For many families, the most stressful part of Thanksgiving isn’t figuring out a way to keep turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, yams, and Parker House rolls hot all at the same time. Instead, it’s finding the perfect post-tryptophan-overdose, pre-nap viewing—something capable of entertaining your hyperactive-five-year-old, your too-cool teenage nephew, your weird aunt, and your 94-year-old Great-Grandma Dot… all at the same time. Just call it a quest for the White Whale of movies—or at least the cinematic equivalent of the traveling pants.
That’s where we come in. EW’s brain trust has come up with a few simple guidelines that should help you find the perfect family film. Obviously, all families are unique, and every idea might not work for every clan; EW.com news editor Ashley Fetters, for instance, swears she knows a family that makes a point of watching Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man over the holidays. Still, general consensus led us to these five basic rules. (Psst: If you need even more guidance, our list of 55 Movies Your Child Must See is another good starting point.)
1. Classics rule
There’s a reason they call ’em crowd-pleasers; tried and true tales like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Philadelphia Story are beloved to this day because they’re timeless stories, told exceedingly well. And don’t think you have to look back before the Eisenhower administration, either; modern-day classics like The Princess Bride and Field of Dreams will work equally well.
2. Everyone loves a screwball comedy
Go old-school with Some Like It Hot or It Happened One Night; go new-school with Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Clue (surprisingly tame for a murder mystery!); either way, you can’t go wrong with something light, frothy, and guaranteed not to stir up arguments. Or go a bit off the beaten path with this suggestion from EW.com editor Kyle Ryan: “Although it’s a little long, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is great: Slapstick comedy works especially well with kids, and the parents/grandparents in attendance get a kick out the stacked cast and cameos from Hollywood titans of yesteryear. (Where else can you find blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances by Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges, and Jerry Lewis?) Nothing beats a good caper flick, especially one that gleefully goes off the rails at every opportunity. And at 205 minutes, it’ll eat up a good chunk of that holiday lounging-around time.”
3. Or try a musical
There’s a lot of intersection between this category and the first one mentioned, but: The Sound of Music, Carousel, Oklahoma, The Music Man, Singin’ in the Rain—you’ll too busy singing along to argue with your undermining sister or pigheaded brother. Bonus: All that toe-tapping’s got to count as exercise, right?
4. Pixar, Pixar, Pixar
It might be a good idea to steer clear of Up, just to ensure that nobody starts ugly-crying during that opening montage—but the rest of the Pixar stable is utterly fair game, especially everything released during the studio’s unimpeachable 1995-2010 run. (My number one: Wall-E.)
5. Actually, you know what? Just watch The Birdcage
It’s an utterly delightful comedy with a family-friendly message—”don’t be such a jerk to your mom, Dan Futterman”—that’ll also give everyone in attendance an opportunity to admire the late Robin Williams and Mike Nichols at their best. What more do you need?