Some of the most memorable family times happen when everyone comes together in the living room in front of a screen. Once snacks are set and people are piled on the couch, curled up in a chair, or stretched across the floor, you’re ready to press play on a successful movie night.
Even with the best preparations, the right movie can make or break the night. We’ve got some family movie night ideas that will give you the best chance of finding something everyone can enjoy. Because age-appropriate movies are important, we’ve listed them by age categories so you can see what works for your family. We’ve also briefly explained what we look for in movies of that age group.
Keep in mind that some movies, like the Toy Story series, are entertaining for multiple age groups. Just because something is listed in an age group doesn’t mean older or younger viewers won’t enjoy it too. Also, while these movies represent a handful of suggestions they may inspire other viewing ideas that you’ll all enjoy as well. Whatever winds up on your screen, enjoy!
Lighthearted fun for preschoolers and young children
- Toy Story 1-4: The adventures of Woody and Buzz and their friendly group of childhood toys have captivated even their youngest audiences since the first Toy Story was released. The music, characters, and stories offer something for everyone regardless of age.
- The Land Before Time: This timeless story about the journey of a young dinosaur has been enchanting audiences since it was first released in 1988. Be warned, some moments may require a box of kleenex.
- Iron Giant: This story of a boy and his mechanical best friend in a small 1950’s town captures some of the most magical elements of boyhood and has plenty of nostalgia for adults.
- Happy Feet: This film about a group of penguins stands out for family-friendly themes and the way that its tight storyline is tied to uplifting music. It is also the perfect choice for fidgety kids because there are plenty of chances for them to stand up and dance their energy out without disrupting anyone’s viewing.
More advanced stories for elementary school-aged school kids
- Aladdin – The animated version of this film is a standard-setting classic thanks to a groundbreaking performance by Robin Williams. Alternatively, the recently released live-action version is also a treat with musical scenes that pay homage to its predecessor and will have your family cheering, You can’t go wrong with either choice.
- The Sandlot – If you’ve got baseball fans or little league players in your household, this movie is a must-watch. If you don’t, it is still a good choice. The film captures the magic of a group of boys roaming their neighborhood during the summer in a way that viewers never forget.
- School of Rock – This story of a fake substitute music teacher who connects with his students through rock music solidified Jack Black’s appeal to younger audiences. It is heartwarming and has numerous moments that will make the entire room want to get up and dance.
- Shark Boy and Lava Girl– This colorful, action-packed movie, about the fantasy life of a bullied boy resonates with elementary-aged school kids. They can both relate to it and are entertained by the colorful, live-action scenes.
Stories about life and fun experiences for middle school-aged kids
- The Outsiders – While the classic book about a group of working-class teen boys is on many reading lists, the movie captures the best parts of the novel. It is sure to leave everyone thinking about the story long after the closing credits.
- Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – This movie, about a group of high school friends who have very different experiences when they’re separated for the summer, captures the essence of young female friendships. It is also a lighter presentation about the kinds of serious challenges teens can face as they get older, and how friendship can help them cope with what’s happening.
- Triplets of Belleville – If any members of your family are interested in animation, this movie can demonstrate the upper limits of how animation becomes entertaining, high-art. The art production values, storyline, and selected music work together to provide a memorable viewing experience.
- 13 Going on 30– This is a fun movie about a girl who suddenly ages and has to experience life in the body of a fully grown adult. One of the highlights of the movie is a pop soundtrack that may be more appealing to parents than to kids and sets a lighthearted tone.
Deeper topics and award-winning films for high school-aged viewers
- Whale Rider – This movie about an adolescent girl’s quest to become the first chief of her Maori tribe will entertain everyone. It will also expose high schoolers to the writing, directing, acting, and cinematography that creates an award-winning film.
- Friday Night Lights – Sports fans and general audiences will be inspired and entertained by this classic movie about West Texas High School Football players, coaches, and families.
- Slumdog Millionaire – Despite its challenging premise, the movie is ultimately uplifting and filled with color, culture, and energy that won over audiences when it was released and should win over your family too.
- Saving Private Ryan – This award-winning movie brings key moments of history to life with scenes that have become so classic that they’re often echoed in other films and television shows. It may even inspire highschoolers to want to learn more about WWII or seek out some of the other best movies in cinema.