The list, compiled by the British Film Institute (BFI) after consulting up to 80 experts in cinema and education, includes only one film made in England. That film was Kes, Ken Loach's award-winning production about the relationship between a working-class boy from Barnsley and a kestrel.
A surprise omission was Billy Elliot, about a boy from a pit village who becomes a ballet dancer - which is on the curriculum in Sweden.
Cary Bazalgette, head of education at the BFI, said the top 10 was " quite a controversial list that's likely to provoke continuing debate".
"But that's the idea," she added. "We want people to discuss what children should see - rather than what they shouldn't see."
She said she was surprised that Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter was chosen. It was banned in Finland and subsequently given a 16 rating there. Starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, the 1955 black and white film tells the story of a murderous preacher in pursuit of money.
The list also includes Show Me Love, a Danish film marketed in some countries asFucking Amal, which was distributed as a 15-certificate film, and deals with two adolescent girls growing up and exploring their sexuality.
"If you want to show the film Show Me Love to 11-year-olds, they can't arrest you for it," said Ms Bazalgette. "Parents and teachers in loco parentis can make their own decisions - but a teacher would be wise to clear it with the parents first."
She admitted the top 10 included some films which might be appreciated by an older audience.
"I also thought it surprising there was a lack of British material," she said. "We consulted some European film institutions and they seemed to be more pro British films than our own people. A lot of them had Billy Elliot down as a must, Ms Bazalgette said."
The top 10, which is on the BFI website, is open for discussion. "We're not imposing this selection," said Ms Bazalgette. "We intend the list to evolve so we'll be inviting continued comment and nominations."
The initiative has been backed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the government body responsible for monitoring the national curriculum. It believes the use of moving image texts in teaching English often enhances a child's love of reading.
The top 10 were chosen from a list of 50 suggested by BFI staff. David Lean's Oliver Twist and Lionel Jeffries' The Railway Children. failed to make the top 10.
Top ten for British schoolchildren
Vittorio de Sica (Italy 1948)
A boy goes with his father on a desperate hunt for a stolen bicycle that he needs for his new job, after being unemployed for two years, and, finally, sees his father's public shame: the one true horror film in the list.
E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL
Steven Spielberg (USA 1982)
One of cinema's great love stories, rendered in terms that any child can understand - spacemen, bicycles, annoying siblings. For once, Spielberg doesn't betray a hint of phoney feeling.
Ken Loach (UK 1969)
Loach's story of a working-class lad's rapturous relationship with a kestrel: the quintessential "grim up North" film, but the poetic currents and superb amateur actors mean the grimness never feels forced.
LES QUATRE CENT COUPS
Francois Truffaut (France 1959)
A bleak and enchanting parable about the joys and fears of childhood, and the indifference of adults. Jean-Pierre Léaud is brilliant as Antoine, a Parisian schoolboy in ever-deepening trouble with the adult world.
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
Charles Laughton (USA 1955) Laughton's film, a thriller about two children on the run from a psychopathic preacher, was a commercial and critical disaster: now, it looks like the 20th century's most sumptuous and terrifying fairy-tale.
SHOW ME LOVE
Lukas Moodysson (Sweden/Denmark 1998)
A sweet, painfully realistic film about small-town adolescence: the difficulties exacerbated for Agnes by a crush on her friend Elin, for Elin by the realisation that she might share Agnes's feelings.
Hayao Miyazaki (Japan 2001)
When Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs, she has to work in a bathhouse scrubbing witches, demons and monsters: Miyazaki's animation has more imagination and emotion than the entire Disney canon.
John Lasseter (USA 1995)
"To infinity and beyond": a wonderfully witty, well-observed and affecting story of a toy that gets left on the shelf when a newer, shinier one comes along. If only the humans were a little more real.
WHERE IS THE FRIEND'S HOUSE?
Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1987)
A boy has to take a school notebook to his friend's house across town, or the friend will be in trouble. The film has been interpreted as a political allegory; but arbitrary adult authority is the same for children everywhere.
THE WIZARD OF OZ
Victor Fleming (USA 1939)
Great songs, Judy Garland in top form, and essential cultural equipment if you even half-suspect your child is gay. But this is the most lurid, simplistic film on the list: and ugh, those scary flying monkeys.Reuse content