Why Are There No Movies For Kids in Theaters?
All I wanted to do was take my daughter to the movies.
My youngest is five years old. My wife and older daughter are headed out of town, and I thought it would be fun to go the theater with the little one. Movies are a big part of our family’s lives; we have “Family Movie Night” almost every weekend where we all sit together in front of our big TV and have dinner while we watch a film. But we haven’t gotten to the theater as much as I would like in the last few years, mostly because of the pandemic. With half the family otherwise busy, I thought a trip to the multiplex would be a good way to correct that and a nice daddy-daughter bonding moment.
It didn’t quite register with me until I actively looked at showtimes near me in New York City, but there are essentially no major new releases for small children at the multiplex right now. Current multiplex options include violent PG-13 fare like Creed III, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and 65, or even darker films like Scream VI or Cocaine Bear. Next weekend’s one big wide release is John Wick: Chapter 4. My daughter loves lavish hotels, but otherwise, that is going to be a bit too mature for her. The next little-kid-friendly film coming to theaters, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, doesn’t open until April 5. Basically, my hopes of taking my daughter to the theater for a pleasant afternoon out were dashed.
So I tweeted (my first mistake) “As a parent of little kids it would be great if there were literally *any* movie in theaters right now i could take them to.” I sincerely did not think this was a hot take or a controversial statement (my second mistake). Asking Hollywood to release more than one picture for little ones per financial quarter did not strike me as an edgy comment. It just seemed like smart business sense.
The parents who replied to my tweet largely said things like “Seriously, we’ve been dying to take our kids the movies for weeks!” A couple exhibitors and movie theater employees responded too, and their responses were almost all the same — “Yes, we’ve been talking about this, and dealing with it for months. We have nothing for families who want to bring young children to the theater.”
But then there were a lot of responses yelling at me for daring to complain about the lack of choices for families in theaters. The snarky retweets and dunks could generally be grouped into four kinds of responses. Some I found surprising, some were interesting, and a few I found quite depressing. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s essentially what I was told (only a lot less politely in most cases).
RESPONSE #1: “You’re complaining about no movies for kids the same week Shazam! Fury of the Gods opened in theaters. Give me a break.”
Yes, the big new movie in theaters last weekend was DC Studios’ sequel to Shazam. And the movie does feature a bunch of teenagers (and even a couple of grade-school-age children) who turn into superheroes. If you don’t spend a lot around children, or you haven’t actually seen Fury of the Gods, you might think this is something a kid might want to see.
And an older kid, more in the age range of Billy Batson — who’s about to turn 18 and age out of the foster system in the movie — probably would want to see it. But I was talking about a little kid. My daughter is five. The MPAA rated Shazam! Fury of the Gods PG-13 for “sequences of action and violence, and language.” Having seen the movie already myself, I can also tell you that the film opens with Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu’s characters marching into a museum and brutally killing dozens or people. Later, the villains use mind control to force a character to walk off the roof of a building and fall to their death. Then a legion of creepy monsters rampages through Philadelphia. (If we wanted to get into spoilers, we could discuss even more elements that would be very troubling to a kindergarten kid.)
Still, I was told by some, this is just “fantasy violence.” It’s fine for kids; the MPAA says so. “It’s fine if you’d just rather not take your five year old there,” one person wrote, “but you can’t really pretend you have *no* choice.”
Along similar lines, others wanted me to give Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania a go. Because what you want to do with a five year old to really get them addicted to the movies is show them a story about multiverses, time travel, intergalactic conquerors, M.O.D.O.K.s, and large-scale space warfare and have it be the 31st installment in an ongoing franchise that they are totally unfamiliar with.
Generally, a lot the respondents took the attitude of “These movies are not rated R — which means they won’t upset your daughter. So just go to that.” But there’s a huge difference between “not objectionable” and “appropriate.” Shazam! Fury of the Gods may not be rated R, but it’s still violent and occasionally pretty scary. Frankly, given its subject matter and protagonist, it might be a better movie — and might have been a lot more successful at the box office — if it was more targeted towards children, and its content wasn’t quite so adult. But as it stands, it is not a movie for little kids. (At least not my little kid.)
Also, this is slightly irrelevant for this conversation, but Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t just too mature for a 5 year old; it stinks! This trip to the movies was supposed to be fun, not a punishment.
READ MORE: The Strangest Kids Movies Ever Made
RESPONSE #2: “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish is still playing in theaters. What’s the problem?”
This is the problem! Puss in Boots is still in theaters four months after it came out — and weeks after it began streaming on Peacock — because literally nothing else has showed up to take its place. One person straight-up told me it didn’t matter if my kids had seen the film already; I should just take them to see it a second time, whether they wanted to or not. “You are not supposed to like your options here,” they wrote.
I got very different responses from movie theater employees, who said in some cases that their multiplexes had actually brought Puss in Boots back after it had ended its initial theatrical run out of pure desperation. There were no other options for families, and they needed something that would be satisfy that audience. (One person who works for a major theater chain sent me a private message that read “[This] is a legit problem!”)
RESPONSE #3: “Why do you want to take a 5 year old to a movie theater in the first place? There is more media available at home than ever before. Just let them watch something at home.”
I guess if I didn’t care at all about movie theaters existing in 10 years I could adopt this attitude. But I do, so I won’t. (It was especially strange to get these types of responses from people whose Twitter bios claimed they were movie lovers.)
It is true that my children are spoiled when it comes to the availability of movies and TV shows. They can watch hundreds of things instantly whenever they want. All five of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature are already available on streaming, including the winning picture, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. My kids don’t even have to worry about paying attention to a broadcast or basic cable channel schedule like I did at their age; if they want to watch Is It Cake? they just turn on Netflix whenever they feel like it. If they’re in the mood to binge 25 episodes of Bluey, they can. (And do — also, should I be concerned that my five-year-old now speaks with an Australian accent? She’ll grow out of that eventually, right?)
I am glad my kids have so many good films and shows they can watch at home. But I also love taking them to the movies. I have such vivid memories of going to the theater with my parents at that age — like having my mind blown by Who Framed Roger Rabbit or the time my mom took me to see Flight of the Navigator at Movie City 5 in East Brunswick, NJ. The popcorn, the candy, the massive screen, the times when they’d have special sneak previews of second movies and you could stay for a double feature (at least until you had to go home for dinner because there were no cell phones back then and thus no way to let Dad you’d be late). I want to share those kinds of moments with my own kids! Right now, that’s really hard to do.
RESPONSE #4: “Hollywood caters so hard to kids that they’ve infantilized generations of adults. We don’t need any more kids movies. Just wait a couple weeks.”
This is a separate issue, and framing things this way means blaming one symptom for another. Both symptoms stem from the same problem: Increasingly, Hollywood only makes one kind of movie for theaters: Superheroes, science-fiction, big sequels, things based on massive IPs with built-in audiences. And so movie theaters are full of many examples of one kind of movie. They’re big and loud with lots of special effects and not much else. If I had wanted to go on a date night to the multiplex with my wife to see something funny and romantic, I would have had the same issue. (Wait, I haven’t seen Cocaine Bear yet. Is that a romantic comedy?)
True, the pandemic had a lot to do pushing both audiences and other kinds of smaller movies to streaming services. And since theaters have reopened in the last few years, the films that have performed the best have been blockbusters designed to be seen on a big screen. But as evidenced by the people who replied to my tweet — those who agreed with it and many of those who hated it — there are young and old audiences out there who are starving for other kinds of films, not just the ones about dudes wearing capes punching things.
As for my daughter, we’ll probably go to the playground next weekend, and then do one of our family movie nights at home. (We could even watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.) My youngest is a big Barbie fan, so I’m already looking forward to taking her to that movie when it opens in July. I must confess, though, that she was a little confused by its trailer. When I played it for her, she wanted to know why all the girls were destroying their baby dolls.