A dad not too far in time (right now), in a location not too distant in space (your living room), had to come up with a plan to keep his kids occupied. There are no magical beings here to save the day, but fear not, for we have the next best thing:
the definitive list of Netflix’s finest family films. We’ve combed the service for the wittiest, astute, and sentimental nuggets that will transport you back to your childhood, and we think you’ll appreciate them just as much as your kids did.
Think of movies like Jumanji, Paddington, Matilda, and Enola Holmes as your new go-to’s for when you’re in charge of selecting a movie for family movie night.
- Over the Moon
The long-awaited movie debut of Disney icon Glen Keane (character animator for films like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid) was this sugary planetary adventure about a teenage scientist genius who travels to the moon in search of the Chinese deity, Change. Over the Moon is a touching musical fantasy about the moon that reflects Chinese culture and the pain of loss. netflix.com
2. The Sea Beast
This seafaring adventure, in which a young girl stows away aboard a ship full of monster hunters, features amazing effects and good old-fashioned adventure reminiscent of Dreamworks’ glory days.
Chris Williams, who also directed Moana and Big Hero 6, is responsible for this visual spectacle, so you know it’s good. If that’s not enough to convince you, though, Karl Urban stars as a renegade sea serpent hunter.
The director’s unabashed love letter to the golden age of cinema is irrefutable evidence that Martin Scorsese is above the gangster movie conversation. Hugo, in which Asa Butterfield stars as a little child who seeks refuge in a clock tower to watch movies and experience their enchantment, is unlike anything else the director has ever attempted and is also one of his most intimate works.
It’s a beautiful ode to Georges Méliès, the man who created the first science fiction film, A Trip to the Moon, and to the magical worlds of children’s imaginations.
You can’t go wrong with Paddington, a franchise so well-liked that its sequel momentarily topped Rotten Tomatoes’ all-time list as the most lauded picture of all time.
Paddington is a nearly perfect film that uses a Wes Anderson-esque color palette to chronicle the adventures of its lovable bear protagonist from the depths of Peru to the streets of London, where he wins the hearts of an unusual family. The joke is on you. Expect to feel emotional. netflix.com
5. Spy Kids
Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Alita: Battle Angel) wanted to produce a family film since he felt there weren’t many out there like the ones he watched as a kid. The end product is a kid-friendly spy adventure that is both wacky and brightly colored.
The film’s bizarre creatures, such as the notorious thumb henchman, were inspired by Rodriguez’s early sketches, giving Spy Kids a fresh, childlike vibe. netflix.com
6. The Mitchells vs. The Machines
A father with early-onset empty-nest syndrome accompanies his family to the college where his daughter is enrolled in film school… …and heads straight into the robot apocalypse. The Mitchells vs. The Machines has a crazy premise, yet it’s handled with finesse thanks to the film’s equilibrium of extreme action scenes, endearing comedy, and themes of family development.
The film also has a stunning visual style, but that’s to be anticipated given its creators’ track record with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
7. How to Train Your Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon, based on the book by Cressida Cowell, is a lovely story about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III that would appeal to younger children especially. Hiccup is determined to show his worth as he is thrown into dragon-fighting school.
His preconceived notions of dragons are shattered, however, when he meets a friendly fire-breathing named Toothless, and he sets out on a voyage that will alter the course of his people’s history. netflix.com
This animated classic for youngsters from the early 2000s features voice works from Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz. As a result of Lord Farquaad’s exile, a posse of renegade fairytale characters have taken up residence in Shrek’s swamp (John Lithgow).
Farquaad offers Shrek his swamp back in exchange for saving Princess Fiona and bringing her back to be his wife. There is one kink in the works, though, and it involves Fiona’s dark and buried secret. netflix.com
Pachamama is a narrative set in the Andes Mountains about a little kid named Tepulpai who longs to become a Shaman. However, when an Incan tax collector comes to his town and steals the Huaca, a golden sculpture representing the goddess Pachamama, he sets out on a quest to get it back, and of course, he brings his best friend with him.
If you’re in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, throw on Pachamama, a charming animated film that stands out for its portrayal of indigenous South American culture and its message of protecting the environment and cultural heritage. netflix.com
10. The Sleepover
It would appear that the Finch family is a typical American one: two working parents, two young children, and a dog. When the kids host a sleepover and their parents disappear, they learn there’s more to their parents than they ever imagined.
It turns out that mom is a convicted felon who has been kidnapped and coerced into one last heist. Will they be able to coordinate their efforts in the time to save their parents from their captors? Obviously, they can. The Sleepover is a child-friendly version of Spy, full of silly action and gags about farts. amusement suitable for the whole family.
Introduce your children to David Bowie by showing them Labyrinth, in which he plays the role of a goblin king with a number of Jim Henson puppets. Why, the “goblin king,” you inquire? Yes, this is the man, Sarah, at age 16, must locate in order to save her younger sibling from a fantastic labyrinth and a few musical pieces. We’re about to break out into the “Magic Dance.” netflix.com
12. THE WILLOUGHBYS
The four Willoughby children are raised by awful people that make you question your sanity. So they take matters into their own hands and scheme to send Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby on vacation so that they can have some alone time at home.
Upon the arrival of a nanny and the subsequent pursuit by “orphan services,” the zany quartet and their new all-singing, all-dancing nanny are forced to flee, but not before stopping by a candy factory and learning what it means to truly be a family.
Featuring hilarious performances by Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, and Ricky Gervais (in the role of a deadpan cat), this hidden gem is guaranteed to entertain the entire family. netflix.com
13. MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO
My Neighbor Totoro, a Studio Ghibli staple, is the story of two young girls who must fend for themselves while their parents are away. They are anything from bored, as they make friends with the local spirits and explore the region around their new home that is closer to the hospital.
Your children will most likely ask for a stuffed Totoro after seeing this, and you may even feel tempted to buy one for yourself out of pure cuteness. netflix.com
14. FLUSHED AWAY
In the film Flushed Away, Hugh Jackman plays the role of a rat with an appreciation for the finer things in life. Obviously, he is not aspirational in the kitchen like Ratatouille. Roddy, the pet rat of affluent Kensington residents, has no aspirations in life.
He has everything he needs and more. When his owners leave for vacation, tragedy strikes when a sewer rat chooses to take Roddy’s place by flushing him down the toilet. Our spoiled mouse has found himself in the gutters and may use some quick street smarts.
This Bafta-nominated family film from Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman Animations and DreamWorks features an all-star cast including the voices of Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen. netflix.com
15. ENOLA HOLMES
The teenage sister of everyone’s favorite detective, Sherlock, Enola Holmes is the protagonist of a series of young adult novels with the same name.
She’s brave, savvy, and has fought her fair share of evil people thanks to Millie Bobby Brown’s performance as her in the Netflix adaptation of Stranger Things. It’s for the best that… Upon learning that her mother has vanished, Enola takes it upon herself to travel to London, where criminals are plentiful, in order to locate her.
In this live-action film, Enola teams up with the Suffragettes to use jujitsu on mature men. Henry Cavill also stars as Sherlock. You may be sure that your adolescent daughters will adore it. netflix.com
16. THE BFG
This 2016 film adaption of the beloved children’s book character the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) features state-of-the-art CGI animation. This Roald Dahl novel will warm even the iciest of hearts this winter as it follows a ten-year-old orphan as she befriends the kindest giant nearby while avoiding being eaten by less benign giants.
Together, they use the power of dreams to defeat those nasty, children-gobbling giants. Good things come to those who wait, as the saying goes, and this live-action adaption has been in the works since the 1990s. None of the CGI is too disturbing, and Mark Rylance lends his voice to the BFG. Indeed, how could anyone possibly dislike this? netflix.com
17. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA
After Dracula’s wife is killed by an angry crowd, he vows to protect all monsters by constructing a five-star hotel where they can seek sanctuary from human persecution in Hotel Transylvania. But only for a little while.
However, things become much more complicated when a human traveler named Johnny happens onto the hotel, thinks the monsters are a gimmick, and falls in love with Dracula’s daughter, Mavis.
With a cast that includes Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and Selena Gomez, this is a romantic comedy about learning to love one another despite our differences. Who knew vampires could have such a warm and fuzzy side? netflix.com
This updated version of the Roald Dahl classic, which has been exciting kids with exploding bowls of cereal since the 1990s, has it all. Featuring Danny DeVito, a sweet and innocent Mara Wilson, the fearsome Miss Trunchbull, and chocolate being stolen through telekinesis, this film is sure to please fans of the cast members involved. We assume you are familiar with the plot, but in case you aren’t:
the titular Matilda is a brilliant student whose parents are idiots and her principal is even worse. Once she learns how to telekinetically move items, though, they stand no chance. Thank goodness your own children don’t have any special abilities. netflix.com
19. SPIRITED AWAY
Spirited Away, one of Studio Ghibli’s most acclaimed animated features, centers on a little girl (aged 10) who seems to have been abandoned by her parents at an amusement park.
To her surprise, she learns that the only option for her and her family to escape is for her to work at the theme park, which also happens to be a place where supernatural forces hang out for a bit of a break. Work by children has never looked so charming than in this beautifully animated and inventive short. netflix.com
It’s true that rooting for the good guys can be enjoyable, but when the good guys are aliens voiced by Will Ferrell, rooting for the bad people can be even more fun. For example, after the supervillain Megamind triumphs against his archenemy Metro Man, the film Megamind considers what might occur if the villains actually prevailed (Brad Pitt).
In the end, he has accomplished everything he set out to do, but he quickly learns that being a villain is boring without heroes to battle. This picture, which also features Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, provides nasty family fun without being too ridiculous for adults to enjoy. netflix.com
21. JUMANJI (1995)
In the famous film Jumanji, a group of children causes havoc after gaining access to the game of the same name, which would have made both lockdowns much more entertaining but, as Robin Williams’s character Alan explains, can take years to finish.
Playing Jumanji is a lot more thrilling than playing Monopoly since it releases gigantic bugs and stampeding animals from the jungle, which the youngsters must overcome if they wish to liberate poor Alan, who was trapped in the game 26 years ago.
A game of Jumanji probably wouldn’t have been the best idea during a global pandemic, but this movie is excellent for a Sunday afternoon stay-in. netflix.com
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