Ask Design Mom: Movies For All Ages

February 12, 2013

By Gabrielle. Poster by Wonchan Lee.

Hi Design Mom. You mentioned that your older kids watched You’ve Got Mail, and I’d love to know what movies you watch as a whole family. Are there movies that the younger kids and older kids both like? I need a list for our own movie nights. Thanks! — Joanna.

Such a fun question, Joanna! As you know, we love a good movie party at our house. : )

Before I share a list of favorite titles, I feel like I should give some kind of parental guidance warning. We don’t consider ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R) super accurate at our house. School of Rock is PG-13, but we watch it as a whole family. On the other hand, Skyfall is rated PG-13, but we won’t let our kids see it — even the older two who are 13+. And The Kings Speech, which is rated R, would definitely be on my approved list for my teens. So if there’s something on our list that would offend your kids, forget my recommendation and stick to your own instincts.

Here’s a list of 15 of the favorites at our house in no particular order. These are movies the whole family can watch together and everyone seems to enjoy them.

- The Incredibles (We actually love lots of Pixar movies, but The Incredibles is our favorite. Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo are probably next in line.)
- The Princess Bride (Love these posters!)
- School of Rock
- Mega Mind
- PeeWee Herman’s Big Adventure

- Tangled
- Nanny McPhee Returns (We like it better than the first one.)
- Babe
- Nightmare Before Christmas
- Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron (Not to be confused with Spirited Away, which is also very cool, but my kids felt it was toooo long.)

- Napoleon Dynamite
- Fantastic Mr. Fox
- Spy Kids
- Back to the Future
- Nacho Libre 

How about you? What are some of the favorites on your family’s list? We’re always looking for good recommendations and I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Minimalist movie posters.

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February 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Francesca February 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

After seeing your movie night post, i decided to make Family Movie Night more if a special occaison. We recently watched the Muppet Movie with our 5 &7 year olds. A really fun show for everyone.


2 Suzie12 February 12, 2013 at 9:41 am

We love a good movie night at my house too. I agree that ratings can vary with each movie as to who it is appropriate for.

One of our favorite movies is the Disney animated movie Meet the Robinsons.


3 Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 10:14 am

We also LOVE that movie! Meet the Robinsons is definitely a favorite and also an excellent sound track!


4 Layla February 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

We LOVE Spirit. I bought it on VHS right before DVDs came into vogue. Our family adores it and we often choose it over newer/fancier/flashier movies. That being said, I think you’re the first person in the world I’ve ever heard mention it, other than myself. People never know what I’m talking about; tragedy! To miss out on that soundtrack, how sad. I have to admit, the main reason I talked my husband into it the first time, was that Spirit shared a voice with Jason Bourne. :) It was reason enough for him.


5 Darci February 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm

We have Spirit too. I bought the movie because my husband was obsessed with the Bryan Adams song that is in it. He heard it in the grocery store and all he knew was a couple lines of the chorus. Took me awhile to figure out what it was and who sang it.


6 Alissa February 12, 2013 at 9:45 am

Between my kids and my sisters kids (who only live a block away!) we have 6 kids ages 1 – 6. As an addition to your list, we’ve found that Wall-E is perfect! There’s nothing too scary for the littles, the older kids think it is hilarious, and the grownups don’t get bored. (:

We also LOVE Fantastic Mr. Fox. Who am I kidding, I love anything Wes Anderson does! But Fantastic Mr. Fox is pretty kid friendly, surprisingly.


7 dunski February 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

I totally agree with the considerstion of ratings. Here in switzerland no on really pays attention toratings anyway(except in cinemas they have
age limits).
We love muppet shows, pixar stuff, nanny mcphee, mary poppins,stripes


8 dunski February 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

Racing stripes,peter pan stuff, winnie the pooh movies, mamma mia, audrey hepburn movies,cars ..
Kids are between 3 &12.
We also love german movies like:
Willi wills wissen
Mama Muh
Petterson und Findus


9 dunski February 12, 2013 at 9:48 am

Oops.. That one got away to fast.
Racing stripes, audrey hepburn movies, mamma mia, winnie the pooh movies, peter pan stuff…
Kids from 3-12.


10 Angela February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am

I have an 11, 8, and 6, and we esp love musicals and older shows. But these are some favorites:

- Annie
- Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier
- Mary Poppins
- Night at the Museum (they like the 2nd one better than 1st??)
- Old Yeller
- Ramona and Beezus
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
- Sound of Music
- Swiss Family Robinson
- Wizard of Oz

We are eager to show other musicals, but don’t think they’re quite ready yet…


11 Jennifer O. February 12, 2013 at 9:51 am

When I was a kid I was obsessed with Sound of Music. I’m looking forward to introducing that to my nieces and nephews. They also like Princess and the Frog, Tangled, the Toy Story movies, Japanese movies (Totoro, etc.), Princess Bride, lots more I’m forgetting.


12 jessica brown February 13, 2013 at 10:45 am

My daughter and I watch sound of music all the time. Perfect for a sick day home from school.


13 Sandra Gonzales February 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

I love to watch Corina Corina and Uncle Buck with my teen. Our new favorites are Moonrise Kingdom and Pitch Perfect.


14 CMN February 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

I love having Movie Night with my nieces and nephews — which are a huge age range, basically 1-18! We usually pick to watch a classic film like “The Apple Dumpling Gang”, or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. I love that they enjoy these movies as much as we did when we were kids and that they are so engaged by them. When it’s just the teens, we’ll dive into Hercules Poirot with David Suchet or the classic “Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation”.


15 nicole i February 12, 2013 at 10:01 am

We enjoy dramas based on historical events:
Temple Grandin
We are Marshall
Remember the Titans
Soul Surfer
Miss Potter
Night at the Museum (s)
and most recently we have entered the world of Pirate of the Caribbean.


16 Amanda B. February 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

Have you watched Penelope? It’s PG and it’s a modern day fairy tale. Very cute!


17 Kate Frishman February 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

Penelope is one of our all-time favorites!


18 Emily February 12, 2013 at 10:12 am

I was lamenting that my boys 9 and 12, were spending so much time quoting movies I considered less than noteworthy and realized that while I don’t have the means to regularly attend more elevated things such as cultural performances, I had the power to expose them to things more substantial during our weekly movie nights. While they would never choose to watch My Fair Lady, with the promise of popcorn, treats and family time they’ll endure most things. And despite themselves, they rise the next morning singing “I could have danced all night….”
After enjoying a comedy skit that drew on the Crispian’s Day speech form Henry V, they were even game for the real deal. Hooray for movie night!


19 Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

How to Train Your Dragon – best movie EVAH!


20 Julie February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

Oooh, new movies to consider. Love it. Some we (two boys 4 & 7) have watched recently and enjoyed…Despicable Me and James and the Giant Peach. Mine love musicals too like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. And, I love to introduce them to old movies, like The Love Bug and The Ugly Dachshund (two great Dean Jones movies), The Shaggy Dog and The Parent Trap (not the remakes – I don’t like remakes). Oh yeah…and any Wallace and Grommit . We love those.


21 Jude February 12, 2013 at 10:39 am

Great recommendations, thank you. As you are in France, the Jacques Tati collection of films are worth a look as they are mainly visual gags with a bit of French dialogue and very atmospheric. Our now 8-year-old has loved them since he first saw them age 2 or 3. Jours de Fête and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot’s are particular favourites. We watch while eating French patisserie!


22 dunski February 12, 2013 at 11:12 am

Tati! My husband loooooves Tati..his main goal is making the kids love Tati :-)


23 Sabrina February 12, 2013 at 10:42 am

School of Rock is one of my favorite movies of all time! We also all love Kung Fu Panda (you can say we’re Jack Black fans), Muppets movies, the new one is our kids’ favorite, mine is the Muppets take Manhattan, The Sound of Music, August Rush, October Sky, Sleepless in Seattle


24 kristin February 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and the recent Hugo are great “real movies”, not cartoons enjoyed by my 8 and 12 yo. Also Mr. Bean (any of them) and Wallace and Grommit if you enjoy that kind of humor.


25 Jennifer February 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

I love all these great suggestions! I agree with your ratings comment… My 7-year-old watched Brave and was terrified! (It made me wonder who exactly the intended audience was.) Lately she’s been obsessed with the Brady Bunch (not the movie though — the TV shows!)


26 dunski February 12, 2013 at 11:15 am

Can’t wait to see “Epic”! Our kids are aldo desperatly waiting until mid may.


27 Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:19 am

Great movie suggestions
I also want to recommend the site We use it as a discussion starter with our kids to decide whether or not a show is right for them.


28 CarrieB February 12, 2013 at 11:29 am

If you like Spirited Away, try some other Miyazaki (sp? sorry…didn’t go look it up)/Studio Ghibli movies. I highly recommend Ponyo, particularly for families with very young children, as there are no scary bad guys and no missing parents (so far, even Finding Nemo is too much for my sensitive 3-year-old; we’ve pretty much ruled out all of Disney except Tinkerbell for now). My Neighbor Totoro is another good one.


29 Marille February 13, 2013 at 4:46 am

Totoro is one of the best movies for kids! I saw it when I was seven, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since. Other goods films: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Adventures of Tintin, and The Chronicles of Narnia.


30 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag February 13, 2013 at 9:50 am

‘Totoro’ is, I think, the best movie for kids I HAVE EVER SEEN. We adore most of the Miyazaki films, but that one in particular is just a work of pure brilliance.


31 robin February 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm

ya, but the mom does leave the kids alone and it does get a bit scary – that said my kids love Ponyo and Totoro. They are 9 and 6 and although we own Spirited Away (thrift store!) I am holding off till they’re a bit older…

Family favs :
ANY Ice Age
Night at the Museum
Anything Pixar (as a 6 degrees of seperation we hang out every summer with the director of Finding Nemo & Wall-E, my husband’s best freind growing up!)
Chronicles of Narnia
Never Ending Story (bit scary near the end)
How to Train Your Dragon
of course the kids will watch anything animated recent fans of the more serious nature that the groaned at when the movie started and were glued to by the end are :
Opal Dream
Children of Heaven

Note – these stories all have a sad undercurrent, but end happy :)


32 mattie February 12, 2013 at 11:33 am

if you like “school of rock”, you will love “here comes the boom.” it is hilarious and it has a great message. it’s about mixed martial arts, so it might not be appropriate for younger kids, but your older kids would probably love it!


33 Kate Frishman February 12, 2013 at 11:36 am

TPB will always be the most quoted movie around here. Yours, Mine, and Ours with Lucille Ball is another family favorite. We’re going through a Don Knotts phase right now – Mr. Limpet, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Apple Dumpling Gang, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken all hit the mark with my crew.


34 Starr February 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Perfect for your time in France: How to Steal a Million. I don’t know why more people don’t know this Audrey Hepburn gem. (I’d show it to anybody, but kids under 8 might find it a bit slow.)

Any age: Singin’ in the Rain. My now-10 year old used to watch this with rapt fascination as a 1 year old. She loved the singing & dancing — and she still does.


35 jo February 12, 2013 at 1:36 pm

we love all the old classic musicals, and last summer we were watching a lot of old disney movies, like escape to witch mountain and bed knobs and broomsticks and things like that. my kids (that are old enough to watch) are 9 and 6, and they love those kinds of things.


36 Paige Lewin February 12, 2013 at 1:39 pm

We have many family favorites (movie night every Friday!), but our top three are The Secret of Kells, My Neighbor Totoro, and The Secret World of Arietty. All three movies cover pretty grown-up topics (childhood illness, death of a parent, war) in a kid-friendly way, and each is a visual delight. One Christmas afternoon we put in The Secret of Kells and it kept eight of us (ages 5, 7, 8, 12, 21, 24, 38, and 39) positively rapt. Nobody moved for two hours!

All that said, I can’t wait to introduce my boys to Grease (that was absolutely one of my faves growing up)!


37 Jessica February 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm

My kids, ages 4 and 7, LOVE the old Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry movies. Other favorites include Despicable Me, Rio, the Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Cars.


38 Jenny February 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm

4 kids – 3, 9, 10, and 14 and we love, love movies.

Our favorites include The Goonies, The Wilderness Family, Princess Bride, Savannah Smiles, National Treasure, Home Alone, School of Rock, Napolean Dynamite, Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield, Monsters Inc, Sound of Music, Chronicles of Narnia Series, Rio, Harry Potter Series, Peter Pan, and Hook.

My oldest loves films and is intrigued with all things film making, so I’m introducing her to more movies from the 70s-present that I won’t allow the younger ones to watch just yet.


39 Grace February 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Spirit! I loved that movie! When I was a kid my favorites, besides Disney and Pixar, were A Little Princess, Iron Monkey, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Star Wars, and a series of “oldies” thanks to my parents: Roman Holiday, Fiddler on the Roof (to this day we all sing along to this movie whenever we watch it), The Sound of Music (which I watched SO much I’ve given myself a “break” so I can learn to appreciate it again), and Gone with the Wind (I was in love with Clark Butler.) I also love everything by Hayao Miyazaki, but I get Spirited Away as being a bit too long. My Neighbor Totoro is my absolute favorite, followed closely by Kiki’s Delivery Service.


40 Grace February 12, 2013 at 2:23 pm

*RHETT Butler! Not Clark Butler haha.


41 Maria C. February 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Ok, since you are living in France you must see Asterix and Obelix!!
Also I agree that How to Train Your Dragon is great movie. I would add
The Road to El Dorado
Despicable me
Anastasia ( Meg Ryan gave voice!)
Help! I’m fish ( Danish , but recored in English)..great!

As far as non animated movies
Chronicles of Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, Asterix and Obelix


42 Jeanne February 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Haven’t seen it mentioned here yet, but I also love The Black Stallion.


43 Sarah February 12, 2013 at 3:19 pm

My kids are older now (high school and college), but nothing made us laugh harder than Young Frankenstein and The Pink Panther Strikes Again. I believe they were in upper elementary/middle school when we watched those. So funny!


44 norah February 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Bend it like Beckham
The king’s speech
March of the Penguins
The Last Airbender


45 Heidi S February 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro by Miyazaki. These movies are absolutely genius and very gentle. Ponyo is great too!


46 Darci February 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Love these two


47 C Davis February 12, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I have a hard time with the “kids movies.” They constantly use language like stupid, idiot, shut up, and just don’t seem great for smaller kids especially. We work on using kind words with our friends, which is hard to reinforce if they are watching the opposite. Also guns and fighting in general. Am I alone in this? My son is 4 and I hope those things are never “normal” to him. I’ll have to check out some of the older musicals.


48 lynn February 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Great list(s). My 8 year old loves Newsies, Sound of Music, Pricess Bride and Family Ties (I know it’s TV, but we watch a few episodes on the weekend). Can you tell when I was raised? :)

Side Note: You should try partnering with NetFlix to create movie lists for family movie night!


49 Eileen February 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Check out:
Jeremy Fink & the meaning of life…..great movie for 8-13yr olds!


50 Christelle February 12, 2013 at 10:17 pm

My kids are 12 and 9 and our favorites are (or used to be) the Japanese Totoro, Kiki delivery service, Arietti, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Princess, August Rush, Swiss family Robinson, Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush and Modern Time. I would totally recommend Jacques Tati for your French movie making education.
My challenge these days is to find girlie movies my 12 y.o. daughter will enjoy without being too kidish but appropriate enough: Bent it like Beckham, You’ve got mail, Sleepless in Seattle, The Holidays, 50 first dates, Amelie Poulin, any other suggestions?


51 Heidi S February 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Oh, another thought. My kids have LOVED the avatar series that Nickelodeon has put out. We have watched every single one on Netflix. The kids and al my fellow artist parents live these. They are very entertaining and also very philosophically deep. My friend Louise swears theirs elements of The Brothers Karamazov to the first series, but for kids ;). The second series is excellent as well. Good got kids and grown ups….


52 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay February 12, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I am making a list from your lists! Thank you!


53 Maria B February 13, 2013 at 6:23 am

Our girls are 2 and 4 so we watch a lot of things like Cailliou and Dora, but we do have a few movies in our rotation. Our youngest loves Cars, which I hate to admit I love too. We also love Chicken Little (or shicken yittle as they say,) The Lorax and Tangled. Shriek is fun too!


54 Cath February 13, 2013 at 6:57 am

I went to see Skyfall in the cinema and there was a whole family there – including their 2 year old!


55 Nicole February 13, 2013 at 9:38 am

I totally agree with the ratings comments. I really think you need to know your kids and trust your own parenting philosophy. The two movies that have scared the daylights out of my 9 y/o are Brave & Big (scary mommies are just way too scary) and Wall-E (still not sure why). We live in a big city where the kids unfortunately hear plenty of swearing when they are out and about, so that doesn’t rule out a movie for us — we just use it as a teachable moment that that is not something we do in our family.

That said, I think it is really sad that I got to grow up with summer blockbusters like Star Wars & Indiana Jones that were all PG. Now everything is PG-13. Why The Devil Wears Prada and Skyfall are both PG-13 is beyond me.

We do a lot of sports movies (Hoosiers, Secretariat & even Moneyball), horse movies (Secretariat again, Black Stallion, Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken, Sea Biscuit) and nature documentaries. Fortunately, both of my kids have inherited my costume drama gene, so they love anything Jane Austen or Downton Abbey :)

I keep trying to sell the Sound of Music, but haven’t been successful yet!


56 Starr February 13, 2013 at 10:12 am

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken is wonderful. My then-two year old nephew (now he’s 23!) used to ask for “the horse movie” and watch it over & over.


57 Barb February 13, 2013 at 11:46 am

I really enjoyed Searching for Bobby Fisher. Maybe older kids would like it too.
It has a great message for parents.


58 Jill February 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Growing up we loved Disney Haley Mills movies. Pollyanna, The Parent Trap and Summer Magic. My Nieces, 7 & 9, love them too.


59 ray February 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kipper, Mary Poppins, Pinnochio, Spirited Away, the old Willie Wonka. Looking forward to Pollyana and Pippi Longstockings.

I try to stay away from movies that depict the boy girl hook up (keep in mind most movies were made from an adult male perspective its wierd)/trashy humor/ big conflict story arcs – kids don’t need it!


60 ray February 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Ohhhh and Fantasia.


61 ray February 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Oh George Melies! Esp. after reading hugo cabaret. also buster keaton, charlie chaplin.


62 Susan February 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm

We’ve loved so many of the movies on this list. I especially second Matilda and A Little Princess, and would add Nancy Drew. I’m a mother of girls, and all these movies have girls who are celebrated for being kind, smart, imaginative and responsible.


63 Michelle February 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Happy to see you mention MegaMind, since I worked on it in editing for three years! Also did a bit on Spirit, for DreamWorks Animation.


64 Shelly February 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Yellow Submarine!


65 Darci February 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm

The first ‘grown up’ movie I let my daughter watch was The Help. She was 7 and I had already read the book so I knew what to expect. The movie leaves out quite a bit so I didn’t have any problems with it. her school is named after a female civil rights leader and the movie opened up some important conversations. We are a mixed race family in NYC, she was very surprised at how people treated each other in the movie.


66 Meredith February 14, 2013 at 12:02 am

i’m so grateful for the websites that review movies so that we can make informed decisions about what we see or don’t see! here are some of my girls’ favorites (ages 9,7, 4) that you didn’t mention:

Emperor’s New Groove
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Bedtime Stories
Despicable Me
Tale of Despereaux

they also love old Bewitched episodes that I’ll record for them– i’m selective about which ones though!


67 Dee February 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm

A recent family favorite is A Cat in Paris.


68 Jenny February 14, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I watched more musicals and old movies as a kid and was recently given Ty Burr’s book ‘old movies for families’. It has lots of good recommendations that my kids love like bringing up baby and Charlie Chaplin silent films that I never would’ve shown to the kids while they were so little had i not read the book. ET is another one they can watch over and over. We are currently taking a break from Fantastic Mr Fox because I was so tired of my 3 year old saying “what the cuss” all the time.


69 D February 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm

My Girl
Mrs. Doubtfire
Now and Then
Dennis the Menace
Harriet the Spy
It Takes Two
Baby’s Day Out
Monkey Trouble
Baby Genious
The Secret Garden
The Wizard of Oz
Stuart Little (2)

…..did I just give away my age?


70 Grace February 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Cool Runnings! A great movie that kids love!


71 Tania November 28, 2014 at 4:11 am

Recently we saw The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet at the movies: an independent and beautifully filmed story with a fantastic cast and long-lasting messages. A must see for families of tweens and teens. PS My two girls were two mesmerised to take much note of the two swear words in passing.


72 Brian July 12, 2016 at 12:20 pm

My top 5 favorite family comedy live action films of all time:
1.The Goonies
2.Problem Child 1 and 2
3.Home Alone 1 and 2
4.Dennis the Menace
5.Mrs. Doubtfire


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