At the beginning of the first lockdown, we instigated a now much-treasured family tradition of a Saturday family movie night. Snuggled up in front of a fire together with snacks and hot chocolate, it’s become one of our favourite times of the week. After a few successive weeks of suggesting excellent film choices, MrJ is now the family member tasked with selecting us a movie we’ll all enjoy – no mean feat!
Here are thirty of our favourites – some classics, others recently released; some light-hearted, others more serious and poignant – all of which will be loved by tweens/teens and adults alike:
1. October Sky (PG)
The Beans had to watch this film as part of their Film School curriculum (more on this in another blog post), and boy am I glad they did! This excellent movie is based on the true story of Homer Hickman, a coal miner’s son, destined for the mines, who was inspired by Russian’s first Sputnik launch in 1957. Against the wishes of his father, he pairs up with the local mathematical brain and two other friends, to learn how to build rockets. Most of the town thinks he’s wasting his time, but one inspirational teacher believes in the boys, encouraging them to enter a national science fair with college scholarships as the coveted prize. Such a great film for motivating your children to follow their dreams.
2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG)
Walter Mitty has been in his monotonous job as a negative assets manager at Life magazine for 16 years. His life is boring, with little opportunity for travel or excitement, which he counteracts by regularly drifting off into adventurous daydreams, in which he is the undeniable hero. When his own job is threatened, he sets off on a real action-packed adventure, jumping out of helicopters, escaping from erupting volcanoes and climbing peaks in the Himalayas.
3. Little Women (PG) (2019 version)
As a budding author, Bean11 is a huge fan of this classic novel which chronicles the ups and downs in the lives of the determined and creative March sisters – Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth – in 19th Century Concord, Massachusetts. Jo’s character appeals the most, as she strives to get her story published in an 1864 male-dominated world. This film is also perfect for some special mother-daughter bonding time together.
4. Night at the Museum (PG)
Larry takes on a new job as a night guard at the New York Museum of Natural History and discovers, thanks to an ancient Egyptian curse, that all the exhibits come to life at night! It’s his role to try and control the havoc they wreak, and when a robbery threatens to steal the tablet whose magic allows the exhibits to come alive, he leads his team of oddball individuals (from Teddy Roosevelt to Sacagawea) to foil the plot. Not remotely highbrow, but great fun and thanks to amusing performances from Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, it’ll have your kids in stitches!
5. Harriet (12)
This inspirational choice is without doubt my favourite film of the year. Based on the true story of the heroic Harriet Tubman, it documents her escape from slavery all by herself via the underground railroad to the freedom of the north. Rather than remain here though, this tenacious, brave lady follows her God-given calling to head back south to rescue more slaves, leading them to freedom. As the Eloise Greenfield poem goes, “she went back 19 times to save more than 300 hundred others.” Cynthia Eviro, plays an excellent Harriet and the film’s soundtrack is also hauntingly powerful.
You couldn’t ask for a better strong female role model, but if you have a sensitive child, be aware that obviously, given the film’s storyline, there is some violence (sadly, it wouldn’t be authentic without it), with a woman beaten to death in one scene (we just didn’t watch this part). Despite this, I would HIGHLY recommend watching this film.
6. The Karate Kid (PG) (1984 version)
Daniel Laruzo, a new teen in town, is bullied at his local high school. He’s no match for a group of kids who belong to a local dojo, so he enlists the help of Mr Miyagi, who promises to coach him in the art of karate. Finally, after many hours of training, he’s ready to stand up to the bullies. A classic film!
7. The Personal History of David Copperfield (PG)
A modern and engaging take on Charles Dicken’s classic tale about the life of an orphan child with an unhappy childhood, who overcomes adversity to blossom into a colourful storyteller and writer. Beautifully quirky and brilliantly acted by its all-star cast, this film comes highly recommended.
8. The Blind Side (12)
A heart-warming tale based on a true story of a homeless and traumatised teen known as ‘Big Mike’, who is taken in by a caring woman and her family. With limited formal education and few skills, his prospects look bleak, that is until he discovers a talent for American football. Supported by his new family, who hire him a tutor to help improve his grades, he achieves his dream of qualifying for an athletic scholarship to the college of his choice. Love this one!
9. Hidden Figures (PG)
An uplifting film about the true story of three extremely talented African American female mathematicians in the 1960s who each served a vital role in NASA’s early space program. The story follows the women’s rise through the ranks and their key role in the production of the calculations required for the launch and safe return of John Glenn into orbit. A heart-breaking watch at times given the shocking racism that existed throughout the period. For example, the character Katherine Gobels Johnson has to walk half a mile each time she needs to go to the designated ‘coloured bathroom’. But an extremely important watch for that very reason, and heart-warming to see them all breaking through the racial prejudices to succeed in their fields of expertise.
10. School of Rock (PG)
After being kicked out of his rock and roll band, Dewey Finn takes on a job of a substitute teacher to pay the rent. Music is what he loves best and, recognising some talented young musicians in his midst, he decides to form a class rock and roll band, and enter them into a local Battle of the Bands contest. A fantastically fun film, which had the kids in stitches and rooting for them to win!
11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (12)
This film starts with letters exchanged between a young author, Juliet and a member of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, who shares stories about Nazi occupation of Guernsey in WW2. Sensing a new story to be told, Juliet heads to Guernsey to find out more about this uniquely named society and along the way makes lifelong friends with the islanders. In the process, her own life’s path is irrevocably changed. A beautifully told story of friendship through adversity.
12. Eddie the Eagle (PG)
Another film based on a true story (clearly make the best tales!) about Eddie Edwards, a hugely tenacious and brave individual determined to compete in the Olympics despite limited athletic ability. After being kicked out of the skiing squad, he decides to take on ski jumping instead and with the help of a rebellious but talented coach, enters the 1988 Calgary Olympics as Britain’s first ever ski jumper. Despite not winning the competition, he does win the hearts of everyone watching, earning himself the nickname: Eddie the Eagle. A perfect family film showcasing the importance of never giving up on your dream.
13. Brewster’s Millions (PG)
A minor league baseball player is left an unusual challenge in a great-uncle’s will: to spend $30 million in 30 days, without acquiring any assets or wasting money in the process. If he can achieve this goal, he will inherit $300 million. To make it even more difficult, he can’t tell anyone what he’s doing! A great fun family film!
14. Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG)
This film follows the life of children’s author A. A. Milne as he moves to the countryside with his wife and young son, Christopher Robin, after suffering PTSD from his WW1 experience. Inspired by his son’s imagination as he plays in the woods near his home, Milne, writes his famous Winnie-the-Pooh stories shooting them both into stardom. His stories provide hope and comfort to a post-war England, but sadly all the attention takes its toll on poor Christopher Robin.
15. Harry Potter (PG-12)
A list of family films wouldn’t be complete without inclusion of the exceptional Harry Potter series. These films follow a young magician’s schooling through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and alongside his new-found friends, their efforts to overcome Voldemort’s force of darkness and evil.
16. The Secret Garden (PG) – 2020 version
This lovely story follows a girl who changes dramatically as she strives to help her uncle and cousin understand one another – and in doing so, finds happiness for the first time.
The disagreeable child Mary Lennox is sent to her uncle’s mansion in England after her parents die tragically. There, she finds an uncle almost mad with grief at his wife’s death. With no company, Mary roams the mansion gardens, and finds a dog, who she swiftly befriends. This dog leads her to a secret, walled garden, which she makes her own. But the house has secrets too – every night, Mary hears strange noises, and finally sets off to investigate. In a part of the house forbidden to her, she finds her cousin, Colin, confined to his bed by his father because of his ‘illness’. Mary, with the help of Colin, and another boy – Dicken – who lives on the moors, soon finds out the truth of the secret garden and Colin’s mother – and much more about her own mother, too. Mary then goes to impossible lengths to reunite Colin and his father.
17. E.T. (PG)
Another classic film about a boy named Elliott who discovers a gentle alien stranded on Earth. Sharing the secret with his sister and brother, together they shelter E.T. from the authorities, a hard task especially as he starts to fall seriously ill. E.T.’s desire to return home is strong, so the children help him escape to a spaceship, and after a tearful goodbye, he sets off to his home land.
18. Cool Runnings (PG)
This excellent film is loosely based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsleigh team in the Olympics of 1988. Enlisting the reluctant coaching support of a disgraced former American bobsled medallist, who was disqualified for cheating, they embark on an adventure to raise the required funds to enter the prestigious event in Canada. Despite animosity and ridicule from their fellow competitors, they persevere and prove that hard work and teamwork really can pay off.
19. The King’s Speech (12A)
The story of King George VI’s (the Queen’s father) surprise ascension to the throne after the abdication of Edward VIII, and his battle to overcome his speech impediment. Elizabeth, the Queen Consort, who had a deep love for her husband, realised the nation needed him to speak with confidence. So, she hires him a speech therapist to help him overcome his stammer and deliver effective speeches to the British people.
20. The Mask of Zorro (PG)
Set in 1821 Old California, the renowned masked Zorro – the alter ego of Don Diego de la Vega, who defends the Mexican peasants – is imprisoned by the corrupt governor Don Rafael Montero. He also takes Zorro’s baby daughter, Elena to be raised as his own in Spain. Twenty years later, Montero returns to California alongside Elena. A newly escaped Don Diego trains a young thief who is desperate for revenge for the death of his brother, so that he can become the next Zorro. Together, and later with the help of Elena, they fight to foil Montero’s sinister plans.
21. War Games (12)
A young computer genius, David, accidentally hacks into the US military supercomputer which has been programmed to continually run war simulations and has complete control of the country’s nuclear arsenal. He unwittingly starts a war game between America and Russia and naively starts the countdown to World War Three. Suspected by the FBI as being a Russian spy, David is brought in facing espionage charges. He escapes with the help of his friend Jennifer and together they locate and persuade Falken, the supercomputer’s creator, to help stop the computer game in its deadly tracks.
22. Wonder (PG)
Based on one of our favourite books, this heart-warming film follows the story of August Pullman, with Treacher Collins Syndrome, whose facial differences, have up until now, prevented him from attending mainstream school. Auggie struggles to find his place and is initially bullied by his classmates. All he wants is for them to see past his differences and realise that on the inside, he’s just the same as them. Just beautiful – watch it!
23. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (PG)
Another classic film, in which the archaeologist and explorer Indiana Jones sets off to find the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, a relic which is said to make the army invincible, before the Nazis. His exciting and dangerous adventures take him to Nepal and Egypt, as he races to stop rival archaeologist Dr Rene Belloq from discovering the Ark and handing it over to the Germans.
24. Searching for Bobby Fischer (PG)
Based on a true story, Searching for Bobby Fischer follows child prodigy Josh Waitzkin who discovers his talent for chess at seven years old. After realising his talent, Josh’s father begins to push the child – entering him into tournament after tournament (each of which he wins) and finding him a chess tutor. These high expectations begin to take their toll on Josh, who starts to lose his love for the game. He stops wanting to play, until his father realises that winning isn’t everything and supports his son to the end, where Josh finds himself playing for the first time against the super talented competitor Jonathan Poe…
25. The Love Bug (U) (1968 version)
One of MrJ and my favourite films from our childhood, I’m pleased to say it’s still as joyful to watch as when I first saw it as a little girl! The Beans loved this story about Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of his own, leading to lots of fun antics and car races for his owner.
26. Back to the Future (PG)
I’m not sure MrJ would allow me to write a list of top family films and not include Back to the Future, which to him is an absolute classic. In this film, Marty McFly, a high school student is accidentally sent back thirty years into the past by a time machine invented by the wacky scientist Doc Brown. However, he must ensure that his teenage-aged parents fall in love in order for him to safely return back to the present day.
27. Miss Potter (PG)
Refusing to marry a succession of eligible bachelors presented to her by her mother, Beatrix Potter instead forges her own path, drawing animals and making up stories about them. Her parents don’t recognise her talent, but she persists nonetheless, and publishes her first children’s book. Her beautiful story is a roaring success, and she goes on to publish the whole collection of Beatrix Potter books that we know and love. Alongside the joy though is the sadness of the death of her fiancé and publisher. She finds solace in the Lake District, buying a farm and then, with the help of her solicitor, purchasing many other farms and land in the area to preserve this stunning natural environment.
28. The Help (12)
Skeeter, a southern society girl, returns home to Mississippi from college with aspirations of becoming a writer. After learning that her mother fired the maid who raised her, she embarks on a series of interviews with the African American maids working for white families. At first, they don’t trust her, but eventually open up and, whilst alienating her so-called friends, Skeeter writes an expose book revealing the maid’s stories to the rest of the world. A film for older children.
29. The Dig (12A)
Available on Netflix, this dramatization of The Dig book is based on the events of the 1939 excavation at Sutton Hoo. The owner of a Suffolk estate, Edith Pretty, hires a self-taught archaeologist, Basil Brown, to tackle the burial mounds on her land. After slow and painstaking work, he uncovers an Anglo-Saxon ship, clearly a burial site of an important king from that era. News of this important discovery spreads and a Cambridge archaeologist assumes control of the excavation, but Brown is allowed to stay thanks to the intervention of Edith. A poignant and fascinating story – it was only very recently that Brown was given full credit for his contribution to the discovery, many years after its first exhibition in the British Museum.
30. Bend It Like Beckham (12)
A story of two teenage girls both with dreams of playing professional football. Jess plays with the boys in the park although her conservative family are not supportive. Jules’ father on the other hand does encourage his daughter’s passion. When Jules spots Jess playing and recognises her talent, she urges her to join the local women’s football team, the Harriers. Thanks to the skills of Jess and Jules, the Harriers make it to the top of the league. Jess uses elaborate excuses to hide her football from her family whilst also dealing with romantic feelings for her coach Joe, who Jules also likes…
So, there you have it. I hope you can find something perfect for your own family movie night. If you have any more film suggestions for tweens and teens, please share in the comments below.
Happy movie watching!