While some parents may use DVDs as a way to park their kids in front of the TV for 90 minutes of peace and quiet, there are plenty of moms and dads out there who consider movie time with the kids to be an opportunity to hang out and enjoy something together.
These parents probably know that, once you've worked your way through the Pixar and classic Disney animated catalogs, it can be tricky to find something that will both entertain the rugrats and allow the grown-ups to maintain consciousness.
Here are 10 solid movie choices that are fun for all ages:
'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' (1948)
While this comedy classic is ostensibly a vehicle for the famous titular duo, it's also an all-star extravaganza of the classic Universal horror stable. In addition to Frankenstein's monster (played here by Glenn Strange), we also get Bela Lugosi reprising his role as Count Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. once again playing the Wolf Man. It's just the right amount of scary for even the littlest kids, and Abbott and Costello's shtick remains hilarious to new generations of viewers.
'The Black Stallion' (1979)
As we learned from the first third of 'WALL-E,' dialogue is overrated when you've got a really talented filmmaker telling the story. This sweeping tale of a shipwrecked boy and horse who become friends on a desert island -- and who team up to win races after they're returned to civilization -- is stirring and exciting. This is a gorgeous movie to look at (fun fact: the cinematography is by the great Caleb Deschanel, father of Zooey and Emily) and the film's young hero is one whom kid viewers will totally identify with.
'Destroy All Monsters!' (1968)
Speaking of all-star casts, Japanese studio Toho hauled out practically its entire army of zipper-backed monsters for this lollapalooza about Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and the rest of the gang escaping from Monster Island and wreaking havoc on the planet. It turns out our fire-breathing friends are being mind-controlled by aliens bent on taking over Earth, so naturally all of this leads to a kaiju-versus-flying-saucers finale that will have you at the edge of your sofa. If you want to introduce your kids to the wonder that is vintage Godzilla -- and if you don't, what the heck is your problem? -- there's no better place to start.
'Duck Soup' (1933)
Yes, granted, your children will have to be of a certain age to get the wild wordplay and tongue-in-cheek anti-war satire that the Marx Brothers bring to this comedy masterpiece, but there's enough crazy slapstick on display here to delight the littlest movie-watchers. Whether it's Harpo and Chico tormenting a street vendor (at one point, Harpo rolls up his pants legs and dangles his feet in the man's lemonade tank), Groucho sliding down a fireman's pole to attend his presidential inauguration, or the classic "mirror gag" (later reprised by Lucille Ball and practically every other physical comedian), 'Duck Soup' is course after course of hilarity.
'The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T' (1953)
The closest that live-action cinema has ever come to recreating the wildly colorful, My-First-Surrealism style of Dr. Seuss would have to be this twisted kids' adventure -- probably because Theodore Geisel, the good doctor himself, co-wrote the screenplay. The film tells the story of Bartholomew Collins, a kid who would rather be doing anything else than practicing the piano for his stentorian teacher Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried). Bartholomew dozes off and imagines that he and 499 other boys have been kidnapped to play the Dr.'s mile-long, double-decker piano -- and that Dr. T has nefarious intentions toward Bartholomew's mother. Too twisted for the 1950s, this outrageous and oddball film has only recently gotten the respect it deserves.
'Fly Away Home' (1996)
Somewhere between 'The Piano' and 'True Blood,' Anna Paquin starred in this beloved story about a young girl -- distraught over her mother's death and is unhappy about having to go live with her estranged father (Jeff Daniels) -- who rescues a gaggle of wild geese eggs when a construction crew destroys their nesting area. To save the young birds from having their wings clipped by game warden, the girl must lead the geese to the skies in a light aircraft and teach them how to migrate south for the winter. Another riveting and moving tale of kids and nature from director Carroll Ballard ('The Black Stallion').
'The Parent Trap' (1998) | 'Freaky Friday' (2003)
Use Lindsay Lohan's recent years as a cautionary tale if you must, but there's no denying that before things turned, she was as charming and ebullient as comedic child stars come. Her performances as twins (one British, one American) in 'The Parent Trap' and as a teen girl who switches bodies with her mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) in 'Freaky Friday' were pitch-perfect -- which is why so many of us hope she's not beyond making a comeback. Also worth checking out are the original versions of both movies: Hayley Mills' turn in the first 'Parent Trap' (1961) is one for the ages, as is young Jodie Foster's in the original 'Freaky Friday' (1976).
'The Secret Garden' (1993)
If there's a running theme through most of these movies, it's stories about children who find themselves in situations where they must become empowered to improve their current situation. And one of the best examples of this kind of storytelling is Agnieszka Holland's extraordinary 1993 adaptation of the beloved novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A young British girl is orphaned after an earthquake in India and sent back to England to live with her uncle, who is consumed with grief following the death of his wife. With the help of a servant boy and a young invalid, the girl discovers a garden that will change all of their lives. It's a movie that never fails to move kids and adults alike.
'20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1954)
Long before you could create clone armies and transforming robots on a laptop, special effects were just a little more, well, special. And old-school effects rarely come any better than in this exciting story about sailors, madmen, and sea monsters. After dozens of ships disappear, a crew goes out in search of an undersea beast, only to find that the creature is actually a prototypical submarine. (The film is set in the 1860s.) Based on the novel by Jules Verne and starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Peter Lorre, this is one of those grand adventures that has aged marvelously, making it a perfect movie for parents to share with their children for generations.
'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' (1971)
As with 'The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,' here's another movie that was ahead of its time. Both dark and darkly funny -- and featuring some unforgettable songs -- this adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel treats us to every kid's fantasy: a tour of the world's greatest chocolate factory. But, as Wonka (the incomparable Gene Wilder) warns early on, there are "little surprises around every corner," many of them designed to appeal to the worst instincts of the bratty kids taking the tour. Will Charlie (Peter Ostrum) and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) make it out of this confectionary funhouse in one piece? Adults and kids will find themselves wanting to take the journey with them again and again. Even if you didn't like Tim Burton's 2005 remake, you should still give the original a shot.