What Movies Shaped Your Childhood?
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
It’s movie Saturday again! Today our film lover, Sarah, is back talking about the films that shaped our childhoods. Would love to have you join the discussion!
During a 4th of July pizza feast, some friends and I had a long conversation about what movies we watched as kids. And by watched, I mean watched and watched and watched. In the pre-Netflix era, “binge watching” meant rewinding and repeating the same tape over and over again. I have several movies that looped in the background of my childhood, creating a mesh of memories and meaning that influenced my life and worldviews in surprisingly profound ways. I’ll tell you about three from my very early days (3 to 5 years)…if you tell me some of yours!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This is the first movie I remember watching. When I was around three, my family moved to the farm where my dad grew up. It was a great place to be a kid, mostly because we got to live right next door to my grandparents, who provided a constant supply of hugs, cookies, apple cider, and movies. My grandpa was an early tech adopter and had a huuuuuuuge satellite dish and several VCRs (Beta and VHS). My twin sis and I spent a lot of time watching The Wizard of Oz while my parents fixed up the farmhouse I grew up in and they still live in today. We’d hide behind a chair when Miss Gulch bicycled onto the screen, but we gained courage along with Dorothy and her sidekicks. When they finally stood up to The Wicked Witch of the West, we were ready, too. Armed with the corded remote, we watched her melt forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards—until the remote broke. I don’t think we got in trouble for it, probably because we were so cute mimicking her in our stereo voices: “I’m meeelllllllting…”
From Dorothy I learned not to underestimate my little girl power. As the witch disintegrates, she cries, “Who would’ve thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness!” There’s an unexpected strength in innocence. And in a working remote control.
I remember watching Annie incessantly around the same time, too, which is also a good girl-power movie. Those little orphans made “The Hard Knock Life” look so fun that we begged our mom to let us scrub the floor like they did. One day she caved, and we were happily singing our lungs out, working away at the kitchen floor, when my dad’s friend Mel stopped by. He thought it was hilarious, but I could tell she was embarrassed and kept trying to explain how we had asked to clean the kitchen. To this day, I still think cleaning is pretty fun, especially after parties. I turn the music up and get to work…and I think that weird hard-knock joy is because of how often I watched Annie growing up.
And let’s not forget “Tomorrow.” I certainly haven’t. I have a very distinct memory of riding in the shopping cart at the grocery store belting out “I love ya, Tomorrow, you’re only a daaaaaay aaaaaaa-waaaaay!!” all the way down the cereal aisle. (I embarrassed my mom a lot as a kid. Sorry, Mom.) It’s hard to not become a future-oriented optimist when this song was your toddler-self’s jam. I’m a big day-dreamer, and I give Annie‘s positivity strong credit for why my musings are of the Best-Possible-Things-That-Could-Happen-In-the-Near-or-Far-Future variety.
Star Wars IV, V, and VI (1977 – 1983)
I don’t know who the YouTube user “Stormcab” is, but I agree with him completely: Princess Leia is awesome. I wanted to be her. She knew what she was doing. She was in on all the action. She told everybody what to do. She was a princess. Which is what my name, Sarah, means. And I have a twin sibling, too. We’re, like, basically the same person, you guys. At least that’s what I thought when I was, um, younger.
I love that Leia was the princess that got the most screen time in my house growing up. She was a pretty great role model: She had big-time goals (save her people, destroy the empire), she was both a valued team-member and a respected leader, and she and Han Solo had the kind of complex, sparky relationship that made all those Disney Prince romances look super boring in comparison. Good job, parents!
Ok, now it’s your turn. What did you watch repeatedly?
Love this!! Some of our favorites were The Parent Trap, The Trouble With Angels (also Hayley Mills), The Sound of Music, Freaky Friday, Annie, any of course…any and every Disney animated movie. :)
I was going to say parent trap and trouble with angels too! Also Mary poppins, home alone, and now and then!!
1. The Wizard of Oz was a yearly event for my family of origin. No one escaped, except my sister who ran out of the room at the faintest hint of witch. Looking at it now, or even 25 years after it was made (about when I’d first have seen it), the archetypal power of the story goes deep—like it’s in you already and the movie just wakes it up. The yearning is universal. BUT. I remember feeling, at a young age, that Dorothy had totally misinterpreted her dream-adventure. It wasn’t telling her to stick to her own backyard in that search for her heart’s desire! ! It was telling her to get the hell out of Kansas and away from from Elmira Gulch. “No place like home” means anywhere you go might be better than that hellhole! And the song lyrics had as much influence on my sense of wordplay as anything besides Dr. Seuss. “My tail would lash/I would show compash…” O, Bert Lahr.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird. My mom’s from Alabama and felt that her whole childhood was in that story, so I saw the movie before the requisite reading of the book. I think I was 9 or 10. It played a lot in the mid-to-late ’60s, consonant with the Civil Rights movement as it was. I loved the actor who played Tom Robinson: Brock Peters, with his enormous dignity and flaring nostrils and beautifully resonant voice. When the sheriff brought the news of Tom’s death to Atticus, it was one of the most devastating things I’d ever felt—maybe my first real sense that injustice could be way bigger than the personal slights I’d known in my own little life.
3. Billy Jack. The summer we turned 13, my best friend Ronnie and I saw this movie about that many times. We could quote the whole thing. We thought Tom Laughlin was the coolest guy ever, we loved the song “One Tin Soldier,” and we even went to a special screening at the old Glenwood Theater, where several people from the movie led us in sing-alongs of that and other earnest songs of non-violence and environmental responsibility. I remember vividly, in one of our many repeat viewings, realizing that a shot of the American Indian guy who gets killed by racist townies (the character was Martin, whose underbite and line deliveries we used to imitate) looked like a Vietnamese peasant dead in a rice paddy. I think this was my first conscious inkling that a movie’s “message” could be delivered in images as well as through dialogue.
4. Harold and Maude. Saw it a half-dozen times in the theater. I was in high school, so it was more formative for me as a movie lover than as a personality being molded. I remember very clearly a moment when I thought, “Only a movie can really do this”: the intercutting of Harold driving toward the cliff with the scene of Maude being rushed to the hospital and Harold learning that (do spoiler alerts apply, still?) she’s dead—all with Cat Stevens’s lovely “Trouble” playing over. It’s still a great piece of editing, and the use of music is splendid throughout. BUT. When I recently saw the movie again with my 13yo, much of it had not aged well. The kid was unimpressed, and a lot of it seemed very ham-fisted to me. I still like me some Hal Ashby, but it’s not the great film I thought it was as a teen.
5. The Passenger. By now I’m 19, but my first two viewings of this film forever changed me. My older brother had seen it and insisted that I go along when he went again. So my first encounter with Michelangelo Antonioni was filtered through my brother’s excited talk about the movie as he drove us to the theater. I was skeptical, because four or five years earlier, he’d loved “Five Easy Pieces” and I emphatically had not. I hated the Jack Nicholson character so much in that movie, and here we were again, going to see Jack in this obscure thing, at the same old art theater. But I just LOVED this movie. At the end, as the credits rolled, I came out of my trance and looked at my brother and realized he was waiting for my reaction. I just shook my head and said, “Wow.” I can probably trace back to this moment our trajectory toward “Big Bad Love.” It’s my first memory of being aware of certain “foreign film” qualities: long quiet takes, intricate camera movements, intimate details, how actors express character through small actions that belie their words. The sense of real life being caught on film. We talked about these things all the way home. The next night I took my girlfriend to see it and watched her watching it at the end. Afterwards, we walked out and I felt older, some new adultness arriving. I’ve written about this before, having this sense that my 18-year-old girlfriend and I had been through something that had changed us, that the world now had some “thrilling guile” at the heart of it that we hadn’t known was there. Death seemed so close, identity so cloudy. Who were we, really? We got in the car and just started tearing off each other’s clothes to find out, right there in the parking lot. I’ve seen it twice since then, renting it the last time when Antonioni died. It held up pretty well, but had nothing like the power it did in the theater and afterwards, those first two times.
Thanks for the question. Haven’t thought about this stuff for awhile. Great piece, Sarah!
OH! And Candleshoe. My sister and I loved that one. (Proof that I actually did love mystery movies once upon a time.) ;)
‘The Never-Ending Story’ was definitely on repeat in my household though I can’t say explicitly how it shaped me, other than the fact that anytime i see a white dog I think “Mini Falcor.” Once Lion King hit screens though, I moved on to watching that incessantly and part of me wonders how much of a role it played in my earliest interest in Africa!
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the original…..with Gene Wilder (not J. depp). Loved it, still do.
That Darn Cat (Hayley Mills) movie..Disney produced and of course Parent Trap with Hayley Mills.
Anne of Green Gables movies
Yes! I loved Parent Trap and the Anne of Green Gables one. The original Willy Wonka freaked me out a bit — Gene Wilder can be scary : )
Definitely The Sound of Music! Still have it all memorized!
Oh man. I love Wizard of Oz so much… Last Halloween I talked my boyfriend into dressing as the Tin Man so I could FINALLY live my dream of being Dorothy.
The Goonies and Back to the Future, No clue if they were age appropriate or not but my brother and I watched them non-stop. I loved Annie too! I totally have to watch it will my kids and hope they want to scrub the floor. Hopefully it will get that damn “Let it Go” song out of their heads!!
Flight of the Navigator, Goonies, Willy Wonka (the older one), Dr. Doolittle (also Gene Wilder), Mary Poppins, Star Trek IV (the one with the whale)
I moved from Michigan to Georgia when I was 8 years old in the 60’s. My movie that I went to see every year at the theater was Gone with the Wind. I was amazed at the lifestyles, the mansions and the history. My parents and I took many rides in the car on Sundays to visit some of the landmarks from this movie. It is still one of my favorites. Fiddle dee dee….