

Goosebumps 2

Chef Flynn

West Side story

Ralph Breaks the internet

Amazing Grace

The Circus

Mary Poppins Returns

Age 7

Stars in My Crown

Grave of the Fireflies

The Learning Tree

What’s Up Doc

Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)

The Muppet Movie

Night of the Hunter

River of No Return

Night of the Demon



Hans Christian Anderson



Daffy Duck & Other shorts


Toy Story 4

The General

Double Indemnity

Donkey Skin

The Lion King

The Right Stuff

El Bosque Animado

Sherlock Jr


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Laurel & Hardy Shorts

City Lights

His Girl Friday

A Little Princess

Breaking Away


King Kong


Mary Poppins

American Graffiti

Miracle on 34th Street

To Kill a Mockingbird

The King and I

The Aristocats

Age 8 and On:

Battling Butler

Some Like It Hot


Little Fugitive


Freaky Friday

The Parent Trap

The World of Henry Orient


Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Death Becomes Her

The Awful Truth

The Swiss Family Robinson

Finian’s Rainbow

The Philadelphia Story

Crip Camp

Fort Apache

The Trouble with Angels


Track of the Cat

Journey to the Beginning of Time

Old Yeller

Savage Sam

Make Way for Tomorrow

Dr. Doolittle

Our Hospitality

Night and the City


The Railway Children

ET: the Extra Terrestrial


The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Bend It Like Beckham

Cuidado con el amor

Shadow of a Doubt

The General

Sweet Smell of Success

The Innocents

Cat People

The Saphead


The Gangs All Here

Some Like It Hot

West Side Story


Dracula (Spanish-version)

A Night in Casablanca

Duck Soup

Thank God It’s Friday

Auntie Mame

National Velvet

The Big Store

Woman on the Verge of a….

Do the Right Thing

Akeelah and the Bee


Stormy Weather

My Darling Clementine

Spellbound (doc)

Cabin in the Sky

Shop Around the Corner

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon

How Green is My Valley

Lassie Come Home

To Catch a Thief

Car Wash

42nd Street

Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers of 1937

Footlight Parade

The Courage of Lassie

College (Buster Keaton)

The Miracle Worker


The Trouble with Harry



Go West

The Tall T

At the Circus

Pardon Us

The Man Who Knew Too Much

My Octopus Teacher

My Bodyguard

Hail the Conquering Hero

Lady in the Lake


The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

The Fashions of 1934

Miracle on 34th St

Holiday Inn

White Christmas

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Thin Man

The Lady Vanishes

The 39 Steps

Monsieur Hulot Holiday

To Be or Not to Be

Little Men

The Canterville Ghost

Young and Innocent



Jamaica Inn

Bernice Bobs Her Hair

The Ox Bow Incident

Bell, Book and Candle


The Lodger

The Desperate Hours


Gosford Park


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


White Heat

My Little Chickadee

She Done Him Wrong

Bad Day at Black Rock


The Incredible Shrinking Man

Hester Street

The Yearling

Foreign Correspondent

On Dangerous Ground

Berlin Express

The Hitch-Hiker


I Walked with a Zombie


Seven Men from Now



Cape Fear

Spellbound (1945)

Early Living


Murder at the Vanities

Death Takes a Holiday

Anne of the Indies

The Ghost Went West

The Roaring Twenties

Stage Fright

Remember the Night

High Anxiety

The Magic Box

Darling, How Could You?


I Was a Fugitive on a Chain Gang

The More the Merrier

Winchester 73

The Naked Spur

The Public Enemy

Clash by Night

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Ride Lonesome

No Man for Her Own

Hands Across the Table

True Confession

In This Our Life

Park Row

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Dance, Girls, Dance

Road House


Yours Mine and Ours

Five Fingers

The Boiling Point

Asphalt Jungle

Death on the Nile

Ace in the Hole

Follow the Fleet

Petite Maman

Our Song

Phantom Lady

Ministry of Fear

Hit the Road

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931)

He Ran All the Way (John Berry)

Man of the West (Anthony Mann)

Heidi (Allan Dwan)

Black Widow (Nunnaly Johnson)

We Are the Best! (Moodysson)

Accused of Murder

The Mummy

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Treasure Island

Poseidon Adventure


The Invisible Man

The Birds

Call Northside 777 (Hathaway)

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Thieves Highway

The Prowler (Joseph Losey)

North by Northwest

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The Territory

Me and My Gal

Carnival of Souls

Force of Evil


The Plot Against Harry

The Marines Who Didn’t Return

Sadie McKee, Clarence Brown

The Wild Boys of the Road (William Wellman)

Piranha 2 – The Spawning

A Haunting in Venice

Murder in the Rue Morgue

Words: Ira Sachs

Photos: Donal Talbot


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