Weekend Roundtable: Kids’ First Movies

In years past (this may be less the case in today’s age of instant access digital streaming at home), the first movie a child went to see at a movie theater was a milestone, often formative experience of youth. If you’re a parent, what were the first movie(s) you took your kids to see, how old were they, and how well did it go?

Mike Attebery

The first film we took my daughter to see was ‘The Peanuts Movie‘. We couldn’t have asked for a better first experience. She was excited about the popcorn and excited about the huge screen. Her eyes opened big and wide when the previews came on. Then, when the audience first laughed at something during the show, her face completely lit up as she realized there were so many people in the room with us, watching the same thing, and laughing and responding to everything right along with her. It was pretty magical to watch her enjoying the film and looking around now and then to see the audience’s reaction.

M. Enois Duarte

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone‘ was the first theatrical outing with my daughter. She was six at the time. We never went before because she was a rowdy toddler, but by the time she started going to school, she was more manageable for the theater crowds. Also, we read the book together a couple years earlier, so the timing was right.

I still remember her excitement as we walked into Regal Cinemas, bought popcorn and the jubilant enthusiasm in her step as we found our seats. I looked over at her several times to enjoy the look on her face. She watched the movie with astonishment because she’d never seen a screen so huge and overwhelming. Every year after that, it was our tradition to see a new installment opening weekend.

That is, until she discovered boys and wanted to see ‘The Deathly Hollows Part 1’ with her new boyfriend. I was sad and somewhat disappointed, but I also knew it was inevitable. The ‘Harry Potter’ franchise has a special place in my life because I was given the opportunity of watching my daughter grow and become a beautiful young lady along with the fictional characters.

Luke Hickman

The first film that I took my oldest daughter to was ‘Tangled‘. She was three. Unfortunately, we were unaware that it was a 3D screening until we arrived at the theater. I instantly feared for the worst, but she surprised me. She was great! Although she took the glasses off halfway through, she still sat there and watched the whole thing.

I was a little braver with my second daughter, but I shouldn’t have been. At the age of two, we went out to a dollar-theater showing of ‘ParaNorman‘. She was terrible, but not in the loud and crying way – thank heaven. She was full of energy and super wiggly. We had to spend the majority of the time in the back of the room. Luckily, this is on par with discount theater audiences, so we didn’t cause a stir for everyone else.

My third daughter is far more mature than most kids her age. We went at the age of two. I can’t remember the movie, but I remember her being good and quiet, which was mostly due to the giant bucket of popcorn.

Josh Zyber

My boys just both turned three on New Year’s Eve. My wife got it in her head that their birthday present should be their first trip to a movie theater. I resisted this plan as much as I was able. I felt that they weren’t old enough or ready, but she insisted that it would be fine and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

We were both right, and we were both wrong.

Mrs. Z decided that the most appropriate movie playing at the time was the animated musical ‘Sing‘, the one with Matthew McConaughey as a koala bear who hosts a talent show for singing animals. I wasn’t thrilled. I really hoped that my boys’ first theater trip would be a memorable experience they’d look back on later. This movie seemed cute and innocuous enough, but it’s not something that anyone will remember even existed six months from now.

Whatever. The choice was made. We were going. I ordered tickets online for a Saturday morning 10 AM matinee at the local multiplex. $10.75 for adults and $10.25 for children, plus a $2 service fee for each ticket. Geezus.

My son Thomas was a trooper. He was pretty happy to sit with us and munch on popcorn while we watched the colorful animals. If we’d gone with just him, he probably would have sat through the whole thing with little fidgeting.

My other son, Joseph, has much less patience or attention span for movies. He made it about 15 minutes before he started whining that he wanted to go home. About two minutes after that, he started walking down the stadium stairs. I fetched him and brought him back. That lasted about another minute. I let him go downstairs and followed him out to the lobby while my wife stayed with Thomas. He wandered around for a couple minutes and whined some more. I had a talk with him about how we had to stay to watch the rest of the movie. We went back in. He lasted about 10 minutes this time.

This cycle repeated over and over. Sometimes I chased him out. Sometimes my wife did. Thomas left a couple times too because he wanted to see what Joseph was up to. Another parent in the theater was having much the same problem with her daughter, who was around the same age, so our kids played a bit. For a while, they ran back and forth around the first row of the theater (where no one was sitting, fortunately) together.

In all, I’d say I saw about 20% of the movie. Thomas might have seen around 70% of it, though when I asked him about it the next day he couldn’t remember anything in particular about it. Personally, I never had any interest in seeing ‘Sing’ in the first place, so I’m not exactly upset about missing out on something. However, that was a fairly miserable two hours and $50 that I would have rather spent on something else.

The kids aren’t going back to the theater until they’re at least five-years-old. Whatever they see at that time, I’ll tell them that it’s their first movie in the theater. I’m confident that neither of them will have any memory at all of this one.

OK, parents, tell us about your movie theater experiences with your kids.

24 comments

  1. Chris B

    I took my 3 1/2 year old daughter to see The Secret Life of Pets last year with my wife. We bought tickets to a 3D show and a big tub of popcorn and settled in. My dauggter loves sunglasses so I think the fact she got to wear special 3D glasses to make the picture pop out of the screen helped hold her attention. That, and the popcorn which is another one of her favorites helped to. All in all she lasted a solid hour before she’d had enough. At which point she simply stood up from her theatre seat, threw her hands in the air and announced “I done!” After which she promptly started marching down the aisle towards the exit. I figured an hour for her age was pretty good and the movie had been pretty disappointing so I had no objections to getting up and following her out. We hung out in the lobby of the theatre and played some token games while my wife stayed and watched the end of the movie (at least someone enjoyed it.

    All in all it was a decent outing. We kept the ticket stubs and glasses for memories sake. We’ll probably try another screening this summer. Hopefully we make it to the end this time. 😉

  2. NJScorpio

    Since I have no kids, I’ll just talk about myself.

    I don’t think I recall the exact first movie I saw in theaters, but I have a very clear memory from age 5.

    In 1986, my Mom was super excited to see ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’. It just opened that weekend, and it was PACKED. We had to sit off to the side, by a speaker. I remember Uhura doing the fan dance. I also remember it being very, very loud. I wanted to leave. I know my Mom was disappointed.

    We snuck across to another theater, to see something that might be better for a child aged 5.

    ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is the first full movie I remember seeing in theaters, and I LOVED IT! The music, the creature, Steve Martin as a sadist dentist. Damn it, now I’m going to have to go home and rewatch it!

      • NJScorpio

        Hmm, really? I mean, I haven’t seen them in quite awhile so I wouldn’t doubt you. I guess between ages 6 and 9 I mixed up the two films. I definitely left Start Trek to see Little Shop of Horrors.

        This makes me realize I might need to rewatch all the Star Trek movies.

        • William Henley

          Never a bad idea. Just remember 5 was given a very short time frame and almost no budget. If you can throw out the last 15 minutes of the movie, it’s not as bad as people make it out to be, and includes one of the finest scenes ever filmed in any Star Trek franchise (McCoy and his father). But those last 15 minutes… Yeah, I would rather watch Spock’s Brain.

          But yeah, if you haven’t seen them since you were young, I would definately revisit them

  3. Csm101

    Unofficially, the first theatrical movie experience with my daughter was The Strangers. My daughter was born February 2008 and my wife had some thing about not letting the baby out of the house for like two months. When The Strangers came out, I think my wife was going a little stir crazy and wanted out of the house, so we made a family thing out of it and caught a matinee and my then three month old slept through the entire movie, except the last 15 minutes which my wife immediately took her out of the auditorium so as to not ruin it for everyone else. I was pretty excited to walk around the theater lobby with my brand new daughter and I took an awesome picture of her with a giant Hulk statue promoting the upcoming Incredible Hulk movie.
    Officially, my daughter’s first theatrical outing was The Princess and the Frog. She wasn’t even two years old yet, but she did pretty good. I think we were more excited about the whole thing than she was. We have a little album of all her milestones and I’m pretty sure those ticket stubs (maybe even The Strangers) is in there.

  4. Guy

    No kids of my own, but the first time I took my niece to a movie was to see Toy Story 3. She was six at the time of that trip and I happened to have been six when the first one came out in ’95. I thought that was a fun coincidence going in. She was a trooper. Only one bathroom break and, luckily, it was during one of those ridiculous “Where’s my eye?” interludes with Mrs. Potato Head.

    Frankly, it’s one of my favorite theatrical experiences ever. After having watched movies together on TVs for years, we finally got to experience the big screen as a duo. She had a great time with the movie which is a joy to see in of itself and, due to the timing and circumstances, I felt that flick on a deeper level. There I found myself – a college-aged dude that loved the Toy Story characters growing up – seeing the story of Andy transitioning to manhood, the profound effect his growing up and moving on had on those that loved him and his bittersweet decision to pass the torch to Bonnie. All that while I was in the same era of my life and sitting beside my own Bonnie-esque pop culture padawan. It all lined up. Great experience.

    • Guy

      As for myself, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the first time I remember seeing a movie on the big screen. I’d have been four, closing in on five at the time. I was already well-acquainted with the show on TV, so when I saw that poster while walking through the mall with my mom one day, I bugged her like crazy until she took me back to see it. Luckily, that’s a first film I can look back on positively. It holds up and is still one of the finest feature-length Batman entries. Can’t say the same for Batman Forever being my first live-action Caped Crusader experience a few years later. Hated it as a six year old; hate it now.

  5. Erik Walsh

    My wife and I took our son to see Inside Out as his first theatatrical experience (he was 2 at the time). He enjoyed it and only got a little restless during the last 10 minutes. We have a one year son now as well, so I wonder what movie will be his first.

  6. Ryan

    My daughter is 2 and a half. We haven’t taken her to the movies yet, but she has sat through many at home. We are considering taking her to Beauty and the Beast when that comes out, but I afraid she is still a little too young. We’ll see

    • William Henley

      Depends on the attention span. I would do a 10 am Saturday showing at a dollar theater to see how she does. Also make sure to do a 2D showing, 3D can be bad on the eyes of kids that young

  7. Kashtar

    No kids, so I’ll use my first that I remember (drive in doesnt count). My dad used to be the video manager at Hy-Vee, a grocery store. The chain is pretty popular in the Midwest, so the companies that provided the movies used to reward the Hy-vee employees with a movie night at Billy Joe’s.

    Billy Joe’s was a second run theater that served real food. You sat at tables and waitress would come around and take your order. We ended up seeing so many movies thanks to the Movie nights.

    Anyway, I was 3. Disney had a big hit on their hands thanks to a certain big blue genie. Aladdin. I was hooked. Come to find out afterward that not many employees brought their kids to it.

  8. William Henley

    I had wanted kids since I was 12. I fully expected by the time I was 25, I would be married and have a kid or two. That probably would have happened too if things had of gone different between me and my girl friend. I won’t rehash the entire story, but we were on again and off again, mainly due to our parents not approving of the relationship (due to her on-going health issues). We had talked kids before. I wanted a “large” family of 4 kids, she wanted a minimal of 8. I think we settled that we would have six. Sadly, she passed away just two weeks after she proposed to me (yep, she proposed to me).

    So here I am 37 and no kids. Luckily, as a guy, I can father children for the rest of my life (if I can find someone to cooperate). Of course, I just cannot see myself chasing a toddler anymore, and the thought of being in my 50s or 60s with teenagers frightens me. I did look at adoption a couple of years ago, but the prices were astronomical, plus the concept of willingly becoming a single parent was not that attractive.

    So I am going to do my firsts, plus firsts that I took others to.

    My first was ET when I was 2 years old. I was told I slept through most of it, but I think I woke up toward the end. I remember seeing this big huge moon and a flying bike. I was mesmerized.

    My first Dome experience was Grand Canyon The Hidden Secrets when I was 7. I got motion sick (most people do on their first time to the dome) but I still love it. I LOVE taking people to the dome for the first time. I took my friend’s kids there to see Everest. They were 8 and 10 at the time. I think I watched them more than the movie (I had already seen it three times) – when you have a screen that is 120 FEET wide, it makes a difference. I also took a friend from Russia there when he came to Texas. He was like “I know what IMAX is!” Then we went into the dome and his mouth hit the ground. We saw some film about tornados.

    My first movie where I got to sit apart from the parents was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. I was 8 at the time, and my friend Paul wanted me to go with him for his birthday. We sat on the very front row, and it was playing on the biggest screen in the theater. It was a fun movie, rocking music coming at us from behind the screen, George Carlin was bigger than life (pun intended), and parents were 10 rows behind us.

    My first with my goddaughter was a fun experience – she was 13 (she had been to the movies before, but this was the first time it was just the two of us – it was a nice bonding experience). It was the middle of summer, and we went on a Wednesday night to the 10:30PM showing of Mama Mia. The show had been out a couple of weeks, so there was NO ONE else in the theater. We sat there and heckled the entire movie. We both now still love the movie, not because its good, but because of our bonding experience we had over it.

    The one bonding experience I did not care for was the second Twilight movie. My girlfriend and I went with my cousin, one of his sons (the only kid he has custody of), and another of my second-cousins. The boy was maybe 5, and my other second cousin was about 9, and it was their first movie in a theater. It was really the 9 year old girl who picked that movie out. Now I HATED the first Twilight movie, but went to this one really to be with my girlfriend. The movie was even worse than the first! It did not help when both my girlfriend and my 9 year old cousin started drooling when Jacob took off his shirt. However, both of my second cousins were thrilled with the whole theater experience, and watching a movie on a big screen. As much as I enjoyed being there with my girlfriend, I just wanted the movie to be over. I probably spent more of the movie watching other people than I did watching the movie.

  9. Don’t have kids (yet), so I’ll just share a personal anecdote. I can’t remember the first movie I ever saw in theaters, but I’m pretty sure I saw most Disneys (both new releases and reissues). I distinctly remember certain flashes and scenes from ‘Oliver & Co’, but I was a mere four-year old at the time. Not sure if it’s possible to have memories of that screening. Then again, I never saw the movie again on VHS or DVD, so I must remember it from 1988 🙂

    A veritable cool cinematic memory was ‘Aladdin’. I saw it twice. Once with my parents and my younger niece in the dubbed Dutch version, and once with just my parents in English – with Robin Williams! It was the first animated movie I saw in its original version. I thought it was quite cool that I was able to read the subtitles. I never saw a dubbed movie again.

  10. I have a pretty clear memory of seeing Willow with my dad as a kid. Pretty sure that was my first. After we stopped at a convenience store and I got a Charleston Chew and they had a glass jar full of marbles and I made a guess as to how many were in there-won $60!!!!

  11. Timcharger

    Josh, stick with the truth for your boys’ first movie.

    How many people can claim that their first movie featured a David Bowie song on its soundtrack? Maybe amend the story that you kind of saw it as a tribute to his passing that year?

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      Given that David Bowie has over 550 soundtrack credits on his IMDb page, I’d guess that probably quite a lot of people can claim that their first movie featured a Bowie song.

      I will say that my wife and I both found it a little unnerving that Sing has a section where Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, and George Michael songs are performed almost back-to-back. The movie had to have been in production long before any of their deaths (and in fact was released before George Michael passed).

      • Timcharger

        550 out of millions of movies, is a low percentage. And with the Sing movie, you can actually argue that you went to enjoy the music. Just trying to point to some silver linings in your gray clouds story.

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