I admit it: we are a movie-loving family. Mad respect to all you moms who don’t let your kids watch television or even own a TV, but our family spends down time cuddled on the couch with popcorn (or Goldfish for itty-bitties who can’t have popcorn) and a good movie.
When the oldest of my 3 children started kindergarten last year, I actually mourned the loss of that family time we had every day. I had only left work to be a stay-at-home mom less than two years earlier, and I hated that she would be leaving my little nest for school so soon. My husband had the great idea to start a family tradition, and we chose a weekly Monday Movie Night. We hit up the nearby Redbox stations for a while, but it only took a few times of being sorely disappointed with the age-appropriate selection before my husband and I started brainstorming other strategies to enjoy truly family-friendly cinema.
Why can’t kid movies be like they were when we were kids? we wondered. Then, as Despicable Me‘s Gru (one of our modern favs) would say, liiiiight bulb! We decided to introduce our kids to the cinematic joys of growing up in the 1990s. Most of these we have found either in our parents’ old collections or on Netflix from time to time, but many of them actually can be found full-length on YouTube. I’m not entirely sure if that’s legal? But hey, as long as it’s up there, somebody’s got to watch it, right? As if reliving my own childhood on the screen wasn’t rewarding enough, I get to hear my kids laugh and quote my favorite lines just like I used to. Is there anything cuter than a 3-year-old singing “I Believe I Can Fly”?
Ready to start your own Retro Family Movie Night? Here are some of our favorite 90s kid movies to get you started:
The Land Before Time (1988) What would being a 90s kid be without The Land Before Time, plus all 43 sequels?? Actually, I think there are 11, but who’s counting? I actually cried when I re-watched this with my kids – I had no idea how Little Foot’s mother would impact me as a mother! – but it was totally worth it. My kids didn’t pick up on how sad it was, but they loved the adventure and friendship story.
Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) This was a bit over my little kids’ heads at times, but the funny parts were enough to keep them interested. The boys often talk about sitting inside a Lego when they’re playing with their own set, and my hopelessly-romantic daughter seems to only remember the kiss scene… Boy is she flesh of my flesh! This one was probably more entertaining for the hubs and me, but it was fun to relive the magic with our kiddos.
Hook (1991) My kids were familiar with the Peter Pan story from watching the old Mary Martin version at my parents’ house, and of course Jake and the Neverland Pirates. If your kids don’t know Peter Pan, they won’t understand what’s going on in Hook, but take this opportunity to show them the 1953 Disney cartoon! While this movie is great on action and adventure, beware of a few “vocabulary words” that may require some family follow-up.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) This was my favorite movie when I was growing up, and unfortunately Disney’s Aladdin being released the same year overshadowed this flick at the box office. If you missed it in the 90s, it’s basically a cartoon, kid version of Avatar, plus Robin Williams playing a bat. No, seriously.
3 Ninjas (1992) This one is a bit slow getting started, so my pre-school boys checked out until later on, but once they get going, they don’t stop! Tons of karate action if you’ve got some rambunctious boys (or girls) who love that kind of thing. Also lots of silly name-calling (of the “booger-brains” variety); just be aware if that’s an issue in your house.
Beethoven (1993) Probably not the best choice if your kids have been begging for a dog, because this will send them over the edge! Although it took some time for me to convince them we are not getting a dog, the whole family loves this classic where family learns to work together for a common good.
Homeward Bound (1994) Another one of my all-time favorites, this talking-pets tale of adventure will get your little animal-lover right in the feels. Lots of action, silly humor, and of course learning to trust and be a family. You can’t go wrong here.
Jumanji (1995) Robin Williams gives another epic performance in this wild story of an enchanted board game coming to life. There are some intense moments that may be too much for your little ones, but more mature kids are sure to love it. Did I mention the kids in the story learn what it means to be a family? You’re noticing a trend here…
A Goofy Movie (1995) “If we listen to each other’s heart / We’ll find we’re never too far apart / And maybe love is the reason why / For the first time ever we’re seein’ it eye to eye!” Legitimately one of the greatest songs of 1995. And you remember the dance (a.k.a. the perfect cast) too, don’t you!? Loooooovvvee this cartoon about father-son bonding and learning to appreciate each others’ differences.
Space Jam (1996) Looney Tunes + Michael Jordan + Basketball = everything you need for an unforgettable 90s movie. (Don’t forget some cameos from other basketball greats like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing!) I feel like this movie defined a generation of boys, but don’t forget the ladies! My little girly-girl loves this one too!
Flubber (1997) This is the last Robin Williams film on my list, but rest assured there are plenty to choose from. The 1990s were the Golden Years of Robin Williams comedy in my opinion, and this one does not disappoint. It’s a silly story of an absentminded scientist trying to save the world (er, his university) and win the girl at the same time. And in classic 90s movie fashion, he succeeds at both with flying colors.
Stuart Little (1999) This one barely makes the list, because I was in high school (and my husband had graduated) when it came out. I actually didn’t see it until last year when I watched it with my kids, but we all loved it. It is one of the few movies that is so happy and so clean that I can let my kids watch it completely unsupervised. If you missed it in ’99, it’s time to check out this great family favorite! (It’s especially lovely if your family loves adoption!)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) I admit, I did not think my kids were going to like this. I really thought Jim Varney’s humor would elude them, but they thought it was hysterical. And to see my 4-year-old imitate Bobby and Marty’s eyes when they saw reindeer on the ceiling…Oh man. You want to go watch it right now, don’t you??
Home Alone (1990) A downright classic, you can’t help but love Home Alone. You can help but love the sequels, so don’t get too carried away. But please, at least show your kids this one for the aftershave scene. That’s worth it right there.
The Santa Clause (1994) Not only is it funny and adorable, it gave us a great opportunity to talk to our kids about divorce and how some families look different than ours but are still very legitimate families. Gotta love a story that invites you into active parenting. And if you happen to be divorced or have step-kids in that boat, it can be encouraging to see a relatable situation on screen.
Honorable Mentions (I haven’t actually watched these with my kids, but they’re on our list!):
Rookie of the Year (1993) A favorite for your little sports fan! This was one of my brothers’ favorite movies, but I loved it too for the silly humor and outlandish “dream big” story. Plus, single mom represents!
Angels in the Outfield (1994) Another great baseball movie, and a classic for 90s kids! Christopher Lloyd is absolutely magical, and you can’t get more 1990s than Tony Danza, amiright?! Bonus storyline points for the foster care/adoption angle!
Richie Rich (1994) If your kids loved Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, they might like to see his older self playing a stuck-up rich kid who is actually quite lonely. It’s a great lesson on true friendship, plus kids end up beating the bad guys, so, that’s fun.
Blank Check (1994) In retrospect, I somehow always think Richie Rich and Blank Check are the same movie. They are, in fact, NOT. The former, of course, is about a legitimately rich kid. Blank Check is about a kid who accidentally steals a million dollars from a mobster and manages to buy a billion dollars worth of stuff with it. And more kids beating the bad guys. BOOM.
Indian in the Cupboard (1995) You probably read this book when you were in 5th grade, and I hope it’s still required reading for kids today. Imagination and wonder galore!
Babe (1995) Heartfelt story, farm life values, talking animals…What more could you want? I really need my kids to see this so they’ll know why I say, “That’ll do, pig,” whenever I am proud of them…
Tom and Huck (1995) Three words: JONATHAN. TAYLOR. THOMAS. Your husband may need some convincing as to why this is important to watch as a family, but I’m pretty sure it’s a fun story for mischievous little boys. I mean, I don’t remember exactly because I was 10 and JTT.
Houseguest (1995) Before you realized Sinbad was a stand-up comedian (and still one of my favorites), you knew him as the silly star of some great 90s kid movies. There are plenty of great Sinbad movies for your family to choose from, but this is one of my husband’s favorites. I’ve actually never seen it, and I can’t wait!
Harriet the Spy (1996) This was the first movie I recall watching and feeling a real sense of “girl power.” Michelle Trachtenberg made this 11-year-old girl believe I could do anything!
Matilda (1996) Based on the much-loved book, this movie deals with some adult themes (domestic abuse, child neglect, what it means to be a family) on an elementary-school level. It’s a great story with lots of kid humor, but you may want to be ready for some debriefing after (or during) the story, especially if your kids are on the younger side.
George of the Jungle (1997) Do you remember when Brendan Frasier was cool? No, I’m serious! There was this one time…
Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) All of us late-20s and 30-something ladies can thank Tim Allen for introducing the world to JTT and Zachery Ty Bryan on Home Improvement, and in 1997 we thanked him again for the introduction of Sam Huntington in Jungle 2 Jungle. Seriously though, pre-teen hunk aside, this really is a great story about family and learning to love.
You may have noticed I left off some pretty monumental Disney favorites that came out in the 1990s, like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King… that list could go on. We are trying to get out of that Disney cartoon box (although many of these listed above are made by Disney), but feel free to stay in there. The box is safe and warm… But you will have to explain Scar murdering Mufasa and blaming Simba for it, sooooo there’s that.
Now that you’ve got plenty of ammo, get out there and start your own family tradition! Or watch them by yourself when the kids are in bed. Seriously, I have learned so much about my husband by experiencing our childhoods together through movies! What are your favorite movies to watch with your kids?