Best family movies
Most likely kids’ first tear-jerker, The Lion King packs plenty of emotion in its animated tale. The animated Disney classic—which received the live-action retelling earlier this summer—follows a young lion named Simba, who is to assume the role of the leader after his father, Mufasa, passes away—but not without backlash from his evil uncle Scar. When matters get heavy, you have to take it from Pumbaa and Timon: “Hakuna matata!” Rated G.
The inaugural story in the Harry Potter series catapulted fans into a magical realm sprinkled with fantasy and excitement. The Sorcerer's Stone garnered a lifelong fanbase for author J.K. Rowling, and rightfully so. When her kid’s book came to life on the big screen, people were instantly captivated by Harry’s story. The young tween, an orphan who lived in horrible conditions with the wicked Dursley family, has his world turned upside down when he learns he is a wizard. The boy is then shipped to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he meets new friends, learns slightly unusual lessons and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime...and a few quidditch matches along the way. Rated PG.
You don't need to be a kid to enjoy George Lucas' 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 7–10 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 7 years old, sitting in the dark and bonding over the knowledge that the force is within each and every one of us. Rated PG.
One thing’s for certain: Goonies never say die, even when the most bizarre challenges arise. Mikey and his group of pals are having a hard time parting ways with their homes...until the clever tween comes up with an idea. Our precocious main character devises a plan to capture One-Eyed Willy’s treasure and use the goods to save their houses from being torn down. All seems fine and dandy, but pretty soon the kids’ journey for the loot becomes quite dangerous when the infamous Fratelli crime family catches on. This flick is certainly Spielberg at his finest. No matter your age, you won’t be able to resist this feel-good, 80s adventure. Rated PG.
Compared to even 'sophisticated' juvenile fodder, the sheer exuberance of Disney's adaptation of PL Travers' children's classic should tickle the most jaded fancy. Indeed, the film can hardly contain itself with its catalogue of memorable songs, battery of dance routines, and strong supporting cast. As for the leads, Julie Andrews, after beating off other pretenders to the role (in part because Walt liked the way she whistled), produced an Academy Award-winning portrayal of the Edwardian nanny whose mad magic seethes beneath a patina of respectability that is, as Mary Poppins' references state, 'practically perfect in every way'. But oh, Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent! Rated G.
What holiday season is completely chaos-free? Not many, especially for the MacAllister clan! The family—a seemingly never-ending cast of colorful characters—plans to vacation in Paris over Christmas break. But the highly-anticipated trip to the City of Lights turns problematic when everyone realizes they’ve forgotten one thing: Kevin. The youngster is left home in the ‘burbs and couldn’t be happier. He has the tremendous house to himself, so he’s free to eat junk food, watch inappropriate movies and call his own shots. However, two burglars have their sights set on robbing the place while the family is gone, but Kevin definitely gives the shoddy crooks a run for their money. Rated PG.
Arguably one of the most popular Disney princess movies of all time, Frozen made its debut in 2013, and the cartoon’s popularity has yet to thaw. The infectious story follows two sisters, one of whom has magical powers: Elsa (voiced by the iconic Idina Menzel) is able to make snow and ice...which ends up being quite problematic. Though her baby sister, Anna, was always eager to build a snowman, those icy powers become an issue when Elsa accidentally traps Arendelle in a seemingly eternal winter. Yikes! It’s up to Anna to make things right. Will the snow thaw? Will Elsa be able to stop isolating herself from everyone? And, most importantly, will your kids ever stop singing “Let It Go.” (Spoiler: probably not.) Be sure to catch the movie’s highly anticipated sequel this November! Who knows what musical gems await! Rated PG.
Parents will take a liking to clownfish, Marlin. The sea critter is particularly relatable since he is so protective of his youngster, Nemo. No surprise there! Also unsurprising? Nemo’s defiance. When the little guy goes missing in the deep blue sea—and encounters one large great white along the way—it’s up to Marlin to bring his fella to safety. Kiddos, we hate to tell you, but Mom and Dad know best! Let Nemo’s experience be a lesson to you! Rated PG.
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.
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' 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, 5-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
While Emma Watson’s recent live-action Beauty and the Beast remake was certainly spot-on, we hold a special place in our hearts for the original “tale as old as time”—the 1991 Disney movie. Belle, a kind, beautiful bookworm, is unimpressed by the come-ons of the town’s pompous alpha-male Gaston and is generally at odds with most of the village. When her inventor father goes missing (and no one does a thing about it), she heads into the (quite scary) woods to find him, getting herself deeper into trouble than she intended. Rated G.
A la Frank Sinatra, Gru wants to fly to the moon and play among the stars. The scientist elicits the help of yellow minions in order to see his intergalactic takeover come to fruition. However, plans go awry when the wicked mastermind takes on fatherhood. Three orphaned sisters become Gru’s new priority and it appears the nefarious character isn’t so terrible after all. Rated PG.
“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” All nine-year-old Ralphie wants is an official Red Ryder BB gun—and the only things standing in his way are a pink bunny suit, a leg lamp and a tongue sticking to a flagpole. Humorist Jean Shepherd’s short stories are the basis of this sassy sentimental brew. And who knew that duck was actually Chinese turkey? Rated PG.
Poor Ariel. The red-headed mermaid longs for legs and life on land, much to her protective father’s dismay. She can’t quite get over this “whole new world” that she has yet to experience, and one nasty octopus takes notice. The evil Ursula is quite envious of Ariel’s gorgeous singing voice, and uses Ariel’s earthly desires to her advantage. She promises Ariel legs, and in turn, Ursula will receive the young mermaid’s fabulous vocal abilities. Sounds great, right?! With legs and feet of her own, Ariel will also get the opportunity to sweep the hunky, hunky Prince Eric off his feet. But Ursula throws a curveball into the mix: Prince Eric has three days to plant one on her, and if the two don’t smooch, Ariel will have to go back under the sea. Sounds like this evil sea witch is one woman you don’t want to mess with! Rated G.
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.
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.
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.
Based on the trilogy YA novels of the same name, Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death with children from each of Panem’s 12 districts. The odds are stacked against her, but she’s determined to come out of the competition alive to protect her family and revolt against the Capitol’s cruel government. Rated PG-13.
It's certainly prestigious to be crowned Pumpkin King, but what happens when the spookiest guy in town grows tired of Halloween? Jack Skellington is getting bored with all-things creepy but finds himself intrigued with holly, jolly Yuletide festivities. Move over, Kris Kringle—there’s a new guy in town ready to spread some Christmas cheer! Will Jack’s newfound appreciation for December 25 cause a stir with little ones who anxiously awaited Santa’s arrival? Rated PG.
Uptight Miranda (Sally Field) can’t quite make things work with her goofy, light-hearted husband Daniel (Robin Williams). When the two decide to divorce, three kiddos are left in the wake of a failing marriage. But rather than adhere to new custody rules, Daniel has another idea up his sleeve: The funnyman gets help from his brother to go undercover as a British nanny, Mrs. Doubtfire, in order to spend more time with his kiddos. All is fine and dandy, but Miranda’s new beaux throws a monkey wrench into the mix. Rated PG-13.
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.
Miguel's family does not permit him to listen to music, so the young boy must idolize singer Ernesto de la Cruz quietly. He's determined to follow in Ernesto's footsteps and sets out on a quest to make it happen. He arrives in the Land of the Dead, and with the help of a new buddy named Héctor, the two piece together what happened to make his family detest music so much. Rated PG.
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.
Princess Rapunzel is kidnapped from her crib by a woman intent on staying forever young with the help of the princess’ magical long locks. Rapunzel grows up within the confines of her tower, always wishing she could explore the world and the lanterns that float outside her window. When her endless stream of creative activities no longer satisfies her, she ventures out with a tower thief and begins a journey to discover that the danger never lurked beyond the walls of her tower, but rather within them. Rated PG.
While exploring their new home, a brother-sister duo discover an old game nestled in the attic. But this game is anything but ordinary. Soon, they'll be on an adventure with wild creatures, an insane hunter and other crazy stuff—even meeting Alan, a boy (now man) who was sucked into the game until the kids picked it up 26 years later. Rated PG.
Roald Dahl’s sweet bookworm Matilda comes to life in this go-to ’90s movie. Matilda (Mara Wilson) is discouraged from reading—her only escape in a house where she isn’t wanted or encouraged. Though her school is horrible—just imagine the worst principal you’ve ever met—she seeks refuge in learning and in the kindness of her teacher Miss Honey, eventually showing ‘em all what she’s really made of (telekinetic powers and all!). Rated PG.
Hiccup isn’t like the rest of the Viking clan. He aspires to be like his dragon-hunting father, but when he befriends the Night Fury dragon, he learns a thing or two about this feared creature. And surprisingly, there’s a bigger issue at hand for vikings and dragons alike. Rated PG.
Disney’s latest princess story takes viewers to Ancient Polynesia where Moana, the daughter of her tribe’s chief, is faced with the task of braving the ocean in order to save her island from a curse. She teams up with legendary demigod Maui in order to confront the creatures that lurk in the seas and fulfill her dangerous quest. She eventually discovers that true north rests within herself. Rated PG.
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.
You’ll have no reservations about flying away with Carl and Russell in this irresistible animated flick. The grumpy elderly balloon salesman, Carl, manages to lift his house off the ground, something he’s been dying to do for years. But what happens when his goals are taken to new heights...with a cute little boy scout stowaway on board? Rated PG.
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.
Red-headed orphan Annie lives with other little girls in terrible conditions under the control of neglectful and vindictive Miss Hannigan, but the pint-sized optimist can’t be beaten down. When a wealthy businessman, Mr. Warbucks, agrees to foster an orphan to improve his public image, he is eventually won over by Annie’s charms. There’s trouble brewing, however, as Miss Hannigan and her seedy friends concoct a plan to get rich. Rated PG.
Annie is from London and Hallie is from California. The two end up at the same sleepaway camp and don't quite see eye-to-eye (to say the least). However, their misadventures turn into one heck of a plan when they discover they're twins who have been separated. Now, they're trying to devise a scheme that'll bring their parents together. Switching places is the best bet, but there are a few roadblocks along the way, namely Meredith Blake. Rated PG.
New York City is a wonderful place to spend the holiday season...but it's a bit awkward for Buddy the Elf. When Santa's helper learns that he's actually human—and outgrows the North Pole—he makes his way to Manhattan to be with his family. Will he be able to adjust to New York norms, or will he make his way back to Santa's workshop? One thing's for sure, as long as you sing Christmas cheer loud enough for all to hear, you'll be A-OK. (Also, make sure to stick to the four main food groups this holiday season—candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup). Rated PG.
Take a trip to Louisiana with this children’s book-inspired story, where smooched amphibians turn into royalty. The bayou comes to life with bright colors, moody environments, mystical interference and top-notch original music. The Princess and the Frog introduces a long-awaited African American princess who’s no damsel in distress, and you’ll be cheering for her to accomplish her biggest dream—opening a restaurant—the entire time. Rated G.
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.
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. Anjelica 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.
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.
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.
Judy Hopps dreams of joining the police force and leaves her farm and family for the bustling metropolis Zootopia to achieve this goal. As the first rabbit in the crew, she isn’t taken seriously by her fellow police officers. Tired of writing up parking violations, Judy decides to take on a missing persons case to prove herself. When she enlists the unwilling help of con fox Nick Wilde, the pair find themselves going down a rabbit hole of clues, scandals and close calls. Rated PG.
This family flick remains one of Pixar’s most creative storylines—prepare for a roller coaster of emotions! The key characters of this sweet movie are actually a little girl’s feelings—Disgust, Joy and Sadness, to name a few—and accompany her on an unexpected move from the Midwest to the West Coast. Which emotion will prevail? Rated PG.
A magical tale for sweet-toothed kids, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory tells the story of a little boy from a poor family and his dream—and eventual reality—of getting a peek inside Willy Wonka’s mysterious enterprise. After several children find the elusive golden ticket inside their chocolate bars and win a tour of the factory, it turns out there’s something even bigger at stake. Rated G.
Giselle is a fairy tale princess who can't wait to join forces with the love of her life, but when his evil mother sends her to NYC, this leading lady who likes to belt her heart out will have a whole new problem on her hands. 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.
Yet another example of how heartbreaking pet movies can be, Old Yeller remains an American classic. Set in post–Civil War Texas, the destitute Coates children find a big yellow dog in the cornfield and encounter black bears, boars and the ultimate coming-of-age experience when oldest son Travis is forced to put down his beloved pet after he’s bitten by a rabid wolf. Rated G.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The real-life mystery of the massacred Romanov royal family and the disappearance of the youngest princess Anastasia plays out in this animated film. We follow orphan Anya as she teams up with Dimitri and Vladimir in search for her real family, which she believes to be in Paris. Little does she know that the two con men have been holding auditions to fool the Dowager Empress and receive the reward money being offered to whomever can find and return her granddaughter home. Along the way, the trio encounter the curses of sorcerer Rasputin, whose hex against the Romanov family went unfinished with Anastasia’s survival, and viewers find a new villain’s sidekick to love in Bartok the albino bat. Rated G.