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Family Movie Night

Sometimes, I wonder where the time goes. Busy week runs into busy week. Ice skating turns to soccer turns to swimming. By Saturday night, after long days of school and work, both parents and kids are just plain tired.

A couple of months ago, my husband and I stumbled across a wonderful Saturday night bonding ritual that miraculously calms some of the chaos: Family Movie Night. Netflixing the movie cuts costs dramatically. Plus, there's a wide selection available just when we want it, without ever leaving the house.

Add to that a cozy, warm Mommy-and-Daddy bed for clean boys in their PJs, and it's time for snuggles and cinema. What could be better?

Recent screenings at our house have been "Toy Story 2" (our 6-year-old's favorite), "The Jungle Book" (terrific), the original Herbie movie, "The Love Bug" (our review: medium) and "Homeward Bound" (lots of tears!).

A neighbor also recently began Saturday movie nights, and it's been a hit at her house, too. Some movies that her kids have enjoyed include: "The Sound of Music," "The Princess Bride" and another original, "The Music Man."

Do you, too, host family movie nights? Which movies have been hits and which movies should the rest of us avoid? What other family bonding activities do you and your kids enjoy?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 17, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers , Tweens
Previous: The Tests Are Coming! | Next: Back to the Rat Race


Try family game night. Even our 3yo loves it and gets into it.


Posted by: HappyDad | March 17, 2008 7:20 AM | Report abuse

We have just started movie night but tend to do it on Sunday. We don't do it every week but every few weeks as a special treat. We all get in pjs and eat dinner in the family room in front of the tv. We've watched the Tigger movie (excellent), Dreamer (good for the over 5 set), and this week we have Flicka (my 8-year old loves horses). We also use Netflix and are on a plan where we get 3-at-time so usually it's one kid-flick and 2 adult movies for Friday and Saturday nights after the kids are asleep.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | March 17, 2008 7:30 AM | Report abuse

Since when has staring at the idiot box for several continuous hours a night become a family bonding ritual?

Boy, the bar for today's parents has sunk to a new low!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | March 17, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

Pt Fed Mof2, Two adult movies on a Friday night??? Wow! You naughty girl!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | March 17, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Movies don't really work for us as any movie longer than 30 minutes in English doesn't hold their attention. What we have discovered that almost any game can be converted for use for a 5 year old so we do that instead.

For example, we strip out the special cards from Uno and play Go Fish. This lets him practice his numbers in English.

The latest is the conversion of Clue. We pull out the cards for the characters we are going to use. We then shuffle the room cards and select a room. This is the room we start in and we put it aside too. We then take all the rest of the characters and weapons and scatter them throughout the rooms. All the cards get shuffled together and placed face down in the middle. The top card gets flipped over and we race to the room that has the item on the card (or the room itself). The first person to arrive in the room gets the card. The person with the most cards wins.

Posted by: Billie | March 17, 2008 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Saw II, Unforgiven, and Carlito's Way are faves for our under 5 set!

Posted by: Ebert | March 17, 2008 8:15 AM | Report abuse

"Saw II, Unforgiven, and Carlito's Way are faves for our under 5 set!"

Don't forget the immortal "Scarface".

"Say hello to my leetle friend!"

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 17, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

The BeeGees/Frampton "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" from the late 70's. Dreadful clothes, wonderful music. Kids can ID a Beatles tune in three notes. And few things are funnier than a four year old belting out "Lucy in the skies with diamonds"...

Posted by: Lurking Mom | March 17, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

We enjoy a good family movie night, but we can't do it every weekend. There is just too much other stuff going on that we would rather do. But, winter is definitely high season for movie watching.

Now that my kids are a bit older, and boy and girl, their movie tastes are not the same, so it's a bit harder to find one to watch together. We've watched the Back to Future movies (very fun, but some mild cursing), Shaggy Dog (with Tim Allen, good one to see), Night at the Museum (might be a little scary for younger ones), Homeward Bound (very fun), Spy Kids (also very fun).

My older one enjoyed reading and then watching, How to Eat Fried Worms (I remembered reading that in elementary school!) Holes and Hoot.

The Princess Bride is a favorite that they watch often, even when not an official family movie night. Same goes for the animated movies, Finding Nemo, Cars (big favorite!), Lilo and Stitch, Monsters Inc.

We also do the Netflix thing - except we use Blockbuster - so we get movies that we would not usually think to get at the store - like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They both loved that one.

One I would not recommend is, March of the Penguins. For some reason we thought it was a heartwarming documentary/story. Not so much - lots of heartbreak, struggle, death. My kids still won't watch anything penguin related - not even Happy Feet!

Posted by: prarie dog | March 17, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Our 2 yr old LOVES movies (not so much TV), and we generally limit her to 2 or 3 scenes from her favorite on any given day. 2 or 3 times a month, we do family Pizza and Movie Fridays, where we try to introduce a new movie to her, and we all get a kick out of her reactions. So Far, Monsters, Inc. and Aladin have been tops. This week was CARS, and she just fell in love with the big wheels! We love movies too, so this is a great, quiet way to relax on a Friday evening. I can't wait to get to "grown up" movies like SOund of Music and Princess Bride.

Posted by: jen | March 17, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I must clarify -- by "adult movies" I did not mean the black curtain section of the video store. I meant PG-13 or R. For instance, we watched Gone Baby Gone last weekend.

Posted by: PT Fed Mof2 | March 17, 2008 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Since my child is a tween, She loves HSM 1&2,Hairspray,Mulan,Lion King, Toy Story 2 and a movie with Lindsay Lohan and Tyra Banks in which Lindsay's doll comes to life(I can't remember the name of the movie).

Posted by: Brooklyn | March 17, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

So far we have done one movie night and watched "High School Musical 2."

Family game night is a great idea we have not done yet. Although DH and DD sometimes play cards in the morning after I leave
for work and the bus comes. It is an incentive for her to finish eating and get dressed then DH will play cards with her.

I may get a book of "Word Searches" we do them in the Washington Post when I remember to look for them.

Posted by: shdd | March 17, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

We do the movie night and the game night as time permits; I have three boys 6, 4, and 2-years-old. For movies we like Totoro, The Aang the Avatar Series (nickoldean--we get it through Netflix), and Around the World in 80 Days (Jackie Chan). We also have bread, cheese, salami, fruit, and veggies/dip for dinner; no cooking and cheaper than take out. My boys don't really watch TV during the week so this is a real treat for them.

SawII? That's pretty funny! Nice to see some lighthearted folks.

Posted by: mof3boys | March 17, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

My children & I started movie night several months ago on Friday nights. Dinner is had, baths are taken and then we set up a make shift bed on the floor with sheets, blankets and pillows. We pop some popcorn, pour some drinks, select our movie from On Demand, and enjoy. It is the most special night we share and one that each one of us looks forward to each week. I encourage all families to do this if not once a week, then once a month.

Posted by: Mom of 3 | March 17, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

If you tire of SawII, may I suggest "Killer Klowns From Outer Space"?
Actually my 9-year-old daughter could watch The Incredibles every night. We do movies once in a while, and for a VERY big treat we order pizza to eat during the movie.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 17, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

We don't do it every week, just when it seems like we all need a little breather. Milo and Otis was our hit movie last week. My husband likes to dig up the golden oldies from his childhood and beyond. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don't, Flubber, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Apple Dumpling Gang. We even obtained a copy of Song of the South.

I prefer some more adult fare, so I have selected The Pirate Movie (my 3yo loved the songs and missed most of the double entendres) and The Princess Bride.

For our 3yo and 1yo it seems that even most recent Disney movies are a little too scary and we have to fast forward through some scenes. The older stuff is much better.

Posted by: AugustMom | March 17, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

We recently started a thing where everyone gets a turn to make up a game to play. Our girls are 6 and 3 so it's super cute to see what they come up with. These are mostly silly and short games, and some recent hits have included: "dolphin" (imagine Marco Polo in a room where one person closes her eyes and squeaks and the others squeak in return while the other tries to find him/her); twister with your eyes closed; act out your favorite story; the "walk slow talk fast" race, or the "talk slow, walk fast" race; and the limbo. We do this often since it only takes about 1/2 hour (each mini game is 5-10 minutes), and the goal is to not to repeat a game. We love this bonding time with the girls, and it keeps things interesting for everyone as we rack our brains to come up with new fun games. (Sometimes the games bomb but that's part of it too).

Posted by: SFL | March 17, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

We started Friday Night Fun Night form the example of my s-i-law who has older kids. The kids get to choose dinner (in the last year we have only had ice cream for dinner once) and we never do homework, housework, etc. It is family night. Sometimes we do movies, other times games, or when the weather is nice go for a walk or play outside.

It is a nice way to end the week. And as the kids get older and start having serious homework, it will be a nice break from their responsibilities.

Posted by: Burke Mom | March 17, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

One I would not recommend is, March of the Penguins. For some reason we thought it was a heartwarming documentary/story. Not so much - lots of heartbreak, struggle, death. My kids still won't watch anything penguin related - not even Happy Feet!

Posted by: prarie dog | March 17, 2008 09:06 AM

Did you watch the other part on the DVD? The film crew's account of filming? May be worth a second look. I'm guessing your kids don't watch much Animal Planet...I grew up watching all the nature shows (Nature and Mutual of Omaha anyone?) and learned that it's life (and death, survival of the fittest, etc.).

Posted by: WDC 21113 | March 17, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

We've started going to AMC and netflix for older films. They tend to be more enjoyable for the grown ups and the content is more acceptable for my kids (8 & 11). Tamer than network TV. Believe it or not they loved Casablanca. Last summer they wanted to see Disturbia (like "all their friends"). We rented Rear Window and and had a bunch of their friends over. It was great to see a 10 year old boy jumping up and down and peeking through his eyes during the suspenseful parts. (and going "ewwww" during the kissing parts!)

Posted by: HappyMom | March 17, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

My girls love movie night and game night. We usually do movie with an easy no cook dinner on Fridays and games on Sunday afternoon/evening with my in-laws. After we put the kids to bed on Sundays we play for a few more hours with the extended family. We have a lot of fun.

Favorite games (for 3 and up)
Apples to Apples Junior
Monopoly Junior

For 6 and up
Ticket to Ride
and all the ones mentioned above

Favorite Movies

The Princess Bride
The Sound of Music
The Dark Crystal
Freaky Friday (with Lindsay Lohan)
The Parent Trap (with Lindsay Lohan)
Ella Enchanted

Posted by: Momof5 | March 17, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

For Gutless Coward at 7:35 AM:
"Since when has staring at the idiot box for several continuous hours a night become a family bonding ritual?

Boy, the bar for today's parents has sunk to a new low!"

Better be careful when you spout off like that. I can still remember sitting down with my family every weekend for "NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies" in the 60's. Great movies, popcorn, and memories.

Posted by: Phil | March 17, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

While we frequently watch films with our 3 year old (who loves Cars, Monsters Inc, Beauty and the Beast, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs), we have several non-tube-related family activities:

- go to the local botanical gardens; especially nice in the winter with tropical and desert environments under glass
- decent, small, local zoo to which we have a membership so we go at the drop of a hat on a decent day
- pretty good science museum in town with lots of activities for kids, an elaborate model train set downstairs, and a playroom that has 0-4 sized versions of the bigger kid activities such as a corner with only soft squishy things for infants, a loft, a climbing stair-and-slide center, and a water table; cheap membership so we go all the time even just for 30 or 45 minutes and the membership gets us in at major discounts to much more elaborate museums in chicago, etc.
- local university museum; not great, but some interesting things, open 7 days a week, and totally free
- walk along the river path
- walk around the neighborhood and look at architecture
- take tricycle rides to the outdoor walking mall where we don't need to worry about cars
- go for walks in the local nature centre (Free, lovely, and good for us)
- baking muffins or making pancakes

Posted by: aardvark | March 17, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Movie night has been a great opportunity to share some of our favorites with our daughter. We started when she was around nine, with each of us taking turns choosing each week; my daughter tended to choose animated films, my husband would choose adventure-type films (this is how our daughter first watched the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movies), and I chose films that introduced her to cultural icons---"It Happened One Night," "Bringing Up Baby," "2001, A Space Odyssey," . . . and, of course, "A Hard Day's Night," "Help," and "Yellow Submarine."

For a while, we got out of the habit, and it was our daughter who recently---at age 15---asked that we bring back movie night. We just watched part 2 of PBS' "Pride and Prejudice," and my daughter, who initially agreed to watch it out of sheer politeness (the agreement is to graciously watch each other's choices), is thoroughly in love with Mr. Darcy. Hey, she might even read the book!

Posted by: EmmasMom | March 17, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I used to love it when both my parents would watch tv with us and we could all talk about the movie, but as an adult I understand why that's so hard. Because if I have the time to sit down, then I have the time to run the laundry. If I have the time to sit down, I have the time to run the dishwasher.

The video series that really contributed to family bonding were:
Planet Earth
Blue Planet

Both were absolutely killer.

We're all going stir crazy from being sick on various weekends, so we've seen all the museums the kids want to. As soon as we can, we'll be out in the woods, at the playground, at the skateparks and soccer practices.

I tend to watch 30 minutes of tv with my kids each weeknight and then talk about the shows afterwards with them and that's worked well. You get something like Arthur with grade school angst and you've got stories to share. You have something like the Simpsons where someone makes mistakes and you've got stories.

Posted by: DCer | March 17, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Serious movie note: our daughters (now 19, 16 and 11) used to love the Lindsay Lohan versions of Parent Trap and Freaky Friday. (They especially loved Freaky Friday with the boyfriend singing "Hit me Baby one more time" then getting clocked by Jamie Lee Curtis.) However, with the train wreck that LiLo has now become, they refuse to watch her movies any more, and the youngest will now only watch the Hayley Mills version of Parent Trap. My daughters seem to equate Lohan's star turns with what's happened to her in real life.

(Side note: Dina Lohan is now pushing her younger daughter Alli along the same track, because it worked so well for Lindsay. Our 11-year old is already saying that she'll never watch any Alli Lohan movies.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 17, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it worked fabulously for years until puberty. Now my 15 year old girl only wants to watch romantic comedies and my 10 year old son only wants to watch adventure films (aka Naruto and Ninja). It has become much harder to truly find a "family" movie that everyone likes. My son often gets the raw end of the deal. :(

Posted by: D Ro | March 17, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"My daughters seem to equate Lohan's star turns with what's happened to her in real life."


Posted by: Jake | March 17, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

"My daughters seem to equate Lohan's star turns with what's happened to her in real life."



Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 17, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

We love movie and game night. We take turns picking the movies and we have watched High School Musical, the Lindsey Lohan versions of Parent Trap and Freaky Friday but then I picked the original versions of Parent Trap and Freaky Friday also Candleshoe (with Jodi Foster) and some of the older Disney movies. My oldest loved Polyanna when she was a little girl and my son likes Goonies. We belong to the Disney movie club which is a great place to get copies of some of the older classic Disney movies like old Yellar, Escape to Witch Mountain and The Apple Dumpling gang. We also watched some of the old Alfred Hitchcock with my bigger kids--they were creeped out by The Birds. It is fun to talk about the movies, what they liked and didn't like.

For game night we play Disney Scene It, or Uno attack,twister, Dora Candyland or go fish. It is so great to just play with the kids and forget being an adult for a while. Last night daddy made rice krispy treats and we played Uno. The kids loved it--it is a great way to end the weekend, get the teenagers and little ones involved and laughing. Any time spent laughing as a family is great IMHO.

Posted by: magnificent7mom | March 17, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

A little embarrassing but we record and then watch "Biggest Loser" together on Saturday nights. Ususally with very high calorie/fat dinner and ice cream. Sigh.

Posted by: 21117 | March 17, 2008 12:28 PM | Report abuse

fr Emmasmom:

>...and I chose films that introduced her to cultural icons---"It Happened One Night," "Bringing Up Baby," "2001, A Space Odyssey," . . . and, of course, "A Hard Day's Night," "Help," and "Yellow Submarine."

Never cared for "Bringing up Baby". LOVED the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies, such as "Pat and Mike" and "Guess Who's coming for dinner?". I also suggest you introduce your child to the Marx Brothers movies, such as "Duck Soup" and "A Night at the Opera". GREAT fun!

Posted by: Alex | March 17, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

If your kids are slightly older (10 or above), I'd strongly recommend a copy of "Bill Cosby: Himself" for a family night. It's his 1983 HBO special that was later released on tape/DVD.

(a) It's hilarious
(b) It's clean enough for family
(c) His opening riff on drugs and alcohol provides a great opening for discussions with your kids
(d) After the drugs/alcohol riff, and the dentist routine, the rest of the show is about his family. If the kids are older they'll recognize themselves in his routines, and it's great to discuss it with them. I was called "the goalie" for a few weeks after we watched the DVD.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 17, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

When I was a kid my father made sure I watched all the old classics from the 30s/40s- he considered it part of my education. My kiddo is still too little for movies (imo, anyway), but once she and her sibs are old enough, I want to make sure she's seen the great films.

Posted by: reston, va | March 17, 2008 2:02 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I have recently started into family movie night. It is a great event at our loft and one that our twin daughters enjoy. Of course we look at this as a way to improve their minds, have fun, and show up other children. Competitive child rearing at its best is what we are all about.

Generally we stick to children's movies but we are moving toward films by Ingmar Bergman and Frederico Fellini. Now before you all get upset let me tell you we make sure the films are not R rated and we edit. What makes this great is that we hire for the night a film student from NYU School of Film to come and discuss the film with the girls. You know talk about plot, staging, cinematography, acting etc. What a wonderful moment when the girls are coming out of school describing the Seventh Seal and their doubts about the existence of God. I mean I have to tell you talk about having a leg up on the competition for private school... well there you go.

Of course we don't limit movies to foreign. It is equally rewarding to discuss children's movies etc. but that does not mean we don't get a film student to come in and discuss the movie. Sometimes if these film students are late on their rent we can get them for a very low price to bring their equipment and demonstrate a scene from a film or have the girls star in their own reenactment of movie. They just love to Swede a film scene.

Also with foreign films reading subtitles is a big help for the girls. At eight years old reading skills can use all the help they can get.

Posted by: NYC | March 17, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

You know I want to be totally transparent here and not hide the truth. This family movie night is not always perfect. Once I made the mistake of showing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I thought it was a children's movie.

Though we pretend to be perfect sometimes we make mistakes. This parenting thing is hard withou

Posted by: NYC | March 17, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I heartily second the person who suggested the Marx brothers - I absolutely loved them as a kid. There are also some great comic WWII-era movies - look up Operation Petticoat. Also musicals - until kids learn that they're not cool, they're really a lot of fun. I love the idea of establishing a rule of graciously watching everyone else's suggestions - my husband has no appreciation at all for any movie in black and white (with the exception of Casablanca) and I'd love the chance to expose my kids to the old movies I love without my husband complaining.

Posted by: SPC | March 17, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

To WDC 21113:
Regarding March of the Peguins - No, we didn't watch the rest of the DVD. We all jsut kind of looked at each other like, Well that wasn't a very happy movie night! We've seen animal documentaries and the like. I think the problem was we were expecting some light hearted penguin fun.

And NYC:
We made a similiar mistake recently with Balls of Fury! We thought it was just stupid funny. There were definitely fast forward moments!

Posted by: prarie dog | March 17, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I wunder how many parents brought their children to the movie Watership Down thinking that it was an epic animated feature based on the survival of a colony of cute furry bunnies.

Posted by: Oops | March 17, 2008 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm all about the movies. My favorite thing still remains taking the nephews out, getting them their "kids packs" and watching a movie together.

I fully support the weekly stay at home movie, but definitely please go for the real movie experience when you can (if they are mature enough to sit and enjoy it).

It's a different experience, they can learn good movie etiquette early and is a great simple fun outing.

Posted by: Liz D | March 17, 2008 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I agree, Liz D!

Posted by: prarie dog | March 17, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Once I made the mistake of showing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I thought it was a children's movie.


Like you never stepped from your kitchen into your living room filled with your kids friends and thought, "It's my happening and it freaks me out."

Posted by: DCer | March 17, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

fr NYC:

>...You know I want to be totally transparent here and not hide the truth. This family movie night is not always perfect. Once I made the mistake of showing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I thought it was a children's movie....

OOOPS!!!!!!!!!!!! I can just imagine that!

Posted by: Alex | March 18, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Other movies I forgot about: "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939 version, NOT the terrible musical), "How Green Was My Valley", and "The Quiet Man". All VERY well done, and suitable for families to watch.

Posted by: Alex | March 18, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Friday is family movie night. We have frozen pizza for dinner, and either get a DVD from the library for FREE or get a movie from netflix for cheap. I get my frozen pizzas on sale, so that brings the cost of the evening (after I make buttered popcorn on the stove) to roughly $5. And my kids ADORE it.

Saturday is game night. Except we're having a bonus game night tonight. My husband is in the dining room right now playing monopoly with my twins and things are getting pretty predatory in there! Somebody just bought some hotels.

We like to keep our evenings programmed, and our routine tight. We're funny that way. But wow, do our kids look forward to that scheduled Friday and Saturday. I expect it will be a good memory down the road for them.

Posted by: Bad mommy | March 25, 2008 7:40 PM | Report abuse

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