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Best Family Movies: 20 Must-See Films to Watch With Your Kids
Start "Mom's Movie Night Classics" in Your Home -- A Fun and Inexpensive Way to Bring the Family Together
Connect With Your Kids by Watching Movies Together and Discussing Them
When my sons were younger, I instituted a tradition in our family dubbed Mom's Movie Night Classics. I'd select a film to share with my kids, either because it had a powerful message I wanted them to hear or simply because it was fun, entertaining, and well made. Each Friday evening we'd order a pizza, mix up some Kool-Aid, pop some popcorn, and watch the film together. We'd cuddle on the couch in our pajamas -- lights off and comfy blankets engulfing us. I'd keep the title a closely guarded secret during the week to build anticipation. We all looked forward to our Friday night movie tradition as a wonderful way to jump-start our weekend.
Get Started Now Before It's Too Late
Today, my sons are teenagers, and their Friday nights involve going to football games, hanging out with buddies, and catching up on the latest YouTube videos. I have little influence on their cinematic choices (one favors Quentin Tarantino flicks and the other, musicals). I wouldn't be able to coerce them to sit still for a movie of my choosing if I paid them. Thus, I'm grateful for those early years when we shared the magic of movies together. I urge you to do the same with your children and to help you get started, I suggest these 20 films:
1. Charlotte's Web - 1973 animated musical
I first watched Charlotte's Web as a girl growing up in Oakland during the 1970's. The movie transported me from the only world I knew – the inner-city – to life on a farm. Like many urban kids, I thought our food came from the nearby store, not from plants and animals in the country. Therefore, I got totally caught up in this gripping tale of a spider's quest to save a pig from becoming just another meal on a family's dinner table.
Based on the beloved book by E.B. White, Charlotte's Web tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a brilliant spider, Charlotte, and an adorable pig, Wilbur. Because E.B. White loved the English language, he created a tale celebrating the power of words. Charlotte is a talented writer who spins messages in her web to save the life of Wilbur. Released in theaters in 1973, this animated musical stands the taste of time. Your children will remember it always just as I have. Watching it may get your kids excited about reading other E.B. White classics such as Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan.
"Charlotte's Web" Teaches Kids About the Power of the Written Word
2. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – 1971 musical
It's unfortunate many children today have only seen Tim Burton's 2005 version with its creepy performance by Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka. The original film from 1971, starring the superb Gene Wilder, is immensely superior – memorable, musical, and magical for all ages. Like Charlotte's Web, it comes from a beloved book written by a talented author, Roald Dahl. Other works by Dahl have also become films: James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
A child's love of candy is at the heart of this tale. Kids relate to young Charlie who longs for a golden ticket so he can tour Mr. Wonka's amazing factory where world-class sweets get produced. Youngsters will see themselves and their peers mirrored in the characters – a spoiled rich girl who demands too much, a chubby boy who eats too much, and a hyperactive kid who watches too much television. It's Charlie, the sweet-natured boy with a poor but loving family, who wins our hearts and the respect of Mr. Wonka. Although made more than 4 decades ago, this film holds up beautifully and is a true classic.
This Movie Is a Must for Your Family Film Collection
I rarely feel the need to buy a film, but Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a rare exception. It sits proudly on my shelf of movie classics. My kids never get tired of watching it and neither do I. It's even more special to me following Gene Wilder's death.
3. Mrs. Doubtfire – 1993 comedy
Robin Williams left us with many movies to treasure. Mrs. Doubtfire showcases his immense talent as he dons a wig, makeup, a dress, and stockings to play a female housekeeper – all so he can spend more time with his three kids. While the film shifts effortlessly from hilarity to poignancy, it's most impressive in the deft way it handles divorce. Williams' character, Daniel, and Sally Fields' character, Miranda, are a dad and mom who love their kids immensely but no longer function well as a married couple. There's no miraculous reunification for them at the movie's close. Instead, we see them acting like mature adults – putting aside their differences for the sake of the children. This alone makes Mrs. Doubtfire a must-see for children of divorce.
"Mrs. Doubtfire" Is a Hilarious Movie With a Realistic Portrayal of a Divorcing Couple
Bye Bye Birdie - 1963 musical
This movie is a hoot for the entire family, depicting 1950's life in all its innocence. A rock 'n roll star (think Elvis Presley) visits a small town in America as a publicity stunt. He's there to kiss one lucky teenage girl on the Ed Sullivan Show before entering the army.
Based on the hit Broadway musical, this film is jam-packed with memorable songs, enthralling dance numbers, and enchanting romances. Kids today will delight in the fashions alone: white bobby socks with ruffles, full skirts and sweater sets, capri pants, and biker jackets. This movie is fast-paced, bright, and colorful with an electric performance by Ann-Margret.
5. The Sound of Music - 1965 musical
No family movie list would be complete without The Sound of Music. Based on the Broadway play by Rogers and Hammerstein, this wondrous film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1966 and is still loved throughout the world today. It has all the elements of a grand cinematic experience: a splendid love story, glorious scenery shot in Austria, danger and intrigue as World War II looms, and magnificent songs that fill your heart with joy.
Because it's long (3 hours), it's best to break it up into 2 or 3 sessions for young children. I'm so glad I showed this masterpiece to my sons when they were little. They would never tolerate it now as teenagers, but I strongly believe it's a film everybody should see.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - 1982 science fiction
I can't watch this Steven Spielberg blockbuster without getting a lump in my throat. While filled with action and special effects, it's most powerful in its depiction of the intense friendship between a boy, Elliot, and the oddly adorable alien, E.T. Children will love this movie because it's kid-centric – told from Elliot's point of view. Elliot, his siblings, and friends are the protectors of E.T. who valiantly help him return to his home planet.
Kids will see their own lives mirrored in the characters' lives. Elliot is struggling with the recent divorce of his parents. His mom is doing her best to support the family financially and care for her three children, but she's spread thin. The family lives in a middle-class neighborhood of suburban tract homes. These are ordinary kids in an extraordinary situation, and that makes it pure cinematic magic.
Both Parents and Kids Can't Help But Fall in Love With This Cute Little Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. is another movie I purchased for my film library. It brings me back to my childhood when I first fell in love with this strangely adorable alien. It stands the test of time because my kids love it just as much as I do.
7. Beauty and the Beast - 1991 animated musical
The classic French fairy tale comes alive in this animated Disney musical. Our heroine, Belle, is a terrific role model for young girls – an avid reader, a loyal daughter, and a brave woman who judges others based on their inner beauty, not their outward appearance. This timeless love story casts a spell on all who watch it – young and old – with one unforgettable song after another.
This Musical Is Filled With Memorable Songs
8. The Wizard of Oz - 1939 musical
9. Star Wars - 1977 science fiction
10. Toy Story - 1995 animated
11. Finding Nemo - 2003 animated
12. The LEGO Movie - 2014 animated
13. Mary Poppins - 1964 musical
14. The Little Mermaid - 1989 animated
15. Babe - 1995 fantasy/drama
16. Miracle on 34th Street - 1947 drama/fantasy
17. The Lion King - 1994 animated musical
18. Aladdin - 1992 animated musical
19. A Christmas Story - 1983 comedy
20. The Karate Kid - 1984 drama
Instituting Mom's Movie Night Classics in our family routine was one of the best things I did as a parent...and one of the easiest! Now my sons and I have a frame of reference based on these 20 films. We bring up the characters and situations in our conversations. When I get frustrated with them and their generation, I might start singing the song from Bye Bye Birdie: “Kids...what's a matter with kids today. Kids...they don't listen to a think you say. Why can't they be like we were? Perfect in every way. What's a matter with kids today?” When my boys were younger, they'd flip off the television, saying: “I don't want to end up like Mike Teavee from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!”
Movies have the power to connect us. By being thoughtful about what we watch together as a family, we enrich our lives. So experience these movies. Discuss them with your kids. Make them a part of your shared history...and don't forget the popcorn!