Films to See Before You're 15

11 May 2020 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

8 mins
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As the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation continues across the UK, we are still finding ways to encourage parents at home to use film to keep their children meaningfully occupied. We know that film can be the ideal stimulus to generate wider discussions and deepen their learning, so what better way to demonstrate this than by working your way through some of the finest films ever made for young audiences?

The ‘50 films you should see by the age of 15' was a list collated by the British Film Institute (BFI) in 2005 to inspire young people to take great films just as seriously as great books and art. Striving to look beyond films made recently and at those from outside the UK or Hollywood, the BFI asked more than 70 film educators, producers, teachers, authors and critics internationally to suggest their own Top 10s, which were combined into a single list - the 50 Films to See By the Age of 15. We're proud to say that most entries on the list can be found and reviewed on the Into Film website.

Now, 15 years on, we have collaborated with our colleagues at BFI Education to update the 2005 list by adding another 15 films, broadening the original list with some wonderful new titles, all of which are available to stream online. These range from beloved titles that didn't quite get enough votes fifteen years ago, to more modern masterpieces that have become classics in the years since. As with the original list, the films speak to issues around growing up that are both timeless and universal, but also reflect more contemporary themes that have become increasingly relevant to young audiences in the years since 2005.

We've listed which streaming platforms the titles are available to watch on, including any expiry dates. All of the titles are presented with age recommendations and, where possible, with supporting learning resources produced either by Into Film or the BFI to help young people get the most out of their viewing experience.

Note: While most streaming platforms require a paid subscription, or one-off rental fee, many offer a free trial that you can make use of. In addition, our recommendations will always include some titles on free-to-watch platforms.

Note: The information about films on streaming services is aimed at people at home only, and not for any film clubs still running in schools.Licencing conditions do not permit the access of streaming platforms from a school setting.

If you want to find out the complete details of where any given title is available to watch or purchase, please visit FindAnyFilm.com.

Bend It Like Beckham

Available to stream on BFI Player (£3.50 to rent)

Gurinder Chadha's charming coming-of-age comedy is a wonderfully crowd-pleasing tale that takes in themes of identity, growing up, gender, sexuality, multiculturalism, family, and friendship, all with a deceptively light touch, making for a breezy watch with much to unpack afterwards. The film is also a celebration of the unifying power of sports and the value of teamwork, both on and off the field.

The Cave of the Yellow Dog 

Available to stream with BFI Player Subscription (Free 30 day trial available)

One of the most awesome powers of film is its ability to transport us to parts of the world that we might not ever be able to experience in person. Some of the very best films use this to further highlight that which unites us across countries, communities and cultures. In this case, it is the spectacular landscapes of Mongolia, offset against the sweet and relatable story of a young boy and his pet dog. The perfect film to open young people's eyes to other parts of the world and develop their understanding of life beyond our borders.

Short Films: Hansel & Gretel, Show White & Rose Red, The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Thumbelina

Available to stream on BFI Player (£1.00 to rent each)

German animator Lotte Reiniger remains one of the most significant directors in cinema history, creating some of the first ever animated films using her signature cut-out silhouette style of animation. Years after directing her feature length masterpiece The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926, Reiniger adopted her exquisite style to bring classic folk and fairy tales from around the world to life in ways that have enchanted audiences and inspired animators for generations.

He Named Me Malala

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (£3.49 rent)
Available to stream on YouTube (£3.49 rent)

Few people have inspired as many people around the world as Malala Yousafzai. This documentary traces her story and follows her around the globe, from meeting with world leaders at the UN to domestic family squabbles with her younger brothers at home in Birmingham. Apparent throughout is how relatable Malala remains; a young woman fearlessly campaigning for the right to an education for all, but also somebody with the same everyday anxieties as any teenager.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople 

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (Free with an Amazon Prime subscription - free 30 day trial available - or £1.99 to rent)

This hilarious and often outrageous comedy from New Zealand director Taika Waititi takes the tropes of a classic odd couple setup and turns them into something uniquely fresh. Behind the riotous tone lies a sweet and sincere heart, and the film sensitively tackles complex themes such as loss and abandonment, while also highlighting the power of creativity to express ones feelings, however modest the efforts may be. In difficult times, Hunt For The Wilderpeople reminds us of the enormous power of humour to help us through even the toughest circumstances. 

The Iron Giant

Before going on to direct Pixar classics like Ratatouille and the Incredibles films, director Brad Bird made his name with this enchanting adaptation of the classic Ted Hughes fable, The Iron Man. Packed with the levels of exciting action that would be expected of a film about a giant robot - and rooted in an exploration of the Space Race - the film is full of heart, igniting children's imaginations and celebrating the power of friendship in ways that draws comparison to fellow children's classic E.T..

I Wish (Kiseki)

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has made his name by capturing adolescence on screen more acutely than just about any filmmaker working today. This comedy drama from 2011 is the perfect introduction to his work, exploring how humour and our imaginations can help young people to navigate complicated emotions, in this case the pains of two brothers separated on other sides of the country following their parents' divorce. 

My Life As A Courgette

This touching and funny French animation is a wonderful way to introduce difficult, often sensitive subjects to young audiences. ‘Courgette' is a young boy sent to live in a care home, where he meets a number of other children, each going through troubles of their own. Together they help and support one another, communicating in ways that feel remarkably sensitive and achingly real.

Note: The available versions have been dubbed into English.

Persepolis

Adapted from a classic graphic novel and retaining its source material's distinctive black-and-white animation style, this is a witty and incisive animation that explores what it means to be a young girl growing up in a country whose laws suddenly become stricter. Sent to Europe for safety, without her parents the film then delves into how a teenage girl must cope with new environments while holding on to who she is and where she has come from.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Available to stream on BBC iPlayer until Tuesday 12 May (Free)

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (Free with an Amazon Prime subscription - free 30 day trial available - or £3.49 to rent)

The much-loved farmyard creature from Aardman Animations had his first big screen adventure in this charming British classic. Colourful and packed with wonderful visual comedy this is a fun, easy watch and a great introduction to both stop-motion animation and the world of silent cinema. With no dialogue, a clear storyline and a positive message around teamwork, the film is particularly appealing to younger audiences.

Song of the Sea

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (Free with an Amazon Prime subscription - free 30 day trial available - or £3.49 to rent)

This hand-drawn animation from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon is an enchanting folktale which combines elements such as nature, family, fantasy and the power of stories to beautiful effect. A sensitive foray into the trials of growing up, Song of the Sea is reminiscent of some of the most spellbinding films of Studio Ghibli.

Tomboy

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (Free with an Amazon Prime subscription - free 30 day trial available - or £3.49 to rent)

Laure is a 10 year-old who has recently moved to the outskirts of Paris with her family. When she is mistaken for a boy by her new peers, she decides not to correct them, and begins identifying as Mickäel. This is a warm, gentle story about universal issues of fitting in and being yourself; a beautifully pitched piece of understated storytelling.

Wadjda

The first female-directed Saudi Arabian film confronts the restrictions placed on young women by religion and culture within certain communities around the world through the simple actions of a little girl determined to buy her own bicycle. Feisty and independent minded, the character of Wadjda is a delightful screen presence, and the film opens up conversations around equality, bravery and learning to stand up for what you know to be right.

Wallay

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (Free with an Amazon Prime subscription - free 30 day trial available)

A warm-hearted, funny and thoughtful story set in a community little-seen in cinema, that starts with 13-year-old Ady getting into trouble. Ady lives in France, with his dad, who decides to send him to stay with his relatives in Burkino Faso for the summer, hoping they can have a good influence on him. Ady has a major culture shock - he's expected to work, and there's limited electricity to charge his phone! He hates it. But things eventually start to change, as Ady's grandmother and local girl Yéli give him a helping hand to relax, trust others, and grow.

Your Name

One of the most successful films of all time in its native Japan, this is a stunning animation which sees a body-swap situation develop between two teenagers; city boy Taki, and country girl Matsui. The film draws heavily on Japanese history and its relationship with environmental issues and natural disasters, as well as exploring modern smart-phone culture, themes of identity, gender norms, and our understanding of our own bodies in remarkable fashion.

Whether finding the time the watch a classic film you've never quite gotten around to, revisiting an old favourite, or taking a chance on something you'd never heard of before, we hope you and your young people will enjoy this selection of films. You can check out the BFI's full list of 50 titles here.

One aim of this selection is to start discussion and debate. What films have we missed? Tweet us at @intofilm_edu and @BFIEducation using the hashtag #FilmsBefore15 and let us know what titles you would want to include in your own list.

Review 100

To help young people continue to practise and develop their literacy skills while many schools are closed, we're running a new Review100 competition on our social media channels, encouraging young people to write a review of any film they watch in 100 words or less for the chance to win a £20 Amazon voucher.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Curation Manager

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has been with Into Film (and beforehand FILMCLUB) since 2012. 

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