We give you the breakdown on movies like ''Twister,'' ''Dragonheart,'' ''Mission: Impossible,'' and more

By Lois Alter Mark
Updated June 14, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Summer movie recommendations for kids

Summer has hit theaters, where, for once, kids won’t mind bad weather (Twister) keeping them indoors — where they’ll find that heroes come in many guises. Men in tights (The Phantom), women in basketball jerseys (Eddie), and smooth operators (Spy Hard) will get them cheering. But the most valiant of all is a girl (Welcome to the Dollhouse) who conveys all too clearly the perils of being a child.

The Arrival What It’s About: While searching the cosmos for signals from extraterrestrial life forms, radio astronomer Zane (Charlie Sheen) discovers they’re heeere — and they’ve been working in his office! Will Kids Want to Watch It? No. Although they may be curious, they’ll quickly realize this is no E.T., and the action isn’t exciting enough to sustain the gaps in dialogue. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Zane has a drink with global-warming researcher Ilana (Lindsay Crouse). Violence/Scariness: Zane’s partner is found dead of carbon-monoxide poisoning; scorpions attack Ilana; aliens try to kill Zane. Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 25. Lesson to Extract: Even the people we know well can become alien to us. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

Dragonheart What It’s About: Noble knight Bowen (Dennis Quaid) teams up with Draco (voice of Sean Connery) the Dragon to unseat tyrannical King Einon (David Thewlis). Will Kids Want to Watch It? It’s doubtful. Although they’ll be enchanted by the 18-foot-tall Draco, the movie’s heavy-handed moralizing definitely won’t slay them. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: A treasonous mob kills Einon’s father; various medieval melees end with people getting impaled and run through by swords and arrows; a gory transplant operation, in which Draco donates half his heart to the wounded Einon. Objectionable Words/Phrases: None. Lesson to Extract: Fight wholeheartedly for what you believe is right. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

Eddie What It’s About: New York Knicks fan and limo driver Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg) calls the shots when the team’s new owner, Wild Bill Burgess (Frank Langella), names her head coach as a publicity stunt, and she racks up some wins. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yep, kids will have a ball imagining themselves in Eddie’s Air Jordans and ogling the dozens of NBA stars, past and present, including Dennis Rodman, Dwayne Schintzius, and Walt Frazier, who cameo. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Players knock back a few in a hotel; Wild Bill serves drinks in his box; Eddie has champagne with Wild Bill. Violence/Scariness: Basically slapstick. Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 45. Lesson to Extract: There wouldn’t be a ball game if there weren’t any fans. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

Mission: Impossible What It’s About: After he and his team are double-crossed, secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets ensnared in some seriously risky business involving arms dealers, traitorous moles, and the CIA. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Although the story is convoluted, kids will hang on for the whirlwind train-ride finale promised in the previews. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Cocktails at a reception; Ethan toasts a colleague; a team member has wine on a plane and beer in his room; a man’s drink is spiked. Violence/Scariness: Shootings, stabbings, impalings, and fatal explosions. Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 25. Lesson to Extract: Figuring out whom to trust can be the most difficult mission. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

The Phantom What It’s About: From the jungles of Bengalla to the boardrooms of New York, the purple-clad protector (Billy Zane) carries on his ancestors’ fight against evil. Will Kids Want to Watch It? No mystery there; the Phantom has been saving the world in the comics for 60 years, and kids will be eager to see this superhero on the big screen. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Champagne at a charity benefit; a villain chugs from a flask. Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 15. Violence/Scariness: Lots of swashbuckling and some fatalities, but very little blood. Lesson to Extract: Like father, like son. Appropriate Ages: 8 and up.

The Rock What It’s About: An FBI chemical-weapons expert (Nicolas Cage) and a just-sprung convict (Sean Connery) team up to save San Francisco from an embittered American general (Ed Harris) who holes up in Alcatraz with poison-gas-loaded missiles to call attention to forgotten war veterans. Will Kids Want to Watch It? The story isn’t as solid as its title, but older kids will thrill to the dazzling action cliches. MPAA: R. Sex/Nudity: Cage and his girlfriend (Vanessa Marcil) have steamy sex fully clothed. Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s signature action: massacres, toxic-gas attacks, impalings; Cage gives himself an injection in the heart. Objectionable Words/Phrases: More than 100. Lesson to Extract: Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get people’s attention. Appropriate Ages: 17 and up.

Spy Hard What It’s About: Former Secret Serviceman WD-40 (Leslie Nielsen) speeds back into the line of fire, where he bonds with Agent 3.14 (Nicollette Sheridan), spends time home alone, and experiences a bit of pulp friction in this action-adventure send-up. Will Kids Want to Watch It? It’s little more than a compilation of box-office-hit set pieces, but older kids will have fun guessing the films being spoofed. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: A glimpse of a man’s bare behind. Drugs/Alcohol: WD-40 has a drink with Agent 3.14 while parachuting. Violence/Scariness: Farcical horseplay. Objectionable Words/Phrases: Eight. Lesson to Extract: Nothing is sacred. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

Twister What It’s About: Young Oklahoma storm chasers, led by Jo (Helen Hunt) and her estranged husband, Bill (Bill Paxton), drive into the eye of the cyclone in the name of science and improved tornado-warning systems. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Absolutely. If they’ve outgrown The Wizard of Oz, they’ll be blown away by this disaster flick, which substitutes windswept cows and trucks for flying monkeys. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Beer with lunch. Violence/Scariness: The severe — and in some cases fatal — tornadoes may frighten young children. Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 40. Lesson to Extract: We can’t control nature; we can only batten the hatches. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

Welcome to the Dollhouse What It’s About: Geeky seventh grader Dawn (Heather Matarazzo) experiences excruciating growing pains as she weathers an unending barrage of torment, humiliation, and neglect. Will Kids Want to Watch It? No. More appropriate for grown-ups who’ve survived those years, this heartbreaker will terrify youngsters bound for junior high and cut too close to the bone for many adolescents. MPAA: R. Sex/Nudity: Lots of talk about sex; pinups of topless women adorn a student’s locker and bedroom wall. Drugs/Alcohol: Teen drinks beer outside a convenience store; a student smokes a joint. Violence/Scariness: A bully threatens to rape Dawn at knifepoint; Dawn’s little sister is kidnapped. Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 75. Lesson to Extract: Adolescence can be a harrowing experience. Appropriate Ages: 17 and up.