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The 18 best family movies of all time

It's sometimes tough to find something everyone can watch, so we've got the best family movies of all time, from Paddington to pirates and Muppets to mummies.

Best family movies, including Muppets from Space and Paddington 2

What are the best family movies of all time? The whole family is together for a film, there is plenty of popcorn and beverages to go around, and everyone has promised to stay off their phones. But, what to watch? There’s so much to choose from, and everyone wants something different.

Between the best Disney movies, the best fantasy movies, the best adventure movies, and whatever else, deciding what to watch can take as long as the actual watching. We’re spoilt for choice, and thousands of options on the best streaming services don’t make things easier. Luckily, we’ve narrowed the selection down to just the finest treats. Any of these picks are suitable for the whole family: so unwind, take a load off, and let the best family movies take care of things for the evening.

best family movies the princess diaries Anne Hathaway and other cast members

18. The Princess Diaries (2001)

Led by the never-more-charismatic Anne Hathaway, The Princess Diaries fulfilled the fantasies of a generation of kids who believed that, just maybe, they might one day find out they’re Genovian royalty too. Sadly, Genovia isn’t a real place. But, you should still bask in the very real warmth of this movie.

Steeped in early-2000s coziness, the way we appreciate The Princess Diaries has changed as we ourselves have aged. Now, on the journey toward elderlyness, we’re starting to feel much more sympathy for the perspective of Julie Andrews’ as Clarisse Renaldi, the grandmother of Mia. What we’re trying to say is this: The Princess Diaries really is a classic, and whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, there’s so much for you to enjoy within its familiar embrace.

Best family movies Matilda 1996 lifting cup scene

17. Matlida (1996)

Roald Dahl’s stories are quintessentially British, with an attitude and view of the world entirely shaped by his own experiences and adventures. In theory, an American adaption, through an American lens, shouldn’t really work. But Matlida, directed by Danny DeVito, is nothing short of astonishing. It has all the charm of the book and features absolutely pitch-perfect casting: the trifecta of Matlida, Miss Honey, and Miss Trunchbull is nothing short of brilliant, brought to life expertly.

While this movie will delight kids and keep them engaged as Matilda plays tricks on her deserving parents and slowly discovers her magic, there’s something here for adults too. It recaptures that feeling of what it’s actually like to be a child, surrounded by people four foot taller than you and effectively powerless, except in the limitless confines of the imagination. Watch this as a family, and you’ll all leave feeling nourished.

Best family movies - The Princess Bride

16. The Princess Bride (1987)

Rob Reiner had one of the all-time greatest directorial runs in the 1980s, delivering the likes of Stand By Me, This is Spinal Tap, and When Harry Met Sally during his astonishing purple patch. One of the best of the bunch is The Princess Bride, which smartly sends up the tropes of the fantasy romance to produce something slick and sarcastic.

It’s a sweeping tale of love and loss, punctuated by plenty of sword fights and powered along by some exceptional performances. Add to that screenwriter William Goldman’s delightfully quotable dialogue (“my name is Inigo Montoya…”, “inconceivable”, etc) and you have the recipe for a classic the whole family can enjoy.

Best family movies - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

15. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Gene Wilder simply was Willy Wonka. Though the likes of Johnny Depp and, most recently, Timothée Chalamet, have had a go at playing Roald Dahl’s eccentric literary chocolatier, no one has nailed his unique combination of sinister and sweet in the way that Wilder did. There’s something very strange about this movie, which feels both ancient and modern, and that has made it utterly timeless.

Wilder is just the tip of the iceberg, though, in a colorful and chaotic fantasy tale of magic, mayhem, and (quite possibly) murder. We never see those missing kids again. On top of all that, you have some bulletproof songs. ‘Pure Imagination’ makes us want to smile and cry at the same time, even to this day.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

14. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppets are a solid bet no matter the occasion, but if you’re looking for something to settle down for during the holidays, look no further than one of the best Christmas movies: The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s delightful, tender, and warm in such a special way.

From the catchy songs to Michael Caine’s committed performance, come Christmas it’s one that gets put on every Christmas Eve in this writer’s household.

Ben Whishaw will return to voice the title character in Paddington 3

13. Paddington 2 (2017)

Movies don’t come much sweeter than Paddington 2. Director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby build on the charming groundwork of the first Paddington movie with this comedic caper with a massive heart. Paddington is framed for theft by devilish actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant).

We’re still crying after the most emotional hug in cinema history at the end of the film, but this is a perfect family adventure. And at the end, you get a prison song-and-dance number from Grant. What more could anyone want?

The best family movies: Jack Black in School of Rock

12. School of Rock (2003)

Rocking out is good for you. We’re not doctors, but you can take our word for it. Jack Black is rarely more in his element than in Richard Linklater’s ode to cool substitute teachers and the art of the riff. Dewey (Black) becomes a sub at a preppy middle school where, over the course of months, he gradually teaches the students to let loose and find their voice via heavy metal and distortion.

Watching the kids come out of their shells is enough encouragement for anyone to do the same, all under the tutelage of elder rocker Black. Some of the finest licks ever conceived are peppered amid plenty of quotable dialogue. Save room after to stick on some tunes before bed.

The best family movies: Mario and Luigi in Super Mario Bros

11. Super Mario Bros. (1993)

This thing is a mess, but gosh, what a fun mess. John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins are perfectly cast as Nintendo’s iconic plumbing duo, who are magically transported to the Mushroom Kingdom and must battle Dennis Hopper’s King Koopa.

Beyond the color-coded overalls, almost none of it looks anything like the platform games. But what it does resemble is some kiddy-park version of Blade Runner, full of new-fangled technology and lizard men that are seven feet tall. Princess Peach’s father is a literal fungus, and Yoshi’s a tiny raptor. It’s far from being among the best movies ever made, but it’ll give everyone a healthy giggle if you let it.

The best family movies: Kermit the Frog and the cast of The Muppet Movie

10. The Muppet Movie (1979)

If you’re going to give the Muppets an origin, make it strange and irreverent, and open with Kermit singing ‘Rainbow Connection’. That’s what The Muppet Movie did. Produced while The Muppet Show was still being made, it’s a laugh-filled time capsule.

Kermit finds and recruits each member of the troupe on a road trip to Hollywood. Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, all the usual suspects are rounded up, each with their own particular gag or theme. Absolutely delightful.

The best family movies: Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Perhaps the great millennial musical, you’d be hard pushed to find a goth or emo from the 2000s who can’t still sing along to every word. Henry Selick’s wondrous claymation leaves you agape at the level of detail when you aren’t grooving.

Jack Skellington, one of the primo organizers of Halloweentown, accidentally lures a sentient bag of bugs Oogie Boogie to Christmastown, threatening the festive period all around the world. Luckily, Jack has allies in Sally, a lady Frankenstein, and old Saint Nick himself. The midpoint between Halloween and Christmas works all year round for some ghoulish entertainment in one of the best musicals ever.

The best family movies: Brendan Fraser in The Mummy

8. The Mummy (1999)

Brendan Fraser deserves far more love and adulation than he gets, and if you’re wondering why, put this on and see for yourself. He and Rachel Weisz tackle one of the Universal Monsters in epic fashion. Equipped with several guns, Fraser’s Rick O’Connell is the kind of fearless hero who yells into a mummy’s face when out of options.

Director Stephen Sommers takes a mighty good swing at Indiana Jones, putting together a darkly charming adventure that stands on its own merits. A fascination with scarabs gives it some squelch, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score hits all the right notes. Under-appreciated.

The best family movies: The castle in Howl's Moving Castle

7. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Director Hayao Miyazaki has created many of the best kids movies suitable for this list, but we’ve gone for one with plenty of action, and some more mature themes. The titular wizard travels the land in his ramshackle homestead with a small crew. He soon picks up Sophie, who’s been cursed to become an old lady. While helping her, they fall in love, all amid a growing war in the background.

Light comedy keeps the pace spry between fiery battle sequences and introspective character drama. In the end, it would’ve all been much simpler if everyone had just learned to talk. A good lesson at any age, and well delivered in one of the best anime movies for whoever cares to heed it.

The best family movies: The wolf in Wolfwalkers

6. Wolfwalkers (2020)

The last part of Cartoon Saloon’s Irish mythology trilogy, Wolfwalkers closes the series on a beautiful high. Young wolf hunter Robyn becomes friendly with Mebh, who comes from a tribe that can transform into wolves. Despite their differences, they grow close, forcing Robyn to eventually choose where her loyalties lie.

Gorgeous as ever from the Irish studio responsible for some of the best animated movies in recent years, Wolfwalkers carries on the spirit of The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea by exploring an ancient Ireland we rarely see elsewhere. The land is treated with mystique and grandeur, and you’ll come away feeling like you know the country, and its cultural heritage, a little better than you did before.

The best family movies: Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park

5. Jurassic Park (1993)

Dinosaurs and Jeff Goldblum — c’mon. Steven Spielberg’s movie about a dream theme park that becomes the total opposite is pure popcorn fare that hasn’t lost one iota of its charm or terror. The Tyrannosaurus Rex is an eyesore, the velociraptor the stuff of nightmares, and when the theme hits on the brachiosaurus? Masterful.

The Jurassic Park cast is led by Laura Dern and Sam Neill, who seem appropriately bewildered by most of what’s happening. Few blockbusters ever even get close to the prehistoric thrills here. Show it to young ones for the first time to see the looks in their eyes, then try and explain why the computers look and sound the way they do. This one’s PG-13, so one to share with older kids.

The best family movies: Kermit the Frog in Muppets from Space

4. Muppets From Space (1999)

None of the Muppets have ever needed origin stories, but this exploration of Gonzo’s more than justifies itself. Though his muppet family has always cared for him, Gonzo becomes very aware he seems to be the only one of his kind, leading him to try and uncover his roots.

Talking fish show up, invisibility spray is used, and at one point there’s a conversation with a sandwich. All in good time with Kermit and co, who provide their usual wholesome warmth. Plus, it starts with ‘Brick House’ by The Commodores, and that’s never a bad call.

The best family movies: Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Instead of making one Spidey film, why not make five Spider-Man movies at once, each with its own distinct aesthetic and tone? On paper, Into the Spider-Verse sounds fun: a bunch of Spider-People from across the Marvel multiverse come together to stop baddies. But with several different art styles, from anime to black-and-white, to CGI, all seamlessly intertwined, it’s a revelation.

Miles Morales leads this one, with a middle-aged Peter Parker. Then there’s Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir, and other characters we won’t spoil. In an era where the Marvel Cinematic Universe delivers plenty of Spidey, writer Phil Lord and co-directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman treat him the webhead like a ubiquity and go from there. Watch, then dig into the history behind each version.

We loved the sequel too, so check out our Across the Spider-Verse review.

The best family movies: Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz

2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

At over 80 years old, Victor Fleming’s blockbuster musical is still as spellbinding as ever. Though younger viewers may get restless during early scenes in black-and-white, the transition into technicolor is sure to calm any itchy feet.

Judy Garland’s Wendy and her trusty pet dog Toto are ideal audience surrogates, gradually accompanied by the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow. Occasional glimpses of one of the best movie villains, the Wicked Witch of the West, keep an ominous mood through the musical numbers, and once we reach the Emerald City, the grandeur comes at the cost of knowing the adventure is at an end.

The best family movies: Robin Williams in Hook

1. Hook (1991)

Has there ever been a more roundly affable actor than Robin Williams? The powerhouse comedic performer is absolutely magnetic to everyone, regardless of age. Playing an older Peter Pan in Spielberg’s return to Never, Never Land, Williams’s ability to have you switch from giggling to sobbing at a moment’s notice is out in full force.

When Dustin Hoffman‘s Captain Hook kidnaps his children, an elderly Wendy reminds corporate lawyer Peter Branning that he used to be Peter Pan, and if he wants to save them, he has to remember the magic. Cue an extended, Spielbergian reminder of the importance of staying young at heart.

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For more top-notch family entertainment, check out our Peter Sohn interview about Pixar‘s comedy Elemental and find out why Elemental never stood a chance at the box office. We’ve also revealed which Disney movie Jennifer Lawrence was devastated not to appear in.

Meanwhile, we have you covered on the new movies heading your way in the near future, including the Wonka release date, the Paddington 3 release date, and the Inside Out 2 release date.