For a lot of families, gathering around the TV for family movie night is a time-honored tradition. But settling on the film choice can be a challenge. You want a movie that everyone can enjoy, with a PG plot but enough storyline to keep parents from falling asleep. Fortunately, kid-friendly flicks are not in short supply and this list has something for everyone.
There are the classics you’ll remember from your youth —
Anne of Green Gables or Free Willy anyone? — along with new additions. And, thanks to Disney, some of the most beloved animated movies have been transformed into live features. That means now you can watch real actors ride a magic carpet in Aladdin or see a fuzzy baby Simba become the Lion King.
But perhaps the best news (at least for parents) is that all of the following are non-animated features, which means you can spare yourself another hour of cartoon chaos and its accompanying obnoxious soundtrack. That’s right, swap out the sound effects for real dialogue and you have yourself a cinematic good time.
1 “The Lion King” (2019)
We all swooned when the original Lion King came out in 1994. Who didn’t rock that soundtrack while cruising in the family minivan? It stands to reason, then, that most families can get on board with a live action version of the film. Released in 2019, this CGI masterpiece marries a great plot with movie magic.
Click here to watch. 2 “We Can Be Heroes”
What happens when all the superheroes in the world are taken by aliens? Their super kid children have to fight back, of course. In “We Can Be Heroes,” a team of plucky kids with superpowers like slow motion movements and shark strength prove that they're just as powerful as their super parents.
Click here to watch. 3 “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made”
What happens when an 11-year-old detective and his best friend, an imaginary 1,500-pound polar bear, discover his Segway has been stolen? They drop all their other cases, of course, and focus on finding the culprit. This quirky story that takes place in Portland, Oregon is a charming tale anyone with a vivid imagination can appreciate.
Click here to watch. 4 "Air Bud"
A basketball-playing dog with a heart of gold. Yes, that is in fact the premise of this 1997 American-Canadian sports classic. I rolled my eyes too when my son independently selected this recently, but when I saw the joy on his face as Buddy the pup leads the team onto an implausible championship victory.
Click here to watch. 5 "Free Willy"
Remember 1993? Whitney Houston ruled the airwaves with torch song "I Will Always Love You," and an orca named Willy wormed his way into our hearts. Revisit how a down on his luck kid became best friends with a whale in this '90s classic.
Click here to watch. 6 "Space Jam"
Want to really wow your kids? Show them a movie that combines real-life actors and cartoons.
Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan at peak Bulls fame, will mesmerize any youngster with hoop dreams. There's even a cameo by Bill Murray for good measure. Click here to watch. 7 "Babe"
Charlotte's Web has a cast of farm animals been so universally adored. Babe, for those who missed its 1995 release, is a charming tale about a pig that wants to be a sheepdog. Note: As adorable as the characters are, be aware that the opening scene has a shockingly disturbing look at factory farming perhaps not appropriate for young viewers. Click here to watch. 8 "Because of Winn Dixie"
Based on two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's book of the same name,
Because of Winn Dixie isn't just elementary school required reading, it's a lovely little film. When in doubt, go for a pet movie. Click here to watch. 9 "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
One of beloved British author Roald Dahl's most well-known books, the film version of
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971 and introduced kids the world over to the greatness that was Gene Wilder (RIP). Watch as your kid's eyes get wide at the idea of a golden ticket nestled inside a chocolate bar. Click here to watch. 10 "Harry Potter"
Parenting pro tip: Start reading your child Harry Potter as soon as they can sit still for a chapter book. Then, as they finish each, let them watch the movie series. I just finished reading my 4-year-old
Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone and getting to see the film version was like the ultimate ending to a super satisfying book. Click here to watch. 11 "Mighty Ducks"
I've never played ice hockey in my life but I watched
Mighty Ducks (1994) at least once a week in middle school. Why? The hilarious one-liners? The sassy characters. The will to win? A little bit of all three I think. Come for a young Emilio Estevez, stay for the moment when the team quacks in unison. Click here to watch. 12 "Sandlot"
Nothing holds up like
The Sandlot. This hilarious look at a pack of boys addicted to baseball is like a roadmap to the mid-90s kid zeitgeist. My sister and I still quote lines from this movie to each other 27 years after its release. Click here to watch. 13 "Mary Poppins Returns"
Did you know Emily Blunt can sing? Sure can. And she makes a darling Mary Poppins in the Disney reboot “Mary Poppins Returns.” Treat your kids to a new take on the 1964 favorite — complete with amazing chimney sweep dance number — with this family film.
Click here to watch. 14 “Peter Rabbit”
Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, and, of course, Peter Rabbit, take on all new hijinks the likes of which Beatrix Potter could have never imagined in this adaptation of the children’s classic. But the age-old battle to see who can rule Mr. McGregor’s garden — the bunnies or McGregor — still gets its due in this film starring Rose Byrne, James Cordnen, and Domhnall Gleeson.
Click here to watch. 15 "Hook"
Hook came out in 1991 it didn't receive glowing reviews. The New York Times wrote, "How did such a dream project on paper turn out so wrong." Which just goes to show that adults shouldn't review children's movies because ask any kid of the '90s and they'll tell you it's a great movie. Click here to watch. 16 "The Parent Trap"
Not only is 1998's
The Parent Trap, starring a young Lindsay Lohan, super cute. It has a great soundtrack to boot . And if your kids are super into, consider revisiting Hayley Mills 1961 original. Click here to watch. 17 "Freaky Friday"
Another young Lindsay Lohan classic, in this Disney film Lohan and her mother Jamie Lee Curtis (who don't get along) wake up to find they've switched bodies. Will walking around each other's shoes open their minds about each other? Let your kids decide.
Click here to watch. 18 "Annie"
Thanks to my drama teacher mother, I grew up on a steady diet of musical comedies. Naturally
Annie was one of them. Based on the hit broadway musical, the 1982 film follows the plucky orphan Annie as she navigates Ms. Hannigan's orphanage before being adopted by Daddy Warbucks. Fair warning, viewing Annie can induce loud, large family sing-a-longs. Click here to watch. 19 "E.T."
Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning movie about a little alien that shows up in a boy named Elliot's backyard is as heartwarming as it is timeless. Even the special effects have aged well, no easy feat in today's CGI-laden Marvel Universe. Plus, did we mention Drew Barrymore is at peak cuteness in this 1983 movie? There's that too.
Click here to watch. 20 "Stuart Little"
Stuart Little is an incredible mouse. How incredible? Find out when the Little family — of humans! — adopts Stuart and he has to acclimate to a new home with a new big brother and a less-than-friendly cat named Snowball.
Click here to watch. 21 "Princess Diaries"
The ultimate Cinderella story, Anne Hathaway plays an ugly duckling who is thrown entirely for a loop when she's told she's actually a princess! Enter Julie Andrews as her grandmother Queen Clarisse Renaldi and you have a modern day fairytale.
Click here to watch. 22 "Night at the Museum"
On paper it's a simple concept: What if at night everything in a museum came to life. But with actors like Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and Ben Stiller, it's a laugh riot that comes complete with an opportunity for you to provide your kid with a little history lesson. (Bone up on your Teddy Roosevelt and Attila the Hun now.)
Click here to watch. 23 "Spy Kids" Spy Kids is like Inspector Gadget meets James Bond but with tweens. When the spy parents of two kids become kidnapped by a mastermind, it's up to them to save them. Plenty of shenanigans ensue. Click here to watch. 24 "Matilda"
Another Roald Dahl big screen hit,
Matilda is all about a young girl with supernatural powers. When she's picked on by her own parents and her school's evil headmistress, Ms. Trunchbull, she realizes she can use telekinesis to defend herself and her friends. Click here to watch. 25 "Anne of Green Gables" Anne of Green Gables has been earning fans since it was first released as a book by Lucy Maud Montgomery in 1908. All about a plucky ginger 11-year-old orphan who is sent to live with a couple on Prince Edward Island in Canada, the made for TV drama that released in 1985 took the story's loyal following to new heights. The 19th century novel and its accompanying film series is still beloved today. Click here to watch. 26 "The Secret Garden"
The best children's movies are often based on the best children's books and
The Secret Garden is no different. There's a new version starring Colin Firth slated to come out this year, but until then you can watch the 1993 adaptation (starring Maggie Smith) which depicts a lonely orphan girl who finds friendship in a garden. Click here to watch. 27 "The Princess Bride" The Princess Bride is a classic fairytale as told to a modern-day (OK, make that 1980s) boy home sick from school. When he begrudgingly lets his grandfather read him a story, he discovers there's magic and mystery in the book. Click here to watch. 28 "Charlotte's Web"
You know a book is really good when it gets multiple film adaptations. That's the case with
Charlotte's Web, the story of a little pig who is saved from slaughter by a savvy spider. In 2006, we got the live action version that keeps the sweetness of the original cartoon while spinning a fresh interpretation for new viewers. Click here to watch. 29 “Aladdin” (2019) A “Whole New World,” the hit tune from Disney’s 1992 blockbuster Aladdin, takes on a whole new look in this live action adaptation. But the plot still has the same heart, plus a fun twist with Will Smith taking over the beloved Genie role originally played by the late Robin Williams. Click here to watch. 30 “The Kid Who Would Be King”
Remember “The Sword in the Stone”? Well, the quest for Excalibur is back and this time a troop of modern day kids, who become knights, must join Merlin to save mankind from enchantress Morgana.
Click here to watch. 31 “Dora And The Lost City Of Gold”
Your kids loved the Nick Jr. TV show Dora the Explorer, well now the adventuress is a real live kid about to go on her most dangerous quest ever: high school. Naturally, her monkey Boots is along for the ride in this family-friendly comedy.
Click here to watch. 32 “Artemis Fowl”
Based on the wildly popular 2001 novel, Artemis Fowl is the film version that follows a 12-year-old genius as he battles fairies who may have kidnapped his father. SciFi fun at its best, this is for the older kids — might be a bit too scary for little eyes.
Click here to watch. 33 “The Witches” (2020)
Never underestimate children’s love of creepiness. Author Roald Dahl made a whole career out of it. And his creepiest kid lit is
The Witches. Here the book gets its second adaptation starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Chris Rock as a hilarious narrator and follows one young boy as he uncovers the world’s witch's plot to exterminate all children. Click here to watch.
This article was originally published on
April 27, 2020