Kathleen's and Joe's Personal List of Great Movies and Mini-series for the Family

We watch no television in our home. Haven't for five years. None! We have two eleven-year-olds and one fourteen-year-old and it has worked out magnificently (See The Risks of TV and Must-Read Books for Parents). Among the questions that folks always ask, like How do you get news?? (we've never missed a thing), the big one is: do you watch movies and if so, what? The answer is yes and the list is below, at least a start... a catalog of VERY family-safe films that are also terrific films for adults as well as kids. We have seen every one of these films. Most of them are selected because of strong story and slowly developing characterizations and plot, so the kids have counter-balance to today's machine-gun edited, special-effected, video-game-like films. So that they develop an appreciation for story, not just visual fire. And most of these movies are also built around (or at least allude to) positive character traits. I'm delighted to say that one of our kids' favorite movies, which they have watched several times over the years, is Mr. Holland's Opus, definitely not a movie known for it's rapid pace. We see the equivalent of two, sometimes, but rarely, three movies a week, which is all the "watching" we do. A happy result of no television is that all three kids are tireless readers. Kathleen never thought she would have to say Put that book down! but it happens often around our house (see Great Books for Kids). Anyway, this is our personal, very eclectic list of favorites films and mini-series. Not by any means meant to be all-inclusive, just a healthy sampling of how much fun you can have together as a family without violence, sex, gutter language and gutter humor... and without the influence of commercials. At the rate we watch, this list is close to a year-and-a-half of viewing. Unfortunately, the average eight-year old in the U.S. consumes this much, with commercials, in about six weeks. Enjoy... sparingly.

- Joe

Click on any title below to read more about the film or program on Amazon.com

This is one of our favorite films as a family. Richard Dryfus stars as a frustrated high school band teacher who wants to be a composer... but spends his life inspiring others to reach for the goals he has always wanted. Just fantastic. What life is all about, or should be.

A wonderful and funny film starring Sydney Poitier. Simple. In black and white. Our kids all said "Oh no! Black and white! Do we have to watch this?!" We, of course, said, "Absolutely." One of the benefits of no TV is, in the end, they are happy to watch whatever we want, just to be able to watch. Half way through the movie, we said, "Okay, time for bed." The response was, "Oh no! This is great! Please pretty please can we see the end???" And in the end, they loved it.
This is clearly our very favorite film as a family. Any time any of us are feeling crabby, or down for any reason, the line is: "I guess we need to watch Chocolat." I suspect in the past few years we've seen it at least ten or twelve times. If you're Southern Baptist, you might feel uneasy in the beginning, but stick with it. Believe it or not, it IS all about what Jesus preached when He was here on this earth.
No comment needed here. Everything that Pixar does is VERY family safe, story based, character-based and wonderful.
This is a weird one, and an old one, but one of my all-time top ten. Spencer Tracey and Gene Kelly have never been better. And it's a terrific life lesson about what happens when folks get so zealous about something that they lose perspective and good sense (sort of like I am about television). It's probably over the heads of the youngest kids (nothing in it they shouldn't see, but not really going to hold a child under around ten (my guess). Very talky... but oh such good talk.
Pixar's first, and maybe their best.
Pixar's second, and maybe their second best.
Disney has begun to lose their magic and appropriateness, but this one from a few years back is terrific.
The mini-series. We've watched the entire series twice and the kids are asking to see it again right now. It's a very emotionally involving way to give them an important piece of American History they'll never get so potently in school.
Maybe the best Disney has ever done. Certainly, in my opinion, the best the modern Disney has ever done.
Benji is in it, but it's not a Benji movie. Benji and Chevy Chase play the same part, a private detective who gets murdered and has to go back to earth in the body of a dog to solve his own murder. Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif also star. A fun mystery, but a couple of scenes (the murder) and a couple of words make it a no-no for anyone under ten (Sorry, I let myself get talked into stuff by the execs at Fox. Stuff that really did not need to be in the movie. If i had it to do over...).
One of my favorites of the films we've made. No Benji in this one. A caper film about a bunch of boarding school rapscallions who stumble into a murder attempt and cannot get the authorities to believe them. A lot of fun, but somewhat of an intellectual mystery so I'd say kids should probably be nine or ten and over. In the end, it's about doing the right thing, no matter what. One bad word in it. Begins with an "s".
The most loved and hated of the movies we've made. It's a comedy about the U.S. Cavalry's attempt to eliminate horses and introduce camels to their Arizona troops; just after the civil war. Lots of slapstick, with heart. You decide.
If not in my top ten, at least my all-time top twenty. The kids loved this one. Isn't it amazing what will happen when there's no choice but to settle into a good (and good for) movie. Morgan Freeman is just fantastic.
A classic. And one of our 14-year-old's favorite.
I avoid this one. I don't mind happy tears, but I have to struggle to knowingly expose myself to unhappy tears. Kathleen and the kids love it.
Another mini-series; and in my opinion, the best, most-motion-picture-like mini-series ever made... and, like Roots, it covers with substance a period in history that the kids will never get so potently in school. They know World War II and the Holocaust as if they had lived it. We've watched the entire 40 hours of Winds of War and War & Remembrance twice within the past five years. These are lessons worth having, so hopefully we might avoid it ever happening again.
The continuing story of Winds of War. The first mini-series only goes to the beginning of the war. This one, in two parts, takes you through the entire war. Both books are terrific reads as well, by Herman Wouk.
A classic. As a kid, I slept for a week with the light on after seeing this movie because of the wicked queen, but unlike the feeling of some parents, it did me no harm and, in fact, by stretching my emotion actually did me some good. I believe that emotional stretching is an important part of emotional growth. The emotion, just like the brain, or your muscles, works better when it's used, when it's stretched. It can then handle more. And is better equipped to deal with the problems of real life. There is evil and bad in the world. I believe avoiding it in the lives of kids (completely shielding them) can be harmful. I just always try to insure that they understand that bad can always be overcome, that good can win, through effort, compassion, and persistence.
Another classic. Our eleven-year-old daughter loves this movie. Has probably seen it ten times.
Fun the first time. Doesn't seem to hold up as well as some for repeat viewings.
One of my favorites as a kid. Conversations about this film are what inspired the original Benji.
Still one of my favorites. Okay, okay, I'm very old-fashioned.
Same as the above.
This is still a terrific movie. One of my favorite musicals, and has some of the best-ever movie musical "extravaganza" numbers. Kids under seven or eight should probably avoid because of a couple of pretty dark scenes; and younger kids should have some explanation about why it seems so much fun to be a pick-pocket. Point to the end, where the fun disappears, except for Oliver himself, who gets back to his real life. Ron Moody is terrific as Fagin. Caused us to recruit him for Benji's Christmas Story to play Kris Kringle.
Like this one a lot. The sequel not so much.
This is one of Kathleen's favorite family movies. I have yet to see it.
The original with Cary Grant and Kathryn Hepburn. A lot of fun! Very family friendly. The kids saw it for the first time only recently and they really loved it. It's amazing how a good story and such marvelous performances can overtake the old-fashioned feel, even for today's kids. It works.
One of my favorite Disney pictures. It's such a shame that the company has lost their way.
Ahhh... now here's one terrific film! Okay... seriously... if you've spent any time at all on this website you know all there is to know about this one. It has received better audience and critical response than any we've ever made. And at last the DVD is available. Just click to the left.
The original. The beginning. The first-ever movie in which a dog actually acted and expressed emotion on the screen just like a human actor would do. See more on our movie page.
The second Benji movie, filmed entirely in Greece. Benji finds himself involved in international intrigue. See more on our movie page.
The third Benji movie. Filmed in the mountains of Oregon and Washington. Benji rescues a nest of homeless cougar cubs and embarks upon a quest to find them a new mother. See more on our movie page.
The Disney classic.
One of the better Pixar movies. A lot of fun.
Another Pixar film. Enough said.
Pixar's latest. Not my favorite, but a fine family-friendly film.
The original animated version.
I love this movie. Paris, and Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn, and a host of others. A real thriller. Based upon real suspense, not in-your-face blood-wrenching fear. Probably too intense in spots for under tens. Great twists all the way through it.
A wonderful film that exposes kids to stuff they don't see today. Great singing and dancing.
Same as the above. Gene Kelly is excellent.
A compilation from all the old MGM musicals. A lot of fun. Our kids loved it.
Another great musical. Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Louis Armstrong.
Whoopi at her best... good ultimate messages.
Here's another one that our kids fought against. Old. Black and white. But once into it, they wouldn't turn it loose. They are learning what great movies are made of... and it's not special effects and violence.
Another wonderful musical, with a message.
One of our kids' favorites. Proof that war and action and suspense can be handled without today's frenzied editing, in-your-face violence, and everything else that goes along. An excellent film.
The original. One of my all-time top ten. Incredible performances by Kathryn Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. Lots of words. Very talky. And a couple of scenes that should escape kids under ten or so... but a terrific movie for older kids and adults. 12th century England.
Really loved this movie. John Voight is hysterical. And the message is excellent. It was produced by Walden, a very Christian company. A bunch of teenagers from the wrong side of life... without a single gutter word... proof that they aren't necessary because if there ever was a group who would use them, this is it... but they don't, and you do not miss them at all!
A wonderful, wonderful movie for older kids and parents who are willing to break the language rules for really terrific content. It's one of those very rare exceptions to my own rule, but I feel the powerful content for kids in this case is worth it. For us. All three of our kids have seen it, loved it, and got a lot from it. Will, at some point, see it again.
Johnny Depp is great. A great family pleaser.
A little slow for the younger set, but a great film with terrific music and good life lessons.
Ahhh... one of my very favorites. No matter how bizarre the premise, it is a terrific (and fun!) lesson in what the presidency of our country should be about. Warning: Keep the fast-forward in your hand for the first few minutes to get past the bedroom scene (we do), then you're good to go. Kevin Kline at his best.
Like Dave, this one is a good lesson in what the presidency should be about. Very entertaining. Michael Douglas. I probably prefer Dave, but both have been watched in our home more than once.
A classic. Do this one sometime. Spencer Tracey is great. So is Sydney Poitier. The kids will learn something of another time. And all will enjoy.
Another mini-series about another important time in history. Not as compelling as Roots and Winds of War , but is an entertaining story and very enlightening for kids, especially regarding slavery.
A mini-series that follows Washington's life from late teens through the war and presidency. Good way to get a Colonial history lesson for kids maybe ten and up. Probably won't hold the younger kids. The period is realistic as it's the first ever film that was allowed to shoot at Colonial Williamsburg and some of the wonderful plantation homes along the Virginia rivers. Our beginnings, well depicted.
A whacky, bizarre, fun, silly movie with great lessons. Love it.
There's one completely unnecessary word in this one, spoken by a child. I never understood why, why, why Spielberg would demean an otherwise fantastic movie with a poignant memorable ending (and good lesson: you must love enough to do what's best for the other person (or pet), not what's best for yourself). I leave it up to you. You'll never catch the word with a fast forward unless you know exactly where it is.
More to come. Stay tuned.