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The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Fade in on NPH's hometown of Ruidoso, a ski destination near the Lincoln National Forest, in the middle of New Mexico. "There was one movie theater. Up on a hill. Looked like a castle," Harris says. It was here that he formed his earliest movie memory, with "The Empire Strikes Back." "I remember being conflicted about Han Solo being frozen in that carbonite chamber. And it ended that way! And he wasn't freed from that!" he says. Kids aren't comfortable with cliff-hangers. "But I was also very excited by the Ewoks in ["Return of the Jedi]," he adds. "So I enjoyed the resolution there."
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Like magic, musical theater takes up significant real estate in NPH's heart. His first stage role was Toto in a 1983 grade-school production of "The Wizard of Oz," and he went on to win a Tony for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch.""My interest in musicals started with 'Annie,'" he says. "I loved the Aileen Quinn movie version, with Albert Finney [as Daddy Warbucks]. I guess that spoke to small-town me and wanting to maybe someday get to the big city and do something bigger. I wasn't an orphan, thankfully. But I loved that that small story turned into a much larger adventure."
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The Goonies (1985)
"I was a bit obsessed with 'Goonies,'" Harris says. "I really wanted to be a Goonie. That shaped my being in a Scooby-Doo-ish kind of way. Knowing that theoretically, if you could find the right map, that under your house were potential catacombs that led to waterslides that led to pirate ships—I liked that notion." He remembers crafting his own treasure map by running a lit match along the edge of paper to make it look old and weathered. "I used to do that in history class," he says. "I didn't have to really know the history, but if I made a cool map that had burnt edges, I'd still get an A for creativity."
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Adapted from the board game, the movie has obvious appeal for a guy who wrote his 2014 memoir, "Choose Your Own Autobiography," as, yes, a choose-your-own-adventure book. "I knew the movie was coming out and that it had multiple endings, and when you went to the theater, it would say whether it was ending A, B, or C," Harris says. "I was just infatuated with the idea that you could see the movie and it would be different sometimes. I think that's the movie I've seen the most ever. When I'm overly stressed and I need to refocus my sensibilities, I usually watch that. It makes me find my happy place."
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It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
The Frank Capra holiday staple reminds Harris of his mother—and not just because the family would gather each Christmas and cry their way through it. James Stewart's George Bailey is a hero because he sacrifices for his friends, family, and neighbors. That's what Harris' mom, Sheila, did for him, dropping her law career to move to L.A. when he decided he wanted to be an actor. "She's one of the most selfless people you'll ever meet," Harris says. "She worked tirelessly for my brother and me. She is a pretty exquisite mom."
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Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
For kids in the 1980s, Matthew Broderick seemed like the cool older brother who might actually talk to you. Harris and his real-life big brother, Brian, bonded over Broderick and share an affection for this school-skipping comedy directed by John Hughes. "Ferris was always cooler than I ever imagined I could be," Harris says. "I loved how he tried to beat the system in a clever way, and his longing for adventure. In fact, I think there is a lot of Ferris Bueller in my interpretation of Barney Stinson [of "How I Met Your Mother"] ."