Best family movies: 30 classic films that’ll appeal to kids and adults alike

Toy Story, one of the best family movies
(Image credit: Pixar)

The best family movies all have one thing in common – they’ve managed to hit that sweet spot between keeping the kids entertained, and making sure that grown-ups don’t get so bored they resort to scrolling through their smartphones halfway through.

Regardless of whether they’re live-action or animated, action-packed or filled with song, the best family movies also tend to be fun, which means you’re guaranteed a good time if you sit down with the family to watch them.

In putting together this list, we’ve tried to stick to movies that are PG-rated or lower. That means that lots of brilliant PG-13/12A superhero and action movies didn’t make the cut. We’ve also limited ourselves to just one Pixar story, because we could easily have filled half the list with examples of studio’s animated genius – and we’ve included the eight Harry Potter movies (opens in new tab)(and some other franchises) as one entry because it’s impossible to view them in isolation. 

So grab the popcorn and settle down in front of your TV, as we reveal (in alphabetical order) our best family movies of all-time…

The Addams Family/Addams Family Values (1991/1993)

A promo shot for the movie Addams Family Values

(Image credit: Amazon)

Creepy, kooky, mysterious and altogether ooky, the stars of the hit 1960s US sitcom (itself based on Charles Addams’ long-running New Yorker comic strip) make a successful transition to the big screen in two slight-but-fun trips into the macabre. 

Future Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld nails the tone of a movie about a family who revel in the darker side of life, teasing horror and subversiveness in a PG-friendly way. Meanwhile, the cast (including Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, and Christopher Lloyd) have a blast as Morticia, Gomez, Fester and company.

The sequel, Addams Family Values, is arguably superior to its predecessor, mainly thanks to Christina Ricci’s wonderfully sarcastic turn as Wednesday, leading a rebellion against the leaders of a sinisterly wholesome summer camp. Professional purveyor of weird Tim Burton is also set to put his own spin on the Addams clan in Wednesday, an upcoming Netflix adaptation that's based on the property.

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big Hero 6

(Image credit: Disney)

When lists of the best Marvel movies are assembled, this charming Disney Animation Studios release is often overlooked. But make no mistake, the comic-book credentials of this kid-friendly superteam are just as strong as the Avengers’ – the film even features a cameo (of sorts) from the late Stan Lee.

Set in the futuristic, East-meet-West world of San Fransokyo, it sees an orphaned teen teaming up with a bunch of friends – including adorable medical robot Baymax – to fight off the threat of a local supervillain. It’s smart, funny and doesn’t pull its punches in its more tragic moments.

Big Hero 6’s adventures continued in a Disney Channel series, while a Baymax spin-off is coming to Disney Plus in 2022.

Bugsy Malone (1976)

A screenshot of 1976 movie Bugsy Malone

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

How do you make a gangster movie for children? Alan Parker – who’d go on to direct Fame and The Commitments – answered the question in ingenious style by populating Bugsy Malone with a cast of kids (the standout performance coming from a 14-year-old Jodie Foster) and arming them with whipped cream-firing splurge guns. 

Beyond the unconventional casting and weaponry, however, it’s got all the hallmarks of a 1930s crime caper, from speakeasies and mob bosses, to washed-up heroes and femmes fatales. It also has songs – though, bizarrely, Parker opted to use adult singing voices instead of giving his stars a crack at the tunes.

Elf (2003)

watch elf online

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Before he launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and travelled to a galaxy far, far away with The Mandalorian, Jon Favreau made his directorial debut with this festive classic. 

A pre-Anchorman Will Ferrell delivers his most endearing performance as a human who was raised as one of Santa’s elves, and then travels to New York to meet his biological father (a gruff James Caan). 

It’s a winningly offbeat fish-out-of-water tale that combines comedy, romance and plenty of Christmas spirit to create an immensely uplifting festive concoction. There’s a reason Elf instantly found itself on the list of timeless Christmas movie staples alongside the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street and The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Enchanted (2007)

A screenshot of Disney's Enchanted movie

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

Alongside its extremely lucrative Star Wars and Marvel franchises, the Disney of the 21st century also has a profitable sideline revisiting its cartoon classics (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc) in live-action. The post-modern Enchanted, however, takes a more direct route by bringing together hand-drawn animation and human actors in one movie.

The story sees a traditional Disney princess transported into our world, where she learns that modern-day New York is every bit as scary (and wondrous) as her magical kingdom. The ever-brilliant Amy Adams is, well, enchanting as the three-dimensional version of the naively optimistic Giselle, while the self-aware script has fun poking fun at the clichés of the Disney brand.

A sequel is heading for Disney Plus in 2022.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

(Image credit: Universal)

The latter half of Steven Spielberg’s career has been dominated by serious dramas and more grown-up fare, but in his earlier days he was the best family movie director out there. 

Never has that been more evident than in ET, his modern-day fairytale about a kid who meets an alien accidentally left behind in a small American town. Spielberg’s genius shines through in the way he keeps you completely invested in the friendship between a 10-year-old boy and an extra-terrestrial with a flashlight for a finger. Cynics may claim that the director overplays the schmaltz in an emotional final act, but whether you’re eight, 18 or 80, it’s easy to see why ET was the most lucrative film of all-time until Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park came along.

Freaky Friday (2003)

A screenshot of Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday

(Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

Just before taking the lead in Mean Girls – one of the all-time great high-school movies – Lindsay Lohan starred in this superior remake of a 1976 Jodie Foster movie. 

In the classic body swap tradition (see also Big, Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son), Freaky Friday sees a mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Lohan) swapping places in mysterious circumstances – in this case, thanks to a magical fortune cookie. 

Though it’s best not to get bogged down in the implausibility of the premise, both stars make the most of the rare opportunity to play someone of a different generation – Curtis letting her hair down as rebellious teen, while Lohan gets (comedy) serious as the therapist mom.

Frozen/Frozen 2 (2013/2019)

A screenshot from Frozen 2

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

Yes, the original Frozen and its associated merchandise became so ubiquitous in the homes of kids of a certain generation that millions of parents wished it would simply vanish. But, now that the dust (or should that be snow?) has settled, this clever update of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen can be appreciated for what it is – one of Disney’s best family movies of the 21st century. 

Sisters Elsa and Anna make engaging heroes, their motivations driven by their love for each other rather than trying to win the heart of some bland prince. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is up there with Disney’s very best, particularly the now-iconic ‘Let It Go’. The songs might not be quite so memorable in the 2019 sequel, but it’s a worthy companion piece that manages to enhance the mythology of the original.

The Goonies (1985)

A screenshot from The Goonies movie

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Steven Spielberg didn’t call the shots on The Goonies – that honor fell to the late Richard Donner, director of The Omen, Superman: The Movie and Lethal Weapon – but his fingerprints are all over this iconic adventure movie from his Amblin production outfit. 

Effectively Indiana Jones for kids, it sends an unlikely assortment of adolescents on a quest to find the pirate treasure they think will save their homes from developers. While it’s probably too scary and suggestive for younger viewers, older kids will love its action set-pieces, the still-quotable dialogue (hey you guys!), and the memorable characters – whether it’s the child stars (several of whom have had successful careers as adults), or the villainous Fratellis trying to beat them to the prize. 

Holes (2003)

A screenshot from the Holes movie

(Image credit: Summit Entertainment)

There’s a big clue in the title: this 2003 Disney family movie really is all about people digging holes. Luckily, there’s also a lot more to this adaptation of Louis Sachar’s YA novel, as perennially unlucky teen Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf before he hooked up with Optimus Prime) is sentenced to 18 months in a detention camp for a crime he did not commit. 

Once there, he and the other inmates are forced to dig those eponymous holes by a dodgy camp warden (a deliciously evil Sigourney Weaver) who isn’t just motivated by rehabilitation…

While largely forgotten by many, Holes is quirky, surprisingly smart, and considerably darker than you’d expect, making it a hidden treasure you should dig up on Disney Plus.

Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone

(Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

The movie that made Macaulay Culkin the most bankable pre-teen star of his generation mined childhood wish fulfilment (and the stuff of parental nightmares) to create a monster festive hit. 

Despite being scripted by ’80s high-school movie legend John Hughes and directed by Goonies writer Chris Columbus, Home Alone was seen as such a gamble that its original studio, Warner Bros, walked away when its comparatively meagre budget grew larger than they were expecting.

They would soon be left to regret it, as the story of a kid left home alone at Christmas – and fighting off a pair of incompetent burglars with only his ingenuity and some Looney Tunes-style slapstick to protect him – conquered the box office for 20th Century Fox. It’s now a mainstay on Yuletide playlists, though the 1992 sequel, where Culkin not only found himself abandoned again, but also ran into the same crooks, pushed credibility one step too far.

The Harry Potter saga (2001-2011)

Harry Potter

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

JK Rowling’s beloved series of seven magical novels becomes a beloved series of eight magical movies courtesy of the most lucrative book adaptations in history. 

While few of the movies are stone-cold classics – the mediocre The Deathly Hallows Part 1, in particular, struggles to justify the decision to split the final Potter book in two – they capture the wonder and imagination of Rowling’s Wizarding World in spectacular style, making numerous generations dream of securing a place at Hogwarts. 

Keeping the most of the core cast together across an entire decade also marks a remarkable filmmaking achievement, especially as the movies are populated by some of the finest acting talent the UK has to offer.

Hugo (2011)

A screenshot from Martin Scorcese's Hugo movie

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Seeing as he’s spent most of his filmography hanging out in the sweary, violent extremes of the R-rating, the legendary Martin Scorsese isn’t the first filmmaker you’d expect to find on a list of the best family movies. 

Nonetheless, Hugo is entirely the film you’d expect a self-confessed cinephile like the Goodfellas director to direct. Indeed, this is an unashamed love-letter to early cinema, as the eponymous Hugo (future Sex Education star Asa Butterfield) and his companion Isabelle (Kick-Ass’s Chloë Grace Moretz) discover a broken clockwork automaton in 1931 Paris, and find themselves in the orbit of silent movie pioneer Georges Méliès. The result is heartfelt, visually stunning and fun, and doesn’t feature a single use of the F-word.

Jumanji (1995)

A screenshot of Robin Williams in 1995 movie Jumanji

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Who knew board games could be a major risk to your health? A pair of children (one of them played by future Spider-Man star Kirsten Dunst) discover an old board game in the attic, and inadvertently unleash herds of dangerous animals on their town. A throw of the dice also rescues Robin Williams, a middle-aged man who was trapped inside Jumanji as a child, and becomes the kids’ unlikely protector.

Director Joe Johnston (who, in another life, played a major role in the design of Boba Fett’s armor (opens in new tab)) makes the most of early CG to bring the movie’s malevolent menagerie to life, while Williams delivers one of the best of his many kid/adult performances.

The movie was also cleverly reinvented for the 21st century with videogame-inspired reboots Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level.

The Karate Kid (1984)

A screenshot from The Karate Kid movie

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

You only have to look at the success of Netflix spin-off Cobra Kai to see the impact The Karate Kid had on previous generations of viewers. And it rightfully gained a reputation as one of the best family movies of the 1980s, an era that specialized in delivering box office smashes with universal appeal. 

Although it’s undoubtedly pushing the upper age limit of the family remit – a certain level of violence comes with the martial arts territory – The Karate Kid gets lots of mileage out of a teen defying the odds to come out triumphant. Indeed, on many levels it works as a junior Rocky – it even has the same director – though it didn’t inspire quite as many sequels.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the two strings

(Image credit: Laika)

Like Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman Animations, Oregon-based Laika Studios continue to keep the stop-motion flame alive amid the ongoing advance of CG. 

Where Aardman predominantly ply their trade with more traditional plasticine techniques, however, Laika use state-of-the-art 3D printing technology to create their characters. And never has it been used to more spectacular effect than on Kubo and the Two Strings, an epic tale set in a fantastical version of feudal Japan.

Ambitious in its scale, action and themes, the story of the titular Kubo – on a quest to track down three segments of a magical suit of armor that can save the realm – is a feast for the eyes. And in his talking monkey and beetle travelling companions, the movie boasts sidekicks of surprising depth.

Labyrinth (1986)


(Image credit: Netflix)

After the ambitious-but-bleak, puppets-only action of The Dark Crystal, Muppets legend Jim Henson adds a few humans – and songs – to the mix with an adventure scripted by Monty Python’s Terry Jones. 

Future A Beautiful Mind Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly plays a teen who accidentally wishes her baby brother away to the Goblin King’s castle, and has just 13 hours to make it through the titular maze before the kid becomes a goblin forever.

The journey through the Labyrinth is essentially an excuse for brief encounters with numerous memorable Jim Henson Company puppet creations, while David Bowie just about holds his own as an idiosyncratic, very un-goblin-like Goblin King.

The Lego Movie (2014)

Lego Movie

(Image credit: Lego)

Apologies to Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, but The Lego Movie has to be the greatest toy commercial ever made. 

Hot off the back of similarly anarchic animation Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller somehow build a coherent movie out of multi-colored plastic bricks, staying true to the brand’s core values about imagination and having fun, while managing to subvert them at the same time.

A pre-Guardians of the Galaxy Chris Pratt voices the ordinary Minifig who may (or may not) be the savior of Bricksburg, and the celebrity cameos keep coming all the way through to an oh-so-meta finale that turns everything you’ve just seen on its round, plastic head. Tegan and Sarah’s theme song, ‘Everything is Awesome’, may also be the most earwormy earworm you’ll ever hear.

The Lion King (1994)

Disney's The Lion King

(Image credit: Disney)

Disney puts an animalistic spin on Hamlet in one of the standout movies of the 1990s renaissance kickstarted by The Little Mermaid. 

Despite the catchy, upbeat Elton John songs on the soundtrack, the story is dark in the orphaned-kid tradition of Bambi and Dumbo, as lion prince Simba loses his dad (James Earl Jones reinventing his absent father motif from Star Wars) in a spectacular stampede. 

He then spends the rest of the film searching for redemption before returning to claim his rightful place as ruler of the jungle. The Jon Favreau-directed, photoreal remake, on the other hand, looked amazing, but struggled to capture the charm of the original.

Matilda (1996)


(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Considering the massive, ongoing success of his children’s books, it’s remarkable that the works of Roald Dahl haven’t inspired more bona fide classics. Adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and The BFG all have devoted fans, but its arguably Danny DeVito’s adaptation of Matilda that best captures the essence of the source material.

Mara Wilson is wonderful as the genius tot rebelling against the beastly grown-ups in her life (a Dahl staple), with DeVito himself, Rhea Perlman and Pam Ferris having the time of their lives as Matilda’s parents and evil headmistress “the Trunchbull”, respectively. An adaptation of the hit Matilda stage musical is heading to cinemas in 2022.

The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021)

Best Netflix movies uk - The Mitchells vs the Machines

(Image credit: Netflix)

Lord and Miller serve as producers on this innovative Netflix animation, a natural successor to their work on The Lego Movie and the magnificent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. 

Effectively a family-friendly update of The Terminator, it focuses on a lone family fighting back against a machine uprising led by an Alexa-style AI gone bad (voiced by a typically brilliant Olivia Colman). The story is packed with memorable moments – including a hilarious Furby-led kitchen appliance rebellion – while contemporary themes (notably the human connection vs screentime debate) are handled with plenty of heart.

But the thing that really elevates The Mitchells vs the Machines is the presentation. With clever, fourth-wall breaking asides to camera and visual tricks aplenty, this feels like a new evolution of CG animation.

Mary Poppins (1964)

A screenshot from the Mary Poppins movie

(Image credit: Buena Vista International Pictures)

Pop quiz: for which 1960s musical did Julie Andrews win her Oscar? While the natural instinct for many would be to plump for The Sound of Music, it was actually her turn as PL Travers’ magical nanny that most excited Academy voters. 

More than half a century later, it’s easy to see why. Andrews talks, sings and dances her way through this classic, and she even integrates seamlessly with animated characters. 

At well over two hours long, Mary Poppins may try the patience of younger viewers – and Dick Van Dyke’s unique interpretation of a cockney accent is memorable for all the wrong reasons – but no list of the best family movies would be complete without it.

Paddington/Paddington 2 (2014/2017)

A still from the movie paddington 2

(Image credit: Paddington / Amazon)

Paddington 2 isn’t just one of the best family movies of all time – in April 2021 it knocked perennial “greatest film ever made” Citizen Kane off the top of aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes’ rankings. It’s no computer error, either, because both of the Paddington movies have already sealed their status as feelgood classics.

Indeed, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite between them, thanks to their effortless mix of charm, humor and slapstick. The casting is perfect throughout, but special mentions should go to Ben Whishaw as Michael Bond’s marmalade-munching hero, and Hugh Grant as the sequel’s villain, disgruntled thespian Phoenix Buchanan. There’s a man who more than earns his patented Paddington hard stare.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

A screenshot from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Director Tim Burton had always struggled to find a fit for his offbeat sensibilities when he was an animator at Disney. He found the perfect vehicle, however, when he took Paul Reubens’ weird-but-popular man-child creation Pee-wee Herman to the big screen – in fact, it was such a successful match that it paved the way for Burton to direct Beetlejuice and Batman.

Nominally the story of the hero’s quest to find his beloved bike, it’s an unconventional and surreal road-movie that brings a succession of eccentric supporting players into Pee-wee’s orbit. Undoubtedly one of the oddest entries on our collection of the best family movies, but extremely charming nonetheless.

The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

When an old man played by Peter Falk (Columbo) tells his sick-but-sceptical grandson (The Wonder Years’ Fred Savage) that the book he’s about to read contains “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love [and] miracles]”, he’s only revealing half the story. 

The Princess Bride (adapted from his own novel by screenwriting legend William Goldman) is also a hilarious reconstruction of fairytale tropes, loaded with quotable dialogue – “You killed my father, prepare to die” – as well dastardly villains, and memorable cameos from Billy Crystal, Peter Cook and more. As far as we’re aware, it’s also the only fantasy movie to feature dangerous ROUSs (aka Rodents of Unusual Size).

School of Rock (2003)

A promo shot for the movie School of Rock

(Image credit: Paramount)

It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Jack Black taking the lead in School of Rock, a comedy that plays to his strengths as both a fast-talking comic actor, and the lead singer of Tenacious D. 

Indeed, the whole of indie legend Richard Linklater’s (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood) movie is built around Black’s energetic performance as a hard-rocking slacker who masquerades as a substitute teacher at an exclusive private school. But, crucially, it’s not just the Jack Black Show, as he’s joined by a perfectly cast ensemble of kids who are not only brilliant actors – they also play their instruments as they take on the grown-ups in a battle of the bands.

Shrek/Shrek 2 (2001/2004)


(Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

The movie that proved DreamWorks Animation could go toe-to-toe with Pixar, Shrek delighted in giving Disney fairytales a Princess Bride-style makeover.

A monster hit on its original release, the first movie turned a grumpy green ogre (Mike Myers) and his donkey sidekick (a scene-stealing Eddie Murphy) into superstars as they fought dragons who didn’t need fighting, and rescued princesses who didn’t need rescuing.

Follow-up Shrek 2 recaptured much of its predecessor’s magic, as Shrek faced a meet the parents scenario just as excruciating as the Ben Stiller/Robert De Niro movie. Unfortunately, the third and fourth movies went off-the-rails somewhat, but Shrek is still to DreamWorks what Woody and Buzz Lightyear are to Pixar.

Spirited Away (2001)

watch Spirited Away studio ghibli movies online

(Image credit: GKIDS )

Legendary director Hayao Miyazaki had been turning out animated classics for decades by the time Spirited Away came along. But this story of a girl forced to work in a magical bathhouse after her parents are transformed into pigs catapulted the filmmaker – and Studio Ghibli, a company he co-founded – into mainstream Western consciousness. It even won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

In an era when CG animation was becoming a major player at the box office, Spirited Away proved there’s still a place for lovingly crafted hand-drawn creations. But more than that, it displays layers of emotional depth and storytelling complexity that go way beyond most of its Hollywood counterparts.

Toy Story 1-4 (1995-2019)

Toy Story

(Image credit: Pixar)

Any list of the best family movies could easily include a dozen Pixar classics, such is the pioneering CG animation studio’s mastery of telling stories that resonate equally with kids and grown-ups. But it’s arguably their beloved debut movie, and its subsequent sequels, that best define the Pixar brand.

Spread over more than two decades, the quartet of Toy Story movies turn the residents of a kid’s toybox into characters you care deeply about, whether they’re getting lost during a house move, or coming to terms with their owner out-growing them – it takes a stern constitution to fight off the tears during the final acts of parts 3 and 4. 

Most integral to Toy Story’s success, however, is the ensemble cast, who banter like the stars of a classic sitcom. Other Pixar movies are available, but they rarely get better than this.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A screenshot from the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie

(Image credit: MGM)

Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto, famously weren’t in Kansas anymore after a twister blew them to the magical land of Oz. Suddenly their black-and-white world was turned into vibrant Technicolor, and cinema was never the same again.

Even at 82 years old, this famous take on L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel holds its own among the other entries on this list of the best family movies. It’s also loaded with iconography, dialogue and songs that have been wholeheartedly absorbed into the collective consciousness – mention ruby slippers, “There’s no place like home” or ‘Over the Rainbow’ and everybody knows what you’re talking about.

Richard Edwards

Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.