The Best Family Movies of All Time, According to Critics
Based on their Metacritic scores, these are the greatest family films ever made.
Whether you have kids or not, watching a beloved family movie can be one of the best ways to put your mind at ease. And in turbulent times like these, that's probably exactly what you need. Picking a favorite family film is obviously subjective, and has a lot to do with the movies you grew up with. Were you raised on Disney, or black-and-white classics? But to determine the best family movies ever made, we decided to turn to the critics. These are the 50 greatest of all time, at least based on their reviews.
For this ranking, we focused on the scores from review aggregator site Metacritic and then narrowed their list down to movies that the whole family can enjoy. (Though, pay attention to ratings, since there could be some tears and scares along the way.) Did your favorite family movie make the cut? Read on to find out.
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My Life as a Zucchini (2017)
Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 29th Academy Awards, the French-Swiss stop-motion film My Life as a Zucchini follows a boy who finds community in the orphanage where he's sent after his mother dies.
"The character work here is both intimate and nicely compressed," Glenn Kenny wrote for RogerEbert.com. "But the movie really gets to its most sublime heights visually."
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Disney's version of the classic fairytale includes songs adapted from the Pyotr Tchaikovsky ballet based on the same story and a villain whom the studio would later spinoff into a live-action franchise of her own.
"Sleeping Beauty is a magnificent achievement, offering suspense, action and happy humor, in a truly giant-size package," George Bourke wrote for the Miami Herald upon its 1959 release.
Kiki's Delivery Service (2002)
The first of several movies from the Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki on this list, Kiki's Delivery Service is about a teenage witch who starts her own broomstick delivery business with her talking pet cat.
"Kiki's slow pace and light-on-conflict plot may surprise kids used to American animation, but it's difficult not to be won over by the film's endearing characters and beautiful animation, as well as a storyline that stresses the values of independence and friendship," The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps wrote in his review.
Song of the Sea (2014)
With a story steeped in Irish folklore, Song of the Sea features "astounding" hand-drawn animation, per the Evening Standard's Charlotte O'Sullivan, who also called it "intricate, cheeky and, especially where nature is concerned, as evocative as a painting by Paul Klee or Henri Rousseau."
Ernest & Célestine (2014)
Ernest & Célestine, based on a series of Belgian children's books, centers the unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse, and also tackles adult themes like classism and elitism.
"It moves with the rhythms and emotions of classic kids' literature, possesses elegance and belly laughs in equal measure, and is almost magically beautiful to look at. And, like bears, it has bite," the Boston Globe's Ty Burr said in his review.
Another beloved film in the Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki canon, Ponyo explores what happens when a goldfish who dreams of being human makes friends with a little boy.
"You'll be planning to see Ponyo twice before you've finished seeing it once," Kenneth Turan wrote for the Los Angeles Times.
Aladdin arguably started the trend of Disney casting big-name movie stars in voice roles with Robin Williams as Genie, and it sadly marked the end of the songwriting partnership between Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who also collaborated on the music for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. (Tim Rice stepped in to write the rest of the Aladdin lyrics after Ashman died in 1991.)
The Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge called the movie's tale of a street urchin who falls in love with a princess "a magic carpet ride of visual delights."
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
My Neighbor Totoro is another Miyazaki classic, this time revolving around two sisters (Dakota and Elle Fanning in the English dubbed version) who find companions in the woodland spirits living around them when they move with their father to an old country home.
Roger Ebert praised the film's gentle plot in his review, writing, "It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself."
Little Men (2015)
Two teenage boys are caught in the middle when a rift opens between their neighboring parents in this PG-rated family drama.
"Little Men, with its two boys racing at life with the brick wall of maturity still at a distance, is truly an exhilarating gift," Peter Travers wrote for Rolling Stone.
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The King and the Mockingbird (1980)
This French animated film based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep was initially released in 1980 but didn't make it to theaters in the U.S. until 2014. When it finally did though, critics were impressed.
"[A] catalog of the movie's pleasures barely does justice to this lost-and-found delight," The New York Times' Ben Kenigsberg wrote.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Even as the third live-action Spider-Man franchise of the past 20 years continues to play out, an animated film series revolving around the Miles Morales version of the superhero has been scoring even better reviews.
"Into the Spider-Verse should feel like a brand exercise gone wrong, a corporate mandate to sell different kinds of Spider-toys to willing kids," David Sims wrote for The Atlantic. "Instead, it's a film that every other comic-book movie needs to take notes from, one that's exuberant, inventive, and thrilled by heroism in a way that many of these films forget to be."
The Incredible Journey (1963)
Millennials may remember the 1993 remake Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey better, but the 1963 original about two dogs and a cat making their way back to their human family fared better with critics.
"[The Incredible Journey] is about as gentle, warm and lovely a color movie as any pet owner could wish," The New York Times determined at the time, "at least for the kids."
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
No less of an authority than Roger Ebert said in his review of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit that "Wallace and Gromit are arguably the two most delightful characters in the history of animation."
This feature film adaptation of the stop-motion shorts pays homage to horror movies as the inventor and his dog face down a giant rabbit.
To Be and to Have (2003)
This illuminating documentary captures the day-to-day activities of an elementary school classroom in rural France.
"Watchful viewers—particularly those with fond memories of a favorite teacher—will be deeply moved by this film," Moira Macdonald wrote of To Be and to Have for the Seattle Times.
Cartoon Saloon, the animation studio behind Song of the Sea, makes its second appearance on this list with Wolfwalkers, the main character of which is a young girl who wanders into an enchanted forest and meets a magical tribe who change shape at night.
"Far and away the best animated film of the year so far (one worthy of such hosannas no matter how limited the competition has been)," David Ehrlich wrote for IndieWire, "this heartfelt tale of love and loss is the most visually enchanting feature its studio has made thus far, as well as the most poignant."
Little Women (1994)
"This lovely, lived-in Little Women confidently settles into the domestic rituals of the March household, paying loving attention to the details, sure that these four sisters' journey of self-discovery will seduce us anew," Newsweek's David Ansen wrote about director Gillian Armstrong's version of the Louisa May Alcott book, starring Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, Claire Danes, and Susan Sarandon.
Good Morning (1962)
In this Japanese family comedy, two boys protest their parents' opposition to having a television set in the house by giving them the silent treatment, which impacts their entire neighborhood.
Time Out's staff determined that Good Morning has a "brimming sense of life" and is "a richly devious portrait of humanity being human."
Mary Poppins (1964)
Julie Andrews won the Oscar for her big-screen debut as the inscrutable, magical nanny who helps the Banks family reconnect in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins.
At the time, The Hollywood Reporter's James Powers determined that the musical would make "major stars" of Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (correct), and that some of the original songs composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman were "certain to be classics" (also correct).
Toy Story 2 (1999)
The first sequel ever tackled by Pixar, Toy Story 2 expands the universe created in the first film, adds more instantly beloved characters (specifically Joan Cusack's Jessie), and tackles some even deeper themes.
"I forgot something about toys a long time ago and Toy Story 2 reminded me," Roger Ebert wrote of its lofty purpose. "It involves the love, pity and guilt that a child feels for a favorite toy."
A grumpy old man, an overly helpful eight-year-old boy, a Golden Retriever who can talk, and a bird named Kevin are an unlikely group of travel companions, but that's just part of the charm of Up, also from Pixar.
What most people will probably first recall about the movie is the devastating opening sequence, which shows Carl's (Ed Asner) life with his wife Ellie, who has recently died. An eager neighborhood "Wilderness Explorer" comes along and helps him fulfill his final promise to her in an adventure CNN writer Tom Charity called "funny and poignant and full of life."
Chicken Run (2000)
As The A.V. Club's Scott Tobias wrote, Chicken Run, the first full-length film from Aardman Studios (also home to Wallace and Gromit) is "an endlessly clever extended riff on The Great Escape" featuring a hen and a rooster making a break for it instead of Steve McQueen.
The stop-motion effort was a massive hit featuring the voices of some top-tier British talent (Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall).
To create the moving documentary Quest, filmmakers followed the same North Philadelphia family for a decade.
For The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that the movie's "power lies in its attention to the drama of everyday existence."
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
In this holiday classic, a man (Edmund Gwenn) who's hired to play Santa at New York City's flagship Macy's claims to be the genuine article and must therefore prove his sanity in court.
"It glows with goodwill that can at times seem a little thin on the ground in other so-called Christmas films," Almar Haflidason wrote for the BBC.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Before Halle Bailey stepped into the role, Jodi Benson's voice brought Ariel, the teenage mermaid who's desperate to "be where the people are," to life in Disney's animated musical.
Roger Ebert called the land-and-sea adventure, featuring such Disney bangers as "Under the Sea," "a jolly and inventive animated fantasy—a movie that's so creative and so much fun it deserves comparison with the best Disney work of the past."
Paddington 2 (2018)
The sequel to 2014's Paddington, also featuring Ben Whishaw as the voice of the marmalade-loving bear, was even better reviewed than the original, with much love specifically for Hugh Grant's campy villain.
"Paddington 2 is fun, lovable moviemaking that transcend age," Adam Graham wrote for The Detroit News. "If you have kids, take them. If you have nieces and nephews, take them. If you don't have kids but just want to feel like one yourself, go see it."
The Lion King (1994)
With timeless songs by Tim Rice and Elton John, The Lion King gives kids a fairly faithful version of Hamlet to call their own.
"The Lion King, more than any of the recent wave of Disney animated features, has the resonance to stand not just as a terrific cartoon but as an emotionally pungent movie," wrote Owen Gleiberman for Entertainment Weekly (via Rotten Tomatoes).
It's a Wonderful Life (1947)
Though it may be a little too dark for younger children, the black-and-white fable It's a Wonderful Life has become a holiday staple in countless homes for good reason.
"It's a Wonderful Life achieves a fine balancing act between pathos and feel-good that is delivered by an outstanding cast. Even the minor parts are populated by some of the finest character actors and it produces a movie of timeless quality and relevance," the BBC's Almar Haflidason wrote.
The Yearling (1947)
Forget a-boy-and-his-dog movies—The Yearling makes a strong case for more a-boy-and-his-deer stories. Be prepared to have some tough conversations after its downer ending though.
For Common Sense Media, Nell Minow wrote that it's "a classic story of loss."
Treasure Island (1950)
Disney scored with its first full-length live action film, this adaptation of the swashbuckling Robert Louis Stevenson classic.
"Six or 60, the spectator is bound to be caught up in the magic of this thrilling quest for fabulous wealth," The New York Times wrote in their contemporary review.
The Incredibles (2004)
A family of superheroes battle a super-fan-turned-super-villain in another Pixar home run.
"The Incredibles is a universe unto itself, a dream characterscape inspired, in no particular order, by '50s moderne, the disreputable glamour of James Bond movies, and the evergreen allure of superhero lore," Stephanie Zacharek wrote for Salon.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar goes under the sea for Finding Nemo, which chronicles a clownfish's tireless search for his son and all the friends and foes they both meet along the way.
Keith Phipp's A.V. Club review reads, "Like Pixar's previous films, Finding Nemo mines humor from the oddities of an unknown world but stays grounded in a familiar one, finding recognizable elements of heartbreak and happiness amid the ink-jetting octopi and irritable flounders."
Little Fugitive (1953)
A naturalistic film starring regular people instead of actors, Little Fugitive follows a restless little boy on an unsanctioned solo trip to Coney Island.
"Coney Island was never more lovingly depicted and few movies have been more dedicated to a child's point of view," J. Hoberman wrote for the Village Voice.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant star as a batty socialite and a geeky paleontologist, respectively, in Howard Hawks' screwball rom-com Bringing Up Baby. And the "Baby" in question isn't an infant but a leopard who can only be calmed by the song "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," which is just one of the movie's charms.
"Though it's almost impossible, try to sit back sometime and enjoy this 1938 Howard Hawks masterpiece not only for its gags, but for the grace of its construction, the assurance of its style, and the richness of its themes," David Kehr wrote for the Chicago Reader.
Bambi's opening sequence is rightfully remembered as one of the most devastating in animation, but don't forget all the softer, more hopeful moments in this coming-of-age story.
"It would be churlish to rebuke an effort that has caught so much startling beauty or that so often touches the heart with a humor that is both inventive and wise," The New York Times cautioned in their 1942 review.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Few movies capture the wonder of childhood better than Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
For The Washington Post, Gary Arnold called it "a science-fiction comedy-fantasy-suspense thriller which traces the development of a profound emotional bond between an ugly-beautiful little creature from outer space and a valiant, resourceful kid from the American suburbs."
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Woody, Buzz, and the gang contemplate their own mortality (!) in the third movie in the Toy Story franchise.
"It's a rich and heartfelt adventure yarn, if perhaps a little too scary for the youngest children, that brings these abandoned toys to the brink of a final and terrifying doom, and then finds a wonderful resolution to what seems an impossible dilemma," Andrew O'Hehir wrote of it for Salon.
Little Women (1933)
George Cukor's take on the March sisters, featuring Katharine Hepburn as headstrong Jo, bests the more recent version on this list.
"Cukor mines a rich vein of sentiment, never over-stepping the mark into slush, but it is Hepburn's Jo, making a subversive choice of what she wants her life to be, who ensures that the cosiness isn't everything," wrote Time Out.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The technicolor musical that made Judy Garland a star, The Wizard of Oz has become a rite of passage for children of every generation that's come since.
"The Wizard of Oz will, beyond question, be accorded recognition as a milestone in motion picture history," The Hollywood Reporter rightly predicted in their 1939 review.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1945)
Outpacing Judy Garland is Judy Garland a few years later, this time playing one of four sisters looking forward to their city hosting the World's Fair just after the turn of the century.
"This amusing 1903 vignette, decorated with tunes, Technicolor and a practically perfect cast, is ideal holiday entertainment in which Judy Garland and little Margaret O'Brien romp off with both your heart and most of the honors," The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mildred Martin wrote at the time.
Inside Out (2015)
Emotions are personified in Pixar's Inside Out, which takes a peek into one little girl's increasingly complicated inner life.
"On the scale of inventiveness, Inside Out will be hard to top this year," Anthony Lane wrote for The New Yorker. "As so often with Pixar, you feel that you are visiting a laboratory crossed with a rainbow."
Hundreds of years after Earth has become uninhabitable, one little robot is left on its surface. WALL-E, all about his quest for companionship, is almost entirely dialogue-free and features some of Pixar's most stunning and intricate animation.
"Despite the virtuosity of its technical execution, Wall-E never feels like a soulless, well-oiled entertainment machine," Dana Stevens wrote for Slate. "Rather, the movie resembles its resilient, square-shaped hero: a built-to-last contraption with a disproportionately big heart."
My Fair Lady (1964)
A phonetics expert (Rex Harrison) vows to turn a Cockney flower girl (Audrey Hepburn) into a lady simply by teaching her how to speak differently in this feature film version of the Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
In 1964, James Powers wrote for The Hollywood Reporter, "The picture is exquisite, extraordinary, a unique gem of filmmaking. One of those rare, rare occasions when everything goes right, when it keeps going right and it moves and takes the spectator along, enchanted and enthralled."
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast's crowning achievement is that it was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And though it didn't win, its legacy of elevating family entertainment still persists.
"A lot of 'children's movies' seem to expect people to buy tickets by default, because of what the movie doesn't contain (no sex, vulgarity, etc.)," Roger Ebert said in his review. "Beauty and the Beast reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too."
Disney's animated anthology scored by various pieces of classical music was an (eventually) successful experiment and set a standard in the format.
"If you don't mind having your imagination stimulated by the stuff of Mr. Disney's fanciful dreams, go to see it," New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his 1940 review of Fantasia. "It's a transcendent blessing these days."
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began film animation as we know it in 1937 with the story of a beautiful princess in hiding from her murderously jealous stepmother.
"So perfect is the illusion, so tender the romance and fantasy, so emotional are certain portions when the acting of the characters strikes a depth comparable to the sincerity of human players, that the film approaches real greatness," Variety review John C. Flinn Sr. wrote upon its original release.
A foodie rat teams up with an aspiring human chef to make both of their Parisian dreams come true in Ratatouille.
"One of the great pleasures of [director] Brad Bird's Ratatouille—just one of many in a picture that is itself about the rewards and the frustrations of seeking pleasure—is its inherent lightness, the way it seems wholly unaware that it's a grand achievement of animation, even though it is," Stephanie Zacharek wrote in her Salon review.
Toy Story (1995)
Though it's evident how much the technology utilized by the Toy Story movies has improved over the years, the original is still the highest rated by this aggregator.
"Watching the film, I felt I was in at the dawn of a new era of movie animation, which draws on the best of cartoons and reality, creating a world somewhere in between, where space not only bends but snaps, crackles and pops," wrote Roger Ebert of the first movie in the series.
Spirited Away (2002)
It's been a while since we've seen Miyazaki on this list, but he's back and holding the No. 3 spot. Spirited Away, the best-reviewed Studio Ghibli movie, centers a young girl who begins working at a theme park for magical beings in order to rescue her parents, who've been transformed into pigs.
"Miyazaki's luminescent, gorgeously realized world is relatively safe for children (good beats out evil and love conquers all, though it's more important that honesty, courage, and personal integrity are always eventually rewarded), but it also acknowledges blood, pain, dread, and death in ways that other animated films wouldn't dare," The A.V. Club's Tasha Robinson wrote.
Despite some culturally insensitive choices that resulted in the Disney+ version of Dumbo being preceded by a disclaimer, this story of a circus elephant with absurdly long ears is still heartbreaking in its portrayal of a gentle outcast.
For Empire, Kim Newman wrote that "the film is exactly right for younger children, with its humour and charm and reassuring finish, but it's not too milk‑soppy for anyone over eight, and has always played as well to parents as kids."
A lonely woodcarver makes a puppet and longs so much for him to become a real boy that a kindly fairy grants his wish. Disney turned that fairytale into a magical feature film, featuring some of its most iconic characters and a song, "When You Wish Upon a Star," that became the company's calling card.
"Every element in Pinocchio shimmers with the energy of young artists reveling in their newly discovered powers of creation," Charles Solomon wrote in a Los Angeles Times review of its 1992 re-release.