With stunning special effects and multi-million dollar budgets, we had a hunch that kids today might be harder to please when it comes to movie entertainment than we were in the 1980s. We’ve cycled, scraped our knees and climbed trees, while the little brains of modern children are just bombarded with images on screens, flashing colors and glowing alternate realities.
A filmmaker trying to hold the attention of a modern child has to be really on top of his game and it shows in the five highest-grossing children’s films of 2021: Encanto, Sing 2, Space Jam: A New Legacy , The Boss Baby: Family Business, and The Addams Family 2. If you’ve seen any of those, you know the kind of vibe – incredible low-budget animation, clever scripts, and Oscar-nominated music.
In contrast, top movies for the entire 1980s included: ET: Extra Terrestrial, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. Are they absolute classics? Yes. But would a child in the modern world be impressed by little aliens flying around on bicycles or “ghosts” sucked into backpacks? We think maybe not.
But you never know and so, with hope in our hearts, we convinced an eight-year-old from today’s world to travel with us to the 1980s (not in the DeLorean this time, but just on YouTube) to watch trailers for some of the movies that thrilled us at that age. And then we asked them what they thought about it and if, more importantly, they thought they would watch the whole movie based on the trailer.
The dark crystal
The Dark Crystal came out in 1982 and terrified us to the core. Jim Henson and Frank Oz co-directed the mythical story of Jen, the last of the Gelfling race, who is tasked with healing the Crystal of Truth after its mutilation ushered in an age of terror at the hands of the evil Skeksis.
But would that also terrify our modern 8-year-old? We prepared her for possible fear and assured her that we could turn it off if it all got too much. Swigging a Coke, with a face of utter indifference, she said, “Sounds good. Not scary at all.”
Would she look at him? “Maybe. 7/10.”
Onto Labyrinth is another Jim Henson movie that thrilled us when we were kids. Released in 1986, it was the story of a girl (played by Jennifer Connelly) who accidentally wishes her baby brother to go to the Goblin King (played by rock star David Bowie). “You remind me of the baby, what baby?” etc…
Did our eight-year-old want to memorize that catchy tune, or was she too worried about the Bog of Eternal Stench? Was she at least thrilled to see David Bowie in an acting role? “I don’t know who he is,” she said. “Woah that’s a lot of stairs, how does he walk upside down?”
Would she look at him? “7/10”
We were a bit surprised that our 8 year old hadn’t heard of ET Surely ET has remained a children’s classic? The story of a little boy who finds an alien in his house and befriends him before helping him reclaim his planet. Everything is incredibly touching.
“What is that!” yelled our 8 year old. “How weird. What is ‘E:T’? How do they fly on bikes?” I asked her what she would do if she hypothetically found an alien living in her house and she said, “Run and tell mom.” Which is actually probably a better scream than what Drew Barrymore does.
Would she look at him? “7/10”
Honey, I reduced the children
We loved this movie. A dad has to take care of the kids for the day and it goes horribly wrong when they are ‘shrinked’ by his amazing shrinking machine, then lost in the back garden to be tormented by giant ants. The eight-year-old simply says, “Weird.”
Would she look at him? “Yes! 8/10”
Back to the future
A zero on the clap-o-meter for the brilliant Back to the Future. She didn’t understand the premise of the trailer. And even when we explained that it was a time-traveling car and that Marty McFly actually went back and met his own parents when they were younger, she just said, “It was at About an alien, right? am the.”
Would she look at him? “0/10”
At this point, the rebellion began to skew the experience. As we lined up the Ghostbusters trailer, the eight-year-old complained, “I don’t want to do this anymore! I’m bored!” She was bored of 80s classics after just a few minutes of trailers. But we knew the Ghostbusters groove would grab her as the music started and she said, “Ooh I love the music…”
Would she look at him? “Based on the music, 8/10”
(“None out of 10,” said a 4-year-old hiding nearby).
Flight of the Navigator
The main character finds a spaceship then climbs inside and it takes off. When he comes home, his annoying little brother has grown up and time has kind of… We’re trying to explain the time travel element, but she’s more interested in the weird little aliens in jars which she says are: “Gross”.
Would she look? Again, she loved the music. “7/10. (The four-year-old gives it a 1/10)
The never-ending story
Now, as kids of the 80s, we had a bit of a crush on the boy in this movie. His name is Atreyu and he is the grassy ocean warrior in Fantastica. Very beautiful to our young eyes. But did our modern eight-year-old feel the same way? “NO!” she said in disgust and winced. And then, “Oh, is it a dog?” when she saw Falcor the Lucky Dragon.
Would she look? “No. 8/10”. (At this point, we’re starting to wonder if she’s mastered enough of the scoring system).
Finally, we have reached the end of our two ropes. “It’s so boring,” she says as we launch The Goonies trailer. And then, “Is this supposed to be scary, because it’s not.”
Would she look: “6/10”.