The best family movies to watch together

The best family movies to watch together

There really are few things nicer than settling down in front of the television, snacks in hand, for a film that everyone – young and old – can enjoy. 

However, finding the perfect movie, one that suits parents and children alike, can be a daunting task. On the one hand, you don’t want to sit through an obnoxious children's movie that been produced by a corporate marketing team with the sole purpose of making your young'uns obsess over getting their latest toy. On the other, you don’t want to prematurely introduce your offspring to Terminator, thus giving them Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped nightmares for the next fortnight. 

Luckily, there are an amazing number of movies, both live-action and animated, that appeal to viewers of all ages – movies that will entertain the kids while either sparking childlike nostalgia in your cold, hardened adult heart, or have you snickering at clever innuendo while your children stare at you quizzically.

By Total Film staff

(Disney, Studio Ghobli, Pixar, Universal)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The movie: A boy from a poor family dreams of visiting Willy Wonka’s magnificent chocolate factory. When he finds one of five golden tickets hidden inside Wonka’s chocolate bar wrappers, he finally gets the chance, but soon discovers the other four winners are all terrible children. What will happen once the magical tour begins?

Why the family will love it: The 2005 adaptation of the same novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is also an enjoyable film, and one that manages to ingeniously fit a joke about cannibalism into a piece of family entertainment. However, the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl's book still has it beat. Gene Wilder’s eccentric/unhinged Willy Wonka is a delight to watch, while the script is full of great quotes. Just beware of one slightly scary tunnel of terror scene.

The Sound of Music (1965)

The movie: A young nun leaves her convent to help look after the children of a high-ranking naval officer, Von Trapp. Through a zest for life – and whimsical musical numbers – she gets the over-disciplined children to come out of their shells, and at the same time, her and the officer start falling for each other. Eventually, a looming war threatens all their plans and dreams, but a resourceful family never gives up...

Why the family will love it: This charming movie will still win over ever the most cynical teenagers. With its beautiful songs, Julie Andrews’ great performance, and its upbeat message and optimism, The Sound of Music is still as vital as ever.

Shrek 2 (2004)

The movie: After returning from their honeymoon, ogres Shrek and Fiona are planning to settle down in their little hut in the middle of the swamp. However, when Fiona’s royal parents receive news of her marriage, they invite the newlyweds to visit their palace in Far Far Away. With Donkey in tow, and a new companion in Puss in Boots, a new adventure quickly unfolds for our heroes. The quiet family life will have to wait.

Why the family will love it: The original Shrek was great fun, yet its stream of pop-culture references have not aged particularly well. Shrek 2, though, is still as good today as when it came out. Great vocal performances from the whole cast are led by the introduction of the franchise’s greatest character, Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots. Shrek 2 has a wholesome message at its heart, too, and combined with a mix of humour, action and great music choices, it makes for a great family movie night.

(DreamWorks Animation)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

The movie: While the Battle of Britain rages in the distance, aspiring witch Miss Price, played delightfully by Angela Lansbury, decides to use her magical powers to help defeat the Nazis. She lives in the remote countryside, far away from the heat of battle, and, like many others, she hosts children who have fled the city to seek shelter. With the help of these inventive kids, a witches’ school, and an enchanted bed, they go off to a fantasy land where they fight off those pesky invading Nazis once and for all.

Why the family will love it: In many ways, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a relic. It looks 15 years older than it is, it's vision of WW2 Britain – even for a kids’ movie – is impossibly quaint, and the showtunes are ditties more than belters. Still, it’s simply too charming a movie to leave out. Bedknobs and Broomsticks has an innocence that’s enhanced by its war setting.

Rango (2011)

The movie: Rango is a pet lizard with delusions of theatrical grandeur who gets stranded on the side of a desert road. After only narrowly escaping a quick but painful death in the desert, a series of coincidences leads the inhabitants of a nearby town full of desert critters to believe him a hero. Using his flair for drama to somehow continue to escape being eaten, he turns into the town’s supposed saviour against the shadowy forces that aim to keep the townspeople poor and oppressed. Cue diverted water mains, circling buzzards, Bill Nighy as a snake, and surreal (and stunning) dream sequences.

Why the family will love it: Kids get to enjoy talking lizards and mariachi owls; parents get to enjoy pointed references to both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Clint Eastwood Westerns, plus a plot that's surprisingly similar to Chinatown. Except, y’know, with talking lizards and mariachi owls. Everybody wins.

Coraline (2009)

The movie: Based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, Coraline film tells the story of a disgruntled 11-year-old girl who discovers a secret door in her disinterested parents' new house. Seeking an escape from her dreary everyday life , she goes through it – only to find herself in a mirror world where her parents are attentive and loving. However, there’s a catch: everyone has button eyes, and if she wants to stay, she’ll have to trade her eyes for buttons...

Why the family will love it: Neil Gaiman has a knack for writing ‘grown-up’ stories that still feel like they’re genuinely told from a child’s perspective. This film adaptation of one of his finest novels encapsulates that spirit almost undiluted. The stop-motion animation suits the off-kilter storyline perfectly, and while it’s probably not for very young children, the scary bits here are really well suited to introduce a curious two-digit-aged kids to the concept of horror.

Space Jam (1996)

The movie: NBA superstar Michael Jordan, played by NBA superstar Michael Jordan, is at the height of his legendary career when he suddenly decides to quit basketball and become a baseball player. However, he struggles to adjust to his new, more pedestrian sporting reality, and is starting to regret his decision. At the same time, the Tune Squad, led by the inimitable Bugs Bunny, are kidnapped by an evil alien lord who wants to enslave them for all eternity in his space circus. The squad manage to bargain for a contest to earn their freedom: a game of basketball against the evil Monstars. When the Monstars steal famous NBA players’ skills to rig the upcoming game in their favour, the Tune Squad decides to enlist Jordan’s help to save their animated skins, unaware that he’s retired from the sport.

Why the family will love it: In true Looney Tunes fashion, Space Jam is outlandishly silly, only occasionally coherent, and doesn’t step off the throttle for the whole runtime. Jordan’s performance can be described as “wooden” at best, and the finale is filled with every sports-movie cliche in the book, but that’s precisely what makes Space Jam great. It’s got gags aplenty, absurd sports action, and a great cameo from Bill Murray. It’s a joyful romp.

(Warner Bros)
Babe (1995)

The movie: Plucky piglet Babe has no intention of being the Sunday roast, so decides to prove his worth on the farm. His efforts at rounding up and sorting chickens are noticed by the farmer, Hoggett, who decides to let him have a go at rounding up the sheep in the field. Before they know it, Hoggett finds himself training Babe to compete in a sheepherding competition, and, despite dismay and mockery, they are determined to overcome the odds and win.

Why the family will love it: Australia’s finest export of the 1990s, Babe turned the animal comedy on its head by transplanting a pig into a role usually reserved for dogs. It’s full of heart and has a sweet message at its core, namely that you can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard enough. Plus James Cromwell is wonderful in the lead human role. Did we mention Babe was also nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture?

Moana (2016)

The movie: Restless teenage girl Moana has wanted to explore the oceans since she was a toddler, but any journeying out beyond the reef around her island is strictly forbidden by her father, the tribal chief. However, when the islanders’ coconut and fish sources run dry at the same time, she sets out on a voyage in secret. Out on the ocean, Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui, who reluctantly becomes her mentor, teaching her to become a master wayfinder. On their journey, they fight enormous monsters on a quest that seems almost impossibly hard, but will do more than just fulfil her mission if successful: it could help both of them find themselves too.

Why the family will love it: Big in scale, gorgeously designed, and filled with great songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana is perhaps Disney’s finest recent animated hit. The heroine of the story, tribe leader-in-training Moana, has also provided inspiration for young girls and boys the world over, while the setting has ignited interest in the history and culture of Hawai’i and Polynesia.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The movie: A classic adaptation of a classic folktale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs tells the story of a beautiful princess, Snow White, who is forced to flee her kingdom as her jealous stepmother – a witch who can’t handle being only the second-prettiest woman in the realm. Finding refuge among seven friendly dwarfs, she is still relentlessly pursued by the witch, who will stop at nothing to end Snow White once and for all...

Why the family will love it: Out of all Disney’s early classics, none are as accomplished as Snow White. It set a new bar for animation and has been endlessly referenced, imitated and satirised. This version of the tale of Snow White, though, has never been topped. The oldest film on our list, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is now just over eight decades old, but it’s still a classic movie for the entire family. Just take the gender roles with a grain of salt.

Jurassic Park (1993)

The movie: An eccentric millionaire spares no expense creating the world’s most unique theme park, filling it with real dinosaurs. When a group of scientists, as well as a lawyer and two members of the park’s "key demographic" – kids – go on a test ride through the park, things quickly go very, very wrong. Scattered around the park, with no help on the way, they have to fight for their lives. And even when they think they have found safety, danger still lurks... 

Why the family will love it: This one’s definitely not for the youngest kids, but (with adult supervision) Jurassic Park is a fantastic family experience. Featuring real horror-like thrills right from the opening hook, Spielberg's masterpiece still appeals to ten-year-olds the world over. 

The Princess Bride (1987)

The movie: Perhaps the culmination of a decade of offbeat adventure films, The Princess Bride crosses tradition with innovation in a brilliant adaptation of William Goldman’s novel. It’s a fairy-tale about a beautiful young woman and her true love, who must go on a treacherous journey to save her. The knight and his unlikely companions must cross mountains and seas, fight evil in most unusual ways, all to fulfil their quest. 

Why the family will love it: The source of countless memes, The Princess Bride is much more than a mere collection of jokes and gimmicks. The film subverts many of the classic adventure genre’s conventions, while at the same time becoming a classic of the genre itself. Filled with larger-than-life characters, it’s an event-filled journey for our heroes that is sure to be quoted for days and weeks after viewing by your sprogs.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

The movie: Perhaps Hayao Miyazaki’s most epic tale, Princess Mononoke follows the 14th-century story of teenage girl Ashitaka, who is infected following an animal attack and must find the mythical Shishigami to save her life. Meanwhile, the kingdom and the delicate balance between humans, animals and nature is being tipped beyond repair. 

Why the family will love it: Princess Mononoke is a masterpiece of cinema, tapping into Japan’s rich mythology, building a world that has both light and darkness. Parents will see pointed references to the nuclear bomb and modern indifference toward nature. The storytelling transcends boundaries and languages, and a great chance to introduce kids to the fact that great animation doesn’t have to come from Hollywood. And for those kids too young to consistently follow subtitles, the English dubbing work is sublime.

(Studio Ghibli)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)

The movie: We’re putting the movie that started the phenomena on this list, but really all eight movies are essential watching for kids of all ages. Harry Potter, an orphaned boy with magical powers, starts attending Hogwarts, a magical school for young wizards and witches. Once there, he realises his destiny is of the rather dramatic ilk, as he is the only person in the world who can possibly defeat the evil Lord Voldemort, who is plotting to defeat the forces of good in the world and rule it himself. 

Why the family will love it: Watching the franchise together from start to finish is a wonderful journey for a family to take together. Whether that’s introducing each movie to your kid at the same age as Harry is in the story, or doing one movie a week or month, it’s got adventurous thrills and a classic battle of good vs evil.

(Warner Bros)
The LEGO Movie (2014)

The movie: Construction worker Emmett is living an awesome life – he watches the most popular comedies, likes the big hit singles, buys the right overpriced coffee, and does his job exactly by the instructions. But, one night, a mysterious stranger in search of the mythical Kragle drags him into a world of chaos, action, moody Batmen, and legendary master-builders, changing his life forever. It’s LEGO like you’ve never seen it before, but always imagined it could be.

Why the family will love it: Pretty much everybody has played with LEGO at some point in their lives, and The LEGO Movie perfectly captures the larger-than-life, anything-goes creativity and innocent happiness associated with the plastic blocks. The movie has a great cast, frantic action, hysterical jokes, and a frankly insane amount of pop-culture references. To top it all off, it has a surprisingly poignant and emotional third act. Just like the story, it brings generations together.

(Warner Bros)
Mary Poppins (1964)

The movie: The children of the wealthy and uptight Banks family are getting increasingly frustrated at the terrible nannies they keep employing – that is until a magical new nanny literally floats in holding an umbrella. It’s Mary Poppins, y’all. Quickly sorting out their misbehaving ways, Mary takes the siblings on fantastical adventures involving Mary’s Cockney friend Bert. Eventually, they all unite in their efforts to loosen the screws of the kids’ uptight parents, too, through song, dance and magic.

Why the family will love it: Watched along with Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel 54 years in the making, Mary Poppins will make an excellent first half of a great family double bill. The first film has incomparable performances, great songs and that phrase. It really is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

The movie: Ever felt like you’re not the main character in your own story? Well, welcome to every day of Wreck-It Ralph’s life. Poor Ralph is a video game character in Fix-It Felix, an old arcade game, and his life consists exclusively of wrecking a house, only to have Felix – you guessed it – fix it again. One day, Ralph has enough and decides to leave the game and see where else in the arcade he will fit in better. Needless to say, the result is utter chaos. Brilliant, hilarious chaos.

Why the family will love it: Even though the sequel is very good, the original Wreck-It Ralph is just a little more cohesive, clear and fresh. Without ever preaching, it teaches us to reach out and try new things, and not be afraid of making mistakes on the way, something every kid should keep in mind. Plus, it’s frequently hysterical, and almost scarily relatable for parents everywhere.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The movie: A tiny, timid alien becomes stranded on Earth, but after being saved by young Elliott, who shelters the alien in his house, he finds safety and friendship in Elliott and his siblings. However, when little E.T. falls ill, the children must find a way to get him back home to his planet, and quickly, before the authorities get their grubby mitts on him.

Why the family will love it: When it came out, E.T. (along with Close Encounters a few years earlier) bucked the trend of portraying aliens as snarling, evil beasts with nothing but murder on their mind. It’s a touching tale of an unlikely friendship between human kids and a lost, little alien. It highlights how friendship and brotherly love doesn’t care about race, species or borders – even interstellar ones.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

The movie: In a galaxy far, far away, a young farmhand named Luke Skywalker dreams of escaping his surroundings. However, the oppressive Empire, led by the callous Darth Vader, control everything around. Soon enough, the secretive Ben Kenobi receives a message from the resilient Princess Leia, who has been captured by Vader. Along with the charming smuggler Han Solo and his hairy co-pilot Chewbacca, Kenobi and Skywalker head out to meet Vader head on, engulfing our heroes in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

Why the family will love it: A mandatory part of the curriculum for any budding film fan’s cinematic education, the original Star Wars transformed the movie world and opened up a new realm of adventure, one that’s still being added to today with new movies, games and books. A New Hope is a science fiction masterpiece.

Monsters, Inc (2001)

The movie: James “Sully” and his assistant Mike are the best-performing team at Monsters Incorporated, the largest scream factory in Monstropolis. Every night, they sneak through wardrobe doors into kids’ bedrooms and harvest their screams for precious energy. However, everything changes when little girl Boo sneaks into the monster world, causing considerable mayhem and a whole lot of reevaluating whether humans really are as scary as they are made out to be.

Why the family will love it: A film about acceptance, positivity, and finding creative and constructive solutions to your problems, Monsters, Inc is also an absolute riot from start to finish, with gags for both kids and grown-ups around every corner. Bonus: There might not be a more fitting casting decision in cinema history than Billy Crystal as the voice of hapless Mike Wazowski.

The Iron Giant (1999)

The movie: Adapted from Ted Hughes' story, a giant alien robot crashes near a small town in Rockwell, Maine, in 1957. Nine-year-old Hogarth discovers the robot, and soon forms an unlikely friendship with this iron giant. When the robot becomes the target of a persistent government agent who is determined to destroy the robot at any cost, Hogarth and beatnik Dean undertake an epic quest to save the misunderstood machine.

Why the family will love it: Kids are treated to an emotional, heartfelt and exciting story about an unlikely friendship between a boy and a giant robot from another planet, Meanwhile, parents get a poignant fable of Cold War paranoia, where understanding and kindred spirit battled fear and suspicion for decades. The Iron Giant is a layered, understated masterpiece.

(Warner Bros)
Paddington 2 (2018)

The movie: Picking up where the almost-as-good 2014 movie about an animated bear left, our furry hero has now settled in with the Brown family and become a real hit within his community, spreading joy among friends and marmalade on toast. Shortly after he spots a pop-up book in an antique shop, which he wants to give to his aunt on her 100th birthday, the item gets stolen, much to his dismay. Of course, Paddington embarks on a quest to catch the thief and recover the book before his aunt’s birthday, a quest that has many surprises in store...

Why the family will love it: A sequel that improves on the original, Paddington 2 is a perfect mix of kiddie and grown-up writing in a live-action film, with both silly gags and genuinely emotional scenes, while its message to us all to try to be decent and caring at all times is as important today as it ever has been.

(Studio Canal)
Finding Nemo

The movie: After a tragedy took his wife and all but one of his children, clownfish Marlin is constantly overprotective of his son, baby Nemo. Despite his best efforts, Nemo is caught by a fisherman, who takes the little clownfish back to his fish tank in Australia. As a result, Marlin is forced to undertake a journey more epic than any clownfish has ever undertaken, helped along by the forgetful Dory and a succession of unlikely allies. But can he overcome the staggering odds and find his dear Nemo again?

Why the family will love it: Finding Nemo shows the love parents can hold for their child, and the lengths to which they will go for them. It’s perfectly paced, the movie filled with great designed and funny characters. Also, Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory might be the greatest fish character ever written.

The Incredibles (2004)

The movie: Bob and Helen Parr have three children and live in a nondescript suburb. Bob works in insurance and Helen is a dutiful housewife. However, they have a secret past: they used to be the superheroes Mr Incredible and Elastigirl, fighting baddies and saving the world on a weekly basis before superheroes were banned and forced to go into hiding. Bob, nostalgic for his past glory, sees an opportunity to don the supersuit again, but this time it puts his whole family in danger.

Why the family will love it: Along with the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises of the early-noughties, The Incredibles ignited a fire in children’s hearts around the world, and that fire is being stoked and nurtured still today by several superhero films every year. The Incredibles riffs perfectly on ‘60s spy movies for a stylish, adrenaline-filled adventure. And if you’re worried it might be ‘scary’ for tiny tots, take it from this writer: yours truly’s son has watched this and Incredibles 2 approximately once a week since well before his third birthday, still without a 

My Neighbour Totoro

The movie: Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful adventure My Neighbour Totoro follows schoolgirl Satsuke and her younger sister, Mei, as they move to an old country house with their father while their mother recovers from illness at a hospital some distance away. As the sisters explore their new home, they encounter playful spirits in their house and the nearby forest. One of those is the mysterious, silent and very, very cuddly giant creature Totoro. That’s it, that’s the film. And it’s perfect that way.

Why the family will love it: It doesn’t matter if you’re six, 15 or 50 years old. When you watch My Neighbour Totoro, you will become a six-year-old in your heart. No film captures the carefree spirit of childhood and the wonder and imagination of playing and running around quite like this one. And with Totoro himself and Neko the catbus joining the adventure, My Neighbour Totoro is simply one of the purest, most life-affirming pieces of cinema ever made.

(Studio Ghibli)
Toy Story 2 (1999)

The movie: A couple of years after the events of the first Toy Story, Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear have formed a solid friendship. But when Woody is stolen from his home by toy dealer Al from Al’s Toy Barn infamy, the gang of toys goes on a desperate search-and-rescue mission, led by Buzz. However, when Woody discovers he's actually a valuable collectable from a once-popular television show called "Woody's Roundup" and is reunited with his horse Bullseye, cowgirl Jessie, and his sidekick, Stinky Pete the Prospector, he starts to doubt whether he wants to be saved after all.

Why the family will love it: It was hard to choose just one Toy Story film for this list, because any of the first three could stake a claim for this top spot. However, the second one gets the spot on the strength of its emotion and world-building that takes the fantastic first entry and expands it perfectly. Toy Story has become a cultural staple of the western world, the characters and their values taking on a mythological quality, all while presenting wondrously colourful stories that both children and parents can immediately relate to. Who hasn’t built a rich world of imagination with their toys, taking them on adventures, living through dramas, even finding solace in their play during times of sadness or struggle? Toy Story (any of them) and its characters perfectly embody the inner child in any of us, whether we’re an adventurous, sometimes overzealous Buzz, an organised Sheriff Woody who wants everything to stay as it is, a loving but hardy and resourceful Bo Peep, or a grumpy Potatohead. Family movie night will always have a friend in Toy Story.


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