Nothing engages a movie audience more than a story of a child in peril, especially when it’s evil adults who have created the threat. Don’t you just want to reach out to the screen and help, and isn’t it frustrating when you can’t? From Dorothy trapped in the witch’s castle to the kidnapped kiddies in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the little girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List, the movies are full of gripping kids-in-danger moments. This list, which spans six decades and five countries, honors some of those very brave children. Will they live? Will they die? Only the wicked screenwriter knows for sure.
10. Kevin McAllister (Home Alone) Violent home invasions aren’t usually this much fun, but little Kevin has a pretty wide sadistic streak of his own, and he fights off the marauding robbers with effective tricks he probably learned from watching too much television.
9. Antoine Doinel (The 400 Blows) Not exactly a delinquent but perceived as one by his mother, his stepfather, and his teachers (who accuse him of plagiarism), Antoine is a victim of circumstance and bad luck. After stealing his stepfather’s typewriter in order to get money to run away, his own parents have him tossed in jail. He escapes, but the famous final freeze frame suggests that his life may not turn out OK.
8. Mohammad Majoub (The Color of Paradise) Iranian cinema seems to specialize in stories of traumatized children. In this story, blind ten-year-old Mohammad is picked up from his Teheran boarding school at the end of the term by his disinterested and overwhelmed widower father. Once they arrive back home at their bucolic village, Dad pawns Mohammad off as a carpenter’s apprentice in order to improve his own chances at remarriage. Oh, and then he almost drowns the poor kid.
7. The Schoolchildren (Battle Royale) Those plucky British schoolboys in Lord of the Flies had it pretty bad, but that’s nothing compared to the horror faced by these three dozen Japanese middle schoolers. Kidnapped and dumped on an island as part of an evil government plan to control delinquency, they’re given a variety of sadistic weapons and forced to kill each other off. Don’t want to play? Then the grenade strapped to your neck will be detonated. Suddenly detention doesn’t seem so bad.
6. Short Round (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) A special shoutout to kid thesp Johnathan Ke Qwan, who finds himself in epic danger as he tags along with Indy — remember the mineshaft roller coaster and the bridge collapse? — and who pops up a year later in The Goonies to face the wrath of the evil Fratelli family. Brave kid. So brave, in fact, that he was willing to appear in Encino Man a few years later.
5. Rachel Ferrier (War of the Worlds) Not only does Rachel have to worry about the attacking aliens, but her father is Tom Cruise! Eeeeek! A psychological basket case even before the Martians arrive, she really flips her adorable lid once Tom takes her on the run and they encounter slimy aliens and Tim Robbins. Yikes! Dakota Fanning should have gotten an Oscar nod for her ear-splitting freakouts.
4. Prico Cigoli (The Children Are Watching Us) World War II in Italy doesn’t bother five-year-old Prico as long as he has his parents. But Mom cheats and then leaves, and cuckolded Dad becomes a mess, leaving Prico with no one to rely on. He ends up abandoned by some train tracks and is then sent off to a severe boarding school. By the time he reunites with his mother, his eyes are utterly dead. Adults can really suck sometimes.
3. Akira, Kyoko, Shigeru, and Yuki Fukushima (Nobody Knows) When the flaky mother of this young foursome abandons them, they try to keep life going in their cramped Tokyo apartment, hoping that no one will find out and try to split them up. Things grow steadily, inexorably, disastrously worse despite the valiant efforts of Akira, the oldest, to hold the family together. One of the most vivid indictments of bad adult behavior ever committed to celluloid, and based on a true story! Ugh!
2. Pearl and John Harper (The Night of the Hunter) How’d you like to be chased through the night by Robert Mitchum? After murdering their mother, the no-good Harry Powell goes after these two tots, hoping to get them to reveal where their dead father’s $10,000 is hidden. As they escape down cinema history’s scariest and most surreal river in a rowboat, Harry follows along the bank, all shadows and pure menace. It’s some of the spookiest black and white moviemaking you’ll ever see. Good luck, kids!
1. Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist) Here’s a girl with a lot to worry about. She has no father, a career-obsessed mother, a chronically upset stomach, a quickly worsening skin condition, gingivitis, a bedroom full of poltergeists, a bunch of annoying priests keeping her up at night, and a devil of a headache. If she makes it out of this alive, someone should give her a sequel.Read More