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Meaningful Movies for Dark Winter Nights

by Jen Hutson, CDA parent


Indiana Winter is the Dark Night of the Soul

Indiana winters aren’t hard. But they are smothering. The gray cloak is laid atop us, snuffing out the sunlight, and the walls of our homes close in against the darkness of winter. The nights are long. The good news is we are gaining 2 ½ minutes of daylight each day this month. And if you are scratching a tally of the winter days on a page like the cold wall of a dark jail cell, then note there are about ~40 days of winter remaining, depending on the day you read this.

So, take heart my fellow travelers! The days of dining of al fresco and sitting deck side to watch your kids shoot each other with water guns is fast approaching! But what to kill the time that remains till that sweet day? If you’ve run out of board games, TV shows, homework and chores, I recommend renewing the great family movie night! Looking for something different? Something safe? Something edgy that passes as family friendly? Look to the following chart. Identify yourself with one of the categories below and take note of the suggestions. But the free advice doesn’t end there!

Rediscover Family Movie Night

You could just throw on a movie and leave it at that. But don’t kids expect snacks? And some sort of cinema magic? (At least in my house. *Sigh*) And since most movie theaters are indefinitely functioning as ghost towns, you must make the magic yourself. Peruse the checklist below for ideas.

Some parents might be repelled by the idea of creating movie magic. Most likely this is not an aversion to the idea itself, but rather to the work required. But don’t give up! If your children are over the age of 2, they can help! And most likely when you explain, they’ll be joyful participants! So, open your mind, read on, and let the show begin!

Movie Magic Checklist


Kids like snacks. And most adults. And nowadays even the Keto diet comes with snacks. So, no excuses. If you must, make a low carbohydrate fat bomb.

  1. Popcorn, with butter. Flavors optional. (Popcorn also makes a great base for movie trail mixes.)
  2. Salty snacks including nuts, crackers, chips, pretzels, rice cakes and pork rinds. (Don’t judge.)
  3. Sweet snacks including candy of all shapes, sizes, colors and preferences.
  4. Alternatives for nonsnackers – protein shake, freeze dried fruit, beef jerky.
  5. This author’s favorite is the make your own snack bar. Fill muffin pans with assorted treats and let your kids create a cacophony of competition for the best mix.
  6. Bonus points: Cute or unexpected containers for snacks.


Water is okay if snacks are provided. But if you choose a beverage only snack bar:

    1. Sparkling water. Totally acceptable.
    2. Soda with flavor add-ins.
    3. Smoothies.
    4. Milk shakes.
    5. Protein shakes.

Bonus points for no spill beverage containers. Because having to clean up a spill in the middle of a movie is not cool. Unless you can assign a ticket taker to do it. (See below.)



Comfort is key. This could be a couch or the floor. But an assortment of the following is recommended:

    1. Blankets, the soft kind.
    2. Pillows, throw or from a bed.
    3. Furry socks are cool too.

Why not? Who knows when you’ll set foot in another theater, so raise your younger kids with the experience of meeting ticket takers at the door and watching the high school kid behind the counter take literally 9 minutes to get your popcorn and small beverage.

Why not print or make tickets and dress up or have your kids dress up in a vest to take said tickets? Many kids will be all over designing tickets. Bonus points for ticket bucket. More bonus points for going old school and having the ticket taker make the perfunctory announcement regarding noise levels and refills before the movie begins.

In addition to tickets, movie posters are about as authentic as it gets. Print a page off the internet or have a kid make one instead. Hang it near the theater. Bonus points for creating bathroom signage and labeling theater numbers. (If you don’t have kids who live for homemade signage, I can’t relate.)


  1. Couch, floor etc. Nonnegotiable seating area.
  2. Minimalist style – no lights or low lighting. Bonus points for hanging twinkle lights for mood.
  3. Location. Have a tent? Why not pop it open and create a pillow sanctuary from which to watch the movie? Forts are also acceptable.



As a wise parent, you smartly filter what your children can watch. And every family has different standards. But you may still be struggling. Is your child ready for Alien? (Offhand I’d say no, unless you want to sleep on their floor for a few weeks.) But the struggle aside, there are many sites designed to help you evaluate movies and shows. Here are a few you can use. Some are faith based and some are not:

    1. Plugged In
    2. Movie Guide
    3. Common Sense Media



I need a laugh, like really need it:

Honey I Shrunk the Kids?

The Pacifier

Short Circuit

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Bedknobs & Broom Sticks

Herbie (1968)


Napoleon Dynamite

Nacho Libre

I just want my family to get along:

Swiss Family Robinson

Parent Trap  (1961)

Freaky Friday (1976)

Shaggy Dog

Homeward Bound


Inside Out

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I’m a secret show tunes lover:

Mary Poppins

Sound of Music

Muppet Movies (1980s, 2011)

Singing in the Rain

White Christmas

Wizard of Oz

Oliver Twist

4 kids later and I’m still not tired of cartoons:

Secret of NIMH

An American Tail

Sword and the Stone


Robin Hood (1973)

Fox and the Hound

Lady and the Tramp

Finding Dory

My Neighbor Totoro

Shaun the Sheep Movie

I need to escape the quotidian (after I finish loading the dishwasher):

Close Encounters

Lord of the Rings

Narnia Series

Harry Potter

Never Ending Story

Princess Bride

Addams Family

I’m dying for adventure:

Night at the Museum

Star Wars (IV-VI, Rogue One)


Back to the Future

Indiana Jones

Jurassic Park

Superman (1978)

Togo (2019)

I like movies where the kids rule:


Last Star Fighter

Flight of the Navigator

The Explorers

I’m ready to take my older kids to the next level:

Stranger Things


Adventures in Babysitting

Super 8

Independence Day

Monty Python & the Holy Grail

Karate Kid

It’s February and yes, my Christmas decorations are still up:

Home Alone

The Christmas Story


White Christmas

The Grinch (1966)

Bonus Content: TV Ideas

Looking for a new series your kids can watch or that you can hear in the background without going crazy? If you like…

  • Seinfeld and Monty Python, try Odd Squad
  • Jurassic Park, try Camp Cretaceous
  • Goonies, try Gortimer Gibbons
  • Edward Scissorhands & Addams Family, try A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, try The Deep
  • Stop motion films, try Shaun the Sheep or Tumble Leaf
  • Self-development combined with humor, try StoryBots
  • Star Wars, try The Clone Wars or The Mandalorian
  • Children who can help in the kitchen, try Chopped Junior
  • Graphic design, try the Octonauts
  • Anime, try Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
  • Schoolhouse Rock, try the Magic School Bus

Want more advice for family and community connections? Read Jen Hutson’s Third Place: Creating a Place of Connection During Covid

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