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How To Win At Family Movie Night

At my house, family movie night is one of those ideas that seems SO GOOD in theory. Family bonding! Popcorn aplenty! Low-cost, thanks to the plethora of options at our friendly local library!

But pretty quickly, this brilliant idea runs up against cold, hard reality: I have three children, ranging in age from almost-seventeen to nine. I can’t even get them to agree on a breakfast cereal. Finding a film that my teenagers will enjoy that is also age-appropriate for my youngest? This, my friends, is the eternal struggle.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few strategies for increasing the odds of a successful family movie night, and since we are coming up on both a bunch of holiday breaks and a stretch of chilly weather, I thought I’d share, so that YOUR family movie nights don’t end in tears and recriminations and people watching their smartphones instead of the screen.

Strategy Number One: Go Classic

great leslie

If you’re looking for movies with (mostly) clean language and not a lot of “adult situations,” you might want to stick with some oldie-but-goodies. We’re particularly fond of The Great Race, a slapstick comedy about a round-the-world automobile race between a charming daredevil, The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), and his dastardly nemesis, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon.) The supporting cast includes Peter Falk as Max, the professor’s bumbling assistant, and a luminous Natalie Wood as Maggie, a suffragette journalist determined to win the race. Among the movie’s many delights: Professor Fate’s ill-advised stunts, The Great Leslie’s sparkling smile, and the largest pie fight in movie history.

Other contenders: Sabrina, The Long Long Trailer, Bringing Up Baby

Strategy Number Two: Song and Dance


If you have a spouse who does not enjoy musicals, this might be a tough sell, but if you’ve got kids who are even remotely interested in theater or music, it’s worth insisting. At my house, The Music Man (the 1962 version, OBVIOUSLY) is a perennial favorite. Robert Preston and Shirley Jones are irresistible in this story of a con man masquerading as a traveling music professor and the no-nonsense librarian set on unmasking him. It’s not uncommon for my children to bust out with a few verses of “Marian The Librarian” as I recount my day at work, or refer to situations (or classmates) as Trouble With a Capital T.

Other Contenders: Top Hat, Help!, Bye Bye Birdie

Strategy Number Three: Animated Gems


Even though my teenagers will insist that they are “too old” for animated movies, they’re generally willing to watch lesser-known, critically acclaimed titles. Hayao Miyazaki’s work for Studio Ghibli is always magical and unexpected; while we love all his work, there’s something particularly delightful about My Neighbor Totoro. When sisters Satsuki and Mai move to an old house in rural Japan, they encounter an enormous woodland spirit, Totoro, who takes them on adventures and helps them cope with their mother’s illness. Even older kids enjoy it, because the story is a little surreal, the animation is stunning, and Totoro himself is, according to my teens, “iconic.” I just think he’s cute.

Other contenders: Song of The Sea, Kubo and the Two Strings, Kiki’s Delivery Service

Strategy Number Four: Bribery


When all else fails — when the teenagers are being surly and the little ones are feeling put-upon and your spouse is falling asleep on the couch — it’s time to bring out the big guns:

  • Popcorn, extra butter.
  • Hot cocoa, extra marshmallows.
  • Blankets, extra fuzzy.

What are some of YOUR family movie night failsafes?

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