How to Choose Good Family Films

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One of our favorite things to do on weekend nights is to watch a movie together. We pop pocorn, get jammied up, curl up cozy with blankets and pillows, and settle down for a film festival together. It’s particularly good if we’re not watching the same movie for the umpteenth time.

But, finding a fresh movie can be challenging. Finding a family-friendly film can be even moreso. And while there have been instances when FishPapa and I have prescreened films, we truly don’t have the time to do that.

We have made our fair share of family film fumbles, but usually, we do okay. Here are some things that have helped us choose good movies to watch as a family.

The recommendations of friends

It will only take a few movie recs from friends to find if you have similar tastes in movies. If it’s a friend who knows me and my preferences well, usually the recommendation is spot-on. Not sure about your friends? Talk about movies that you’ve liked and see if they felt the same way. If so, you should be good to go.

Family film websites

I’ve found The Dove Foundation to be very helpful and usually a good match for our family. Other families have used Plugged In Screen It, and Common Sense Media and really appreciate the feedback ahead of time. Search around and then try out different sites until you find one that gives you the details you want and matches your preferences for your family. I don’t hesitate to read spoilers if it’s a movie my kids really want to see, but I really want to know if it’s okay.

Pre-1970 Disney

Prior to Walt’s death, Disney films were almost always a sure bet. Classic movies like Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, and Mary Poppins have pleased all my kids, and they are considered family favorites. However, I haven’t had the same experience with later films. While their movie writers have become more adept at appealing to a wider range of audiences, there’s also a bigger risk. There have been some wonderful, some mediocre, and some pitiful films. It’s a mixed bag.

Trial and error

I hate to say it, but sometimes we find a “family friendly” movie that is just a yawner. The Adventures of Milo and Otis comes to mind. And other times we find a movie that intrigues everyone, but also entails a lot of discussion about a certain word that might have been used. We roll with the punches and try to do the best we can.

One thing I’ve found is that the movies I liked as a tween aren’t really ones that I’m comfortable with my kids watching today, despite their PG ratings. It seems that 20 years ago some standards were a little worse than they are today. Who knew?

What about you? How do YOU find a family friendly film?

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  1. My husband is a film critic, so he is usually in the know. He reviews films for World Magazine, which often discusses the specific things their audience may or may not like without spoiling the film too much. I recommend looking at for both family and adult films.

  2. Just had to wade in on this one…we subscribed to Family Values Cinema for a couple of years. We received some really great movies from them, complete with a discussion card ( and recipe!) and any warning for things to watch for (everyone has different levels of comfort). We discontinued recently only because our boys are getting older. Check out their website for more details.


  3. Just wanted to mention another website–

    It gives very detailed descriptions of the content and then lets parents choose what is appropriate for their families.

    Has been helpful to us many times!

  4. Its such a shame about the language in some movies – my son loves Avatar but the language floored me. And, I have to chuckle at The Goonies – I rented it for my older kids (both are under 13 tho) and they had me turn it off – they said it was far too scary and why did I think they would like it? Hmmm…I guess I had different memories of it? And did anyone know JAWS is PG? (the first one -the later ones get gorier and gorier). go figure

  5. i go to a websit called Movies with kids in mind. But my kids all time fav. is I LOVE LUCY!!!!!

  6. You can add “The Yearling” to the yawn list 🙂 Fortunately, my children have enjoyed all of the older black and white movies that are okay to watch. My oldest son, 16, particularly enjoys DVDs of ancient comedies which can be found at very low prices. These are really, really old. Think Laurel & Hardy as well as those without any voice comedy here.
    We pay attention to previews and reviews and also talk to others who have seen the movie before watching most shows. “If in doubt, throw it out” is pretty much how we decide. We would rather err on the side of being too choosy than not careful enough.
    My husband is excellent at recognizing and understanding unhealthy innuendos and messages buried deep within a fun, wholesome appearing show. Hence none of the newer Disney films. I rely on his insight and wisdom to catch those things I would never even notice. How thankful I am to be under this man’s covering.

  7. I’m really surprised you thought that “The Adventures of Milo and Otis” was a yawner. It’s been one of our family’s all-time favorites for at least 10 years now. Our oldest is now 15, and he just named our new orange kitty “Milo.”

  8. Love to read your blogs. I check movie content with Focus on the Families They will check current movies and tell you what language is used or even if there is alcohol in the picture. I know this works for movies currently at the theatre. I am not sure about the old time, Goonie type movies.

    Thanks for great info.

  9. Plugged In is definitely one we use!! I host a women’s movie night for my church monthly at my house, and if I haven’t seen the movie, or if I haven’t had the stamp of approval from someone I trust, I use that site! Sometimes they’re a little over-the-top with their ratings, but I like that they tell you everything!

  10. I grew up in a multi-generational home. On Fridays my grandparents, parents and siblings would sit down after dinner and watch a movie. I remember watching Apple Dumplin Gang, Pippi Longstockings, Anne of Green Gables (still my absolute favorite and will torture my husband with it to this very day) and most Disney stuff. Also Shirley Temple was a big hit when the men were away. They didn’t usually like her movies as much as the girls did. I still think of those happy “wholesome” times when I see those movies. My boys are not old enough to watch movies or TV but I can’t wait to usher in a new generation to the movies I loved growing up.

    1. @Lisa, What fun, loving memories to have! Our family too had some favorite standbys, some of which were torture for the male gender as well. Thank you for reminding me of a happy time gone by. Becky

  11. Funny what you said about the old standards vs new. I rented Jaws bc I saw it was PG (which I allow). I figured it would just be spooky/suspense. I knew it was not a for littles, but possibly ok for the older ones, considering the PG rating. Turned out to be VERY bloody – would think it would be an R nowadays.

  12. I know what you mean about how the PG when we were kids is now the new PG 13. We were watching Back to the Future and I was shocked how often they said bad words.

    I look on Netflix, they give a very detailed reasons for why it is rated it is. I try to avoid movies with spiritism too. Plus I hate the fact that it is “normal” for teens to date, not something that I teach my kids. Actually, we’re sitting here watching Little House on the Prairie right now! The kids love it and I totally approve! Great post, thanks!

  13. We do all of the research that you mentioned. Fortunately I have a really good memory about movies from when I was a kid, so I’ve known when to mute the sound at right part, like in the original “Annie” with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan.

    We only have one child, so my hubby and I are often able to “pre-view” a movie for our son. When we wouldn’t let him see King Kong a few years ago, we compromised by letting him see the original King Kong from the 1930’s. He was happy with that.

    We’ve invested in DVDs from several series that I’ve always loved—I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, The Andy Griffith Show, Leave it to Beaver—and we all enjoy watching those!

  14. I do a Family Movie Review every Friday on my new website “This Parenting Adventure”.

    I love to use Dove for “previewing” movies , thanks for the other recommendations!

    I wish someone would start a blog link-up for family friendly movie reviews, you know, the linky parties with pictures (hint, hint). It’s fun to see what other blog moms/dads have in their family movies section at home:)

    Would you PPPLLLEEAAAASSSSEEE consider hosting something like this every Friday???? It’s not like we homeschool moms need anything else on our plate, right?

    1. I think it’s a great idea. You find ten people who promise to participate every week and I’m game. 😉

  15. We have a Clearplay DVD. (The best investment ever!) Actually, it’s come down in price and you can buy the dvd at various stores (Target? Walmart? now). When you buy the dvd, the 1st year membership is included. You download from the Clearplay site filter(s) for specific movies or you can download their whole library. It edits the film for foul language, sex scenes, graphic violence, vain references to God, etc. (You can watch a movie with or without a filter.) It has allowed our family to enjoy movies without all the yucky stuff.
    Some other wholesome family movies we really like:
    The Railway Children
    The Incredibles (our #1 favorite Pixar)
    Baby’s Day Out (with filter)
    Wallace & Grommit (short films)
    Sound of Music!!!!
    Parent Trap (original)
    The Absent-minded Professor (old version of Flubber)
    That Darn Cat

    We also like to rent a lot of old tv shows from our library:
    Leave it to Beaver
    Father Knows Best
    I Love Lucy
    Brady Bunch

  16. I totally know what you mean. Our daughter loves the older Disney movies (Aristocats, Mary Poppins, etc.), but even some of those can be tricky. My husband and I are shocked at some of the things they hint at in cartoon movies. What are some of your favorite movies to watch as a family?

  17. What a timely post as I was just at “pluggedinonline” site trying to figure out if there was going to be a movie at Redbox we could watch tonight as a family. All my kiddos are fighting colds or we’d do a summery family activity like swimming and icecream.

    I appreciate the pluggedinonline” site b/c it gives me a lot of detail. I am not comfortable with much at all b/c for me, it’s not just about the obvious language, sexual innuendos, etc, but also about the subtle worldview/foundational gridworks exposure to these movies can create within my kiddos’ minds and hearts.

    If not able to preview beforehand, (and we aren’t able to do that most of the time), we try to watch movies with them, stopping it to interject our thoughts about a scene or character’s response, etc. And, we are sure to communicate to our kids before we even start a movie that mom and dad have the option of turning the movie off at any point if we feel that it’s not something that is going to be good for us to watch. They are old enough now (my boys anyway…6 yr. old) to submit themselves to that. We are grateful we set that precedent with them early on.

    As they get older, however, I will admit that this becomes much more tricky. And, I’d love input from others.

  18. I was just at our new library thinking the same thing. The kids’ section even had Motherhood (pg-13). I rented it for me, but why sell it as a kids’ movie? lol There are plenty of Dreamworks movies that I will NOT show my family as the language and even situations just are not appropriate. Great post!

  19. I was just thinking about your last statement yesterday when I let my kids watch Back to The Future. OH my goodness! It’s rated PG, but the language in that movie is terrible! I was shocked! I totally agree that we need to re-screen movies that we grew up with.

      1. @Jessica Fisher, See my post below – we have a Clearplay DVD for 6+ years now which filters out language, etc – It really has allowed us to see a lot of good movies without all the junk. I remember putting in ‘Big’ (with Tom Hanks) when my children were a tad younger. Well…lots of words we also ‘forgot’. Needless to say, it was turned off. But if we had had a Clearplay DVD, it would have simply edited out all the yucky stuff (sorry if I sound like I’m trying to sell you on the dvd player, it’s just that we really are grateful for having it).

  20. I KNOW!!! I have found that *several* of the movies I remember loving and watching over and over and over as a tween/teen have a significant “gasp factor” when watching them now with my kids. I’ve had to start re-watching them before I can let the kids watch them. I thought it was just me….

  21. We LOVE movies from Feature Films for Families. We have a lot, as we’ve been getting movies from them for 5 or 6 years. We have liked all of them, and we haven’t had any “surprises” in any of the movies. I highly recommend them!

  22. My wife loved the movie “Goonies” when she was growing up. I remember the movie as well and so we had a family night with it.

    Occasionally an “S” bomb was dropped and my wife and I looked at each other. Somehow we “FORGOT” that those words were in there.

    So the lesson we learned was.. “watch the movie again before using it in your family night”.