Those of us fortunate enough to grow up on Star Trek: The Next Generation know the worth of science fiction all too well.
Fantastic aliens and strange planets serve to reframe difficult real-world issues, seeing them in a new light.
When a scientist planned to disassemble an android for the sake of knowledge, we consider the value of life anew. Lessons abound.
On March 11, Netflix rolled out the big-budget time-travel actioner The Adam Project, which, despite the flick’s abundance of violence and foul language, many kids will want to see. (Editor's note: we recommend parents take a pass on this one.)
Thankfully, some of the best family films of recent decades have elements of sci-fi in play. If you’re seeking an alternative to edgier fare, these five picks are, well, out of this world.
Megamind (PG, 96 minutes, Prime Video)
Wait, the cartoon about a supervillain who learns to become a hero—isn’t that “Despicable Me,” with those obnoxious yellow minions?
That same summer, over-the-top comedy “Megamind” also released . . . arguably better as a story and in its message of casting off others’ expectations to stand for what’s right.
With Will Ferrell voicing the lead, count on heavy doses of sarcasm in this superhero parody (also plenty of peril). But it’s a great option for most kids ages 7 and up.
The Kid (PG, 104 minutes, Disney Plus)
Some of the best Disney live-action films are vehicles for stars who turn in a stellar lead performance: Amy Adams in Enchanted, Ewan McGregor in Christopher Robin, and Bruce Willis in The Kid.
Willis' character starts as the compromising corporate stooge, until an elementary-school-age version of himself shows up at his door.
With a similar premise to The Adam Project, though without all the combat or cursing, the boy journeys with his older self to revisit difficult memories, process trauma, and enable him to move on.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (PG, 120 minutes, VOD rental)
The film that gave Steven Spielberg’s production company , Amblin Entertainment, its logo, E.T.’s premise of a lovable creature becoming a trusted friend has often been imitated though rarely surpassed.
Everything about this film works. Co-leads Henry Thomas (as Elliot) and Drew Barrymore as his little sister turn in some of the best child actor performances ever. Visual effects are everywhere, yet invisible due to behind-the-scenes artistry.
John Williams’ understated score is flawless. And, most of all, the core message of longing for home—that this world is not enough—has resonance with deeper gospel themes.
Wall-E (G, 98 minutes, Disney Plus)
A landmark achievement in storytelling and animation, it’s uncanny how this tale draws you into the feelings and aspirations of a trash-compactor robot on a future dystopian Earth.
Even stranger, Wall-E introduces children to concepts of romantic love using two machines plus songs from the 1960s musical Hello, Dolly! as a hook. It’s also rich with references to many sci-fi classics.
Because it has such sparse dialogue, some put off watching this thinking they’ll be bored. Start it, and you’ll get a masterclass in friendship, courage, comedy, and connection.
Back to the Future (PG, 116 minutes, VOD rental)
It’s been ranked as one of the greatest scripts of all time, with nary a word wasted.
Director Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the screenplay, showcases Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd at their comedic and dramatic best.
While today’s current crop of “multiverse” flicks can be exhausting, this film shows how breezy and compelling the concept can be. Admittedly, some elements here—a teenage boy going back to the '50s and briefly commenting on his mom as “hot”—give parents some things to navigate.
Overall, Back to the Future is a satisfying popcorn movie about a kid and his parents coming to understand each other and reconcile.
Image: EdNurg - stock.adobe.com
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.