*This post was originally published in March. It has been updated with more films my parents and I have enjoyed during quarantine.
Recently, much has been written about the character of the foolhardy boomer, who drives their adult children crazy by not taking the coronavirus seriously. However! Let me just say: #NotAllBoomers. In my experience, there are also plenty of 60-somethings who’ve done their part to help flatten the curve by practicing self-isolation and proper social distancing. Two of them are my mother and father, who were so worried about the pandemic that two months ago, they evacuated me from my studio apartment so I could spend the quarantine with them in suburban Maryland. (Everyone complains about helicopter parents until it’s the Fall of Saigon.) So now the three of us are holed up in one house for the first time since the mid-aughts, and anecdotally, it seems that plenty of other millennials are in the same boat. How should we fill the time? Perhaps with this carefully curated selection of family-friendly films currently available on streaming, as determined by me, with special assistance from my loving parents and their helpful neighbors.
Light, Low-Stress Movies
What my parents say they most want to watch right now are what I like to call “comfy” movies — films without too much stress, where the stakes stay low and ideally nobody dies. Think of these options as televisual benzos that’ll help drown out the anxiety you’re all getting from staring at your phones 10 hours a day.
Julie and Julia (available to rent on Amazon)
This was the first movie I watched when I got home, and it was a great choice. Meryl Streep having the time of her life playing the vivacious, enormous Julia Child! Stanley Tucci as the world’s best onscreen husband! Scene after scene of lovingly photographed French dishes! Amy Adams is in it, too.
The Two Popes (available on Netflix)
When I think of cozy movies, I think of The Two Popes, which gets two of our finest British actors together to bicker in funny accents, before they eventually strike up a papal bromance. It’s religious but not too religious — the “Christmas and Easter Christians” of movies.
The Florida Project (available on Netflix)
Of the dozens of movies my parents and I have watched, this has been their favorite. A bunch of adorable kids run around low-cost motels outside Disney World, where they raise hell and torment the kindly handyman (Willem Dafoe, playing a nice guy for once). Director Sean Baker has such a light touch that you don’t see the sad stuff coming until it’s too late.
Cadillac Records (available to rent on Amazon)
A heavily fictionalized retelling of the history of Chicago’s Chess Records, but if you can get past the shameless embellishments, you’ll find the Avengers of musical biopics, which gets a lot of mileage from simply putting pioneers like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, and Etta James in the same room together, and letting them go to town. Beyoncé plays James, in what turns out to be a better, pricklier performance than her turn in Dreamgirls two years earlier.
The Hundred Foot Journey (available on Netflix)
More food porn, this time from Lasse Hallström, the patron saint of parent movies. This one’s a culinary dramedy about a snooty French chef (Helen Mirren) who feuds with an Indian family who’ve opened their own restaurant across the street. Watch it and think about what restaurant you’ll go to when this is all over. (Then donate to their staff.)
I originally had 20th Century Women in this spot, before I watched it with my parents and they told me in no uncertain terms that they did not like it. (A very 20th Century Women type of thing to happen.) So let’s replace it with another semiautobiographical A24 period piece about a rocky parent-child relationship in California. You won’t need to call your mom — she’s sitting right next to you!
Another A24 effort and the first of many Keira Knightley movies on this list. (What can I say, parents love Keira Knightley; her rap name is PL Cool K.) She plays a directionless 28-year-old who starts hanging out with a bunch of high schoolers. This is a movie where any sort of conflict gets smoothed over very quickly, and while that may make it not a great film in a vacuum, it does make it a pretty good movie for the current moment. My parents enjoyed it!
The Station Agent (available to rent on Amazon)
The movie that made Peter Dinklage a star. He plays a train obsessive who slowly comes out of his shell thanks to his burgeoning friendship with Bobby Cannavale’s chatty food-truck guy and Patricia Clarkson’s grieving artist. It’s a jewel from the golden age of indie cinema — back in the day, we’d get at least one tiny, wonderful film like this from Sundance every year.
Late Night (available on Amazon)
A Sundance movie of a more recent vintage. In its rhythms, stakes, and aesthetics, Late Night occasionally feels like a two-hour episode of television, but maybe that’s what you need right now. Mindy Kaling plays a chemical-plant worker who shakes up a late-night talk show (Emma Thompson is the host) that’s grown stale. It’s all very bright and slightly too shiny, but Kaling’s script has some funny one-liners and a light-enough touch that no one’s going to feel preached at.
Eighth Grade (available on Amazon)
Relive your awkward teenage years through Bo Burnham’s endlessly empathetic comedy, and be thankful both you and your parents grew up before the age of Instagram.
The Farewell (available on Amazon)
I know what you’re thinking: a movie about a sick grandma … in this climate? But get past your reservations and you’ll find a perfectly calibrated dramedy about a family coming together in a time of crisis. And ultimately, it’s a movie about a millennial (Awkwafina) who learns that her parents were right — a message the whole family can enjoy!
A Simple Favor (available on Amazon)
The other night, my mom couldn’t remember the name of an actress she hated. She went on listing all of this woman’s negative qualities for like ten minutes, and when that didn’t get us anywhere she even drew a picture! We eventually figured out who it was, and while it would be cruel to name the actress, let’s just say we will not be watching A Simple Favor together anytime soon. But if your parents have slightly different tastes, perhaps they will enjoy this twisty neo noir. The subject matter is actually quite dark — there’s infidelity, murder, even incest — but the movie’s wavelength is set firmly to camp.
Moonstruck (available on Hulu)
This suggestion comes courtesy of a poster on my mom’s neighborhood message board. It’s a big, loud love story between two of our biggest, loudest stars — Cher and Nicolas Cage.
My Best Friend’s Wedding (available on Hulu)
The not-quite-rom-com that kick-started Julia Roberts’s career after a fallow period in the mid-’90s. As my girlfriend recently reminded me, most of the famous scenes happen fairly early on, so if anyone in the family has a penchant for falling asleep in the middle of a movie, they’ll still catch the good stuff.
The Great Escape (available to rent on Amazon), Raiders of the Lost Ark (available on Netflix), and Romancing the Stone (available on Hulu)
These three suggestions come from the same neighbor, who appears to be on something of an adventure kick. People do die in these movies, but overall they’re all pretty jolly.
The Shawshank Redemption (available to rent on Amazon)
The coziest movie ever made? The plot includes some stressful elements, but by now any anxiety they may have once induced should be worn down through sheer familiarity. You can relive the glory days of cable TV by playing it on a loop for 151 hours straight.
Sumptuous Period Pieces
When I asked my dad what kind of movies he wanted to watch during quarantine, he thought about it for a bit and then uttered the three words above.
Lagaan is one of my favorite films of all time, and I just discovered it was on Netflix. It’s a great stepping stone for getting into Bollywood cinema, because it is not just a musical, it’s a sports movie, too! It’s also 15 minutes longer than The Irishman, which is a further bonus. During the days of the British raj, a drought-stricken Indian village can’t pay its taxes (lagaan), so hunky Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) challenges the evil Brits to a cricket match. If they win, no taxes for three years. If they lose, they have to pay triple lagaan. By the end of it you will not be able to stop yourself from singing “Ghanan Ghanan” and you will also know all the rules of cricket. A win-win!
Cadillac Records (available to rent on Amazon)
The Avengers of musical biopics.
Period dramas rarely get more sumptuous than Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 film about the early years of Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett), which is a veritable feast of oranges, yellows, and reds. As Tudor history, it’s a bit of a mess, but as ’90s history, it’s great — in Blanchett, Joseph Feinnes, Christopher Eccleston, Emily Mortimer, and Kelly MacDonald, we get a chance to see an entire generation of British actors at peak dewiness.
The King’s Speech (available to rent on Amazon)
Let’s face it — sometime before this quarantine is up, you are going to find yourself watching Cats. Why not prepare for this eventuality by watching The King’s Speech, the movie where Tom Hooper first discovered he loved placing a quivering camera mere inches from the face of an acclaimed actor?
A Little Chaos (available on Netflix)
This is a weird movie for me. From watching the trailer and reading the Wikipedia entry, I know that I’ve definitely seen it — and yet I have no memory of actually doing so. It’s kind of like my “So Much Better”! Anyway, from somewhere deep inside my subconscious, I can tell you this movie is about two landscape architects in 17th-century France (Kate Winslet and Matthis Schoenarts) who fall in love while designing gardens for Versailles. The late Alan Rickman directed it and cast himself as Louis XIV!
Howards End (available on Netflix)
Can you believe that in two successive years there were two Merchant Ivory literary adaptations about great English country estates starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson? If you need help telling them apart, Howards End is the one that doesn’t have any Nazis, and it’s the one that’s streaming; The Remains of the Day is the one that does have Nazis and isn’t streaming.
The Duchess (available on Amazon)
More Kiera Knightley!
Anna Karenina (available on Netflix)
Even more Knightley!
The Aftermath (available on Amazon)
Knightley’s personal brand finally met its match last year, when she appeared in a costume drama that also happened to include Jason Clarke getting cuckolded. This movie is the Godzilla vs. King Kong of performers who know their lanes.
This is the Gwyneth version, which would make a fine double feature with the Anya Taylor-Joy version, newly available on VOD.
Mary Queen of Scots (available to rent on Amazon)
One of those period pieces that gives the historical protagonists 21st-century liberal sensibilities so you know that they’re good, which is always a little cringey. But it’s also got a determined central performance from Saoirse Ronan, and you can astound and amaze your parents by telling them many of the costumes were made out of denim!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (available on Netflix)
A Netflix adaptation of a popular book-club pick about the Channel Islands, the only part of Britain to come under German occupation in World War II. A reminder that there are worse forms of government-mandated isolation.
The Aeronauts (available on Amazon)
Half of this movie is a white-knuckle survival epic, a steampunk Gravity. The other half is a stuffy drawing-room drama where people debate whether women do or do not belong in balloons. Which half will your parents prefer? There’s only one way to find out.
The British Corner
My mom loves British things so much, she married one. So here’s another selection of charming British films, non-costume-drama division.
Notting Hill (available on HBO Max), Bridget Jones’s Diary (available to rent on Amazon), and Love Actually (available to rent on Amazon)
In four films that spanned the mid-’90s to the early ’00s, Hugh Grant and writer-director Richard Curtis created one of the U.K.’s most potent cultural exports — the image of a cozy, middle-class Britain full of socially awkward romantics, gangs of quirky friends, and cubic miles of floppy hair. Three of them are free on streaming (Four Weddings and a Funeral is available on Hulu with a Starz subscription), and it’s never too soon to watch them all again.
Curtis eventually stopped directing, but he proved he’d still got it with his script for this sleeper hit from last summer, about a young musician (Himesh Patel) who wakes up after a bus accident to discover he is the only person who remembers the music of the Beatles. It’s the ultimate high-concept conceit, but Patel’s Everyman performance grounds it.
Blinded by the Light (available on HBO Max)
Another recent film about a young Brit of South Asian descent who becomes intimately connected with the music of a boomer icon, Blinded by the Light was one of the big sensations of Sundance last year, though unlike Yesterday it was a bit of a flop theatrically. But on the bright side, maybe that means your parents haven’t seen it yet. It’s based on the true story of a Muslim teen in Thatcher’s Britain whose life is transformed by the music of Bruce Springsteen. They play “Born to Run” all the way through at least twice.
Fighting With My Family (available on Amazon)
Before she was doing drugs in Sweden and having lovely small feet, the best in the family, Florence Pugh kicked off 2019 by starring in this biopic of Paige, the WWE superstar who got her start … wrestling with her … relatives in humble Norwich. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to make a great sports movie about a field where the outcomes are all determined in advance, but somehow they did!
A Fish Called Wanda (available on HBO Max)
Another classic, pitting 40 percent of Monty Python (John Cleese and Michael Palin) against two obnoxious Americans (Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline) in a double-crossing jewelry caper. My family rented this movie on VHS so many times in the ’90s, and now, thanks to streaming, we can watch it and pretend we’re all 25 years younger.
Starter for 10 (available on HBO Max)
I don’t remember this movie making much of a splash when it came out in 2006, but the cast, in retrospect, is pretty stacked. James McAvoy plays a brainy working-class kid who goes to university in the mid-’80s, where he joins the local University Challenge team (led by Benedict Cumberbatch!) and finds his heart torn between Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall. (The movie tries to make this a beauty-versus-brains thing, but it’s kind of having your cake and eating it too when you cast Rebecca Hall as the brains.) And his buddies from home are played by James Corden and Dominic Cooper! Anyway, your parents almost certainly have a crush on someone in this ensemble.
Unrelated (available on Mubi), Archipelago, Exhibition, and The Souvenir (all available on Amazon)
So your parents have gone through the entire alphabet of British film, from Alfie to Zulu. Why not level up by introducing them to the work of Joanna Hogg, one of the country’s greatest living directors, whose first three films went basically unreleased in the U.S.? (Her fourth, The Souvenir, came out last spring.) Collectively they’re a portrait of upper-middle-class Britons muddling through domestic tumult — the kind of movies you watch and think, “Thank God that’s not us.” My friend Lindsay coined the term “going Whole Hogg” to describe watching them all. I recommend you do it, but I don’t recommend you do it without a break.
If you’re up for some danger, some suspense, some brushes with evil, here are a few proven, parent-friendly options.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (available on Netflix)
It’s the height of the Cold War, and George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is an utterly worn-down midlevel bureaucrat in the British secret service. He’s lost his beloved mentor, he’s lost his wife, and he’s losing the spy game to his unseen Russian rival. Now he’s the only person who can ferret out a mole high in the ranks of British intelligence. The 1979 TV version of John le Carré’s novel has more cat-and-mouse palace intrigue, but Tomas Alfredson’s film adaptation excels through the rank ugliness of its ’70s production design — this is a world where all joy and optimism has slowly seeped away.
Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Irishman (all available on Netflix)
Thanks to Netflix, it is possible to fill up an eight-hour workday by throwing your family a mini Martin Scorsese film festival. Not that anyone would watch movies instead of working! But if you did, you would hit 5 p.m. very grateful for your own kind of family.
Olympus Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen (all available on Netflix)
One of the joys of quarantine has been discovering unexpected facts about my parents. For instance, did you know my mother has seen every installment in the “Has Fallen” trilogy, in which Gerard Butler plays an ultracapable Secret Service agent named Mike Banning, who is routinely the only person standing between the U.S. government and certain destruction? Oddly enough, the second movie in the series, London Has Fallen, isn’t free on streaming, but the other two are; both are mindless entertainment of the highest order.
The Prestige (available on Hulu)
In between Batmans, Christopher Nolan made this tricksy jack-in-the-box of a film: What seems initially to be the story of dueling Victorian magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) eventually surprises us with two big twists — one utterly natural, the other plainly supernatural. Argue with Mom and Dad over whether these gambits play fair with the audience.
Another suggestion from the neighborhood Facebook group. Denis Villeneuve’s Hollywood debut is an incredibly dark thriller about a child kidnapping. Jake Gyllenhaal is the detective trying to solve the case; Hugh Jackman is the father who turns to vigilante violence. I have met a surprising number of people who say this is their favorite movie ever.
The Usual Suspects (available on Hulu)
Recommended by multiple neighbors. The reputations of both Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey have both changed substantially in the past few years, but if you are in the mood for twists, there are none more famed.
Ninety minutes of Tom Hardy talking on a car phone, but somehow, a master class in suspense. My dad couldn’t stop doing a Hardy voice (this time he’s Welsh) for days afterward.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow (available on DVD)
Besides sumptuous period pieces, my dad also said he wanted to watch Scandinavian noir. The first thing that came to mind was this late-’90s mystery about a scientist (Julia Ormond) investigating the death of an Inuit child in Copenhagen. You will not forget the title, or the ending.
Another Scandinavian noir for my dad, this time by way of Brian De Palma, this terrorism thriller is a particular favorite of my colleague David Edelstein. A special recommendation if your parents were Game of Thrones fans — it’s got Jaime Lannister and Melisandre in it.
Why let fiction have all the fun?
American Factory (available on Netflix)
This vérité documentary was the first movie released by the Obamas’ production company, and it just won the Oscar, too. It’s a mutual fish-out-of-water tale about a small Ohio town where the shuttered auto-parts factory is reopened under the auspices of a Chinese conglomerate. Despite the best of intentions, cultural frictions inevitably emerge — but so do some deep international friendships. At a time when both countries’ governments are scapegoating each other to distract from their failure to contain the coronavirus, these bonds are a necessary reminder of our common humanity.
The Biggest Little Farm (available on Hulu)
Two yuppies leave their city jobs behind and try out their dream of starting their own farm, documenting the process on video for nearly a decade. The amazing thing is, it actually works. Husband John Chester’s background in nature documentaries comes in handy, grounding the film in the rolling rhythms of plant and animal life. And it looks absolutely fantastic.
Another recent Oscar winner. Climber Alex Honnold attempts to scale Yosemite’s El Cap cliff face without the aid of any safety equipment. Your parents will be glad you are doing literally anything else with your life.
Echo in the Canyon (available on Netflix)
This exploration of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon music scene comes heavily recommended by my mother, who says — I’m paraphrasing — that it’s the best thing Jakob Dylan has done since “One Headlight.”
So much of the fun of this documentary about Dylan’s famed small-venue tour in the mid-’70s comes from trying to figure out what’s real and what’s an invention. You can’t even trust the archival photographs (some of them are Photoshopped). But the concert footage is all real, and it slaps.
Apollo 11 (available on Hulu)
I’ve heard mixed reviews on how well this doc hit from last year plays on small screens. But if you want to take your parents on a journey into their youths, few movies are better. Constructed entirely out of footage and audio discovered in government archives, it’s not just a thrilling behind-the-scenes account of the moon landing, it’s also an immaculate time capsule that brings the world of 1969 back to stunning life.