UNBORED — which was published on October 16! — is packed with annotated lists of “Best Ever” books, apps, and movies. As far as the latter medium is concerned, we’ve written “Best Ever” lists of our favorite… Animal Movies (pp. 171–73), Car-Free Movies (252–253), Movies from Around the World (335–336), Musical Movies (90–92), Sports Movies (pp. 47-48), and Stop-Action Movies (232–235).
If your family subscribes to Netflix, some of the movies on our lists can be watched instantly — online, or on your TV via a game console or any other device that streams movies from Netflix (e.g., my family uses a Roku). This post is not an ad for Netflix, though — there are other sites that allow you to watch movies instantly, including Amazon. Netflix just happens to be the site that my family uses.
Here are a few great movies mentioned in UNBORED that are available for instant viewing via Netflix — free of charge — right now!
Lassie Come Home (1943, directed by Fred M. Wilcox). A poor English boy named Joe — played by Roddy McDowall, who’d grow up to portray a chimpanzee scientist in the Planet of the Apes movies — is forced to sell his beloved dog Lassie (a long-haired collie, bred for herding sheep) to a duke. Lassie keeps escaping to Joe, no matter how far away she’s taken. PS: Pal, the dog who plays Lassie in this movie, went on to portray Lassie in six other movies. In 1954, the first in a series of Pal’s descendants played Lassie in a long-running TV show of that title. The movie isn’t available for instant streaming via Netflix, but the TV series is! CLICK HERE.
Kes (1969, directed by Ken Loach). Billy is a neglected, bullied English schoolboy who doesn’t want to end up a coal miner like his grown-up brother. When he finds a young kestrel (falcon), he steals a book about falconry and trains the bird, which makes him happy for the first time. But then his brother gets angry at Billy, and takes revenge on his pet. Although it’s a bleak movie, it’s well-made and worth seeing; in fact, in 2005 the British Film Institute included it on a list of “The 50 films you should see by the age of 14.” CLICK HERE.
The Black Stallion (1979, directed by Carroll Ballard). A boy named Alec is saved from a shipwreck by a wild Arabian stallion, in this beautifully filmed and mostly wordless adaptation of a classic 1941 children’s novel by Walter Farley. Stranded on an uninhabited island, the horse (Alec calls him “The Black”) and the boy become friends. Once back in America, Alec and The Black enter a race. Who will win? PS: The movie was followed by a 1983 sequel, The Black Stallion Returns; and by a 1990–1993 TV series. Neither of these is as compelling as the 1979 movie. Ballard worked as second unit director on George Lucas’s Star Wars before becoming known as a director of animal films. CLICK HERE.
March of the Penguins (2005, directed by Luc Jacquet). Forget Happy Feet. In this amazing and emotional French documentary, we watch the emperor penguins of Antarctica leave their usual habitat (that is, the ocean) and march inland to their breeding grounds, where they lay eggs. Both the male and female penguins are needed to keep the egg warm through the winter. And then it gets even tougher — life for an emperor penguin chick is a constant struggle for survival. PS: The movie won, and richly deserved, an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The director later told an interviewer that no matter how human the penguins may seem, “I find it intellectually dishonest to impose this viewpoint on something that’s part of nature… You have to let penguins be penguins and humans be humans.” CLICK HERE.
The Thief of Bagdad (1924, directed by Raoul Walsh). The swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks — who’d previously portrayed a musketeer and Robin Hood — plays an athletic thief who falls in love with a caliph’s daughter. He travels via flying carpet… and flying horse. CLICK HERE.
Time Bandits (1981, directed by Terry Gilliam). Kevin, an 11-year-old history buff, joins up with a bumbling gang of dwarves who transport themselves across time and space. In search of riches, they rob Napoleon, Robin Hood, King Agamemnon… and then confront an evil sorcerer. CLICK HERE.
Thrashin’ (1986, directed by David Winters). Rival skateboard gangs battle for supremacy in this Romeo and Juliet-inspired movie full of crazy stunts and chases — and a joust, too! Famous skaters Tony Alva, Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi, and Steve Caballero make appearances. CLICK HERE.
[Too bad! The movies on our list from China, India, Iran, Japan, Singapore, Spain, and Taiwan are not available for instant viewing via Netflix.]
The Red Balloon (1956, France, directed by Albert Lamorisse). On his way to school, lonely Pascal discovers a helium-filled balloon in his Paris neighborhood. The balloon is a prankster with a mind of its own. When a gang of bullies comes along, Pascal must defend his new friend. CLICK HERE.
Small Change (also known as Pocket Money, 1976, France, directed by François Truffaut). An earlier Truffaut film, The 400 Blows, is about a boy from an abusive family who skips school. This movie, which features a cast of two hundred kids of all ages, is much more cheerful. Still, there are hijinks: a girl stages a protest against her parents, and causes confusion with a bullhorn; brothers give a friend a bad haircut; and students disobey teachers. CLICK HERE.
Billy Elliot (2000, United Kingdom, directed by Stephen Daldry). The son of a coal miner preoccupied by the 1984–1985 UK miners’ strike, 11-year-old Billy wants to be a dancer. Defying his father’s orders to study boxing, Billy secretly does ballet. Awesome soundtrack. CLICK HERE.
The Little Fugitive (1953, USA, directed by Morris Engel, Ray Ashley, Ruth Orkin). Seven-year-old Joey wrongly believes he’s killed his older brother. Freaked out, Joey runs away from their Brooklyn apartment and spends a couple of days at Coney Island, a local amusement park. He sleeps on the beach, makes friends with grownup strangers, and safely engages in all sorts of other activities the mere thought of which is enough to give today’s grownup a conniption fit. CLICK HERE.
Mad Monster Party (1967, directed by Jules Bass). A spooky-kooky stop-motion movie in which Dracula, the Werewolf, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and other monsters team up to destroy kind-hearted Felix, to whom his uncle, Baron von Frankenstein, has left the secret of total destruction. You’ll groove to the spoof-Swingin’ Sixties tunes, like “Do the Mummy.” PS: Jules Bass cofounded Rankin/Bass Productions, who in addition to feature films like this one produced classic animated TV specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969), and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). CLICK HERE.
The Wiz (1978, directed by Sidney Lumet). The urbanized version of The Wizard of Oz, with an African-American cast and Munchkins turned into graffiti, was a good idea that didn’t work out; the film was a flop. Still, Michael Jackson makes a terrific, agile and graceful Scarecrow (made of garbage); Dorothy is played by Diana Ross, one of the great R&B, soul, and disco singers of all time; and turning the Munchkins into graffiti was an inspired idea. Plus, the song “Ease On Down the Road” is much more danceable than “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” CLICK HERE.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004, directed by Stephen Hillenburg and Mark Osborne). It’s not available! But you can watch the show… CLICK HERE.
Bad News Bears (1976, directed by Michael Ritchie). Many grownups won’t let kids watch this movie because of the fighting,swearing, racial slurs, cigarette smoking, beer-drinking, and bad sportsmanship. All the same, it’s not only the funniest but perhaps the most inspiring kids’ sports movie ever made. The grownups are overly competitive jerks who forget that kids’ sports are supposed to be fun; the kids are feral, unscheduled and unsupervised. The scene in which the son of the mean coach (Vic Morrow) allows the Bears to get an inside-the-park home run is unforgettable; the final scene is wild. PS: Avoid the 2005 remake. CLICK HERE.
Project A (1983, directed by Jackie Chan). Forget Karate Kid. In this martial-arts comedy, which is set in British Hong Kong in the 1900s, Jackie Chan plays a Marine Police officer who battles not only pirates but also the Royal Hong Kong Police. There is a certain amount of cartoonish violence, particularly in the final scenes, but Chan’s athletic slapstick stunts (he falls from a high tower, at one point; watch the movie’s credits for outtakes) are why you must watch this. CLICK HERE.
Hoop Dreams (1994, directed by Steve James). Named one of the best films of the 1990s, and one of the best documentary films ever, Hoop Dreams chronicles five years in the life of William Gates and Arthur Agee, African-American teens from inner-city Chicago recruited to play basketball at a mostly white suburban prep school. Will they make it to the NBA? CLICK HERE.
Whale Rider (2003, directed by Niki Coro). Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is a 12-year-old New Zealand girl descended from the whale-riding founder of her Maori tribe; as such, she ought to inherit the tribe’s leadership. Her grandfather instead trains the tribe’s boys, looking for a new leader among them. But the athletic Pai is better than the boys at just about everything. Will she get her chance? CLICK HERE.
The Gumby Show (1955–1989 series, directed by Art Clokey). This wild 1950s–60s TV show about a clay figure named Gumby, his pony Pokey, and his mischievous nemeses, the Blockheads, was revived in the late 1980s. All together, then, there are over 230 episodes of The Gumby Show. CLICK HERE. (They are viewable on YouTube, too.)
Wallace & Gromit shorts (1989–2008 series, directed by Nick Park). In A Grand Day Out, the eccentric inventor Wallace and his brilliant dog, Gromit, build a rocket and fly to the Moon in search of cheese. In The Wrong Trousers, a sinister penguin moves in with them. In A Close Shave, an evil dog steals the blueprints to Wallace’s knit-o-matic and wash-o-matic machines. And in A Matter of Loaf and Death, a mock murder mystery, Gromit falls for a dog named Fluffles. PS: Also check out the excellent 2005 feature film Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. CLICK HERE.
A Town Called Panic (2009, by Stéphan Aubier and Vincent Patar). Three plastic toys named Cowboy, Indian, and Horse accidentally order 50 million bricks… which sends them on a journey to the center of the earth, not to mention to a parallel universe. This very funny movie is based on a surreal Belgian TV series. CLICK HERE.
PS: In another post, I discuss what’s right and wrong with the British Film Institute’s well-known list of “50 films that children should watch by the age of 14.”
PPS: I’m not crazy about the Netflix website — its search function is hard to use. But InstantWatcher.com is a useful website that allows you to search Netflix for movies that can be viewed instantly.