Best Movies for Family Road Trips

Kids today are spoiled. When we were young, our family went on a ton of long road trips, and there were no movies in the car, handheld electronics or anything of the sort to pass the time. We read stories, made up silly songs, and fought a lot. We drove my parents nuts. Okay, maybe parents today are spoiled too!
With all of the great movies available on DVD and Blu-ray, we have a ton of choices for the family auto movie theater. But if your family is headed on a long road trip, here are some ideas to keep the family entertained, and in some cases, even educated. You can also use movies to inspire fun car ride activities so your family can bond together just like in the good old days.

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Movies Based on Books

Hugo movie poster

Movies based on books are an excellent choice for long car trips. If you're lucky enough to have family members who don't get car sick, you can read the book to each other aloud and then watch the movie. Not only does this pass the time quickly and break up the screen time, but it also allows for great family discussions about the similarities and differences between the book and the movie, as well as which version everyone liked better.
Here are some resources to find movies inspired by great books. Many of the titles overlap age ranges, so check all the lists for options:

The movie pictured here is a favorite of many because both the book and the movie are so unique in visual and storytelling style. Kids can learn about different literary devices, using illustrations to help the story progress, using specific colors to create the mood in a movie .

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Movies Based on Books by the Same Author

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie poster
 Warner Bros.

If you have a really long way to go, you can find a series of books and movies by the same author. This allows kids to explore both the literary style of the author and the different movie making techniques that effectively adapt the author's stories to the big screen. The compare/contrast discussion possibilities are endless, and kids will have fun trying to find elements of style that are consistent in all of the author's works as well as the movies and characters. Here are a couple great movie lists of films based on the works of the same author:

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Movie Trilogies and Series - Immerse Your Family in Another World

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie poster
Warner Bros. 

Got a family of Harry Potter fans? Watch the movies on your road trip, and bring along some fitting snacks like Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans or make some chocolate frogs using a chocolate mold. Also, bring along some activities to break up the movies, like a few magic trick how-to books to try out.
For younger kids, try an animated movie series like Shrek, and bring plenty of coloring sheets and other Shrek or swamp-based activities to do. You can make the experience educational by teaching them about random things in the movie, like what a swamp is or where the term "ogre" comes from, and have them make up their own story about a misunderstood ogre. Bring along fun snacks like green Gatorade, mud pudding cups (chocolate pudding with Oreos crumbled on top and a gummy bug tucked inside), or a healthy bag of all green fruits and veggies like grapes, cucumbers, and kiwis.

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Have Fun with Movies Based on a Theme

The Magic School Bus Rides Again movie poster
  9 Story Media Group

Whether you want to plan a theme around your child's favorite thing, like trains, or around something you want to teach your child about, like bugs or nature, there are plenty of movies that can be entertaining and educational. Here are a few lists of DVDs based on different themes. Find some good crafts, books, and activities that will go with the theme, and you'll have kids' road trip time all planned out.  Try these themes:

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Movies Set in Your Destination Location

The Princess and the Frog movie poster

Going to New Orleans? How about watching? Learn all about your destination with crafts and activities, and add a fun movie set in the same place to get kids excited about the trip.
If you are visiting the West, a Western like Rango might fit the bill. Or if you are driving to New York for Christmas, of course, Home Alone 2 is the perfect choice among many other great family movies set in NY during the holiday season like Miracle on 34th Street.
If you can't find a movie set in your destination place, you can try a movie about a road trip, like Bolt, or take the family on an in-car vacation to a place they've never been with these animated movies set in exotic locales. Or you could look at your destination city's website to find educational or informative DVDs about the location, fun things to do there, and famous landmarks or historical sites.

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For Preschoolers - Look for Movie Specials from Their Favortie Shows

Dora Saves the Mermaids DVD cover

Who wants to spend 5 hours in the car listening to the Dora theme song over and over again? Not me! Some preschoolers shows have aired double-length specials that are available on DVD. They aren't very long, but at least you cut the number of times you have to hear the same songs in half. And, the movie versions are often better than the regular episodes and more entertaining for kids of all ages who might be sitting through the shows with younger siblings.
These lists of Dora DVDs and Backyardigans DVDs both contain titles with feature-length episodes. Or, search for DVDs of your child's favorite shows and look for titles that include longer episodes. You can also go to websites like Disney Jr.,, and to find a plethora of ideas and printable activities for kids to do on the trip.​

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Educational DVDs

School House Rock

Nothing says captive audience like kids strapped into their car seats for a long journey on the open road. You can use your time on the road to teach kids a little something with educational movies that are heavily curriculum-based.
Toddlers will have fun learning their letters with DVDs that teach the alphabet, and preschoolers can learn a few early literacy skills with DVDs that encourage reading. Also, check out a list of preschoolers shows organized by subject and look for DVDs with episodes of the shows to help kids learn about things like reading, math, and science.
For older kids, you can find movies based on different periods in history, like movies that teach about U.S. history or try science-based shows that feature fun scientific adventures.