One of the blessings of being stuck at home in a global pandemic in 2020—versus, say, 1990 or even 2000—is that the internet provides a means to communicate, work, shop, and be entertained without needing to go outside.
But in terms of streaming entertainment, the blessing can become a curse due to the overwhelming amount of options. The “what to watch?” question can be anxiety-inducing in an already anxious moment. We probably have more free hours this spring than we normally would, and I certainly don’t recommend filling most of it with streaming entertainment (Read the Bible! Go on walks outside! Take a TGC course!). But given these jittery times and how beneficial stories from outside our context can be—for perspective and insight, or simply for beauty and rest—we can find some relief in streaming compelling movies and shows.
Here are 30 recommendations—divided into fiction and nonfiction—for what you and your family might watch at home during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. I focused on what is free to watch on Amazon Prime or Netflix, though there are plenty of other great things on Hulu, Disney+, or ESPN+ (30 for 30!). I also focused on edifying and family-friendly content. Nothing is rated R in what I recommend below, though parents should still use discretion, as not all of what follows is appropriate or of interest to all children. Hopefully you’ll find some valuable viewing options for making the most of the slower, smaller, more homebound world we now inhabit.
Fiction: Uplifting Movies and TV Series
There are obviously way more great options out there than what I’ve selected below, but if you’re looking for a solid place to start, try a few of these 19.
A Hidden Life (Amazon). This one you will have to rent, but it is worth every penny of your $5.99 rental cost (and more!). It was my favorite movie of 2019 and most definitely one of the best films about faith ever made. Set aside three hours of uninterrupted time to watch it. Watch it with your kids or church small group. Discuss it. Wrestle with it. Be challenged by it. (TGC’s review)
A Quiet Place (Amazon Prime). Steer clear of this if apocalyptic thrillers are not comforting to you in these times. But this surprisingly pro-life, pro-family 2018 film—about to be followed up with a sequel—beautifully shows how a family unit can still thrive in lockdown. (TGC’s review)
Arctic (Amazon Prime). This 2019 film is a compelling story of survival and compassion against all odds. It’s like Castaway set in the snow: an inspiring reminder of both human resilience and also frailty when things go awry.
Christopher Robin (Netflix). This new take on A. A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh stories is sweet, refreshingly sincere, and a nostalgic reverie for the lost innocence of carefree play. Escape into the Hundred Acre Wood in these trying times. (TGC’s review)
Friday Night Lights (NBC). If you never watched the five glorious seasons of NBC’s Friday Night Lights—which I still maintain is the best TV show of the last 20 years—do yourself a favor and use your extra time to immerse yourself in this superb series. It’s as much about marriage and family as it is about football.
Groundhog Day (Netflix). Depending on how long quarantine lasts, viewers might increasingly resonate with the boredom and monotony faced by Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in this classic 1993 film. It’s a thought-provoking and hilarious PG-rated film to introduce to your family in these home-bound times. (TGC’s review)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (Netflix). This period romance (set in 1946) is wholesome escapism of the Hallmark variety, but better made and better acted. If you haven’t already, enjoy it with your loved ones.
Happy as Lazzaro (Netflix). This quirky Italian film is a great option for those looking for more artistic and discussion-prompting fare. I included the surprisingly theological film in my list of “5 Films About the Beauty of Resurrection” last year.
Hook (Netflix). Fantasy films that revisit beloved tales from childhood are cinematic comfort food. Hook was a film I grew up on, and though certainly not one of Spielberg’s greatest films, it’s an entertaining romp with a memorable lead performance by the late Robin Williams.
Indiana Jones trilogy (Netflix). If you’re looking for a fun, nostalgic trilogy that really never gets old—or maybe you’re like my wife and somehow never saw these films growing up—the swashbuckling heroics and good vs. evil simplicity of Indiana Jones provide escapism of the best sort.
Leave No Trace (Amazon Prime). Though a bit heavier than some of the other films on this list, Leave No Trace is a moving father-daughter drama that finds grace and beauty in difficult circumstances. “Hope in grim times” movies like this are valuable right now.
The Little Prince (Netflix). This well-done animated version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic book features the voices of actors like Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Ricky Gervais, James Franco, and Benicio Del Toro. (TGC’s review)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Amazon and Netflix). Escape the headlines and get lost in Middle Earth in one of literature and cinema’s greatest trilogies. You’ll have to rent the first film, but The Two Towers and The Return of the King are both currently on Netflix.
The Lost City of Z (Amazon Prime). I find period adventure films comforting in times like this. James Gray’s 2017 movie about British explorer Percy Fawcett and his Amazon adventures (with his son) is entertaining, artfully made, and thought-provoking. (TGC’s review)
Mary Poppins Returns (Netflix). This delightful sequel to the 1964 original features fun songs and dances, a heartwarming plot, and a fantastic central performance by Emily Blunt. Bonus points for some interesting theological discussion fodder around the “messianic return” imagery so prevalent in the film.
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (Netflix). This animated entry into the Spiderman franchise is the best comic book film in recent years. For families that opt to watch this together, Joe Carter created a helpful “How to Talk to Your Kids About ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’” discussion guide.
Virgin River (Netflix). This romantic miniseries has all the feel-good benefits of a Hallmark or Lifetime movie with a little more artistic credibility. It’s also a pretty clean series at a time when many streaming sites are pushing their TV-MA grittiness to gratuitous extremes.
Warrior (Amazon Prime). From the director of the just-released The Way Back (which I also recommend), Warrior is more about family and growth than it is about MMA wrestling. It’s a great option for adults or older kids looking to watch an inspiring and well-made drama.
When Calls the Heart (Netflix). The most-watched and longest running series in Hallmark Channel history, When Calls the Heart is adapted from the novel by Janette Oke, “the mother of evangelical romance novels.” Currently the first five seasons of the show are on Netflix.
Nonfiction: Educational Documentaries and Reality Series
Perhaps you’re home with kids who still need to be learning even when schools are closed. Or maybe in these anxious times you’re just hungry for shows that celebrate the ingenuity and resilience of humans, who bear the image of a Creator God. Whatever you are looking for in this genre, there are ample great offerings. Here are 11.
Chef’s Table (Netflix). You don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate this series, which beautifully shows how a person’s story informs creative style and passion. Is food an artform? Chef’s Table leaves no doubt it can be.
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix): Cooking shows celebrate the goodness of culture and culinary creativity, and few do it better than this feel-good, delightfully British “competition” show. Perhaps it will inspire your own baking creativity while quarantined at home! (TGC’s review)
Inside Bill’s Brain (Netflix). This Netflix series is everything you want in a documentary: fascinating, informative, curious. Watch how Bill and Melinda Gates creatively address humanitarian needs, and be inspired.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Netflix). This acclaimed documentary—about an 85-year-old Tokyo chef of a three-star Michelin restaurant—is a mesmerizing look at the glorious way that a lifelong trade can become a spectacular art.
The National Parks – America’s Best Idea (Amazon Prime). Ken Burns documentaries are always a good call when you have time for them (they are thorough!). Lucky for you, all six episodes of The National Parks are available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Riot and the Dance: Earth (Amazon Prime). In times of despair, nature documentaries remind us of the bigger picture of God’s creation. In this case the emphasis is truly on God’s creativity, providing a rare opportunity to celebrate science and faith side by side. (TGC’s review)
The Royal House of Windsor (Netflix). Fans of royal history won’t want to miss this six-part documentary series on the British royal family. If you watch and enjoy The Crown, see this as a companion piece.
Undefeated (Netflix). If you liked Friday Night Lights, you’ll enjoy this documentary, which chronicles the 2009 football season of Manassas High School in North Memphis.
The Vietnam War (Netflix). Another of Ken Burns’s more recent documentary series, The Vietnam War is not light watching by any means, but as a history-teaching tool for suddenly home-educated kids, it’s a great resource. (TGC’s review)
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes (Netflix). This fun, globe-trotting celebration of architecture and culture will make you and your family marvel at the brilliant creativity that can go into something like dwelling-space design.