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Brainy Action Movies

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I'm looking for action movies that are quasi-clean & have more 'brainy' plots (for lack of a better term). My kid is 9 and she loves National Treasure but also Ocean's 8. She gets a kick out of using your wits in an action-y sort of way. I'm more or less OK with PG-13 (although I certainly will preview nonetheless). What other flicks are out there (aside from the prequels and sequels of the movies I mentioned)? Movies that put one's wits in the foreground, ones that make you think, ones that teach something (albeit street/life smarts)?

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Inception, Paycheck, and The Italian Job come to mind, although idk about Inception for a 9yo.  Inception is a wheels-within-wheels heist movie, with a twist ending.  Paycheck is a sci-fi thriller, based on a short story, where the main character has a planned memory wipe but leaves himself clues so he can rediscover what he forgot. The Italian Job is a heist movie along the lines of Ocean's 11; not as think-y as the other two, but fun - standard heist movie brainy.

Eta: Catch Me If You Can is another possibility - a LEO chasing a con artist.

Eta2: The Thomas Crown Affair is another - LEO chasing an art thief.

Edited by forty-two
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Heist movies might be the name of the genre you're thinking of that are similar to the Ocean movies:
- Flawless (2007) -- Michael Cain, Demi Moore
- Now You See Me (2006)
- Leverage -- TV series; heist/cons done to bring poetic justice to bad guys who evaded justice
- Logan Lucky (2017) -- very quirky characters + dry humor of a Steven Soderberg script who pull off a heist

action films possibly along the lines of National Treasure:
- The Librarian: Quest for the Spear; Return to King Solomon's Mines; Curse of the Judas Chalice (made for TV movies)
- Night at the Museum (2006)
- Zathura (2005)

Just a heads-up: both the modern Sherlock Holmes suggests (Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch) are mature -- definitely PG-13 and up. What about the first two seasons of the PBS Mystery! series of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett (Holmes) and David Burke (Watson)? ("The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "The Return of Sherlock Holmes".) The last season ("The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes") got weird in the way they decided to stage and film it, but the first few seasons and longer TV movies with that cast were great.

Edited by Lori D.
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6 hours ago, forty-two said:


Eta: Catch Me If You Can is another possibility - a LEO chasing a con artist.

Eta2: The Thomas Crown Affair is another - LEO chasing an art thief.

Catch Me If You Can was another we really liked!
But the Thomas Crown Affair (1990's version) has some liberal nudity at the island scene.  It is one of my favorite movies with a great soundtrack, but I think I would preview the Steve McQueen 1960's one instead if I were going this route.

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  • 2 weeks later...
5 hours ago, Earthmerlin said:

I've lloked into some of the ideas above & I'm not super sure if some will be a good fit just yet. Does anyone have rec's for fast-moving mystery movies for this age set?

Yes, I personally feel that most PG-13 films are a bit much for many 9yos, but as always, YMMV depending on the child and on the family. 🙂 Here are a few more mystery film ideas that are all just PG and even a few G rated films. The older titles are not going to be very fast-moving, but will definitely be mystery-based. Some titles are adventure-based with action, but do also have an element of solving a mystery or figuring out clues. Hope some of these won't be too young or too tame or not brainy-action-y enough, lol. BEST wishes in finding what is a good fit. Warmest regards, Lori D.

Zootopia (2016)
Hoodwinked (2005)
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
original Scooby Doo mystery cartoons -- very predictable stories and probably too young for your DD, but could be a zany fit for a mystery/action

live action
Kit Kittredge (2008)
Nancy Drew (2007)
Spy Kids (2001) -- and both sequels
Harriet the Spy (1996)
Clubhouse Detectives (1996); Boathouse Detectives (2010) -- TV movies
Annabel Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket (2016)
Zathura (2005)
Holes (2005)
Hugo (2011)

Wonderful World of Disney TV movies
Secrets of the Pirates Inn (1969) 
Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1964) -- part 1part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 -- smugglers and intrigue

Wishbone TV episodes (dog reenacts classics of literature)
The Purloined Letter (1995) -- from the Edgar Allen Poe detective/mystery short story
A Scandal in Bohemia (1995) -- from the Sherlock Holmes mystery short story
Hound of the Baskervilles (1995) -- from the Sherlock Holmes mystery novella
The Moonstone (1997) -- part 1, part 2 -- from the Wilkie Collins mystery novel

classic B&W films
Sherlock Holmes movies (1930s-40s) starring Basil Rathbone
Thin Man movies (1930s) starring William Powell and Myrna Loy
Charlie Chan movies (1930s-40s) starring Warner Oland, or, Sidney Toler
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) -- or the 1982 version (not rated)
The Lady Vanishes (1938) -- family friendly Hitchcock mystery/thriller 
And Then There Were None (1945) -- mystery based on the Agatha Christie novel
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) -- Hitchcock, family-friendly intrigue/action

Edited by Lori D.
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