Movies that are developed specifically for a younger demographic, without keeping the adult purchasing the ticket or pressing PLAY on the remote in mind, lack the appeal to satisfy audiences of all ages. However, when you replace the word “kids” in “kids movies” with, say, “Pixar” or “Spielberg-produced” or “Studio Ghibli,” that is usually enough to get the parents’ eyes to light up a little.
The best kids movies could be more accurately described as family movies – films with stories and themes that can bring out an adult's inner child, but also keep their more mature side satisfied, ensuring a fun time for everyone. The following is a list of the best kids movies (or best family movies) that parents will be proud to share with their children. Enjoy!
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
Until its stunning sequel (the second part of a to-be-completed trilogy) was released in 2023, our own ranked list of the best Spider-Man movies was topped by this instant classic in which underrated Marvel character Miles Morales (Shamiek Moore) teams up with other webslingers from different areas of the Multiverse. With its stunningly unique aesthetic comprising a diverse variety of animation styles and rich coming-of-age themes, it is no wonder why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
On this list, you will find a few of the many beloved movies by Pixar – one of the most creative, most clever, and most important of which would have to be WALL-E, which is an adorable love story between the titular robot left to clean up what is left of a deserted Earth and a newer model searching the planet for a sign of life. However, what makes Andrew Stanton’s Oscar winner one of the best movies of the 2000s, regardless of being animated, is its frighteningly plausible dystopian message that audiences young and old can (and should) learn from.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Before becoming one of Pixar’s most esteemed talents with a film we will get to later, writer and director Brad Bird made his feature-length debut with the Warner Bros. release, The Iron Giant, which proved to be a box office flop, unfortunately. However, this story of a 10-year-old B-movie fan who befriends a gargantuan alien robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) in the 1950s is one of Rotten Tomatoes’ highest rated sci-fi movies for being a fun fantasy adventure with an unflinchingly earnest portrayal of Cold War-era fears.
Home Alone (1990)
Being left to run the household by your own terms (by accident, in this case) is a childhood fantasy so common that Home Alone’s holiday setting is not entirely necessary, if not a great way to make it the traditional classic it has become. Of course, you do not need to be a kid to chuckle at the hijinks that ensue when Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) shows a pair of petty thieves (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern) who’s boss with a series of painful booby traps in writer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus’ slapstick favorite.
The LEGO Movie (2014)
Having existed for nearly a century, LEGO products do not just appeal to the interests of modern-day children, but also to the nostalgic memories of adults who grew up putting blocks together. Dynamic filmmaking duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had that in mind when crafting The LEGO Movie – a story that stresses the importance of preserving one’s imagination and creativity beyond adolescence that was uniquely animated with the titular toys.
The Paddington Movies (2014, 2017)
In the late 1950s, author Michael Bond introduced the world to an adorable, talking, marmalade-loving, Peruvian bear named Paddington (after the London train station) who became the treasured star of a long-running series of children’s books. Whimsically talented writer and director Paul King first brought the animal (as voiced by Ben Whishaw) to the big screen in a live-action, self-titled movie and brought him back in an even more acclaimed sequel that has broadened the character’s appeal and united audiences of all ages with his bright, infectious personality.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)
Roald Dahl had a surreal imagination unlike any other, which made adapting his vision for live-action cinema seemingly impossible before the release of one of the best movies of the 1970s, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which Dahl himself handled the screenplay for. Despite one infamously creepy scene, director Mel Stuart’s adaptation of Dahl’s novel about an eccentric candy maker (Gene Wilder) inviting five lucky children to tour his famed factory was an everlastingly sweet success.
Spirited Away (2001)
Anime has practically become a genre all its own that has dazzled audiences all over the world, but is still considered something of a niche topic in the entertainment industry. Any curious viewers who want to give the Japanese animation style a shot might want to start with the Studio Ghibli classic, Spirited Away – the story of a girl who gets lost in a dangerous, magical world – which earned Hayoa Miyazaki a Best Animated Feature Oscar and is, arguably, the best anime movie for both kids and adults so far.
The Little Mermaid (2023)
For years, Disney has been releasing live-action remakes of its most iconic animated films, the most recent of which is director Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid. Talented singer and actor Halle Bailey gives a wonderful performance as Ariel – who trades her voice for a chance to walk on land and find love with a prince (Jonah Hauer-King) – that makes this reimagining of the Oscar-winning 1989 fantasy more than just a worthy reboot.
The Parent Trap (1961, 1998)
In 1961, child star Hayley Mills played two young strangers who discover they are twin sisters and conspire to reunite their divorced parents by switching lives in writer and director David Swift’s The Parent Trap. Nearly forty years later, Erich Kästner’s novel was adapted once more by writer and director Nancy Meyers in Lindsay Lohan’s feature-film debut, which is just as charming and funny as the original, if not more.
Parents looking for a good introductory horror movie for children cannot go wrong with, arguably, the best movie from stop-motion studio, Laika, Coraline – in which Dakota Fanning voices the title role of a girl who stumbles upon a bizarre alternate reality. Be warned, however, that this Neil Gaiman adaptation from The Nightmare Before Christmas director, Henry Selick, is creepy enough to spook even the eldest thrillseekers.
Akeelah And The Bee (2006)
Years before she led modern adult hits like Nope, Keke Palmer made her theatrically released feature-film debut in the title role of a drama that is still considered one of her best movies to date. Also starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, writer and director Atchison’s Akeelah and the Bee is the inspiring tale of a bright girl from L.A. gaining the courage to show her spelling talents to the world.
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
Most medieval fantasy stories involve human beings at war with winged, fire-breathing creatures, which is how the story of How to Train Your Dragon begins. However, this heartwarming, action-packed DreamWorks Animation favorite flips the script when Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup makes the life-changing discovery that the creatures his people have made enemies with are not as dangerous as they thought when he befriends Toothless.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
There are many great anime movies that fantasy lovers of all ages will likely enjoy, such as another Studio Ghibli classic based on Daiana Win Jônzu’s stellar novel, Howl’s Moving Castle. This story, following a young woman trapped in an elderly body who enlists the help of a wizard living in a tower with legs, features a star-studded English-language voice cast that includes Christian Bale and Jean Simmons.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
For years, terrifying alien invasion movies had society cowering at the thought of the otherworldly until director Steven Spielberg opted to tell a much different story with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Nominated for nine Academy Awards and the winner of four, it is impossible not to get swept up in this timeless classic about a boy (Henry Thomas) and an accidentally abandoned alien for John William’s rousing score, its themes of loneliness and friendship, and the heartbreaking final line.
The Goonies (1985)
A film that launched the careers of many notable modern A-listers – including Josh Brolin and Sean Astin – and kept audiences doing the Truffle Shuffle for decades is The Goonies. From director Richard Donner and executive producer Steven Spielberg, this is the kind of exciting classic adventure involving the sort of thrills adults are familiar with – police chases, booby traps, etc – but from the point of view of youngsters searching for a pirate’s treasure buried somewhere beneath their hometown.
The Sandlot (1993)
There may not be a film that captures the joys of summer, the thrill of the game, and the perils of childhood more authentically than The Sandlot, in which a shy kid and his new friends get themselves into a big pickle involving a fabled neighborhood legend and prized baseball signed by Babe Ruth in the 1960s. This is the kind of movie that a parent would willingly see with their kids, who would then pass it on to their own children, and so on (for-ev-er), which is just one reason it is one of the best baseball movies ever made.
The Toy Story Movies (1995-2019)
One of the great things about Pixar’s Toy Story movies – which have a fifth installment on the way – is that you can make an argument for why each movie is the best, even though the original makes a good case as the first feature-length computer animated film. Set in an unseen world when child’s playthings come to life, the exciting adventures of Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, and more inspire children to be more imaginative during playtime and bring adults back to when their best friend was an inanimate object… or so they thought.
The first movie to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar was the story of an ogre (Mike Myers) teaming up with a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) to rescue a princess (Cameron Diaz) by request of the petty Lord Farquad (John Lithgow). Of course, that is only the set up for DreamWorks’ cleverly funny adaptation of William Stieg’s children’s book, Shrek, which changed the way audiences perceived animated films,bedtime stories, and the band Smash Mouth forever.
The Incredibles (2004)
If writer and director Brad Bird’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, The Incredibles, was not a Pixar movie and Disney went the live-action route, its grim, high-stakes violence and adult themes might have earned it a PG-13 rating. However, as a funny, animated tale of a family forced to use their legally prohibited superpowers against a new enemy, it is an unforgettable blast for all ages and one of the best superhero movies of all time.
Inspired by a legendary Chinese folktale, Mulan is unlike most other traditional Disney princesses, being one of the first to do away with typical gender roles and the damsel in distress trope by taking on the task to get down to business and help defeat the Huns by disguising herself as a male soldier. She is one of the greatest role models Disney has ever produced and her eponymous film – which was given the live-action treatment in 2020 – remains one of the company’s most exciting animated features to date with its intense battle sequences
Edward Rice Burroughs first introduced his iconic, ape-man hero in 1914, but for many modern-day audiences, the definitive iteration of Tarzan came decades later in this animated film. Featuring Tony Goldwyn as the voice of the title role and Oscar-winning original music by Phil Collins, Tarzan is yet another great achievement by Disney in reimaging a legendary hero into an unforgettable adventure.
Stuart Little (1999)
Michael J. Fox provided the voice of an impressively animated CGI mouse invited into the lives of a well-to-do New York family (Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki), which turns out to be a challenging transition for all, especially with the Littles’ mischievous cat, Snowbell (Nathan Lane), stirring the pot. Based on the even stranger and darker 1945 novel by E.B. White and written for screen in part by M. Night Shyamalan, Stuart Little is a family movie that makes you proud of your family, no matter how you define yours.
Spy Kids (2001)
While people of all ages love the James Bond movies, the world of 007 is not quite how children really envision a life of espionage, which would be much wackier. That is why Robert Rodriguez’s riotously fun, visually impressive Spy Kids (one of the best family movies on Paramount+) is the ultimate childhood spy fantasy – with a dream-like plot complete with impossibly complex gadgets, gravity-defying martial arts, and an incomprehensibly bizarre villain – that even adults can appreciate in the way it shows how raising a family can feel as risky as saving the world.
Monster House (2006)
One of the best haunted house movies in recent memory is Monster House for how it incorporates an unusual, but no less creepy, twist by making a sentient house the one that haunts unwitting surrounding suburbanites. Luckily, as an animated movie told entirely from a child’s perspective, this "horror" flick from director Gil Kenan, co-writer Dan Harmon, and executive producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg is a fun Halloween tradition the whole family can enjoy.
Some people do not always find peace with their families and seek an escape, just like aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who finds what he was looking for (and makes a life-changing discovery) during a magical visit to the afterlife on Dia de los Muertos in Coco. Adrian Molina’s directorial debut is an infectious, heartfelt animated musical adventure from Pixar that inspires you to remember what family means to you and so much fun as you and your family will have with it, I would also recommend keeping tissues handy.
Planning a family movie night? You certainly cannot go wrong by streaming any of the beloved kids movies (that are not just for kids) above!