10 picks for cheap (or free!) family movie night

I’ve become a little obsessed with borrowing DVDs from the library. Given there are now multiple ways to watch (and pay for) any given movie or TV show, free movies feels like a coup.

The “problem” is that you have to dig into the catalog and search for older movies. Of course, this isn’t a problem at all. Sure, your kids may initially balk at older movies, but five minutes after you hit Play¬†they’ll be hooked.

Here are nine movies and one TV series to kick off your summer family movie nights. All have an important message to impart or a tricky situation to explore later in conversation.

The age listings are based on the ratings of Common Sense Media (my go-to for family movie advice). They’re a bit high (I’d let my 10 year-old watch any of these movies), but your mileage may vary. Apply the gut test as necessary.

(I’ve also noted the options that are available for free via Amazon Prime Instant Video. Netflix users: if you see anything here that’s available on Netflix Streaming, please give a heads-up in the comments.)

  • Get these movies at the library! 1 of 11
    Get these movies at the library!
    Your local library is a treasure trove of free movies. Start your queue for summer!
  • Field of Dreams (12 and up) 2 of 11
    Field of Dreams (12 and up)
    I watched this again the other night and was so touched by the family relationship at the center of the movie.
  • E. T. The Extraterrestrial (7 and up) 3 of 11
    E. T. The Extraterrestrial (7 and up)
    This movie might be a bit scary for sensitive younger ones, but it's an experience that shouldn't be missed. (It also makes for a great Halloween movie.)
  • Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (6 and up) 4 of 11
    Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (6 and up)
    As talking animal movies go, this is my hands-down favorite next to Babe. Michael J. Fox is the lead hound.
  • The Blind Side (12 and up) 5 of 11
    The Blind Side (12 and up)
    Heartwarming sports movie that encourages conversation about how we judge people based on appearance and circumstance.
  • Home Alone (7 and up) 6 of 11
    Home Alone (7 and up)
    Good, old-fashioned slapstick. The violence may not appeal to some, but the physical comedy and pint-sized problem-solving is a sure hit with kids. Believe it or not, the conversation one can have about burglars, self-defense, and safety isn't bad, either.
  • Karate Kid (12 and up) 7 of 11
    Karate Kid (12 and up)
    The remake was good (and suits a younger audience) but every kid needs to meet Mr. Miyagi at least once. Free on Amazon Prime Instant Video.
  • The Lorax (5 and up) 8 of 11
    The Lorax (5 and up)
    This 25-minute made-for-70s-TV movie is SO much better than the recent blockbuster.
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (10 and up) 9 of 11
    Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (10 and up)
    If you think The Lorax gets you thinking about the environment, try this gorgeous, intense Miyazaki movie. Best movie princess ever.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire (12 and up) 10 of 11
    Mrs. Doubtfire (12 and up)
    Few movies portray divorce as well or with such belly-laughs. This movie gets me every time.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (8 and up) 11 of 11
    Avatar: The Last Airbender (8 and up)
    OK, so this is a TV series but it's got two major things going for it: #1, the concepts and moral lessons are fantastic and #2, the entire series is free on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

If your local library doesn’t carry these titles, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors. One of my favorite ways to go DVD “shopping” is to look through my neighbors’ collections for movies we haven’t seen. We all happily swap movies and stories, and we sometimes end up watching together. Without school nights to worry about, it’s a lot easier to be spontaneous. And isn’t that one of the greatest pleasures of summer?

Asha Dornfest is the publisher of Parent Hacks and the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less.

Article Posted 3 years Ago

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