Looking for winter movies that the whole family can enjoy? Josie Ortega suggests classics, comedies, and wintry sports films for Family Movie Night in winter.
After the sparkly holiday season, wintertime can be tough: cold weather, dark outside, no end in sight. This year, we haven't even had enough snow for sledding or building a snowman to make it all worthwhile! As in every winter season before, I periodically re-resolve that the family will go outside and get fresh air every day. But we can only last so long. Enter: an old-fashioned Family Movie Night.
Admittedly, film pickings feel slim after winter break, wherein we exhausted all our possible Christmas movies. Everything's going to be OK, I promise. Just remember my number one criterion in selecting a flick for family movie night: Parents hold veto power.
Anything that annoys me or is just a bridge too far: I can’t do it. It’s Friday night, I’ve survived the week, and I refuse to watch Trolls. The best family movies need not be soul-crushing! Instead, try a classic or something beloved by one or both parents. I'm not arguing that your children should join in screenings of your favorite horror movies or the latest Liam Neeson thriller. (My husband’s favorite—Goodfellas—hasn’t worked its way into the rotation yet.) We're just looking for something fun, family-friendly, and seasonally appropriate. Maybe even featuring snow. Something more along these lines.
Stock the sofa with plenty of blankets, and snuggle up with the family for a snowy, wintry adventure!
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Depending on how winter’s going, the family may identify strongly with Narnians living under the White Witch’s reign: always winter and never Christmas. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. In C.S. Lewis's classic tale, siblings Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan enter a magic realm and join Aslan to save Narnia and defeat the evil witch.
Groundhog Day. Introduce your slightly older kids and teens to the weird, hilarious genius of Bill Murray. A weatherman finds himself stuck living the same February day over and over again, until, eventually, he begins to live well and treat others with kindness. Be aware of some suggestive scenes and several suicide references, when Murray’s character realizes he can do anything and still wake up the following morning. Those may be worth fast-forwarding depending on who’s watching.
Mulan. Here's an often overlooked Disney animated classic from my late childhood. Our heroine is a young Chinese woman who cuts her hair and assumes her father’s place in the army fighting the Hun invasion. Can she hack it? YES. Girl power.
Honorable mentions: Happy Feet, Snowball Express, and OK, fine, Frozen.
Miracle. Ice hockey, Cold War, Kurt Russell. Wear your Red White and Blue to watch the underdog 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team face off against the Soviets. Great sports movie, based on a true story. Currently available on Netflix.
Cool Runnings. Speaking of underdogs. What a perfect winter underdog sports film! Kids will delight in the fact that the story is based on the real-life first Jamaican bobsled team. Of course, John Candy brings the laughs. You may get some bathtub bobsled practice after watching this one, and perhaps some lasting family quotes. My mom still says, “I’m feeling very Olympic today.”
Hidden Figures. I’m stretching impressively in order to fit this into the winter sports category: it is a tale of athletes and mathletes. And, it’s full to the brim with the tension and excitement that leads up to the big game (i.e., the launch of John Glenn in Friendship 7).
Why winter? Glenn’s historic orbit did actually take place in February. But also, for the past couple of years, my husband has selected this one to watch with our kids around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Black History Month in February. It’s a kid-appropriate way to learn about our country’s sad racial history. But it’s also just a great movie! The beautiful story of Katherine Johnson, the unsung mathematical genius hero at NASA, inspires my kids to fill up chalkboards with equations and diagrams of spaceships. And I love the movie too. (Do I cry? Of course, I cry!!)
This time around, I enjoyed how Pharrell’s music is used. Notice throughout the film when Katherine runs to the other side of the NASA campus to use the designated restroom. Then later, to the same soundtrack, a white guy makes the identical desperate run—this time to find Katherine when they need to verify coordinates at launch time. My daughters LOLed.
The Court Jester. One of AFI’s top 100 comedies of all time, The Court Jester highlights Danny Kaye’s best singing, dancing, and funny facial expressions. This one’s got it all: a usurper on the throne, a baby with a royal birthmark, a Robin Hood-like resistance leader, a witch, a princess (young Angela Lansbury!!!), and a knight's battle to win her hand. One can certainly enjoy this classic film year-round, but it’s a natural choice for those who loved Danny Kaye in White Christmas and want to see what else he’s done.
Adventures in Babysitting. 1980s counts for classic, yes? This is just one of my favorite movies from growing up. Though it’s rated PG-13 for some language, a Playboy magazine, and other sexual references, all of that went over my head. I probably watched the television edit, taped from TBS. Above all, I remember Elisabeth Shue in a great looking camel winter overcoat, running around Chicago with the kids she’s babysitting, getting into hijinx. “Nobody leaves this place without singin’ the blues.”
Little Women. Introducing children to an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic story may be the ideal way to spend a cozy winter afternoon! The 1994 film begins with heartwarming scenes at Christmas time and moves on as the four March sisters grow. I love the 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo, and Laurie played by Christian Bale. (Christian Bale, I will always love you. Timothee Chalamet, get outta here. Just kidding, but seriously. OK, fine, the new version is excellent.)
As always, the disclaimer: Just as parents have veto power, it's up to the parents—imagine that!— to determine what’s appropriate for your kids and your family. Check Common Sense Media for details about what’s in each movie, and screen it ahead of time if necessary. Then, you’ve got to decide if profanity is acceptable, if you’ll mute it at that part, if you’ll talk about it, etc. Same with other issues that come up: bullying, sex, etc.
On these hot (i.e. awkward) topics, we're embracing the general idea of trying to have 100 one-minute conversations, rather than one 100-minute conversation. And, interestingly, the stories we consume together as a family bring up safe ways to have those good talks. Not to mention a fun family culture of shared references. "Kiss my lucky egg."