The Wizard (1989)

The Wizard might just be a 100 minute-long commercial for Nintendo, but it’s also one of the crazier kids films of the 1980s. In case you’re unfamiliar with the movie, the plot revolves around an institutionalized little boy (his twin sister’s drowning left him mentally scarred) running away from home with his half-brother to compete in a Nintendo tournament.

Tell me, does the prospect of three preteens hitch-hiking across the country and hustling people out of their money sound okay to you – or does it sound phenomenally dangerous? Add in the fact that the hustler is an escapee from a mental institution and you’re dealing with a pretty crazy movie. On the plus side, it did show the world the awesome power of the Nintendo Power Glove :-P.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

It’s one of the most beloved family films of all time, but E.T. is also one of the crazier movies of the 1980s. E.T. is definitely a cool alien, but the psychic link he forms with Elliott almost leads them both to die. Factor in the menacing, gun-toting federal agents (or radio-toting if you’re watching the lame 20th anniversary edition) and you’re dealing with some pretty dangerous stuff.

Then again, one of the reasons that E.T. works so well is precisely because the plot forces characters into situations with real consequences. A well-made kids movie is no different than a well-made R-rated action film: It must have a strong plot with interesting characters who make compelling narrative choices. E.T. succeeds on all counts.

(My apologies. The best E.T. video on YouTube was the trailer for the 2002 re-release. Yes, the same one I just said was lame.)

Bottom line: When kids watch movies they want to be entertained, and there’s nothing entertaining about a boring no-stakes plot. Not all of these movies were great, but at least they offered plenty of danger – and often enough another word for danger is “thrills.”

What do you think of our list? Did I leave out any other movies from the 1980s where kids face almost certain death?

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