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With Netflix, Hulu and everything in between, there’s a wealth of movies for families to watch with one another — but there are a select few that parents should most certainly sit down to see with their daughters.
Some are classics and some are more recent, but the one thing the 10 movies on this list all have in common is that they teach girls that, with perseverance and respect for both themselves and others, they can change the world.
Not only does Moana boast the most Karaoke-worthy soundtrack, but it’s also arguably one of the most feminist Disney movies in Disney history. It’s the story of a fearless 16-year-old who is keenly curious about the world beyond the reef, much unlike those on her island who’ve grown complacent. When the island starts to slowly die, she sets sail on a bold mission to protect her people while wrangling demigod Maui (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, no less) to guide her on an action-packed quest to cross the open ocean and return a stone he’d stolen that would save humankind. Moana offers respite from the traditional Disney narrative because at its center is a valiant woman of color whose story has nothing to do with finding a prince but, rather, a lot to do with defiance and independence. It’s intersectional third-wave feminism in a kid’s movie.
2. Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot’s rendition of Wonder Woman tells the tale of Diana, an Amazonian warrior who realizes her full potential when she sets out to fight for what she believes in, despite that leaving her island is verboten. Much to her mother’s dismay, she starts training young — and she matures into the most adept fighter of her land. After saving a pilot who crashes nearby and learning that the outside world is racked by conflict, Diana flees home to fight for the people. Relentless in her pursuit of peace, she is convinced she can find Ares, the God of War, and save the world. It’s an empowering story of one woman’s commitment to a cause, her persistence and her inner and outer strength that, in the end, changes the world.
3. Remember the Titans
Remember the Titans might be one of the most uniquely American films out there — it’s about interracial teamwork during a time of exacerbated racial tension. And it’s based on the true story of the 1971 Virginia state football champions from T.C. Williams High School. The local school board was forced to integrate an all-black school with an all-white school, and the very foundation of football’s tradition was put to the ultimate test when black head coach, Herman Boone, was hired to lead the team. Black and white team members frequently clashed in racially motivated conflicts, but after rigorous runs to the Gettysburg cemetery and a motivational speech on respect, the team achieves racial harmony and, together, an undefeated season, too. Their experiences prove that success comes when we respect one another and work together, fairly.
Frozen is the tale of a feminist, Anna, whose kingdom is trapped in a perpetual winter when her sister, Elsa, casts an icy spell. Anna teams up with mountaineer Kristoff and his reindeer to find Elsa, break the spell and save the kingdom, battling mystical trolls and unforgiving conditions along the way. But when Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart, too, the only cure to save her is an act of true love. At first she thinks a kiss from her crush, Prince Hans, could revive her, but he proves to be both manipulative and murderous. In trust plot-twist fashion, the act of love that ultimately saves Anna is jumping before Hans’ sword when he tries to slay Elsa. Anna doesn't need a prince; it’s the true love between sisters that saves them both and the kingdom.
This biographical adventure drama is based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Reese Witherspoon, who plays Strayed, leaves Minneapolis, Minnesota to hike 1,100 miles of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail on a journey of self-discovery and healing following a recent divorce. She has no hiking experience, so the 94-day journey to the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington is full of meaningful encounters, challenges and triumphs that both physically and emotionally strengthen her. It proves that a woman can make it on her own, without having to depend on anyone else.
This 1996 adaptation of a Roald Dahl work is about a gifted girl forced to put up with crude parents and a bully of a school principal, Agatha Trunchbull. But Matilda Wormwood is a prodigy with the power of telekinesis and, when she realizes her powers, she defends herself and her friends from the wrath of Trunchbull. Matilda’s name alone is a Germanic Gothic derivation of the words strength and battle, and she’s proof that “fighting like a girl” means fighting like a genius.
7. The Bad News Bears
The Bad News Bears, a 1976 American sports comedy film, is largely about how one girl takes a boys’ baseball team from hopeless to stopless. Morris Buttermaker, a foul-mouthed former minor-league baseball player and an alcoholic, is put in charge of the Bears baseball team at the behest of lawyer-councilman Bob Whitewood, who has a vendetta against the league for excluding his marginally talented son. But the Bears is composed of a bunch of misfits who can’t seem to win a game… until Buttermaker enlists pitcher, Amanda Whurlitzer, who’s got quite an arm. Suddenly, the team starts turning their losing streak around and everyone realizes that anything boys can do, girls can do, too (and often even better).
Rudy is a 1993 American biographical sports film about the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who harbors dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame but has neither the money nor the grades to get in. He also isn’t confident that he’s got the talent or the physical stature to play for a major intercollegiate program but, after his best friend who always supported his dream is killed in an explosion at the mill where they worked, Rudy decides to go for it. He enrolls at Holy Cross College, a nearby junior college, and, after two years and three rejections, he is finally admitted to Notre Dame during his final semester of transfer eligibility. His dedication to his dream ultimately lands him a spot on the practice squad and, later, the dress roster. He’s promised to play in one home game his senior year to show his family he made it but, after his coach is replaced by a new one, he faces challenges. He wants to quit but prevails nonetheless and, at the film’s end, is carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders. Rudy teaches the lesson that anyone can do anything to which they set their minds, even when it seems impossible.
9. The Help
The Help is a 2011 American period drama film adapted from Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel of the same name. It’s set in 1963, Jackson, Mississippi and tells the story of Aibileen Clark, an African-American maid who cares for socialite Elizabeth Leefolt’s neglected daughter, Mae Mobley. Aibileen faces racial injustices, which she later shares with an aspiring author, Skeeter, the daughter of a white family who owns a cotton farm outside Jackson. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Skeeter decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ experiences working for white families—she’d wondered what ever happened to her maid, Constantine, who helped raise her, but she needs to earn the trust of Aibileen and the other maids to get the real story. The film is about trust among women who come from totally different backgrounds but are nonetheless able to foster a friendship and help one another create change.
Every girl should watch the rags-to-riches story of the downtrodden, heart-of-gold boxer Rocky Balboa. A working-class Italian-American debt collector for a loan shark in the slums of Philadelphia, Rocky gets the opportunity of a lifetime to fight heavyweight boxing world champion, Apollo Creed, for $150,000. He trains for several weeks using whatever he can find — even meat carcasses as punching bags — until he accepts an offer from former bantamweight fighter Mickey "Mighty Mick" Goldmill. Leading up to the fight, his confidence starts to dwindle, but he becomes the underdog for whom America loves to root, and his dogged refusal to be knocked out earns him the respect of the entire arena. While he doesn’t actually win the fight, the sportscasters call his performance “the greatest exhibition of guts and stamina in the history of the ring.” And, thus, Rocky proves that winning isn’t everything—it’s the effort that counts when one gives it their all.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
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