Can’t stomach another family movie night featuring Hanna Montana or Clone Troopers? Screen one of these family-friendly movies and your kids won’t even realize they’re learning something new while they munch popcorn on the sofa. All are available on Netflix.com or Blockbuster.com, or your local video store or library (at no cost!).

  • Follow along with three animal families as they endure the ups and downs of a year, in the BBC’s amazing eleven episode series Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series (2007), a showcase of worldwide natural wonders. You’ll climb the highest mountains alongside snow leopards; you’ll plunge into the deepest seas with whale sharks—all from the comfort of your living room sofa. Play the related online game, Mission Planet, where you’ll be thrust into the director’s seat and asked to manage a film crew as it travels across the continents.
  • Step into the hidden world of bugs, ants, and other creepy crawlies in Microcosmos (1996; Directed by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou; Narrated by Kristen Scott Thomas and Jacques Perrin). Enjoy a close-up view of beetle battles, marching ant armies, and the birth of a butterfly. Critically acclaimed for its fine-tuned cinematography, this movie is one of the most creative and lyrical documentaries you’ll ever see.   
  • You don’t need a 60 x 80 feet movie screen to bring the excitement and spectacular footage of an IMAX movie into your home: IMAX has released all of it’s popular documentaries in DVD format. Join an expedition to some of the most biodiverse islands in the world with Galapagos: IMAX. Hike through one of our nations true treasures in Yellowstone: IMAX. Zoom 220 miles above our Earth and check into the International Space Station: IMAX. There are a trove of IMAX films to fit in with any of your family’s interests (or to provide more in-depth knowledge and understanding of your child’s current unit of study in school). Check out the IMAX Ultimate Collection, which contains 20 of the most popular IMAX movies on DVD.
  • March of the Penguins (2005, Directed by Luc Jacquet; Narrated by Morgan Freemen) gifts viewers with a touchingly intimate glimpse into the difficult life of the Emperor Penguin. Witness the perseverance of these tuxedoed penguins as they trek across huge distances to their breeding grounds and protect their tiny hatchlings in the most brutal climate in the world.
  • Yet another polar favorite, Arctic Tale (2007; Directed by Adam Raetch and Sarah Robertson; Narrated by Queen Latifah and Katrina Agate), tells the story of Nanu, a baby polar bear, and Seelah, a newborn walrus. Follow along as these two amazing animals make it through a precarious infancy then travel into youth, where they’ll be trained in hunting and fighting by their respective mothers. You’ll also witness the negative effects of global warning in the surrounding Arctic environment.   

Bring the World Home with a World Language Movie

Travel to another country without so much as stepping foot into O’Hare Airport: Rent a foreign flick and host a world movie night! Even beginning readers will be able to catch the subtitles on the movies recommended below.

  • The Way Home (2002; Directed by Jeong-hyang Lee; Korean with English subtitles) is a touching movie that will remind children (and adults) that our relationships with those who love us that are worth their weight in gold (or Nintendo games). When seven-year-old Sang-Woo is sent away to spend summer with his elderly grandmother in the very rural countryside, he is forced to give up not only city life but also television, video games, and his favorite thing of all, Kentucky Fried chicken. Warning: make sure you have a box of tissues on hand.  
  • Children of Heaven (1999, Directed by Majid Majidi; Farsi with English subtitles) is a delightful and thought-provoking movie that highlights the resilience of children’s hopes and dreams. When a young boy accidentally loses his sister’s only pair of shoes, the brother sister pair take it upon themselves to share the one pair of shoes their poor family can afford, trading them off every day and dashing to and from school in shifts. When a school running race promises a new pair of shoes to the fastest student, the boy is determined to win. Minimal dialog and a simple storyline make this movie a good pick for beginning readers, and your children just might view their daily trek to school in a new light.
  • Follow along with a little boy and his red balloon through the streets of Paris in The Red Balloon (1956, but check out the 2008 restoration; Directed by Albert Lamorisse; French with English subtitles), one of the sweetest and most beloved movies of all times. The lively balloon seems to have a mind of its own, and the little boy, at first bewildered, finds a friend in it. Though released in 1956, this movie is a timeless classic that even today’s generation will appreciate. With its short length (34 minutes), minimal dialogue and simple storyline, this movie an especially good pick for those kids that can’t quite yet read subtitles.  

Step up the festivities a bit by accompanying each movie with snacks or treats from the featured country. Cookbooks such as Kids Around the World Celebrate!: The Best Feasts and Festivals by Lynda Jones and The Kids Multicultural Cookbook by Deanna Cook feature recipes for a wide array of tasty snacks, main dishes and desserts enjoyed in countries around the world that can be enjoyed right in your living room.

Pop in a movie and prepare for a night of family fun and learning—for kids and parents alike!