There are many, many movies about adoption geared towards adults and children alike. However, many movies about adoption often show...

Movies about Adoption

There are many, many movies about adoption geared towards adults and children alike. However, many movies about adoption often show inaccurate or outdated ideas about what adoption entails. Adoption professionals and child development experts have worked together to compile a list of adoption-related movies for both kids and adults alike. Here are a few highlights from that list, and advice about how to decide if a movie is appropriate for your adopted child.

Movies about adoption for children:

Angels in the Outfield Anne of Green Gables
Annie (both versions) Cinderella w/Brandy & Whitney Houston
Despicable Me (1 and 2)Harry Potter series
Free Willy Like Mike
Kung Fu Panda (1 and 2) Little Secrets
Lilo and Stitch Meet the Robinsons
Martian Child Stuart Little (1 and 2)
Prince of EgyptTarzan
Superman & Superman (2013) The Kid
The Country Bears The Odd Life of Timothy Green
The Lost MedallionThe Jungle Book
The Rescuers Down Under Moana

Movies about adoption for adults:

Rear Window
Antwone Fisher
Second Best
Babbette’s Feast
Secrets and Lies
Citizen Kane
The Big Wedding
CoCo—The Story of CoCo Chanel
The Deep End of the Ocean
Come Back Little Sheba
The Joy Luck Club
Coming Home
The Key of the Kingdom
First Person Plural
The King of Masks
Flirting with Disaster
Blossoms in the Dust
Singing In The Rain
Catfish & Black Bean SauceThe Miracle
Soldiers Greystroke
Children of Paradise
St. Vincent
Cider House Rules
Star Wars Trilogy
Cinema Paradiso
The 10 Commandments
The Official Story
High Tide
The Searchers
I Am Sam
The Spit Fire Grill
The Spit Fire Grill
Into the Arms of StrangersThe Truman Show
Thief of Bagdad
King of Hearts
To Each His Own
Les Miserables
White Oleander
Lovely and Amazing
Miss Saigon
Then She Found Me
Immediate Family

These are by no means a comprehensive list, as new movies come out every day that may have adoption themes. There are several websites that can help you determine if a movie has adoption themes, and if it is appropriate for children, such as Adoption At The Movies. In general, here are some things to keep in mind when you are evaluating if a movie would be appropriate for your adopted child:

What “part” of adoption does the film show?

Some films involving adoption show the loss and grief end of the equation but don’t provide a happy ending. These movies are difficult for adoptees since they focus on the hard parts of adoption and fail to celebrate the good parts. These movies could be difficult for children who are just beginning to grasp that there was loss as a component of their adoption; that they have lost the ability to live with their birth family, to know things about them, or to know more about their culture. Right around the elementary school age, children start to grasp the idea of this loss. You might find they ask questions like “was my birth mother sad? Does she miss me?” If they are grappling with these emotions, a movie that emphasizes that loss might not be the best choice for your child.

How does it present the concept of adoption?

Some films with an adoption theme that take place in a previous era can paint adoption as something that is shameful, something that should be hidden. An adopted child in the present day may not understand that the cultural views around adoption have shifted. The days of women being “sent away” to give birth and place their children in secrecy are past us, and many families today are very open about having built their families through adoption. A child who is not old enough to understand how cultural values can shift over time might think they should feel shame or that their birth and placement were somehow taboo. Also, take note of how the film treats other members of the triad such as birth parents and adoptive parents. Are birth parents painted with the usual brush of stereotypes: young, irresponsible? Are adoptive parents shown as saviors? Are foster parents shown as abusive? How does this fit in with what your child has experienced?

How much of the film is adoption-focused?

A film with a few lines about adoption, where the main plot centers around something else entirely, will have a far different impact than a movie whose sole subject is adoption-related. For example, Moana a film my adopted toddler has watched probably 1,000 times, has a small adoption-related theme regarding Maui and his biological family, but it is not the focus of the film. Other movies on the list however, (The Odd Life of Timothy Green comes to mind) are very heavily focused on adoption. Depending on your child’s level of comfort with his or her adoption story, a movie heavily focused on adoption might be off-putting. Conversely, some children will feel very validated and empowered by a movie that puts adoption front and center. Representation in media is so important for any kind of minority, adoptees included.

How does your child currently feel about being an adoptee?

Depending on your child’s age, developmental level, and the level of contact you may or may not have with his or her birth family, your child’s feelings about his status as an adoptee are always in flux. Just returned from a visit to birth parents and your child is showing real signs of grief? Maybe not the best time to pop in an adoption-related movie. Also take your child’s adoption story into consideration in comparison with the movie. If the movie shows a very open adoption, for example, and your child’s birth parents haven’t returned contact in years, it’s possible that could stir up some difficult feelings in your kiddo. This might require having a conversation with your child ahead of time to let her know the movie has adoption themes, and see what her feelings are on that. This may require some prodding on your part; kids are notoriously not great about being super open with their feelings. Think about the monosyllabic grunts you get in response to a simple question like “how was school today”? If you are unsure how to tackle this conversation or unsure how to broach the topic with your child, now would be a great time to find a therapist who specializes in working with adoptive families. They can help give you the tools to navigate these and other difficult adoption-related conversations with your child, and can also find ways to get your child to come out of his shell and share how he truly feels at the moment about being an adoptee, and about his adoption story.

What do your friends say? And what does your gut say?

If you aren’t a member of an adoption support group, either online or in person, now is the time to join one! If you are considering showing your child a film that has adoption themes, odds are someone else in the group has watched it with their child and will have opinions on whether or not it is appropriate or could be troubling for an adoptee. Also: what do your instincts tell you? You know your child better than anyone. Once you have researched the film, what is your initial instinct about whether or not he or she is ready to see it? Odds are your child won’t suffer anything more than being annoyed with you if you declare a movie temporarily off-limits. Depending on your reasons for putting the kibosh on it, this could lead to a good opportunity for you to have a conversation with your child about his current feelings about being an adoptee, and about how adoption is portrayed in the media. Their age and maturity level will dictate how sophisticated this conversation can be, but it is one worth having.

Once our children reach a certain age, we lose our control over the media they are consuming. Also, once they reach a certain age, we lose control of our ability to protect them from negative adoption-related conversations or remarks. While some might find it overbearing and helicopter-parent-ish to keep tabs on the movies our kids are watching to this extent, the reality is they will spend the rest of their lives navigating the world as an adoptee. When they are children, our job is not only to educate them and be open with them about their adoption, but also to protect them from things that, as an adoptee, they could find troubling. It’s also our job to make sure any media they are consuming is developmentally appropriate. A 5-year-old is not able to have the same nuanced conversation about their feelings that a 12-year-old might. Movies that require more complex critical thinking skills in regards to the adoption-based portion of the plot are simply not going to be something a young child will be able to access and, frankly, probably not even something they will find entertaining! Will an adoption-themed movie scar your child for life? No, probably not. But, in my opinion, adoptees struggle enough in their lifetime. After all, they are the only member of the triad who had no say in their adoptive status. If you can avoid even an hour of tears from keeping your child from watching a movie they aren’t ready to process, why wouldn’t you? The beauty of the Internet is that odds are, whenever they are ready to watch that movie, you’ll be able to stream it somewhere! Movies about adoption can be tremendously helpful for adoptees: seeing something that even vaguely resembles their story on screen can be very empowering. As parents, we can help our child have more of those experiences, and fewer negative experiences, by making a thorough assessment of a movie or any other piece of media our child might access prior to their watching it.

Julianna Mendelsohn

Julianna Mendelsohn lives in sunny South Florida where, odds are, it is hot enough right now that she's sweating just a little, no matter what she's doing. She is the brains, brawn, blood, sweat, and tears behind The Adoption Mentor and is thrilled to be able to help others build their families through adoption. She is a former elementary school teacher, current MS in school counseling student, Sephora junkie, and the momma via domestic adoption to one lovely daughter.