10 Classic Movies to Enjoy With Your Kids
“Hey,” I said, lightheartedly, “old movies are awesome.”
“Yeah,” a boy added. “Old movies are awesome! Like The Nightmare Before Christmas!”
Not a lot of people show their kids old movies. There’s a misconception that old movies are too boring or too hard to understand, and therefore kids won’t enjoy them. Well, I grew up watching old movies, and, sure, there were plenty I didn’t understand until I was an adult, but there were also several that became instantly my favorite movies.
My seven younger siblings all grew up watching old movies too, so I called them up and asked them what their favorite old movie was growing up. These were the answers I got back. I’m giving myself three choices so this can be a top 10 list instead of just a top 8 – although as a child I would have just told my siblings I get three choices because I’m the oldest.
10. To Catch a Thief (1955)
I’m starting from the youngest to the oldest, so this was chosen by Brother #4, who is now 13. This was the first Alfred Hitchcock movie a lot of us watched, usually around age eight or so, and there’s a reason it’s especially good for kids. Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, but To Catch a Thief is more of a light-hearted adventurous mystery. There aren’t a lot of scary scenes, and there’s plenty of silly dialogue, so even though children may not catch all the wit, they can pick up on the fun characters.
9. A Night at the Opera (1935)
Marx Brothers movies were a staple in our house, but this and Animal Crackers were the two everyone liked the most. Brother #3, who chose this movie, even wanted to have a Marx Brothers-themed birthday party one year. While I don’t believe that ever happened, they did frequently invite friends over just to watch these movies. The long wordplay sections tend to get lost on younger viewers, but there is plenty of goofy slapstick to enjoy. Harpo in particular was extremely popular with my siblings, since you can understand everything he’s doing without needing to follow his dialogue at all!
8. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Brother #2 picked this zany comedy as his favorite. This one is probably more suited for older kids. It does get very dark and sometimes very complicated, so I wouldn’t show this to a five-year-old. But if your child enjoys The Nightmare Before Christmas or other slightly morbid kids’ movies, this is a great follow-up, featuring some tremendously funny acting by Cary Grant and Josephine Hull in particular.
7. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)
I’ll admit, I never got into this movie very much as a child. But my mother did, and my sisters did, especially Sister #3, who chose it, and so it was a pretty frequent watch in our house. It’s a comedy about a young girl (played by a teenage Shirley Temple) who develops a hopeless crush on her teacher, and her guardian sister’s attempt to deal with that crush while she also may be falling for the man herself.
Oh, and that bit from Labyrinth: “You remind of a babe.” “What babe?” “The babe with the power.” “What power?” That’s from this movie first, except it’s “man” instead of “babe.” I remember my sisters getting all excited when people would quote it, thinking they had seen this movie, only to get very confused when they continued by singing “Magic Dance.”
6. The Court Jester (1956)
Sister #2 snagged up this family favorite which is still in my top 50 to this day. It’s Danny Kaye’s best film that’s not White Christmas (and I actually like this one better). This fantasy story about a timid freedom fighter going undercover as the tyrant king’s jester is one of the silliest but most entertaining old movies around, and I’ve always thought more people should be aware of it. It’s got everything a child could ask for: romance, sword fights, songs, and lots and lots of goofy comedy. Just beware that if you do show this to your child, they may quote it for all eternity: “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”
5. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
This movie’s in my Flickchart top 10 because not only is it a great kids’ movie for Sister #1 to have picked, it’s also really delightful as an adult. It actually got a write-up just recently here on the Flickchart blog, as I assigned it to Nathan for his movie challenge. It’s a funny, unique story with a ton of great songs. I remember my siblings reenacting the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number for hours—although they never did quite manage to run up the walls and flip back off them.
4. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
This was actually the movie that spawned the idea for this post. My family has endless home movies of Brother #1 at age four playing characters from this movie. “I’m Robin Hood, and I’m going to fight Guy Gisbourne!” he’d announce, followed by jumping back and forth, shaking a stick at an invisible opponent. It’s one of the great early swashbuckling adventures, with a dashing hero and fantastic fight scenes. More action-minded kids may get antsy to skip the romantic scenes with Maid Marian, but they won’t need to wait very long before more adventure happens!
3. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
This one was my own choice, as a movie, I vividly remember adoring as a child. Katharine Hepburn is funny, Cary Grant is charming, and the scene of the two of them singing to the leopard on the roof is forever engrained in my childhood memory. Zany comedies are definitely an easy sell to kids, as even when they can’t pick up on nuances of the characters or witty zingers, they can still giggle at Hepburn constantly tearing Grant’s suit jacket or the two of them chasing a wild animal around the countryside.
2. The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)
While older animated Disney films get a lot of replays, some of the best live action Disney films fall by the wayside. Today, this movie is best remembered for being the movie Flubber was a remake of, but this original is far better, in my opinion. It’s a sweet, charming movie about a man who is so busy with his newest invention that he keeps forgetting to get married. The characters are likable, and as a kid, I was enthralled with the images of the flying car and the basketball players jumping wildly across the court with flubber on the bottom of their shoes. It’s a wonderfully imaginative movie and an easy one for kids to love.
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
One of the most iconic movies of all time, this is one I watched and liked a lot as a kid, decided I didn’t like as a teenager, and developed a newfound appreciation for as an adult. The characters and songs are enough to get kids’ attention, not to mention those gorgeous visuals, but there are also some very lovely and moving moments in it that I began connecting to deeply in my 20s. Just keep in mind, if you do show this to young kids, the flying monkeys are pretty terrifying, and while I didn’t get nightmares from them, I’ve known a few people who did.
There are tons of other great older films that can appeal to kids, and these ten only scratch the surface. Use the comments section to chime in with suggestions for classic movies you liked as a kid, classic movies your kids like now, or classic movies you just suspect kids would probably like!