Long before we ever saw a film by Tarantino, Scorsese, Kubrick, or Coppola; or held our breaths during our first horror flick; or held hands with a crush through a romantic comedy, we watched movies aimed at kids. The best kids’ movies unite generation after generation of film lovers who know a good story when they see it. Even though this list could’ve easily contained a completely different slate of films, we’ve chosen 10 movies from various genres and decades that embody what we love most about children’s movies.
Gallery | The 10 Best Kids Movies
- ‘Babe’ (1995)
Wilbur (“Charlotte’s Web”) fans might disagree, but to us, the most lovable cinematic pig (besides Miss Piggy of course) is good ole Babe. In this talking farm-animal comedy, Babe is a pig that was raised by sheepdogs and proves to Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) that he can herd sheep as well as his adoptive parents. A movie about pluck, hard work, determination, and the power of unlikely friendships, “Babe” is a heartwarming, funny family film that even adults without kids will love. We dare you to see it and not feel so many feelings about sweet little Babe. That’ll do, pig, that’ll do indeed.
- ‘Elf’ (2003)
There’s a moment early in “Elf” in which Buddy (Will Ferrell), the human adopted by one of Santa’s elves, has to test a pile of jack-in-the-boxes because it’s the only North Pole job fit for his clumsy man-hands. Too naive to avoid the shock from the inevitable eruption of each toy, Buddy’s innocence on the assembly line perfectly presages his childlike guilelessness once he’s in the busy streets of New York. Kids will revel in Ferrell’s earnestly sweet performance of someone who honestly thinks all little people — even a caustic author played by Peter Dinklage — is a fellow elf. A timeless comedy, “Elf” is now as much a holiday classic as “A Christmas Story” or “Scrooged.”
- ‘E.T.’ (1982)
Legendary director Steven Spielberg has made some of the most iconic movies in film history, and when it comes to children’s adventures, there are few stories as perfect for kids, tweens and teens as his alien adventure “E.T.” When young Elliott, his siblings (including a tiny Drew Barrymore) and friends adopt the bug-eyed herbivore extra-terrestrial, they have no idea their alien pal will lead to so much danger and excitement, but also the adventure — and friendship — of a lifetime. Whether you saw it for the first time at 6 or 60, you never forget the way E.T. phoned home and called Elliott “friend.”
- ‘The Lion King’ (1994)
Every great Disney movie begins with the young protagonist — Bambi, Nemo, Simba — thrown into the scary world, with young viewers vicariously living out the adventure from the safety of their own parents’ arms. “The Lion King” follows the orphan hero’s journey and elevates it to animated musical perfection. Simba’s exile begins with a thrillingly intense wildebeest stampede orchestrated by his uncle Scar, the animated lion stand-in for a mustache-swirling villain. Kids will adore Simba’s kooky mentors, odd-couple sidekicks Pumba and Timon, who provide “Hakuna Matata” and comic relief, and everyone will want to sing along with Elton John and Tim Rice’s Oscar-winning original songs.
- ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964)
A half-century after their release, the songs of “Mary Poppins” are still vigorously worming their way through the ears of anyone who hears them. Featuring an Oscar-winning song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee” — just to name the song is to set off a day alternating between it, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and “A Spoonful of Sugar”), an Oscar-winning score, and an Oscar-winning voice from star Julie Andrews, “Mary Poppins” combines whimsy, a talented cast, and the fantasy of a nanny so magical that cleaning your room is as fun as floating in the sky.
- ‘The Muppet Movie’ (1979)
When “The Muppets” reboot hit theaters three years ago, an entire generation of Kermit fans ached for its success, hoping that it could revive a cast of characters (and what characters!) they had loved as children in the 1970s and 80s. The success of the 2011 film reminded some viewers that its plot was in many way a retread of this 1979 classic. Produced halfway through “The Muppets”‘ five-season-long TV series, the movie followed the cast as they traveled cross-country to star in a show of their own. The film will still charm audiences with its humor, star cameos, amphibian-porcine love story, and the unforgettable hit song, “Rainbow Connection.”
- ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988)
Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful story came out in the late ’80s in its native country, but it was first released via VHS in the States in 1993 and then re-released with a dubbed English cast in 2006. Whether you see it with subtitles or dubbed, the story is equally as beautiful: a young girl, Mei, moves into an old house where she encounters a large magical spirit, Totoro, living in a tree hollow. Mei, and eventually her sister Satsuki, befriend Totoro and grow dependent on his support. The gorgeous animation and the simplicity of the friendship story make this one of Studio Ghibli’s greatest masterpieces.
- ‘The Princess Bride’ (1987)
The best children’s movies begin with a universally shared childhood fantasy, imaginatively embellished, and told with strong characters and a memorable premise. “Princess Bride” starts with an epic bedtime story of a swashbuckling adventure, adds a sweet love story (“As you wish”!), quotable catchphrases (“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” “Inconceivable!,” “Mawwiage…”) and even includes a real-life giant (the late, great Andre the Giant). The result is a classic family film that entrances kids, romances adults, and leaves everyone in love one each other and the magic of the movies.
- ‘Toy Story’ (1995)
Every child plays with toys, and every child who plays with toys imagines, to some degree, that those toys are real. Is it any surprise, then, that Pixar’s first feature-length film became so universally loved when it gave life to that very same idea? The Academy Award winner launched not only a franchise of two equally (or some may argue even better) sequels, but also seemingly unlimited merchandise, and the world’s most esteemed animation studio since Disney itself. The movie’s stunningly crisp animation, all-star voice cast, and tender-hearted story that’s the perfect mix of rollicking humor and mild peril, and you’ve got perhaps the best animated kids movie of all time.
- ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939)
If part of growing up means confronting your fears, then “Oz’s” flying monkeys and melting Wicked Witch of the West have been shepherding viewers through childhood since 1939. But Oz’s timeless appeal (based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s books) extends beyond its iconic antagonist and her winged henchmen. With its visually stunning technicolor palette and 16-year-old star Judy Garland singing about rainbows and wishing for a way home, “Oz,” now 75 years old, long ago demonstrated its timelessness as one of the best movies for kids — and grownups — of all time.
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