Homework: watch these 55 films. Hand in by your 13th birthday.

Hopefully not all of what I post here is going to be commentary on something I read in Entertainment Weekly, but that’s what it is today. Specifically, on their list of movies your child must see before turning 13.

Now, I will admit that sometimes I’m the person who goes “You haven’t seen/read/played it? I must fix this.” But it’s unnecessarily prescriptive to assemble a list and assign it to everyone as cultural homework. I’m judging the list by its stated purpose:

This isn’t a list of the 55 “best” kids movies, nor a compendium of hidden gems. Rather, it’s a survival-guide syllabus of films that we all need to know to be able to speak the same pop-cultural language, listed in order by when they might be best introduced.

So this isn’t just a list of “good movies you might like to show your kid”; this is meant to be a list of movies that are fundamental to the pop culture conversation. Movies you must make sure that your child has seen on pain of… being a bad parent, presumably.

Is it really required that there be a canon of films everyone in society has to watch? This isn’t meant to disparage any of the films on the list, many of which are classics, but with a list that long, most people are bound to have missed a few. I went through and counted: of the 55 movies on the list, there are 21 that I’ve seen versus 26 that I haven’t. (Plus 8 more that I’m not sure about, or have seen parts of without watching from beginning to end.) That doesn’t make me deprived, uncultured, or unfit to discuss pop culture. And if it turns out that I’m missing something, it’s not too late to watch the ones I haven’t seen yet.

Which is the other issue: what’s this about “before they turn 13”? Is after age 13 too late? I’m relatively young, and I can still count 10 movies on the list that hadn’t been released when I was 13. Anyone older than me is screwed. Heck, The Lego Movie is on the list, which means there are 13-year-olds now who couldn’t possibly have seen all these movies before their 13th birthday.

(Side note: I’ll try not to quibble about the specific contents of the list, because no two people are ever going to agree on which films are “essential” and which aren’t. And I’ve heard good things about The Lego Movie. But it only came out five months ago. Can we agree that it might take slightly longer than that to determine if it’s going to stand the test of time?)

If a kid doesn’t see all these movies before turning 13… so what? If it’s really important, they can catch up later. There’s even a certain joy in those moments when you get to introduce someone to something they’ve been missing. (“You haven’t seen Mean Girls? Fire up the projector, we are watching it right now.“)

More importantly, it’s OK if they’re just never interested. Individual tastes will vary. There are plenty of movies among the 26 I’ve missed that I’d like to see, but there are also some that I can’t be bothered to care about. Life’s too short and there are too many other movies out there to make time for ones I’m just not interested in. As the site name suggests: I read (and watch) as inclination leads me.

Anyway, regarding the inherent problems of this sort of list, John Finnemore explains it much more wittily than I could.

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