Got a ‘lil film buff on your hands? We thought so. Thankfully, we've created an epic list of the best kids' movies around! There are plenty of classics and new family picks to make each popcorn and New York pizza–packed movie night better than the next.
To help you make your selections, we’ve compiled a foolproof lineup of our favorites to please all generations squeezed on the couch (plus the babysitter, if she’s left in charge). Oh, and don't forget these cookie delivery services if you're really feeling that sweet tooth.
As you can probably guess, the competition was pretty fierce—you’ll see a number of blockbusters that are in your regular rotation alongside some newer kid-pleasing flicks, and we have no doubt we may have missed some of your favorites. Weigh in below and let us know what titles you think deserve recognition (or to give us two thumbs up on our selections), and while you’re at it, check out our ideas for other free things to do with kids in New York and our favorite family comedy movies.
Best kids' movies: 50–41
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Literature's greatest boy wizard is turned into one of the movie's most charismatic under-12 heroes (a tip of the pointy hat to Daniel Radcliffe) as J.K. Rowling's world of muggles, monsters and mystical goings-on at Hogwarts is brought to life on screen. Things will get seriously PG-13 dark by the time this eight-film series ends, but Chris Columbus's kid-friendly adaptation of book ones truly makes viewers of all ages believe in magic. Rated PG.
A magical board game unleashes a world of adventure on siblings Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst). While exploring an old mansion, the youngsters find a curious, jungle-themed game called Jumanji in the attic. When they start playing, they free Alan Parrish (Robin Williams), who's been stuck in the game's inner world for decades. If they win Jumanji, the kids can free Alan for good– but that means braving giant bugs, ill-mannered monkeys and even stampeding rhinos! Rated PG.
How to Train Your Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon
A tiny Viking misfit named Hiccup aspires to hunt dragons like his tough, respected father, but he ends up doing quite the opposite: he stirs up an unlikely friendship with Toothless, a “ferocious” dragon! Will he change the future of dragon hunting and help send his people on a new course? Rated PG.
The Goonies (1985)
A group of childhood friends, a treasure map, a scary (but ultimately sweet) giant named Sloth, thrills, spills, chills: This '80s adventure bears all of the hallmarks of exciting YA-lit drama and producer Steven Spielberg's brand of derring-do. Rated PG.
Rapunzel joins the Disney stable of princesses, only this young lady with the long, flowing locks isn't the passive type; she's adventurous, curious about the world outside her window and wields a mean frying pan. Disney's animation has rarely looked more gorgeous, and Alan Menken's raucous "I Have a Dream" number proves the old Mouse House magic still works wonders. Rated PG.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A perennial Christmas favorite, this fairy tale about a department-store Santa who claims to be the real Kris Kringle never ceases to bring the seasonal cheer. Edmund Gwenn makes for the perfect jolly old elf, but it's joyful nine-year-old Natalie Wood that exemplifies what the holiday is really about: faith in the kindness of your fellow man. Not rated.
Our favorite of the many versions,1982’s Annie features a young girl who must live in an awful orphanage during the 1930s. Annie’s life is governed by a tyrannical woman named Miss Hannigan, but her luck seems to change when she’s selected to live with a wealthy local businessperson, Oliver Warbucks. Rated PG.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Part warped Broadway musical and part My First Goth Party, this stop-motion animated gem—courtesy of the prince of goofy darkness, Tim Burton—watches as Halloween's witches, zombies and showtune-singing skeletons try their hand at St. Nick's regular beat. The holidays have rarely seemed so ghoulishly giddy. Rated PG.
The Karate Kid (1984)
You may have heard “Wax on, wax off” a hundred times by now—that’s about the amount of times we could watch this movie in a row without tiring. Young Danny finds himself to be the target of a group of bullies, but with repairman (and martial arts master) Mr. Miyagi’s help, he trains to master martial arts and eventually compete and defend himself against his foes. Rated PG.
National Velvet (1944)
The original girl-meets-horse movie, in which Mickey Rooney and young Elizabeth Taylor turn a wild gelding into a contender at the Grand National Steeplechase, remains a charming, quaint look at going for equestrian gold. It still goes down as smooth as its title. Rated G.
Best kids' movies: 40–31
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Disney's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's fantasy takes you down the rabbit hole with a whirligig of dazzling color, delightful wordplay (a very merry unbirthday to you, Mad Hatter) and visual absurdities around every corner. Looking for a way to introduce kids to a great work of literature? Go ask Alice. Rated G.
We’re not going to lie, The Witches does not come without scares (director Nicholas Roeg is also the man behind terrifying ’70s flick, Don’t Look Now). But this British gem, based on the gnarly Roald Dahl book of the same name, manages the balance between frights, thrills and laughs brilliantly. The story is a dark twist on Potterverse: witches live amongst us, but none of them are kind. And when a young boy and his grandmother tumble across a convention of witches while on a seaside holiday, hilarious chaos is unleashed. Angelica Huston chews the scenery like so much gum as the fabulously evil Grand High Witch, but the real star here is the makeup—you’ll wince when you see what lies beneath these witches’ human masks. Rated PG.
Buy The Witches on Amazon
Roald Dahl's pint-size heroine comes to life courtesy of Mara Wilson, who plays the telekinetic moppet with just the right amount of braininess and brashness. Director Danny DeVito goes broad with the vulgarian caricatures but, wisely, never forgets the story's message: Kids need both books and encouragement to develop a smart mind. Rated PG.
Old Yeller (1957)
No offense, Lassie, but when it comes to screen dogs, we'll always have a soft spot for that golden Lab so beloved by Tommy Kirk and his family. Those weren't tears, by the way; we just got, er, something in our eyes toward the end of the film. Rated G.
The Jungle Book (1967)
In this Disney classic, Mowgli, a young boy who was raised by a pack of wolves, develops a sense of curiosity that may prove to be dangerous to himself and his jungle family. Wise panther Bagheera attempts to get Mowgli back with his own kind, but the boy's stubborn ways are encouraged by Baloo, the carefree bear. Will he make it to the man-village before the jungle's feared predator, Shere Khan, tracks him down? Rated G.
The Jungle Book (2016)
Director Jon Favreau (Elf) was a perfect choice to bring Disney’s beloved 1967 animated story (based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories) to life: his live-action Jungle Book pairs state-of-the-art “wow” special effects—a tiger so real you’d be tempted to reach out and stroke him if he weren’t so scary—with a story brimming with excitement and heart. The voice cast, with Bill Murray perfectly cast as Baloo, keeps things lively, and parents will enjoy nods to the cartoon they grew up with, including reprises of “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” (sung by a Christopher Walken-voiced orangutan). Rated PG.
Jim Henson’s cult classic centers on a dark premise: a teenage girl (yes, that’s a very young Jennifer Connelly) is forced to enter a fantasy world and solve a wild labyrinth in order to rescue her baby brother, who’s been kidnapped and is being held by the Goblin King. The plot, though, is really just for director Jim Henson to delight the audience with all manner of strange puppet creatures and musical numbers—the Goblin King is played, of course, by David Bowie, who takes over the movie at several points for some delicious musical interludes. The little ones will be singing “Magic Dance” for weeks. Rated PG.
Buy Labyrinth on Amazon
The Hunger Games (2012)
When a disillusioned girl from District 12 takes her younger sister's place in the dreaded, annual Hunger Games, she's determined to return and keep her family safe. Based on the uber-poular YA series, this dystopian flick was destined to be a success, but with Jennifer Lawrence playing the spunky heroine, even sophisticated readers root for Katniss Everdeen as she fights against Panem's totalitarian ways. Rated PG-13.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Be Disney's guest and dive into its Broadway-ish take on this folkloric staple, complete with singing cutlery, a take-no-guff bookworm heroine and the world's most soulful monster. Like Jean Cocteau's dreamy 1946 version, the it's-what's-inside-that-matters message comes through loud and clear. Rated G.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Could Rob Reiner's simultaneous send-up and celebration of fairy tales have better captured the imagination of all who live for the phrase "Once upon a time..."? In-con-ceiv-able, we say! You won't find a sweeter love letter to the glories of cross-generational storytelling. Rated PG.
Best kids' movies: 30–21
Ever since she was a girl, Elsa (Idina Menzel), princess of Arendelle, has had literally chilling powers. With a wave of her hand she can cover everything around her in ice and snow. However, when her frosty abilities nearly kill her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa is confined to a room in her castle, not to emerge until she comes of age for her queenly coronation. On that day, unsurprisingly, things go very awry, and the two sisters—with help from a friendly snowman who dreams of spring—must work together to save the kingdom from eternal winter. Plasticine CG animation brings the icy world to life in this Walt Disney musical production, which sparked a nationwide frenzy to scoop up any and all themed merchandise. The almost instantaneous popularity speaks to the film’s success with the peanut gallery—not to mention countless parents who admittedly sang along to Menzel’s showstopping, self-actualizing ballad “Let It Go” more than a few times. Rated PG.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Thank goodness Bob Clark's goof on Christmases past keeps delighting generations of starry-eyed youngsters and their parents: How else would children learn not to lick icy poles in the winter or know of the perils of Red Ryder BB guns? "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" Rated PG.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
E.D. Baker's children's book—a sly riff on the Grimm brothers' tale about smooched amphibians turning into royalty—is relocated to the Bayou and rendered in bold, beautiful colors by Disney's animation team. More important, the studio that made Song of the South finally gives us an African-American princess, a lovely (and long overdue) addition to the canon. Rated G.
Zootopia–much like New York City—is a thriving metropolis packed with mammals big and small! Sometimes, it can be difficult to enforce the law…this is where Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) comes in. She’s the first rabbit to join the police force, and she quickly finds that the life of an officer is no easy task, especially when she’s trying to solve a mysterious case with a wily fox partner voiced by Jason Bateman. Rated PG.
Buy Zootopia on Amazon
Finding Nemo (2003)
Helicopter parents undoubtedly watch this Pixar entry through their fingers, but the adventures of a neurotic clownfish searching for his lost son halfway across the ocean not only contain a valuable lesson about letting children make their own mistakes; it also brings the family-friendly funny, thanks to Albert Brooks's nebbish hero and Ellen DeGeneres's forgetful-to-a-fault regal tang. Rated PG.
Bright Eyes (1934)
The original child superstar, Shirley Temple was never better than in this prototypical Temple-esque tale of a curly-haired orphan trying to live with her kindly pilot godfather. To watch the moppet perform "On the Good Ship Lollipop" is to witness onscreen precociousness at its finest. Rated PG.
The Secret Garden (1993)
When an orphaned girl named Mary Lenox is sent to live with her mysterious uncle, she discovers more than she bargained for at his sprawling mansion and overgrown estate. She’ll brave a scary head housekeeper, meet a young friend, encounter a cousin she’s never met and a stumble upon a garden in desperate need of some serious TLC. Rated G.
Buy The Secret Garden on Netflix
Home Alone (1990)
Kids will love mischief-maker Kevin McCallister, an 8-year-old boy whose family accidentally leaves him behind when rushing out of the house for a vacation in France. Alone in their Chicago home, Kevin learns to fend for himself. Eventually, Kevin must protect his home against burglars Harry and Marv, who plan to burglarize the entire neighborhood. Kevin’s mother Kate tries to rush home as soon as she realizes his absence, but while she’s gone, plenty of chaos ensues. Rated PG.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Troubled that he has little access to his children, divorced Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) hatches an elaborate plan. With help from his creative brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein), he dresses as an older British woman and convinces his ex-wife, Miranda (Sally Field), to hire him as a nanny. "Mrs. Iphegenia Doubtfire" wins over the children and helps Daniel become a better parent—but when both Daniel and his nanny persona must meet different parties at the same restaurant, his secrets may be exposed. Following the recent news of Williams’ untimely death, we can only imagine that this hilarious flick will once again be on replay everywhere, garnering belly laughs from audiences young and old over a decade after he first took on his role as the sassy Scottish nanny. Rated PG-13.
What would happen if one of those big-eyed, eternally optimistic Disney princesses somehow landed in our world? And in New York City, no less? Thus goes the premise of this modern classic from the Mouse House, which sees princess Giselle (Amy Adams) banished by an evil queen and emerging from a manhole in the middle of modern-day Manhattan. There are encounters with grumpy New Yorkers, cockroaches, a dragon, a witch and a couple of handsome, but Enchanted stands out for two reasons, really: the songs by Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast) and Amy Adams’ pitch-perfect performance as the princess finding her way, and herself, in the scary non-fairy tale world. Rated PG.
Buy Enchanted on Amazon
Best kids' movies: 20–11
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Every kid wants to run rampant in a candy factory, and this nutty adaptation of Roald Dahl's book is a golden ticket to a dream come true: riding a boat through chocolate rivers, burping your way out of a soda room and getting lots of musical life lessons from Oompa Loompas. Not even Tim Burton and Johnny Depp could top the original's psychedelic goofiness. Rated G.
Mary Poppins (1964)
Julie Andrews had already set the bar high for onscreen child care (see No. 10), but her super-nurturing nanny upped the ante even further: Children have expected their hired guardians to dance with penguins, fly through the sky and serve medicine with spoonfuls of sugar ever since. Rated G.
The Parent Trap (1998)
Meet Lindsay Lohan…and Lindsay Lohan...(Hallie and Annie, identical twins separated at birth) in this remake of the classic 1961 film. You’ll be seeing double as they accidentally meet at summer camp and scheme to get their divorced parents (Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid) back together. Rated PG.
This 2015 smash comes with a definite message—a Peruvian bear makes is way to London to make a new home, arrives to find himself frightened and out of place, and is then offered a place to stay with a kind family (headed up by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey and Sally Hawkins). So yeah: Love outsiders and help them out. There’s plenty of fun bear-out-of water action when Paddington moves in with the Browns (including one particularly hilarious bathroom mishap) and some great adventure as a villainous taxidermist (Nicole Kidman in terrifically vampy form) sets her sights on the furry hero. The whole thing is as British as tea and crumpets, and just as sweet. Rated PG.
Those who know Will Ferrell from his raunchy roles in grown-up comedies may be surprised to see the star playing a sweet, innocent naf like Buddy the Elf. But it's the actor's childlike, gosh-all sense of wonder that sells this story of Santa's helper in the big, bad city and gives the movie its heart—as well as goosing the funny bone of viewers regardless of their age. Rated PG.
This adorable animated film is yet another hit from Pixar, documenting what it feels like to go from complete joy to total rage (in the form of cute little characters)! The movie goes inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl as she weathers a rollercoaster of emotion following a move from the Midwest to San Francisco. Rated PG.
Buy Inside Out on Amazon
A Little Princess (1995)
Loosely based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous novel, the film tells the story of an imaginative little girl named Sara Crewe who feels that all girls are princesses. When her father heads off to war, he sends her to the same New York boarding school her late mother attended; even through a series of unfortunate events, Sara remains optimistic and manages to inspire all the kids (even overcoming the evil headmistress Miss Minchin). Rated G.
Buy A Little Princess on Amazon
The Sandlot (1993)
This coming-of-age tale is a true classic…after all, what’s more American than baseball? Quirky youngster Scottie Smalls (Thomas Guiry) moves to a new neighborhood and manages to make some friends at a local baseball diamond. Together, they get themselves into tons of trouble (and must even band together to retrieve a piece of precious baseball memorabilia). Rated PG.
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The Little Mermaid (1989)
Hans Christian Andersen's fable about a mermaid who longs to be human is chock-full of morals about letting kids follow their bliss, as well as tons of catchy songs courtesy of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. (Just try not to sing "Under the Sea" right now. We dare you.) But it also provided a vibrant new template for Disney's animated features, one that helped the Mouse House kick off a fertile new era of family entertainment. Rated G.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
It's a simple story, really: Boy meets alien. Boy and alien become best friends. Boy says goodbye to alien when his outer-space buddy has to go home, causing audiences everywhere to sob uncontrollably. How Steven Spielberg tells it, of course, makes a world of difference, as he infuses this family blockbuster with a childlike sense of awe. If you can think of a more magical '80s movie moment than E.T. and Elliott biking past the moon, we'll personally buy you a bag of Reese's Pieces. Rated PG.
Best kids' movies: 10–1
The Sound of Music (1965)
As the camera swoops down from the heavens toward a young woman running through a field, this angel opens her mouth to exclaim "The hills are a-liiii-ve..."; from that moment on, Robert Wise's Oscar-winning musical has you right in its grasp. Julie Andrews's star was born as soon as she trilled the first line of Rodgers and Hammerstein's score, but this classic really is an ensemble affair: Every one of the von Trapps, from dear old dad Christopher Plummer to 16-going-on-17-year-old Charmian Carr and the youngest, five-year-old Kym Karath, pitch in to this juggernaut of sing-along fun. To hear the cast belt out staples like "So Long, Farewell" and "Do-Re-Mi," and watch a family band together to prove that it takes more than Nazis to break up a tight-knit clan, is to understand why, generation after generation, this movie continues to be one of our favorite things. Rated G.
Despicable Me (2010)
This animated gem from Universal Pictures spawned perhaps the world's most lovable villain, Gru, as well as an endless supply of branded merchandise, thanks to his yellow, gibberish-speaking Minions. When the evil mastermind (voiced by Steve Carell) puts his plot to steal the moon into motion, he's interrupted by the presence of three adorable orphans who just might melt his wicked heart. Rated PG.
Star Wars (1977)
You don't need to be a kid to enjoy George Lucas's old-fashioned tale of outer-space adventure, as the global cult of adult wanna-be Jedis and devoted Droidaphiles can attest. Lucas, though, has readily admitted that he was trying to capture the thrill he had as a child watching Saturday-afternoon matinees, and that's the real target audience for this beloved pop-culture totem: a seven- to ten-year-old who gets to experience a hero's journey from boyhood to manhood for the very first time. The rest of us are simply re-experiencing our nostalgia for that first time we saw it, which is why seeing the first Star Wars with your own child is such a rewarding experience. The second that opening symphonic blast comes on, we're all seven years old, sitting in the dark and bonding over the knowledge that the force is within each and every one of us. Rated PG.
The Lion King (1994)
Elderly lion Scar plots to usurp his brother, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), from the throne, only to find his route blocked by newborn cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas). Scar orchestrates Mufasa's tragic demise in a stampede of wildebeests, then makes Simba believe he is to blame. The young lion is overwhelmed by guilt and flees his home, ending up in the jungle where he befriends Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). Years later, the now full-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) is persuaded to return to the Pride Lands to overthrow the despotic Scar, and save the pride from extinction with the help of his new friends. The emotional film has the best-selling soundtrack album of any animated movie in the U.S., featuringmemorable songs—written by Elton John and Tim Rice—that only further cement it as one of the best Disney movies of all time. Rated G.
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Kermit the Frog & Co. were already household names in 1979, thanks to their popular television variety show; once you watch Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and the rest of their felt-skinned friends crack wise, mingle with famous faces and narrowly avoid danger in their first feature film, though, you suddenly understand why folks from age five to 95 loved them. There was a residual countercultural coolness in their self-referentiality—at one point, they check to see what happens next by consulting the movie's script—yet they were still kid-friendly. Jim Henson's approach made the Muppets seem both hip and harmlessly square, but more important, he understood the timeless appeal of putting on a show: Even contemporary kids who don't know from Hare Krishna jokes still giggle at a monster bursting through a movie screen and still sway to the strains of "The Rainbow Connection." Rated G.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Walt Disney had already made a name for himself, having worked on a number of animated shorts (he actually had high hopes for a rodent character he'd just created, Mickey something or other), but in early 1934 he felt it was time to move into the big leagues. Disney announced that he and his team would be starting on their first feature-length film: an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a princess and her septet of pint-size friends. The rest, as they say, is history. When you watch this extraordinary effort today, you can see the company's decades-old recipe for success forming before your very eyes: the heroine in peril, the moving musical numbers ("Some Day My Prince Will Come"), the humorous (Dopey), the horrifying (the Wicked Queen) and the happily-ever-after ending. It all starts here. Rated G.
The Red Balloon (1956)
We've seen gajillions of American movies about boys and their pet dogs, horses, freed whales, monsters and alien friends; it took the French, however, to realize the poignancy of making a short film about a boy and his balloon. Clocking in at a mere 34 minutes, Albert Lamorisse's featurette follows a child named Pascal, who encounters the title's floating red object tied a railing. After untying the balloon, the lad and his newfound companion traipse around Paris, riling up his classmates and even meeting his female counterpart (though her helium-filled friend is blue). Lamorisse treats childhood as one big adventure, with Pascal and pal wandering innocently throughout an urban landscape filled with adults to bother, buildings to explore and streetside bazaars to peruse. This is the city as a playground and a place where magic happens; even when tragedy strikes, The Red Balloon still has one trick left up its sleeve, ending in a sky ride that simply must be seen to believed. Not rated.
The Lego Movie
The world’s first-ever full-length LEGO adventure shares the tale of a superweapon called the Kragle; evil Lord Business (yep, you heard us) stole the coveted weapon from good wizard Vitruvius, the Kragle’s protector! There’s only one thing to stop him: the “Piece of Resistance,” a brick capable of stopping the Kragle. The film boasts a script that’ll make both parents and kids laugh, plus it has a star-studded cast—you’ll hear the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and more! Rated PG.
Buy The Lego Movie on Amazon
Toy Story (1995)
You didn't have to own a cowboy doll or a space-ranger-ish action figure to appreciate Pixar's first feature film. (It certainly doesn't hurt if you did, however.) As much as director John Lasseter and his team of computer animators use both baby boomer and Gen-X nostalgia to their advantage—hey, I had that Slinky Dog and Mr. Potato Head as a kid too!—this is a movie that's very much about the importance of having your buddy's back. But it's also about the bond that every kid has with the playthings of his or her youth, and how these inanimate objects are given life by a child's imagination. (Never mind that Pixar seriously raised the bar in terms of storytelling, animation style and character development in kids' flicks.) What matters most is that they paid loving tribute to the plastic, movable building blocks that help tomorrow's scientists, scholars and CEOs engage with the world while thoroughly thrilling us. The next two Toy Story films would build off this premise beautifully, but it's here that the seeds of next-gen quality family entertainment are planted and the bounty reaped. Rated G.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A girl stuck on a farm in dreary, sepia-toned Kansas dreams of a more exciting life somewhere over the proverbial rainbow; she gets her wish and then some when a tornado deposits the Midwesterner and her little dog, Toto, too, into a Technicolor wonderland. For over 70 years, this Hollywood classic has continued to wow one generation after the next. Its staying power has been attributed to many things, but what keeps enthralling each new wave of underage viewers is the sheer vibrancy and charm of the movie's imaginary world: flying monkeys and good witches, fleet-footed scarecrows and fraidy-cat lions, eye-poppingly pastel towns of Munchkins and a garishly green Emerald City. And then there's its timeless message: You can go out and see the world, have adventures, make new pals and experience life at its most grand. But in the end, there's no place like home, and no one quite like your family and friends. That, more than anything else, is why millions of folks keep returning with their kids to this classic—and why many more will keep following the yellow-brick road for decades to come. Rated G.