I used to look forward to family movie night—all four of us cozying up, eating popcorn, and watching movies in the dark. That was before my son morphed into a teen and both kids started having opinions (can you believe it?!) about what they wanted to watch.
Because, of course, they never, ever want to watch the same thing.
That means my husband and I usually search around for something we’ll all partially like. We usually avoid anything that’s overly “girlie” or overly “boyish” and try to make sure that the movie is (mostly) suitable for both a 13 and 10-year-old.
When movies appeal more to one of them than the other, we still expect that they have a good attitude and deal with it. After all, family life is full of compromises and we want them to be flexible without a lot of grumbling. (It’s a work in progress!!)
We’ve watched lots of movies over the years and have had success with the following ones. Not only are they interesting and appropriate (see disclaimer below), but we all enjoyed them to one degree or another. I’ve linked to Common Sense Media so you can read the reviews and judge for yourself.
Alrighty, drum roll please….here’s our list of—
Family Movie Night: 15 Non-Animated Family Movies for Kids, Tweens, and Parents
This charming and sweet film set in the countryside of England is about a pig, named Babe, who ends up being quite a talented sheepdog. Her stoic owner endures flack for this but he and Babe persevere.
Warning: Do Not Serve Bacon on the day you watch this movie.
Parent Trap 1999
I watched the old Halley Mill’s version about 100 times as a kid so I was reluctant to give this one a go. Turns out, I love it. This is the classic tale of twins, split at birth (as if!), due to their parent’s divorce. When they meet each other at camp, they switch places in order to meet their other parent and attempt to get them back together.
Spy Kids 2001
With Antonio Banderas, Spy Kids, is a fun, action-packed movie where two kids, Carmen and Juni, have to save their secret agent parents. Along the way they fight villains and end up doing a lot more than simply saving Mom and Dad.
Kids’ Family Movie Night Favorite: Daddy Day Care 2003
Eddie Murphy gets together with two of his friends to start a daycare after getting laid off. As you can imagine, things aren’t as easy as he anticipates, and the group deals with wild kids, bathroom issues, and some playful “physical assaults’ by their charges. It’s not my favorite but my kids really like this one.
Parent Family Movie Night Favorite: Sky High 2005
With Kurt Russell and the late Kelly Preston, this is one of my favorite movies. The son of Russell and Preston is starting high school—which means it’s time for superhero training. His parents are superstar heros and everyone expects the same things from him. The only problem? He doesn’t have any powers…yet.
Yours, Mine & Ours 2005
Fun and zany movie with Dennis Quaid and Renee Russo. He is an organized dad of 6 and she is a creative, free-spirited mother of 6. What happens when they fall in love and try to combine households? Let’s just say that the kids aren’t exactly thrilled and they aren’t afraid to show it.
Nanny McPhee 2006
With the wonderful Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, Nanny McPhee is the story of a strict but loving nanny who gets the chaotic brood of Firth’s under control. The kids resist Nanny’s authoritative rules, but once they realize she loves them and is helping them, they end up loving her back.
Evan Almighty 2007
With Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Laureen Graham, and Wanda Sykes, this movie is a hilarious mix of animals, beards, and touching moments about one man’s reluctance to listen to God. This is basically a Noah’s Ark story set in modern day Washington D.C. and we had a blast watching this. The all-star cast didn’t hurt. (This is a spin off from Bruce Almighty which we haven’t seen.)
Soul Surfer 2011
This is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a teenage surfer who was bitten by a shark and lost her arm. This movie is fantastic—from the plot to the acting to the uplifting message about perseverance and faith in the face of serious challenges. This movie does require a bit of discussion about the rare danger of sharks (wouldn’t watch if about to go to the beach) as well as some discussion about what makes Bethany such as inspiration.
Mom Family Movie Night Favorite: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day 2014
The book by the same name was one of my favorites growing up and I loved this movie…but it is very loosely based on the book. With Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell, this movie focuses on Alexander’s wish that his “lucky” family would experience terrible, horrible, no good, very bad luck – the type of luck he usually has.
With Jack Black as author R.L Stine, this movie is about the author of the famous book series for kids, Goosebumps. When Stine’s manuscripts open, various monsters are let loose and it’s up to his daughter and her friend to trap them again. At the time we watched this, my kids did not like scary movies and this one didn’t freak them out at all.
Little Lunch 2015
Although there are two Little Lunch “movies,” they are actually just extra episodes of this Australian TV series. I know this is not a movie but I have to include Little Lunch because you could easily string together episodes and make a few movie nights out of them.
This series is unique and kooky and seriously worth watching. It is filmed mockumentary style (think The Office) and each episode takes place during lunch. The cast is made up of 6 friends who deal with usual elementary school drama. This was a big hit in Australia and all of us loved this show!
Hugh Bonneville, the father from Downton Abbey, is the dad in this movie and one of the most enjoyable things for me was checking out the English setting and their fantastic home. While this is geared towards younger kids, there is enough of a plot – a bear from the woods must find a new home—to keep the older ones interested enough.
Pete’s Dragon 2016
This remake is totally different from the original Disney version, FYI. This is a story about Pete, a boy who was raised by a dragon, and the chaos that ensues whenever people discover him and his dragon deep in the woods. FYI, at the start of the movie there is a car accident where Pete’s parents die.
The Great Gilly Hopkins 2016
Kathy Bates and Glenn Close are in this movie based on the famous book. This movie is about a foster child with a chip on her shoulder adjusting to a new and loving foster family. In order to understand this movie, you may need to spend a bit of time talking about foster care and what it is. While we all liked this movie, it is a heavier movie than some of the others.
I’d love to hear other people’s non-animated movie winners.
Disclaimer: Appropriate means different things to different people. We aren’t overly strict about the movies we watch but we certainly have standards and try to stay away from movies that glorify sarcasm or sassiness. If there is someone acting inappropriate or bad language or other situations along those lines, we use that time to have a quick discussion or to point something out to the kids.
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