Memorial Day officially kicks off the summer for many. But the day is more than just a long weekend or an excuse to eat burgers. Memorial Day honors those who have died while serving their country. So if you’re looking for a way to commemorate this year, there are several family-friendly Memorial Day movies that can help give little ones a better understanding of the holiday.
Since 1971, people across the United States have been honoring fallen soldiers who have lost their lives to war on Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May. There are many ways families can pay homage and recognize the sacrifices military members have made for their country. One simple way is watching a movie about war to get an idea of how people have and continue to fight for our freedom.
While these films might be a little graphic at times and some scenes are really action-packed, they give us an ideas as to what might have gone on in the battles fought for our country. So use your extra day this Memorial Day weekend to sit down on the couch and watch any of these 20 films.
The Best Years Of Our Lives
Three WWII veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life after coming home in this Academy Award winning film from 1946. History buffs will appreciate this critically acclaimed movie (which has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). It focuses on Fred (Dana Andrews), Al (Frederic March), and Homer (Harold Russell). Despite being a war hero, Fred has to return to a low-wage job because he has no corporate qualifications. Al is a bank executive, but he suffers at work because he wants to help veterans to the detriment of the company. Homer lost both hands in the war, and he’s having a hard time adjusting to being back with his fiancée, as he worries her love has turned to pity. It is a heartfelt and emotional movie that will give you a new appreciation for veterans.
Watch The Best Years of Our Lives, rated TV-PG, on Pluto TV.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
A young witch in training decides to use her supernatural powers to defeat the Nazis invading England in this movie musical, which takes place during the Battle of Britain. The 1971 movie stars Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price, a not-so-ordinary young woman who enlists the help of three children to travel to the Isle of Naboombu. Here, she finds a magic spell to thwart German commandos. This movie is filled with delightful songs, like “The Beautiful Briny,” “The Age of Not Believing,” and “Substitutiary Locomotion.” It has often been compared to another live action/animation movie, Mary Poppins, whose songs were also composed by the Sherman Brothers.
Watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks, rated G, on Disney+.
All’s fair in love and war — unless you don’t believe what you’re fighting for anymore. In Dear John, a heartbreaking film based on the Nicholas Sparks book of the same name, Channing Tatum stars as a young soldier, John, who falls for a young college student named Savannah, played by Amanda Seyfried. The two lovers continue to keep in touch through letters as John is deployed to Afghanistan. However, as John is placed in dangerous situations after 9/11, Savannah is moving on at home. If you are looking for a good cry, this is it!
Watch Dear John, rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence, on Amazon Prime.
Empire of the Sun
Christian Bale stars as a young man named Jamie Graham, who goes from living with a wealthy family in Shanghai to becoming a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. This 1987 Steven Spielberg film is based on the true story of an English boy separated from his parents, who experiences the brutality of war firsthand. American sailor Basie (John Malkovich) was also captured and looks out for Jamie during their time in captivity. Despite its dark premise, this film tells an important story in a way that will leave you filled with hope.
Watch Empire of the Sun, rated PG, on tubitv.
After a marine is killed in Afghanistan, his service dog, Max, is adopted by his family in the United States to save him from being put down. Max won’t listen to anyone except the marine’s teenage brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins). Max and the family begin to bond — and he brings them closer to his previous owner than possible. This movie highlights the boundless love, experienced training, and impeccable behavior of military dogs. It also stars Thomas Haden Church, Lauren Graham, Luke Kleintank, Robbie Amell, and others. Dogs can be a best friend and the ultimate source of comfort for trauma in this emotional film.
Rent Max, rated PG, on Amazon for $2.99.
The Great Escape
This film, based on a true story, follows a group of allied men who are imprisoned in a high security WWII prison camp, and their attempts to escape. The 1963 film stars Steve McQueen as The Cooler King, James Garner as The Scrounger, Richard Attenborough as Big X, Charles Bronson as Tunnel King, and more. The movie is a mix of comedy, as the escape artists plan their getaway, and action, as hundreds of prisoners do whatever they can to get away from enemy lines. Motorcycle stunts, jumping out of trains, hand-to-hand combat, and attempts to fly planes will keep you entertained.
Rent The Great Escape, not rated, on Amazon for $3.99.
One of the biggest events of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, is retold in this 1993 film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The movie stars Jeff Daniels as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Tom Berenger as Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet, and Martin Sheen as Gen. Robert E. Lee among others. For three days, Union and Confederate soldiers battled in Pennsylvania. This gut-wrenching fight left more than 50,000 people dead, and turned the tide of the Civil War, eventually leading to Union victory. This movie is over four hours long and an incredible depiction of the famous event.
Rent Gettysburg, rated PG, on Google Play for $3.99.
This documentary shadows a community coming together to honor WWII veterans by sending every single one living in their Midwest town to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials that have been built in their memory. The veterans are in their late 80s, and these honor flights are their last “mission” — and the first time they’ve been truly thanked for their service. Remembering veterans’ sacrifices is what Memorial Day is all about, and this is a truly uplifting movie that will encourage you to look at veterans in a new way. Bring the tissues!
Rent Honor Flight, rated PG, on iTunes for $4.99.
The Longest Day
The events of D-Day, when forces stormed the beaches of Normandy during WWII, are told in this nearly three-hour long film from 1962. This is considered the beginning of the end of the war in Europe, and it was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history. The black-and-white movie features perspective from both the Allied and German forces. It features John Wayne as Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, Robert Ryan as Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin, Richard Burton as Flying Officer David Campbell, Paul Anka as a U.S. Army Ranger, and more.
Rent The Longest Day, rated G, on Amazon for $3.99.
Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front
Based on the American Girl doll character, this film follows how 10-year-old Molly’s daily life is impacted by WWII. Molly, who has brown hair she often wears in two braids, hangs out with her friends after school, shares dinners with her family, and experiences subtle changes that come from life during war (like suffering rations and people she knows going overseas). This 2006 movie is set in 1943 and stars Maya Ritter as Molly McIntire and Molly Ringwald as her mom, Helen. It’s a light-hearted way to introduce your kids to the war, especially if they have American Girl dolls!
Rent Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front, not rated, on YouTube Movies for $1.99.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
A dog and young boy travel through time where they visit several important leaders in history, including George Washington. Several famous actors lend their voices to this animated film, such as Ty Burrell as Mr. Peabody, Max Charles as Sherman, Stephen Colbert as Paul Peterson, Leslie Mann as Patty Peterson, Ariel Winter as Penny Peterson, Allison Janney as Ms. Grunion, Stephen Tobolowsky as Principal Purdy, Stanley Tucci as Leonardo da Vinci, and Lake Bell as Mona Lisa. The intelligent dog, Mr. Peabody, and his fun but clueless boy, Sherman, are characters based on the 1960s “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” updated for a new generation.
Watch Mr. Peabody & Sherman, rated PG, on Netflix.
A historian, played by Nicolas Cage, goes on an adventure for rumored treasure dating back to the creation of the United States. In order to protect one of our country’s most important documents, the Declaration of Independence, he must steal it. Then, Benjamin, his friend Riley (Justin Bartha), and museum curator Abigail (Diane Kruger) work quickly to decipher the clues and find the national treasure before it lands in dangerous hands. Once you’ve finished this action-packed film, catch the sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, also on Disney+. It’s history, told in the most exciting way!
Watch National Treasure, rated PG, on Disney+.
The life of General George S. Patton is recalled in this 1970 biographical film about the WWII war hero. He was an officer in the U.S. Army, known for his strict discipline, tough demeanor, and sacrificial spirit. His men called him “Old Blood-and-Guts,” and he was both a skilled leader in mobile tank warfare and a controversial figure with a legendary temper. Patton won multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for George C. Scott, who played General Patton. The film also starred Karl Malden as General Omar N. Bradley, Stephen Young as Captain Chester B. Hansen, and Michael Strong as Brigadier General Hobart Carver.
Rent Patton, rated PG, on Amazon Prime for $3.99.
School officials in Tennessee look to teach their students about the scale of the Holocaust by collecting 6 million paper clips — to represent the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis — in this 2004 documentary. The simple representation is done incredibly well, as the kids are dedicated to honoring every single person who died by the hand of the Nazis. The result: a memorial railcar filled with 11 million paper clips, which includes the other victims of the Holocaust, including those identifying as LGBTQ+. This movie highlights the importance of education and getting kids involved in history.
Rent Paper Clips, rated G, for $3.99 on Amazon Prime.
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
A young army private named Robert Conroy adopts a stray dog before WWI. Together, they embark on an adventure that takes them to the trenches of France. This animated film is based on a true story of America’s most decorated war dog, Sergeant Stubby, who was the mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Conroy hides Sgt. Stubby on a ship to France, and he ends up participating in four offensives and 17 battles, despite no formal military training. This sweet story is one for dog lovers and fun for all ages!
Watch Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, rated PG, on Apple TV.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
The events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, where more than 2,400 Americans died near Honolulu, Hawaii, are retold in this 1970 film from both U.S. and Japanese perspectives. According to Rotten Tomatoes, this film is “scrupulously accurate” with “intricate detail,” however, it lacks the passion, adventure, and overall entertainment quality of related movies, due to its “clinical approach” and “little feeling.” Nevertheless, it has an 81% audience score, meaning it is still a well-liked depiction of the events of Dec. 7, 1941, despite its other faults.
Rent Tora! Tora! Tora!, rated G, on Amazon Prime for $3.99.
Tom Cruise stars as Maverick Mitchell, a young flier who is training at the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School to be the best of the best. The cocky Maverick competes with the other pilots for the Top Gun spot, including Ice (Val Kilmer) and Viper (Tom Skerritt). He’s also falling for the beautiful astrophysics instructor, Charlie (Kelly McGillis). After watching this iconic film, which gave us the line “I feel the need…the need for speed!,” check out the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, which was released in theaters May 24, 2022.
Rent Top Gun, rated PG, on YouTube Movies, for $7.99.
The Battle of D-Day is told through this animated movie about a pigeon named Valiant, and his friends, who wants to contribute to the war effort. These British homing pigeons deliver messages from the French Resistance to the Allies, while fending off scary Nazi falcons. Although this is made for kids, it is still a violent movie about war. “There are explosions and gunfire during battle, lots of fighting, birds being held hostage in cages, and bones of dead birds shown,” according to Common Sense Media. Even still, it’s great option to teach little ones about the bravery of the military.
Watch Valiant, rated G, on Disney+.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Broadway legend George M. Cohan, writer and performer of patriotic songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” reflects on his life in this Oscar-winning 1942 film. This is a biographical musical about the composer, playwright, actor, dancer, and singer known as “The Man Who Owned Broadway.” He was beloved for his catchy songs that captured American patriotism and spirit. Watch as this fascinating man gets his start performing in his family’s vaudeville show, then created his own musicals, eventually receiving a medal from President Roosevelt. It’s a classic for a reason!
Rent Yankee Doodle Dandy, not rated, for $2.99 on YouTube Movies.
From heartfelt animated movies to black-and-white historical films, there are several family-friendly movies to watch for Memorial Day this year. Each one will spark conversations and help your family remember the American lives lost to war. Press play, then thank a service member!
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