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The 50 best kids movies to watch as a family

We know there’s nothing quite like enjoying family movies with the kids. Enjoy our favorite 50 kids’ movies, ranging from Mrs. Doubtfire to The Goonies

  • 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.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Available through Netflix

  • 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.

     Buy on Amazon

     Available through Netflix

  • The Black Stallion (1979)

    Most of us hope that preteens will never have to experience being stranded on a desert island. Should they find themselves stuck on a small, sandy patch of land after their steamer has sunk, however, we hope they're fortunate enough to have an equine buddy like the one Kelly Reno has in this version of Walter Farley's kid-lit classic. The titular gorgeous horse ends up saving the young boy from snakes and keeps him company until they're rescued; when the twosome return to the States, he trains the horse to compete in a race. Director Carroll Ballard takes a warhorse (sorry) of a story and somehow makes it feel completely unique; from the adventure scenes of Reno and "the Black," as the creature is named, galloping along the shore to the climax's nail-biting competition, there's a sense of poetry in every sequence involving the movie's human and horse stars. Many films pair youngsters and animals, but The Black Stallion is one of the few that makes you aware of how tight that interspecies connection can be. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Available through Netflix

  • 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.

     Buy on Amazon

     Available through Netflix

  • March of the Penguins (2005)

    Athough nature docs aimed at the underage set had been around since the days of Disney's The Living Desert back in the 1950s, it took a French-made chronicle of the Emperor Penguins to remind folks that the movies were a great way to introduce kids to the wonders of the natural world. The runaway box-office success of Luc Jacquet's trek through the Antarctic helped restart a Renaissance of nonfiction films about our furry, feathered friends in the wild. But it was the way March of the Penguins anthropomorphized these flightless fowls that helped kids see the parallel between our world and theirs: These baby penguins had to negotiate the world and deal with their parents just like their Homo sapien counterparts. In one fell swoop, a new generation learned to relate to and relish the sight of exotic creatures. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Available through Netflix

  • 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.

     Buy on Amazon

     Available through Netflix

  • 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.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Available through Netflix

  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

    We tend to take for granted that Japan's Studio Ghibli is practically peerless when it comes to making tender, touching, totally eye-popping anime movies for children. But if you caught this movie upon its original release or when it hit these shores in a dubbed version in 1993, you'd almost have felt like you were seeing a kids' movie for the first time. Hayao Miyazaki's tale of two sisters who befriend a forest full of magical creatures—including a kindly, cuddly king of the "totoros"—never looks down on its young protagonists, sentimentalizes their predicament (Mom is sick in the hospital) or milks it for easy tears. It doesn't treat the various spiritual-world denizens they encounter as monsters; even that odd-looking catbus couldn't be friendlier. And most important, the movie displays an emotional complexity about children interacting with the world(s) around them that's usually absent in American family films. Miyazaki would go on to make countless masterpieces over the years. This one still moves us the most. Rated G.

     Buy on Amazon

     Available through Netflix

  • 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.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Available through Netflix

  • 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.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Available through Netflix

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.

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

 Available through Netflix


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