Screw the terrible twos; the tween years are way more stressful for parents! Twelve is when everything changes, as puberty eagerly waits to take over your kid's body. They might start to wonder about sex, randomly blurt out swear words, and more than likely want absolutely nothing to do with you. Welcome to age 12! Better buckle the f*ck up. It's going to be a bumpy ride. Between the mood swings (oh, what joy!) and incipient independence, finding ways to bond with your tween may feel near damn impossible. Thankfully for parents, movies for tweens that you can watch together do exist.
According to child psychologist Emily W. King, Ph.D., watching movies provides a safe, shared activity without requiring a tween to interact with their parents directly. "Tweens are entering into the identify-formation phase in their development, which begins to make spending time with family tricky," King explains to Scary Mommy. "Tweens are emotionally pulled towards friends and outside interests while continuing to need the love and support of their family — although they might not admit it!" So, watching tween movies might be one of only a few ways your budding teen agrees to a little bonding sesh.
But remember, watching movies with your tween is just as much about you as it is about them. "It provides parents with a platform to relate and understand what their child is thinking and experiencing as they try to navigate their world," licensed therapist Heidi Headding, LMFT, tells Scary Mommy. "Tweens are more likely to trust and open up with parents if they feel movie night is a safe space to ask questions and share opinions versus feeling judged or lectured."
Onto the hard part... how on Earth do you convince your tween to watch a movie with you? It all comes down to delivery and timing. Headding suggests letting your tween pick out the movie or making it fun and spontaneous: "Let's watch a movie tonight! We can grab pizza and popcorn." For tweens with younger siblings, consider giving them a later bedtime or allowing them to watch more mature movies than their siblings, King recommends.
While spending time with your tween may feel like an uphill battle at times, you're not alone (in the immortal words of Kris Jenner, "You're doing amazing, sweetie."). Now, who's ready to ace tween movie night?
Best Tween Movies
1. Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)
If your tween starts to scoff and tell you they aren’t a baby anymore, inform them that this live-action adaptation of the beloved kids’ cartoon has been aged-up. This Dora is a teen, played by Isabela Moner. It still has adventure and rescue missions, just like Dora the Explorer. But it’s all wrapped up in a more grown-up fish-out-of-water comedy.
2. Troop Zero (2020)
Set in 1977 Georgia, this quirky comedy tells the story of an eccentric space-loving girl named Christmas Flint. While trying to cope with the death of her mom, she dreams of becoming part of a project to launch two Voyager spacecraft carrying records of sounds of life to Earth. The film follows along as Christmas — and the merry band of lovable misfits she recruits to help — try to earn the right to have their voices included on Voyager Golden Record. There’s some occasional swearing and potty humor, but the film’s merits far outweigh those minor concerns.
3. The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
Described as Goonies meets Lord of the Rings, this modern take on the Arthurian legend of the sword and the stone is full of adventure. When a regular, relatable boy stumbles upon the mythical Excalibur, he recruits his friends for help — and they join forces with none other than Merlin, the iconic wizard. Old-school magic, sword fighting, modern problems... what more could a tween ask for?
4. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
If your kids have previously rolled their eyes when you’ve suggested watching the OG Ghostbusters films, here’s your chance to introduce a version they’ll actually think is cool — thanks in large part to flashy graphics and popular young stars like Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Mckenna Grace (Young Sheldon). And your inner adolescent will get a kick out of seeing the OG franchise stars, plus Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon as the primary adult protagonists.
5. Little Women (2019)
Those with tween daughters will appreciate the feministic storyline in Little Women, which centers around the lives of the March sisters. Meg is the eldest and has a passion for education. Jo is a strong-minded writer in New York, and Amy is an aspiring artist who spends part of the film living in Paris. Beth is the youngest and the glue that holds the family together.
6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Trilogy (2010-2012)
Adapted from cartoonist Jeff Kinney's book series of the same name, Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows tween Greg Heffley as he takes on the dreadful world of middle school. He's got a bully for an older brother, the most popular girl in school kicks his ass in wrestling, his best friend is, well, he's Rowley, and his baby brother steals their parents' full attention. Nevertheless, Greg still thinks and acts like he's hot sh*t. Get ready for a bucket of laughs.
7. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
The classic story is the same: A boy runs across a radioactive spider, gets bitten, and develops bizarre powers. But the protagonist in this fast-moving animated version is 14-year-old Miles Morales from Brooklyn. Even more fun? Peter Parkers from parallel universes make cameos, along with Spider-Pig. Also, the soundtrack is fire.
8. Yes Day (2021)
If you’re looking for something the entire family will love, pop in this fun comedy. Based on the book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, it stars Jenner Garner and Edgar Ramirez as parents who agree to, well, agree — to everything. For one day, they cave to all of their kids’ whims. Improbable? Yes. Cute and guaranteed to elicit some laughs? Absolutely.
9. The Greatest Showman (2017)
Shhh, don’t tell your tween this one’s for you as much as it is for them. Granted, this one won’t be for every 12-year-old out there. But if you have a kid who belts out all the songs in movies and clearly has a flair for theater, you can’t go wrong with this musical biopic of circus creator P.T. Barnum’s life. Fair warning, you’ll all be singing the tracks for weeks.
10. Shazam! (2019)
If the classic 1988 movie Big and any Superman movie had a baby, it would be Shazam! Basically, a 14-year-old is given the magical gift of being able to turn into an adult superhero when he says the magic word (the title of the movie, as you may have guessed). There are a few dark moments and a tiny bit of dicey language. But if you can get past that, your tween will probably think this DC Comics-based superhero comedy is hilarious.
11. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Right off the rip, yes, you can expect to hear some swearing. And true, there are lots of action scenes and several nods to violence (the main characters die within the game before quickly being reanimated). So, you’ll have to decide if you think your tween is mature enough for this kind of movie. However, there are lots of positive themes — teamwork, selflessness, communication — and an obvious nostalgia that make this movie a win.
12. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
Another Jennifer Garner-led pick? #SorryNotSorry; she plays the perfect family comedy mom. This movie will likely go over especially well if your tween has read the classic children’s book of the same name. But even if they haven’t, they’ll get a kick out of 11-year-old Alexander’s shenanigans on one truly unfortunate day.
13. Cinderella (2021)
While there have been other retellings of the Cinderella fairytale, go for this one if you’ve got a tween. Singer Camila Cabello stars as the main character, it’s packed to the brim with pop-driven musical numbers (not surprisingly, given its star), and the Fabulous Godmother is played by a delightfully sassy Billy Porter.
14. Sandlot (1993)
Perfect for baseball fans, this coming-of-age sports flick follows a group of neighborhood boys who play baseball at the Sandlot. Chaos strikes when one of them hits Smalls' stepdad's Babe Ruth-signed baseball over the creepy neighbor's tall fence. You'll relish in this '90s throwback while your child will have fun laughing along — and maybe even relating to — these goofy characters.
15. The Parent Trap (1998)
What happens when look-alike tweens (Lindsay Lohan) meet at sleep-away camp only to discover they're actually twins? When Nick (Dennis Quaid) and Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson) divorced, they moved to California and London, respectively, and agreed they would each raise one of the twins. Upon meeting one another for the first time at camp, Hallie and Annie hatch a plan to swap places and reunite their family. Between the sarcastic one-liners, camp drama, and catchy soundtrack, The Parent Trap is a must-see for tweens and twins.
16. Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
If your tween has read the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling or visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, now is a perfect time to introduce the cinematic series. Plus, in the first installment (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), the characters are around the same age as your kid. If you're lucky, you have the next seven movie nights planned!
17. School of Rock (2003)
School of Rock is arguably Jack Black's most fantastic film to date. Desperate for money, he poses as a newly hired substitute teacher at a private preparatory school. As a former rock guitarist, Dewey (Black) is the opposite of prep school material. He also finds the current teacher's gold sticker reward system nauseating. So he stages a rock and roll revolution, where all class subjects get replaced with rock and roll history and music lessons.
18. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Once again, Marvel nails it. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an action-packed adventure filled with kick-ass fight scenes and kung fu. Shang-Chi seems like an average millennial leading an ordinary life, but when his mysterious past catches up with him, it opens up a world of magic and deadly family drama. With the help of his BFF, Katy, played by Awkwafina, Shang confronts his past and defeats his demons along the way.
19. Tall Girl (2019)
Jodi is 6'2, which makes fitting in and high school an even bigger challenge. She endures constant teasing and rejection from boys who find her too tall, but one day, she meets a guy who is just as her. Ultimately, she learns that the only person who needs to accept for who she is, is herself.
Even More Tween-Friendly Movie Options
- Hamilton (2020)
- Are We There Yet? (2005)
- Turning Red (2022)
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
- Whale Rider (2002)
- Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)
- Queen of Katwe (2016)
- Tall Girl 2 (2022)
- Holes (2003)
- Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
- Finding Ohana (2021)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Wonder (2017)
- Night at the Museum (2006)
- The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021)
- Enola Holmes (2020)
- The BFG (2016)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- A Cinderella Story (2004)
- Big Fish (2003)
- Cheaper By the Dozen (2003)
- Enchanted (2007)
- Hugo (2011)
- Togo (2019)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
- The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005-2010)
- Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
- James and the Giant Peach (1996)
- Cool Runnings (1993)
- Aladdin (2019)
- Tooth Fairy (2010)
- Super 8 (2011)
- National Treasure (2004)
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