The best family movies never cross that fine line between good and boring. They find a balance where every member of the family is entertained. Not every movie will satisfy everyone, however, so be prepared for a complaint or two, especially if you've got teens and young children in your family mix.
The best way to hold a family movie night is to allow family members to take turns choosing movies. That way your 'tweens and teens will be able to choose something like Twilight, while you choose your own version of a family movie classic, such as The Yearling or The Sound of Music, and the youngest family members choose cartoons Bambi, The Lion King or Wall-E.
What Makes a Great Family Movie?
The best family movies always include some form of conflict, usually involving the main character, and show how the characters grow in a positive manner throughout the story. In order to teach some of the most important life lessons, you have to watch movies that include the use of drugs, illicit behavior or speech, bad manners or illegal activity. What's important is the message these movies carry, rather than the specific acts they portray.
Here are some all-time classics that your family will enjoy. Some contain scary scenes or odd moments of bad behavior, but all teach very positive lessons.
The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is one of the best all-around family movies. Mom and Dad watched it when they were children and probably won't mind enjoying it again with their children. In this movie, there is conflict between good and evil. Be aware that The Wicked Witch and the flying monkeys have been fodder for childhood nightmares for several generations, so you might not want the youngest kids, or kids who are easily scared, watching until they get older. The fact that Dorothy runs away from home and talks to a stranger, both dangerous in today's society, can be wiped away with the explanation that Dorothy was only dreaming. You can also point out that all of Dorothy's family members appear in Oz as different characters. At the end of the film, Dorothy realizes there really is no place like home, a great message for kids to remember when there are conflicts with parents or siblings.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
In this movie, Willy Wonka, the owner of the chocolate factory, invites those who are in possession of a golden ticket to tour his facility and win a grand prize. When Charlie, a young boy from a poor family finds a dollar bill and then purchases a candy bar, he finds the last golden ticket. As the children who found the golden tickets tour through the factory, each child in turn breaks one of Wonka's rules and is removed from the factory. Plenty of bad behavior is on display throughout, from Augustus Gloop's overeating to the rude and selfish comments of Varuca Salt. Still, the movie teaches that breaking the rules can lead to severe punishment, and the kind-hearted Charlie wins in the end. Note that the rowboat sequence early in the film can be frightening for young children.
The Great Outdoors
This is one of the great comedy movies about families. Two families go on vacation together. The families consist of parents who are related by marriage. One family has two teenagers, and one has a set of six-year-old twin girls. The lesson learned is that family members often take advantage of one another, which means you sometimes have to stand up for yourself. Frightening aspects for young children include an incident with a grizzly bear and a scene where the twins get lost in an abandoned mine shaft.
Steven Spielberg's tale of an alien left behind on Earth offers a look at a family facing the aftermath of divorce without the heavy elements often associated with these stories. The family relationships between the kids and their mom are very realistic, showing the importance of support, respect and working together. Although the film serves up a one-dimensional portrait of government officials and strongly suggests that kids shouldn't trust the authorities, it has a greater message of helping those in need and acting selflessly to help those you care about.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
There are scary and tense moments throughout this Spielberg film, including the abduction of a young child, several scenes where things come to life or behave unexpectedly and a sequence where dead livestock litters the countryside. It's best suited for 'tweens and teens, as well as their parents, who can enjoy the special effects and the ride as several people, including Richard Dreyfus, find themselves drawn to a remote location after sighting UFOs. Created during the height of the UFO craze of the 1970s, this film still has the power to inspire our hope of finding other life in the universe.
Every household needs a few good family movies on the shelf for those times when everyone just wants to sit down together and relax.
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