When the Cat’s Away, The Mice Will…Watch Movies The Cat Would Never Watch

Both of my kids did a week of sleep-away camp this summer, different camps, during different weeks, which was wonderful for many reasons: They made new friends, they ate new foods, they learned new skills (including sitting on one end of a raft while a counselor jumped on the other, launching her fifteen feet out into the lake). But the best part, at least for me, was the time spent with the sister left behind. I didn’t plan it this way, but giving each of them a week of only child-dom meant, obviously, that we only had to cater to the interests and tastes of a single kid all week long. When Abby wanted spaghetti with pesto, we didn’t have to make a separate baguette with pesto and mozzarella for pasta-hating Phoebe. When Phoebe requested Hatch Burgers, we didn’t have to ask Abby — who has been down on red meat lately — for permission. The novelty was just as exciting when trolling around Netflix and our library’s DVD section. The girls have similar tastes in movies — Ferris BuellerThe Devil Wears Prada, School of Rock, Catch Me If You Can, and Iron Mans 1, 2, and 3 have been hits lately — but there are whole genres that I knew my 12-year-old would like more than my 10-year-old (read: Hitchcock) as well as movies that maybe weren’t quite appropriate for an almost sixth grader. So I got super into lining up Movie Week, setting up the outdoor projector (both indoors and out) and screening a new one every night of Abby’s absence. Here’s what was on the marquee.

Breaking Away (1979)
I remember seeing this during the summer when I was a kid, and cheering out loud when Moocher got on the racing bike, his legs too short to reach the pedals. Phoebe did too, which warmed my heart, and luckily the rest of the movie held up just as beautifully. (Literally beautifully — every scene seems shrouded in a golden glow.) It’s about four working-class Bloomington, Indiana kids (known as “cutters”) floundering around after high school, trying to figure out what to do next, while navigating typical social tensions with the town’s wealthier university students. The Dennis Christopher character, a romantic, cycling-obsessed Italia-phile has got to be one of the greater characters in movies, and the scenes swimming at the quarry are summer exemplified. Bonus: Wow, Dennis Quaid. Wowowow. (Where is the emoticon for fanning my face as though I’m about to faint?) Note: There’s one moment in the beginning when the boys are cruising through campus and Daniel Stern inappropriately comments on some good looking co-eds, so keep your hand on the remote if your kids are little — but the rest of it is totally clean.)

Rear Window (1954)
Jimmy Stewart, handsome as ever, plays a maverick, globe-trotting photographer who becomes wheelchair-bound for six weeks after breaking his leg. Bored out of his mind, he spends his recovery time spying out the window at his neighbors, eventually suspecting one of them of  murder, and looping in his detective friend, his nurse, and his high society girlfriend, the stunning Grace Kelly. The entire movie takes place pretty much in one room — it might as well be a play — and it’s riveting. The moment when Raymond Burr realizes he’s being watched is still as chilling as it was when I watched it in my college film noir class a hundred years ago. All in all, a great introduction to Hitchcock for kids. Phoebe watched three of his movies this week and this was by far her favorite.

The Outsiders (1983)
My best friend Jeni was obsessed with Ponyboy when we were kids, and that was all I remembered about this Coppola classic that launched the careers of Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, and Patrick Swayze. (Everyone but Ponyboy’s C. Thomas Howell.) Phoebe read the book earlier in the summer, which we found at a used book store in Anchorage for a buck (score!), and when I told her there was a film version, she demanded it on Night One of Movie Week. Like a lot of older films, it moved slowly at parts, but the Rich Kid-versus-“Greasers” conceit was as salacious (and ultimately, sad) as ever.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
When Andy and I were first dating, I dragged him to the AV center (that’s how old we are) in the lowest floor of our college library to screen this one, which I had fallen in love with in that aforementioned film noir class. We wore big puffy headphones and sat in uncomfortable chairs watching a villainous Joseph Cotten play Uncle Charlie, the sophisticated East Coast uncle visiting his sister and her small-town family. Old Hitchcock thrillers are great for kids because they’re creepy and suspenseful, but you don’t have to worry about graphic violence. (And the special effects, like when Jimmy Stewart falls out of his window in Rear Window, are often hilarious and part of the fun for our jaded junior generation.) Phoebe gave this a B+. I’d give it an A+ — it’s still one of my favorites. (If only I could’ve done that well in the class.)

Strangers on a Train (1951)
This was night five, but not nearly as exciting as the conceit promised it would be. Two strangers — Robert Walker and Farley Granger — meet on a train and discuss “getting rid” of someone in their lives, and eventually Walker, who plays a total psychopath, tries to convince Granger to “exchange” murders so neither will get caught. The movie was watchable, but in Phoebe’s opinion, ranked fifth of the five listed here. (“Boy Hitchcock really seems to like murder.”) It was between this one and The Flamingo Kid, and I think I made the wrong decision. I’ll let you know next time Abby has a sleepover.

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Awesome post! I am completing my PhD in film studies, so I LOVE that you are introducing your children to these great films.

Sheila Reynertson

We recently had a big group of 13 years old girls over to watch Rear Window for the first time. 🙂 BTW, a highly recommended book for more ideas: The Best Old Movies for Families by Ty Burr


I have boys so the tastes might be different but my 13 year old loved 12 Angry Men, North by Northwest, Foreign Correspondent, Wargames (well, anything with Matthew Broderick–Ladyhawke and of course, Ferris).

Kay C

How about Powell and Pressburger films…my favorites being The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and A Matter of Life and Death? TCM is a regular source for entertainment in our house.


My kids loved The Outsiders (and I had an autographed pic of C. Thomas Howell from when it came out!) and we watch Breaking Away on an annual basis. If you want more Matt Dillon, My Bodyguard is a good pick.


oh man, My Bodyguard is a great movie. I’m going to queue that one up for my 13yo as my 11yo is at camp.


This is a fantastic post
I love finding movies to watch with the family and
I also love introducing my kids to music
Have you seen 20 feet from stardom – an amazing documentary about the back up singers of our time. Watched it with my kids this summer – – it was a winner.
Would love to read what other films you guys take on…future post series? 😉


I served up an Italian feast for about a dozen people while we watched Breaking Away. One of my favorite dinner parties ever…


Not a movie, obviously, but I (always late to the party) just got into Veronica Mars…SO good!!! Smart, spunk girl hero, mysteries, good writing. But you might not be late to the party like me 🙂


My kids are not allowed to watch TV during the school week but three years ago I started what we call “Sunday Classic Movie Night” – I watch a classic movie that I want to see (or sometimes need to rewatch for work – I run a college comedy program) and the kids are welcome to join me. Our “hits” have included The Pink Panther, The Thin Man, North by Northwest, Broadcast News, To Be or Not to Be (Jack Benny version), and Dr. Strangelove.


Tracey – Guess what we queued up last night? My Bodyguard! Great idea — and it was on Netflix instant. (Though I remembered it completely wrong — I thought Matt Dillon was the nice guy, not the bully.) Thanks to EVERYONE for all the great suggestions!


A great post – we are always on hunt for great family movies…Hoosiers, Miracle, Rudy, Pride and Prejudice all were hits and A league of their Own was a recent hit. Looking forward to introducing them to the ones you listed!


The Outsiders….one of the best movies ever….Ralph Macchio gave an epic performance, in my humble opinion. I’m just waiting for the opportune moment to show it to my 9yr old son. I know he’ll love it now, but will he appreciate it fully? Thanks for this list.

Jennifer O.

I remember watching Rear Window with my mom when I was a kid (also Marnie and The Birds). In 8th grade, we did a whole unit on The Outsiders – the book is so haunting. How about Arsenic and Old Lace? Charade? Wait Until Dark?


My kids aren’t old enough yet, but I, too, loved Hitchcock as a just-teen. I remember loving Audrey Hepburn movies at the same time, so you might give those a try–Roman Holiday, or Sabrina, maybe?


Another FABULOUS movie on Netflix: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I’ve watched it with all of my kids (more than once) AND my husband and they ALL loved it (ages 11, 16/16 and 48). I can remember my mom introducing it to me on a “sick day” when I was in elementary school. It is wonderful!