The Problem With Every Movie From My Youth: and ten family movies that won't teach your kids to swear like a sailor

by | Apr 29, 2016 | Movie and Book Reviews, Parenting | 44 comments

Ahhh . . . movie night. It’s one of the most beloved parts of our family routine. Our kids don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but we do plan on watching a movie together as a family just about every week. We started off watching mostly Disney animated movies, but as the big kids have gotten older, the husband and I were SUPER excited to share with them OUR favorite movies from when we were their age.

Perhaps you, too, have figured the kids were ready to share in the joy and wonderment of all your hip eighties movie favorites only to dive for the remote while sharing horrified glances with your spouse. Goonies, Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, E.T., Indiana Jones, Beetlejuice, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Short Circuit, Harry and the Hendersons, all really awesome movies, obviously. But all with really significant swear words in them. Like . . . the BIGGIES. Perhaps you’ve resigned yourself to just giving up the genre entirely.

Or maybe you’re thinking, what’s the big deal? I watched those movies as a kid and *I* turned out just fine. And that’s true. I happen to think you’re a perfectly lovely human being. And I can see that argument, really I can. Because bad language, in itself, is not a sin. Bad words are really just bad manners, inasmuch as they are intended to shock or make someone uncomfortable or offended. Perhaps if the use of bad language stems from genuine wrath, it could be sinful, but that’s not how bad words are usually used in family movies.

The old Baltimore Catechism has a section on language to avoid, and the big four-letter words aren’t a part of the discussion.

In fact, the language that’s actually most problematic for a good Catholic isn’t even recognized as all that bad to begin with. We think of “swearing” and “cursing” as just synonyms for bad words, but really they aren’t.

Swearing is a no-no. When Billy Madison says, “I swear to God I’m sick! I can’t go to school,” that’s potentially a mortal sin, because he calls on God to witness to his illness, but he’s NOT really sick, of course. (He would have to know it was a sin though, and probably he doesn’t.)

Cursing (the calling down of some evil on a person, place, or thing) is quite specifically forbidden by the Catechism and the Bible. So this exchange in Hocus Pocus: “Billy: Go to hell! Winifred: Oh! I’ve been there, thank you. I found it quite lovely,” is of concern on many levels, but it doesn’t sting the ears.

Taking God’s name in vain, is right there in the second commandment. We’re against it. So when Cher says, “Oh my God! I love Josh. I am majorly, crazy in love with Josh,” unless she means that as a prayer, valley girl though she is, that’s not cool. But we’re so used to hearing it we hardly even notice.

So, the four-letter words that shock us in those eighties movies are, actually, not as bad, Catholic-wise, as plenty of other not-so-bad sounding language. And it’s going to be close to impossible to find a movie to watch without any swearing, cursing, or taking of God’s name in vain.

So what’s a responsible parent to do?

Well, that’s going to have to be your call. A few of the movies on that list above, we have watched with our kids. But most of them, we’ve decided to skip. The husband and I are, at this point, 100% potty mouth-free. So are our close friends and family members. Most of my weird unsocialized homeschool kids have never EVER heard those words, and I really think that’s sweet. As fun as those movies are, I don’t think they are worth ripping away that little piece of innocence.

And even if they ARE just bad manners . . . I want my kids to have good manners. I really don’t want to be the mom of a kid dropping four-letter bombs at the grocery store or during Mass. If he doesn’t know the words, he can’t say the words. And that’s only addressing the language part of the movies, there is also plenty of surprisingly sexual content in some of those PG movies, plus complicated family situations like divorce and remarriage and kids out of wedlock that really aren’t a part of my little kids’ frames of reference at this point.

But. I cannot give up the movies of my youth entirely. And we don’t want to give up on all movies entirely.

So, here are a few that I remember fondly and my kids have enjoyed . . . that, to the best of my recollection, won’t get your kid’s mouth washed out with soap. (Linked movie titles will take you to Netflix.) We watch movies as a whole family, so even though most of these are more appropriate for older kids, our little kids watch them too. Our kids aren’t particularly sensitive to scariness, and we don’t have a problem with them watching war-type or cartoonish violence. If you’re worried about stuff like that, you might want to preview these.

Update 2024: Since this post was written most of these movies have been taken off of Netflix so I’ve updated the links so they direct to Amazon Prime Video instead.

My kids LOVED this movie (Frankie especially), and the husband and I were impressed with how well the goofiness holds up.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have The Princess Bride memorized, and those that do not. I can only hope my children will follow me on the right path.

My sister and I used to “play” NeverEnding Story by sitting on the ground with long skirts spread out in a circle around us. Good times. My kids loved Falcor, obviously.

If you’re looking for something to get the Frozen soundtrack out of your kids’ heads. . . . Fair warning: there is some bad behavior by Miss Hannigan. She’s a drunk and a, let’s say, flirt in addition to being a liar, kidnapper, and all-around terrible person. I find it not problematic, since she is CLEARLY a bad guy. But it might be too much for you. I’m pretty sure there isn’t language though. 😀

If your kids have already seen and enjoyed Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, this is a good one.

If your kids haven’t already seen and enjoyed Star Wars . . . what is your problem? Show them Star Wars for goodness sakes. The original ones, I mean. My kids love them. Unfortunately, they also like the prequels.

And a few newer but still adventurous movies that big kids and parents can both enjoy . . .

Very violent. And gory. And scary. But an extraordinary story of sacrifice and friendship and courage. Also very long and complicated. But in nine hours and eighteens minutes worth of movie there’s not a single bad word.

Reminiscent of the pack of kids movies from the eighties, but smarter and less profane.

If Goonies and E.T. had a baby, it would be this movie. We watched it a couple weekends ago and really loved it. There are a couple double entendre-type moments, but it felt acceptable to me.

My favorite resource these days for vetting family movies (and books) is Common Sense Media. I appreciate how detailed the reviews are, so even if they’ve given a blanket recommendation for or caution about a movie, I can look at the specifics and decide if their problem with the movie would be a problem for me.

Share your favorite hits and misses in the comments!

And that’s my honest opinion. But this is a sponsored post.


  1. Denise Renner

    We totally went down this path! Had only fond memories of my sister's E.T. doll and my brother pointing his little baby finger trying to say "phone home" and put the movie on for about 10 minutes and was really surprised that we ended up turning it off. My parents were lenient to the point that I still kind of think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie (it is definitely NOT!)

    • Sarah C.

      My husband and his brother think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie too. Doesn't it have like one Christmas scene in it?

  2. Jamie Carin and Claudio Romano

    Wow thanks for this list!! Family/non cartoon movies have been on my mind lately. We are of the Princess Bride is memorized clan, but I thought I remembered some immodest boob related stuff in there? Did I imagine that or was it much more mild than I am remembering?? Have you ever seen My Dog Spot…starred the kid from Malcolm in the Middle. I recall that being a great movie, but again it has been years! Thanks for the reviews!

    • Catie

      I believe you are referring to "There is a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours." We are of the memorized clan, too.

    • Kendra

      Yep! I don't have a problem with that line, personally. It seems innocent enough. 🙂

    • Bethany Sonnier

      There is one instance of cussing in The Princess Bride aka the best movie ever. At the end of the big sword fight Inigo tells Count Rugen "I want my father back you son of a *****." My family's view of it is that if there's ever a time for "strong language" then killing someone at the end of a 20 year quest for vengeance is it. Just be aware of it if our kids are at the parroting stage.

    • Kendra

      Yes, good point. I had forgotten that line. The whole vengeance thing is more problematic than the language, of course. But less of a temptation for kids. 😉

    • Cristina

      We grabbed the remote and muted that line just in time….the beauty of having a movie memorized 🙂

    • Hannah D.

      We used to fast-forward through that part, too! But actually I think the worst part is when the grandson is upset (I think when Westley 'dies'?), and he takes the Lord's name in vain while yelling at his grandpa. Maybe he says "geez", but I'm pretty sure it's not that 🙁 I'll definitely be muting that when watching with my kids someday!

  3. Stephanie

    I echo Kelsey, we started using Vidangel last month and it's so awesome! $1 per movie (with a $19 investment to "own" the movie while you rent it, so it can legally be filtered- and you can have that $19 refunded to your card whenever you decide you're done with Vidangel), so it's cheaper and easier than Redbox, plus you can filter out whatever level of profanity, violence, sexual content, adult content that you want (both as general filters or edited specifically to a movie). I totally sound like a promoting robot or paid endorser but I really am not either- we just have used and love it and want to share it with others who will enjoy it!

    • Kendra

      Thank you, that sounds like it's worth looking into!

  4. Whitney H

    Mary Poppins is one I would certainly add to the list. Such wonderful songs… "Let's Go Fly a Kite!," "Supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee"…

    Our kids LOVE this one. It's a little long for them (They're 5, 4 and 2), but that's due, in part, to the many wonderful scenes with singing and dancing.

    I'll have to share some from this list with them.

    Thanks, Kendra.

  5. Pamela Averrett

    Those are great ones! This post came at the perfect time I just noticed Netflix added some new movies, and Harry and the Hendersons was one of them. My six year old begged to see it, but I was pretty sure their was some bad language.

  6. Lindsay

    I distinctly remember "The Princess Bride" as an example of how bad a four-letter word you can get away with in otherwise lower-rated movies. I'm thinking of when Inigo Montoya kills Count Rugen. Are you okay with that one (technically a five-letter word)?

    • Kendra

      Yes, that's true. But the way it's used isn't for shock value, it's to give weight to the moment . . . and it's not a kid that says it.

  7. Kristi

    WOW, Kendra, in the world of amazing *coincidences*, just last night my husband and I were talking about this, in reference to whether our preschoolers were ready for "The Princess Bride" since they seem to love Star Wars and such (we were planning to preview TPB again or read up on it to see if there would be something questionable for their age. And here you are with these recommendations, and here it is on the list! What I would like to know is, how did you get into our house last night to hear this conversation? 🙂 Ironically, we had also had the same discussion about our beloved '80s flicks and had previously rented E.T. for them — then previewed it and realized it might be a bit too much for them at their ages. Side note: I realize it's not an '80s flick, but we recently also discovered "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" as a good alternative to some of the other '90s animated flicks that have more issues for young kids. It does have one character struggling with mature themes (related to lust/sin) and some scenes may not be for sensitive kids, but overall it seemed pretty solid. Thanks for this very helpful post!

  8. Kellie

    We recently watched Annie with our kids and I hadn't remembered the inappropriateness of some scenes- I could deal with Miss Hannigan's over-the-top intoxication, but the come-on scenes to Daddy Warbucks and other males is too much- taking her clothes off, hip grinding, etc., and gd is dropped a few times.

    I hadn't even thought to bring out Pee-wee with the kids- such a great one!

    • Kendra

      That's a good warning. It felt okay with me because she is clearly not a good character, or one whom children are supposed to want to emulate. It's a problem for me when it's the heroine doing stuff like that.

    • Emily Cihlar

      That's a good point to make, Kendra, about Miss Hannigan not being a good character to begin with. But that being said, I feel like that might be hard to overcome in a discussion with kids! Kellie, it is ironic that you mention your recent experience, because I had the exact same one! My husband had never seen the original Annie, and we are huge lovers of musicals, so we watched it together a few nights ago. I also had not at ALL remembered some of Miss Hannigan's inappropriateness, or even moreso the "Easy Street" scene. Yikes!! Made me glad I re-watched it, before sharing it with my kids, so that I'm ready for the conversations we will have to have!

  9. Amanda

    We are in the "have slipped up and sworn in earshot of the children" camp, but yes to movies not reinforcing it! My sister and I were big Parent Trap (Lohan) fans and the kids have watched it but it's got a couple problems. Gold digger and reference to how the dad must want to have sex with her.

  10. Kristen Rabideau

    Oh my, I just love reading your posts!
    I had a similar feeling recently when I tried to let my kids watch some of the cartoons of my past! Not so much swearing, but poor character behavior. Like I used to watch Charlie Brown all the time. Then watching with my kids I was so shocked to find Lucy constantly calling Charlie Brown a "blockhead!" Among other teasing, name calling and traits in general I don't want my kids to do, we had to ban that show in our house.

  11. Munchie Mommy

    Is this only for older movies? We watched "song of the sea" recently and it is one of the most impressive kids movies I have seen in a long time. It is a recent animated movie from Ireland, and is basically a couple of kids interacting with Irish myths and legends.

  12. The Towers Family

    Parent Trap and Polyanna with Hayley Mills
    Doctor Dolittle, (the original)
    Water Horse (on Netflix now)

    • Kendra

      Ooh, I'm glad to see you liked Water Horse, I just added it to my list the other day.

  13. Amy

    I'm an old school live action Disney fan too. Favorites include Swiss Family Robinson (pirates!), Blackbeard's Ghost (another pirate!), the Love Bug, and Snowball Express. My family also adores What's Up Doc, a no-bad-language screwball comedy with Barbra Streisand about four matching suitcases that get mixed up. A few characters are up to no good, but they are clearly crooks in the good old-fashioned way. Very fun!

    • Amy

      I should say, Blackbeard's Ghost has a character who is trying to learn to do something good so he can escape the post-earthly "limbo" – and in the process does some morally questionable things like cheating and gambling, and the main character ends up allowing it to happen and sort of participating. As a kid I was never confused about the morals portrayed and the movie does indicate that both cheating and gambling aren't right, but there's enough ambiguity that some parents might be concerned.

    • Kendra

      We watched Blackbeard's Ghost forever ago and really enjoyed it! Thanks for the reminder, we'll have to put it back in the rotation. I do wish Netflix would get those old live action Disney movies!

  14. Hafsa

    Ah yes thanks for the recommendations. I think my kids are still too young for The Princess Bride and Star Wars (6, 5, and 2.5) but those are definitely on our list. I think Pee Wee's Big Adveture might be our Sunday movie tomorrow! And thanks for the reminder of the bad language and questionable scenes in E.T., that was my favorite movie as a kid as was Annie. We recently watched the latter and some scenes and language I hadn't remembered but my husband and I didn't make a big deal out of it and the kids didn't focus on those things.

  15. Torey

    I know you are working with Netflix, but I was researching VidAngel and it seems to be a great solution. You can edit out language, sex, etc. before you even play the movie. I haven't tried it yet, but friends of mine love it. It seems like a great solution.

  16. Erin Pulles

    I applaud your family culture, you are better than me. Saying some naughty words is a family thing that goes back to both my grandfathers, whom I heard using bad words mostly while watching football. So, to us, it's not that big of a deal. That said, I also don't like to be the mom where my kid is dropping F-bombs in the grocery (but I have…) and we teach him that those words are not for public and are not good in general. You have some great movie recommendations but lots of them seems like 10+ kinda stuff. Back to the Future, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller, those were movies I didn't watch until at least Middle School?? Our son is six, and just began enjoying movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, etc.

    • Kendra

      Yes, my two oldest are finishing 6th and 8th grades this year, but we've also got toddlers, so we are in the position of trying to find movies that are appropriate for and appealing to a very wide age range!

  17. Rhonda Kennedy

    Anne of Green Gables, The Man from Snowy River for dramas; The Apple Dumpling Gang for comedy.

  18. Kendra

    Sorry! Only the linked titles (that show up red) are on Netflix.

  19. michelle l

    I love Holes! Your description is spot on. Have your kids read the book? I'm an English teacher and it's my favourite book to teach to Grade 7s. We're still very much in the Disney phase at home, but my 6yo loves 'animal' movies – the old Black Beauty and National Velvet, Milo and Otis – although that is a bit stranger than I remembered it.

  20. Liesl

    My Dad would show us cheesy old movies from the 70s and 80s growing up – I didn't realize until I was older that NO ONE else watched these movies. One of my favorites was The Last Starfighter. I watched it again recently and oh my goodness, it is so cheesy! But still a fun one.

  21. Unknown

    I have found that remakes of some old classics can be problematic but the originals are not. Some movies don't need to be remade. 🙂 In particular, the original Parent Trap; Yours, Mine and Ours (Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda), Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend (Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor), Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes (also very much recommended as reading material, the books by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth are hysterical and very family friendly). Another good book for you to check out is The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss. Have fun!

  22. Caroline

    Wind At My Back and Road to Avonlea. Both suited for all kids and family entertainment for the parents as well. First one is more geared towards boys (boys being the principal characters) and the second is more for girls, though there are several boys in the mix of characters. Both by the producer of the Anne of Green Gables 1980s production, though these two are from the 1990s. You'll most likely have to get hem from your local library though- and they each have several seasons. Really really nice family stories, and funny too.

  23. Jess

    Kendra! Have you read The NeverEnding Story? An awesome, beautiful book! I loved it as a child, and REALLY appreciate it as an adult (same with The Last Unicorn, come to think of it – the movie is lovely, but the novel is sheer beauty.)

  24. Jean

    Thanks for this post! My kids are 6th and 8th grade. We watched Short Circuit with them and were shocked at the language, so we've been looking for some good live action stuff. I completely forgot about some of these, so thanks for the post. My daughter really loves all the Disney/Kurt Russell movies (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Strongest Man in the World, etc.) so we have had fun with those too!

  25. Missy White

    Hi there! I just read this article and wanted to share that we recently discovered VidAngel- you can choose any movie you want and then go through each questionable category (language, sex, violence) and turn on filters for them- so the movie actually plays according to how you've filtered it! Plus movies are only 1 dollar! It's been a great win for our family. Thanks for a great post.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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