Some of my favorite memories of summer, whether as a child or as an adult, involve seeing the season's best movie releases. At 33, I can still recall the excitement of waiting in line with my brothers to see 'Batman' when I was 12 years old, and chances are high that your media-savvy kids, tweens or teens are also dying to see this summer's blockbusters.
The problem, of course, is that whether you have one or multiple children, it's difficult to manage all of the requests for movie outings. Of course your 13-year-old daughter wants to see 'Eclipse,' but what about your 8-year-old? And just because your under-10 kids love talking animals and want to see 'Cats & Dogs 2' or animated sequels like 'Shrek Forever After,' your teens are likely too old (or at least think they're too old) for some of those offerings.
So what's a busy parent to do? Here are three tips for managing summer-movie mania.
1. Pick and Plan: Depending on how old your children are, browse through our collection of this summer's family titles, action flicks, comedies and even romantic comedies together. Read the synopses, watch trailers and figure out which ones are must-see movies for different members of your family. (Be warned: Not all of the summer's titles have been rated yet.) Once you've identified the ones that look like winners, put them on the family calendar and decide who gets to go when. That way you know ahead of time if your summer travel plans will make it difficult for your Team Edward and Team Jacob daughters, for example, to see 'Eclipse' on opening night. (I'm not even joking. I know one set of parents that had to buy advance tickets in another state just to appease their Twihard tweens.)
2. Divide and Conquer: Don't try to see everything together if your kids are in different ages and stages. Instead of forcing older kids to "suffer" through a movie they'll consider babyish, or taking the risk that a younger sibling might not be ready for a tween or teen-oriented story, split up and see movies separately. For every 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' or 'How to Train Your Dragon' my 8-year-old son is desperate to catch, there's a 'Princess and the Frog' he'd rather leave to his slightly younger sister and me. Movie-going, even for a movie reviewer's kid, is a treat, and I don't just automatically take my kid to any movie marketed as family-friendly. By dividing up movie duty among kids, we make each of them feel special -- especially if we take one of their friends along -- and we don't have to worry about exasperated whines all the way to the movies.
3. Family Movie Nights In: Going to the movies as a family (of four) every weekend this summer would cost more than $400 (not counting concessions or 3-D fees), so once you've planned ahead and decided which movies you're going to pay to see at the local multiplex, institute a weekly Family Movie Night of your own. Whether it's On Demand, Netflix, a video rental shop or your personal DVD collection, there are dozens of ways to watch movies that didn't exist when I was growing up. (Remember VHS stores that required you to rewind?) Let a different family member pick the movie each week, or have a double-feature of a particular genre or the same actor or director's work. It's the perfect opportunity to expose your kids to older movies from your own childhood. I know my oldest loves 'E.T.' and 'The Princess Bride' partly because of he knows they're among my childhood favorites.
"Three to See" this summer for entire families: Need help figuring out which movies you can see as a clan? Here are a few bets if at least one of your kids is still under the age of 8.
'Shrek Forever After,' May 21: Despite possible protests from slightly older kids, chances are if they liked any combination of the first three ogre tales, they'll enjoy this trippy fourth 'Shrek' as well.
'Toy Story 3,' June 19: It doesn't matter how old you are -- this third, 3-D installment in Pixar's original animated masterpiece is a safe bet for all audiences. Who doesn't love Woody, Buzz and the rest of Andy's toys?
'Ramona and Beezus,' July 23: Selena Gomez will draw in the tweens, and the beloved Beverly Cleary character will appeal to anyone who has read and loved the books -- including parents.