Cue the lights and pop that corn because we’ve got a list of family movie night movie choices that’ll knock your socks off! My family helped me pull together a collection of ten movies to watch during a family movie night, so sit back, relax, and tune in for a movie marathon.
1. Mamma Mia!
Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, this movie is a frothy concoction that manages to entertain despite the fact that it’s disjointed, nonsensical, and fairly cheesy. Onstage, you can forgive all these shortcomings — the music, the dancing, and the theatricality of it all sweep you away. But on-screen it’s just as magical, making it a perfect addition to your movie night.
Though some of the musical numbers soar — “Dancing Queen,” of course, and the infectious “Mamma Mia!” — many more hit the wrong note. Although Streep is formidable (who else can meld camp with believable emotion?) and actually sings quite prettily, the dance numbers might make you laugh in all the wrong places. Watching Meryl Streep in spandex, her straggly mane tossing about is a little like witnessing your mom let loose at a party after one too many drinks: Your heart soars at her joie de vivre, but you also kind of want her to stop. Still, Streep’s acting chops serve her well; Christine Baranski, who plays Donna’s cougar-y sidekick, also fares well, and Julie Walters is just plain fun. Brosnan is dashing as always, though singing isn’t his strong suit. And Firth and Skarsgård seem like afterthoughts.
In the end, it’s Seyfried who frankly saves the whole enterprise. Her Sophie beseeches you to check your judgments at the door. Her voice is outstanding, managing to ground the silliness of ABBA’s greatest hits. And the island? It’s so heavenly that it mitigates the film’s flaws. So what if it’s all a little off? In the end, Mamma Mia! manages to move you with its unabashed exuberance. The eponymous tune does, after all, go: “Mamma Mia, how can I resist you?” For a few moments, anyway, it’s the 1970s all over again. Bring on the disco ball!
2. The Princess Bride
This witty modern fairy tale by William Goldman (screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men) is resoundingly satisfying. Goldman’s book is even better– and lots of fun to read aloud (though the book’s asides are more for adult readers). The motley cast of storybook characters is consistently hilarious, right down to the bit parts featuring the likes of Carol Kane and Billy Crystal as a bickering old witch and wizard, and Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman.
Simply put, The Princess Bride is stuffed full of every thrilling element of a classic romantic adventure– princes, villains, and evil geniuses, giants and giant creatures, sword fights, revenge, kidnapping, and rescue on white horses– and it coats them all in delicious humor.
3. The Hangover
The Hangover is funny without being slapstick. It’s a comedy, yet completely inventive. The Hangover is one of the smartest laugh fests spilling out from Hollywood, after a long-long time. And the fact that it manages to actually piece together a bizarre story about recognizable characters trapped in absolutely unrecognizable circumstances only goes to prove that this is one of the zaniest screenplays too in recent times.
Can you think of a plausible reason behind the presence of a roaring tiger, a bawling baby, a chicken, a broken tooth, a pierced belly button, a vanished inmate from an expensive hotel suite in Las Vegas?
Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore can, with a flourish and a panache that manages to put all the improbable loose ends together in a cogent it-happened-one-night adventure. Doug (Justin Bartha) is all set to marry his girlfriend. But before he settles down to husband-hood, he decides to celebrate his bachelor’s party with his best buddies, dentist Stu (Ed Helms) and school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper) in Las Vegas. At the last minute, he decides to invite his fiance’s brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) too. Nothing wrong with that, except that Alan’s some kind of a sociopath; weird, yet adorable, all at the same time.
The foursome book themselves an expensive villa at Caesar’s Palace, not before Alan has asked the receptionist whether Caesar actually lived there! After that, it’s straight to the terrace, where they toast each other with shots of Jagermeister and then wake up the next morning, with no memory of the night revelry. All they know is that Stu has a broken tooth, Phil a hospital tag, Alan a pierced belly button, and Doug reported as missing.
Adding to their woes is the crying baby in the cupboard, the roaring tiger in the bathroom, and a police car that has replaced their Mercedes. Any explanations anyone? Before the bride panics, the friends must find the groom. It’s a search that leads them to a sweet hooker (Heather Graham) who says she’s Stu’s wife, a naked Chinese gangster who wants 80k, a belligerent Mike Tyson who wants his stolen tiger back and a final showdown in the Mojave desert.
Needless to say, the journey ends up as a therapeutic exercise for all the players who return as better adjusted individuals, ready to cope with routine in a revitalized way. It’s hilarity and Ken Jeong makes it a perfect movie night choice.
4. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland, the children’s classic by Lewis Carroll about the girl who falls down a rabbit hole, is presented by Disney in this lively and tuneful version. Alice is reading with her sister when she sees a white rabbit, fully dressed, muttering about being late. She follows him down a rabbit hole to Wonderland, where she grows bigger and smaller, meets the Cheshire Cat, attends a mad tea party, talks to a caterpillar who puffs on a hookah, and triumphs over the Queen of Hearts, before finding that it was all a dream.
Younger children may enjoy the movie’s silly characters, like the Mad Hatter and March Hare (especially the celebration of “unbirthdays”), and the tantrums of the despotic Queen of Hearts. Like another perennial favorite, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland is the story of a girl who thinks she wants to go somewhere exciting, but, once she gets there, she spends the entire time trying to find her way home. Wonderland may be different and exciting, but its inhabitants are often rude and unfriendly, even hostile.
It’s worth noting that Alice does just about everything we tell kids not to do, including going off with strangers and eating and drinking things that may be dangerous. She acknowledges her mistakes in a song that kids will relate to: “I Give Myself Very Good Advice (But I Very Seldom Follow It).”
5. John Wick
Keanu Reeves just hit the big 5-0, but he can still tussle with the best of them. And he needs to in the title role of “John Wick,” an action flick in overdrive. The movie is what you’d expect from two stunt- choreographers-turned-directors (David Leitch and Chad Stahelski), with the addition of a few fun flourishes.
As the movie begins, Wick’s wife has just died after a long illness. Wick is despondent, and the cinematography is cold and gray as if the scenes have been shot through a stainless-steel filter. But things warm up considerably with the introduction of a lively new character: a beagle puppy. The unbearably adorable Daisy is a posthumous gift from Wick’s beloved, and with every puppy kiss and tail wag, this seems like it might be the most heart-melting action movie ever— until Daisy meets an untimely end. It comes at the hands of Russian hooligans who break into Wick’s house because they want to steal his 1969 Mustang, then mercilessly beat him as well as the pup.
What these young thugs don’t realize is that Wick is a retired hitman with a frightening reputation. Even his old boss calls him the Bogeyman because when you need to off the Bogeyman, you call John Wick. The killing machine’s former employer, Russian mafioso Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), happens to be the father of the puppy-murdering ringleader (Alfie Allen from “Game of Thrones,” again playing the idiot son). Naturally, Wick plans to take the kid out, while Viggo tries to stop the inevitable retaliation.
The movie’s story, especially toward the end, is a lot less important than those fight sequences. But early on, smart, funny scenes attempt to answer questions other action movies don’t address. For example: How do our invincible heroes navigate car chases so ably? In this case, we see John Wick practicing his skills amid obstacles in a parking lot. And what happens to all those dead bodies? Here, there’s a jaunty cleanup crew.
Like so many action movies, “John Wick” goes way beyond a reasonable carnage threshold. Brawls that are exciting, in the beginning, become dull as each sequence attempts to outdo the last. But John Wick has a more interesting story and better fights than most, not to mention if too briefly, a puppy. Even so, it makes a great choice for a movie night.
6. Top Gun
Made at the peak of Tom Cruise’s career in the 1980s, Top Gun is still exciting to watch. Here, Cruise really is a star in the best sense of the word, and the film is so well directed and acted that you forget his celebrity. For all the serious drama in this film, Top Gun is also heavy on explosions and charisma. Adults of a certain age will remember how this film spawned a fashion movement of aviator glasses and bomber jackets and what a huge star Cruise legitimately was.
More than The Color of Money or the Mission: Impossible franchise, Top Gun is the film in which Cruise proved that he could play more than an arrogant jerk with a killer smile. Cruise imbues Maverick with so much warmth and depth that you can’t help rooting for him.
Parents of younger children should need to know that Top Gun is a blockbuster thriller that’s chock full of narrow escapes, chases, and battles– just what older tweens and teens love to see. With that in mind, you should watch it on a movie night with an older audience.
7. The Breakfast Club
Despite its occasional heavy-handedness, the film is an earnest, engaging attempt at portraying teens and their problems in a realistic light. Writer/director John Hughes’ film deals with very mature issues regarding family and school that both teens and parents can relate to. On the outside, the five may seem like clichéd stereotypes, yet as The Breakfast Club progresses, their confessions as to why they’re in detention reveal a greater depth to their personas.
The Breakfast Club is a classic ’80s film that deals with themes that may be inappropriate for younger teens. Topics such as suicide, depression, social alienation, materialism, sex, and parental physical and emotional abuse are discussed openly.
Main characters use very strong language, smoke pot in the school library, and mock authority figures. The film does, however, positively encourage the breakdown of social barriers as a means of identification and improved communication.
Ringwald, Nelson, Hall, Estevez, and Sheedy owe their careers to this film, and for good reason. The “Brat Pack’s” solid performances coupled with Hughes’ witty dialogue, choice direction, and his ability to balance drama and humor made it one of the most enduring, quotable teen films of all time. This is a great movie night choice for older teens.
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, animated and annoyed, wants Arthur and his men to find the Holy Grail, so off they go, facing killer rabbits, randy vestal virgins, taunting Frenchmen, a bloodthirsty torso, and other silly characters on their not-so-epic quest.
Most comedies don’t age well– the jokes, gags, and even the actors all become dated; that can’t be said of this one, which is still every bit as hilarious. The legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) performs its own loony version of the King Arthur legend.
But don’t expect swashbuckling heroes on horses. Instead, Arthur (Chapman) and his knights trot along with sans horses while a subject makes galloping noises with two coconuts. It would spoil the fun to give away more of the memorable gags; they’re nearly nonstop and need to be experienced, not explained. But lookout for the side-splitting scenes with the Black Knight, the shrubbery bit, and the father of a rather hesitant groom.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the all-time best movie night comedies that families with older kids can enjoy together (for Sir Galahad’s bawdy run-in with the vestal virgins, you can always aim for that “next chapter” button). And, with all the quotable bits, it’s only a matter of time before they’re saying “Ni!” and “just a flesh wound.”
This satisfying, classic boxing movie offers some decent messages. Rocky is realistic about his goal. He does not need to win. He just needs to acquit himself with dignity, to show that he is in the same league as the champion. In order to achieve that goal, he will risk giving everything he has, risk even the small pride of an unbroken nose.
He develops enough self-respect to risk public disgrace. This is a big issue for teens– adolescence has been characterized as the years in which everything centers around the prayer, “God, don’t let me be embarrassed today.” Rocky begins as someone afraid to give his best in case it is not good enough, and becomes someone who suspects that his best is enough to achieve his goals, and is willing to test himself to find out.
It’s worth taking a look at Creed as well. Like the hare in the Aesop fable, he underestimates his opponent. He is so sure of himself and so busy working on the business side of the fight that he comes to the fight unprepared.
Rocky is an underdog boxing tale that makes an excellent movie night classic.
10. The Shawshank Redemption
In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover and sent to prison. It’s 1949, and Andy doesn’t have the stuff for prison life. Andy befriends “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) and uses his past as a banker to get a job in the prison library. But things unravel. In doing the books for the warden, he learns that the prison boss is taking bribes, and Andy is to launder them.
A lovable former inmate hangs himself when he gets to the outside but can’t adjust after decades behind bars. The inmate whom Andy helps get his GED is shot by the guards to keep him quiet about the information that might prove Andy is innocent of the murders and set him free. Andy spends two months in solitary. After he gets out, he seems depressed and Red worries he’ll kill himself. The next day, Andy isn’t dead, but he isn’t there either– he’s escaped. The rest is a perfect Stephen King happy ending, complete with comeuppance for the corrupt warden.
This is a movie that stands the test of time and still resonates with viewers. Call this the Stand by Me of prison stories. Stephen King, who penned Stand by Me, also wrote the short story on which The Shawshank Redemption is based. Here we have all the things that made Stand by Me such a satisfying experience: loveable characters, writerly flourishes, one-dimensional evil antagonists, enduring friendships, poetic justice, and a happy ending. This one is far darker and far more violent than Stand by Me and so ought to be reserved only for older teens. The story is slow to develop, and younger kids and children sensitive to the suffering of others may find this world a difficult one to sit with for the film’s duration.
Having said all that, the film is satisfying but cloying. Andy is the minister of the healing power of hope. He educates the inmates on the healing power of Mozart. He builds a library. He asks Red why he stopped playing the harmonica. When Red replies that it’s no use in prison, Andy looks at him soulfully and replies that “here’s where you need it the most.” Despite the somewhat unbelievable friendship between a white, upper-class banker and an African-American man in 1949, it’s a valuable lesson that may seem inspired to kids who haven’t heard this story before.