Usually, the recommendation would be to avoid having your kids watching several hours worth of films over the course of a day - but then, quarantining to stamp out Covid-19 isn’t exactly the usual.
These are trying times, and it’s especially trying if you’re trying to keep your kids engaged while juggling work and other responsibilities from home. I’ve combed through the country’s major streaming libraries to curate a few marathons which should hopefully engage your kids, entertain them, and maybe even teach them a thing or two about the wonderful world of film and filmmaking as well. Because kids’ attention spans are pretty variable, none of these need to be watched in rapid succession.
I’ve tried to include as few big-name titles as possible, and include options that are at least mostly watchable for parents as well. I hope this provides some much needed comfort (and peace) for your busy household in this tough time.
The ‘Classic Starter Pack’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Main Event: Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Dessert: Clueless (dir. Amy Heckerling)
There are two key stages in a young movie geek’s life - their life before they watch Jurassic Park and their life afterward. Jurassic (and, by extension, Raiders of the Lost Ark) are the quintessential, Spielbergian cinematic experiences for youngsters who are starting to discover the infinite possibilities movies can hold. Both can be a little scary, yes, so top it off with another bona fide classic - the queen of all teen movies, Clueless.
The ‘Low Intensity’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: The Road to El Dorado (dir. Bibo Bergeron, Jeffery Katzenberg, Don Paul)
Main Event: Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King)
Dessert: Matilda (dir. Danny DeVito)
If your kid isn’t quite ready for such thrills and spills, you can still watch gentle cinema that holds within great rewards. As a kid I thought Road to El Dorado was the funniest film ever made (it mostly holds up). As an adult I found Paddington 2 to be an almost alarming exercise in the emotional wallop genuine kindness on-screen can hold. And Matilda - well, that’s just the icing on Bruce Bogtrotter’s cake.
The ‘Musical’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: Hairspray (dir. Adam Shankman)
Main Event: La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)
Dessert: Beyonce - Homecoming (dir. Beyonce Knowles, Ed Burke)
Films you can shake a tailfeather to - each supremely well-made and executed. Hairspray is an utterly joyous adaptation of the John Waters musical. Follow this up with La La Land, a landmark modern musical that features great opportunities to get your kids thinking about the use of movement and colour on-screen. Cap this off with another landmark - the groundshaking Beyonce: Homecoming, put simply one of the finest live performances ever put to screen.
The ‘Animated Classics’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: Wallace and Gromit - The Wrong Trousers (dir. Nick Park)
Main Event: The Iron Giant (dir. Brad Bird)
Dessert: Spirited Away (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
Set aside the Disney live-action remakes and pick up these all-time great animated offerings. Netflix hosts a range of Wallace and Gromit shorts. My pick is the wonderful, madcap The Wrong Trousers. Follow this up with the still-astonishing The Iron Giant - bring tissues. Wrap-up with Hayao Miyazaki’s hallucinatory masterpiece Spirited Away.
The ‘Slightly Scary’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: Monster House (dir. Gil Kenan)
Main Event: Where the Wild Things Are (dir. Spike Jonze)
Dessert: Goosebumps (dir. Rob Letterman)
As a kid I was a little bit obsessed with the slightly more ‘dangerous’ fare, the stuff that I knew may give me the shivers, but which made the experience all the more special because of it. These are three films with slightly darker, sharper edges for older kids who don’t mind a little bit of peril. It helps that all three are under-the-radar gems - Monster House is a half-forgotten Halloween classic, Goosebumps is better than it has any right to be, and Where the Wild Things Are is a misunderstood masterpiece (featuring a terrific voice performance from the late James Gandolfini).
The ‘Better Than You’d Think’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: The Karate Kid (dir. Harald Zwart)
Main Event: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (dir. Brad Silberling)
Dessert: The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (dir. Stephen Hillenburg, Mark Osborne)
You might not think these remakes and adaptations would have much to offer, but each is a little gem, all in different ways. Start with the surprisingly moving The Karate Kid remake, featuring a genuinely brilliant performance by Jackie Chan. Follow up with a deeply misunderstood classic - A Series of Unfortunate Events - an atmospheric, hilariously dour adventure. Cap it off with The Spongebob Squarepants Movie - which somehow is really just delightful.
The ‘Sleepover Canon’ Marathon (Netflix)
Starter: A Cinderella Story (dir. Mark Rosman)
Main Event: Practical Magic (dir. Griffin Dunne)
Dessert: Easy A (dir. Will Gluck)
When I was a kid, it was all-too-easy to dismiss these kinds of films as ‘chick flicks’ even though they held great interest to me and high entertainment value. Rather, they are ‘Sleepover Canon’, part of that hallowed collection of teen-girl focussed greats that feature at nearly every slumber party in recorded history.
The ‘Big Sister’ Marathon (Neon)
Starter: Stick It (dir. Jessica Bendinger)
Main Event: 10 Things I Hate About You (dir. Gil Junger)
Dessert: Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (dir. Ken Kwapis)
These teen movies are the kinds of films that are perfect for pre-teens - brash, punky, hormonal, maybe a little bit naughty - but in a way that has your best interests at heart, like a big sister. The jewel in the crown here is, of course, 10 Things I Hate About You, starring a never-dreamier Heath Ledger.
The “Sporty Spice” Marathon (Neon)
Starter: Real Steel (dir. Shawn Levy)
Main Event: Fighting With My Family (dir. Stephen Merchant)
Dessert: Speed Racer (dir. The Wachowskis)
These are films with a strong focus on sport and competitiveness (even if those sports are made up). Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman as a trainer of boxing robots, and does pretty much what it says on the box. Things kick up another gear with Fighting With My Family, the lovely recent wrestling film starring a pre-stardom Florence Pugh. Then, turn up the trippiness with cult classic Speed Racer, one of the most visually unique films on offer anywhere on Kiwi streaming.
The “Auteur Jr” Marathon (Lightbox)
Starter: Wonderstruck (dir. Todd Haynes)
Main Event: The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)
Dessert: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
An auteur is a filmmaker with a unique personal style, a kind of stamp that makes viewers know who the ‘author’ of the film is, so to speak. When auteurs try their hand at family-focussed fare, the results are often either disastrous or spectacular. Here are some of the more spectacular offerings. Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck is based off the graphic novel, and is a fascinating and visually stunning effort. Lulu Wang’s recent The Farewell is a wonderful introduction to some slightly heavier subjects like loss and identity. Finish up with the best of the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuaron’s idiosyncratic take on The Prisoner of Azkaban.
The “Cinema Through the Ages” Marathon (Free on Youtube)
Starter: Modern Times (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
Main Event: The Princess Bride (dir. Rob Reiner)
Dessert: Wild Child (dir. Nick Moore)
Journey through the history of cinema for free on Youtube. Start with visually spectacular silent classic Modern Times, one of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest. Follow-up with family staple The Princess Bride, a rite-of-passage for most kids of a certain age. Finish up with perhaps the greatest cinematic offering Youtube has on hand - 2000s rebel-teen flick Wild Child. Listen, there’s only so many free films on Youtube. Wild Child is pretty underrated, but for something more on-theme, head back to Netflix for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.