Two years ago, a certain Ryan Reynolds superhero action comedy debuted and, to almost everyone’s surprise, broke a bunch of box office records and earned a Certified Fresh 83% on the Tomatometer. But despite its comic book origins, Deadpool was decidedly not for kids. We warned parents about it then, but just in case your memory’s gone bad, Christy is here to remind you again not to take your little ones to its follow-up, Deadpool 2, and offer three slightly more innocuous alternatives that are also steeped in pop culture references.
Rating: R, for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.
If you saw the original Deadpool in 2016, you know what you’re in for here. Director David Leitch’s film really earns its R rating, with a nearly non-stop cavalcade of gory violence, harsh language and crass sexual humor. The red-suited Marvel character may look like a lot of fun – and in Ryan Reynolds’ expert comic hands, he definitely is – but he’s also not for kids. This time, Reynolds’ Wade Wilson (a.k.a. Deadpool) hooks up with some of the lesser-known X-Men to form his own team. Their mission is to take on the powerful bad guy Cable (Josh Brolin), a soldier who has traveled back in time to right a wrong (and wreak havoc in the process). Kids are frequently in danger, but one kid in particular – a fire-throwing teenage mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison) – is as inappropriate and profane as Deadpool himself. But he also becomes Deadpool’s sidekick and pet project, which adds some tenderness to balance out the wrongness. It’s intense and boundary pushing, but Deadpool 2 also has an emotional undercurrent that gives the film more substance than you might expect. Fine for older teens and up.
Part of what makes the Deadpool movies so funny is that they’re crammed with rapid-fire pop-culture references. Since the vast majority of kids probably shouldn’t see this sequel, here are some other movies you can share with them that gleefully wallow in meta movie and music influences.
Rating: PG, for action and rude humor.
Basically, every LEGO character you could possibly imagine – plus a few truly inspired ones you never knew existed – co-mingle in this high-energy extravaganza, making it the ultimate pop-culture mash-up. From Batman and Wonder Woman to Shaquille O’Neal and Abraham Lincoln to Lando Calrissian and C-3PO, the characters cross time, space and storytelling boundaries to interact in this animated adventure, and it’s a blast. You couldn’t possibly catch all the references in Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s movie in one sitting, but that’s OK. Revisiting The LEGO Movie and noticing new details each time is part of the fun. (If you have kids who are anything like my 8-year-old son, you’ve probably already seen it several times. “Everything Is Awesome” will eventually get unstuck from your head, I promise.) Chris Pratt (himself a superhero as Star-Lord in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) lends his voice here as an ordinary construction worker named Emmet. He goes on a hero’s journey with the rebellious Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) when he’s mistaken as the Master Builder who will lead his people to freedom from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). There’s a ton of action and danger here, but it’s mostly playful. A great choice for all ages.
Rating: PG-13, for sex-related dialogue and some teen use of alcohol and drugs.
The main characters are high school students named Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne (Stacey Dash), “after famous singers of the past who now do infomercials.” And that’s just the beginning in this generation-defining comedy that’s packed with a panorama of pop-culture references and influences. Writer-director Amy Heckerling’s film as a whole is inspired by the Jane Austen classic Emma. But it’s very much of its time with jokes involving Luke Perry, Ren & Stimpy, Calvin Klein, Kenny G and Mark Wahlberg (back when he was still rapping as Marky Mark), plus some older references to Barbra Streisand, James Bond and Sammy Davis Jr. It’s got quite a bit of teen partying and some sexual references, but on the whole it’s a light, sweet movie about finding out what’s important in life. Silverstone’s Cher is a materialistic Beverly Hills queen bee, but she’s loyal to her friends and her heart is in the right place. A solid choice for viewers around 11 and older.
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking.
This movie is a complete charmer, and if you didn’t catch it when it came out a couple years ago, now is the time. Irish writer-director John Carney’s semi-autobiographical film is an excellent choice for the teens and tweens in your house, capturing vividly the longing ache of adolescent first love. The performances are all lovely, but the ‘80s-inspired music is what really makes it sing. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars as Conor, a sweet teenager who finds himself an outcast when he transfers to a rough new school. Along with the few friends he makes, he starts a band to impress the beautiful and mysterious older girl (Lucy Boynton) who lives across the street. Early MTV videos are a major influence on Conor and his pals as they hone their look and sound, from Duran Duran to The Cure to Hall & Oates. Sing Street is full of insanely catchy, original songs – and the accompanying music videos the band shoots are hilarious — but the poppy sound of the era is pervasive. Conor also has the benefit of an older brother (Jack Reynor) who helps shape his musical tastes, and their intense conversations about what’s good (the Sex Pistols) and what’s bad (Phil Collins) are consistently amusing. There’s quite a bit of bullying, language and smoking, but for the most part, Sing Street is a total joy.