Don’t get us wrong: We love going to the movies. But it can get a little pricey. Tickets, soda and popcorn for a family of four? That can easily run you $100 — or more. And don’t even get us started on what happens if all four of those kids demand Twizzlers, too.
Plus, while movie theaters are always showing the latest in special effects, just because a movie is new doesn’t mean it’s better than those that came before it. In fact, plenty of more classic films — from last year or 50 years ago — boast engaging storylines and jokes that have stood the test of time. Yes, that goes for the movies made pre-computer animation too (shocker!).
And don’t forget about the family-friendly films of yore that are making a comeback — for a whole new generation of fans. Just look at the live action version of The Lion King; the animated feature came to life once again thanks to killer CGI and even more killer talent. (We’re looking at you, Beyoncé.)
Here are our top 55 must-see movies — of any era — for kids of all ages, and their parents too.
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A version of this article was originally published in December 2015
‘The Lion King’ (2019)
It’s here, it’s new and improved, and it’s now available to stream on Disney+. So what are you waiting for? Time to set your family’s 2020 up with that problem-free philosophy: Hakuna Matata, and pass the popcorn.
‘The Lion King’ (1994)
But don’t bypass the original! With rich animation, incredible talent and memorable music, this film is sure to please viewers young and old. Might as well make it a double feature.
The thought of a grown man dressing as an old woman to sneak into the lives of his children and subvert a custody ruling is a bit disturbing, but hey, Mrs. Doubtfire is hilarious.
‘The Land Before Time’
Friendship and adorable animated dinosaurs are what make The Land Before Time just as watchable as it was when it was released in 1988.
While Finding Nemo isn’t that old, it’s undeniably a classic. The film — starring Nemo, Dory and Marlin — is arguably one of Pixar’s best features ever.
‘The Indian in the Cupboard’
When Omri is gifted an old wooden cupboard, he quickly realizes it's so much more: The figurines all come to life.
‘E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial’
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a must-see for kids of all generations. The film helps teach kids that just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean they’re scary or bad. Plus, now your kids will finally get the joke when you tell them to “phone home.”
Nanny McPhee may have some cool tricks up her sleeve, but all kids should know that only Mary Poppins can clean a nursery, make medicine taste better and take you on cartoon adventure with a dancing chimney sweep — all without breaking a sweat.
‘Singin’ in the Rain’
Most kids use a rainstorm as a chance to go romping in puddles, but after watching Singin' in the Rain, you might catch them throwing a little soft-shoe in with their splashing.
‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’
Your kids may be familiar with the more recent remake, but the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is still a must-see. It has fantastic songs sung by children to inspire any young performer — plus great special effects that will leave kids wondering how the moviemakers turned Violet into a blueberry without the use of computer graphics.
‘The King and I’
With catchy songs and beautiful costumes, The King and I is a timeless film that will capture kids’ imaginations and gives a glimpse of the fact that cultures around the world vary widely.
‘The NeverEnding Story’
The NeverEnding Story resonates with all kids, but especially those who love to curl up with a good book. Parents should be warned that side effects of watching this movie may include your child wearing a necklace on their forehead in honor of the Childlike Empress — and repeated requests for a pet luckdragon.
Between the mystery of the Beast, a step-by-step tutorial on how to make s’mores, and a touching story about the power of friendship, The Sandlot is a film that your children will remember for-ev-errr.
If your child is at the age where fart jokes are hilarious, then Little Monsters is the perfect introduction to movies that can be a little bit scary.
With a core message of sibling love, this film will leave your child laughing and ready to go to sleep without having to check under the bed for an all-clear.
‘The Princess Bride’
Romance, suspense and a whole lot of laughs, The Princess Bride is a movie the whole family can watch (and quote!) over and over again. Just watch out for those R.O.U.Ses.
They may not understand that the late Robin Williams was the voice of Genie, but kids will love Aladdin for its flying carpet and friendly tiger, the strong and opinionated Princess Jasmine and the idea that it's what's on the inside of a person that really counts.
‘The Sound of Music’
Every child should watch The Sound of Music, even if it’s only to learn how to sing a proper scale.
A screening of this film may lead to having an uninvited kid/guest in your bedroom the next time there’s a thunderstorm, but hey, that will give you a perfect chance to practice your duet.
The short, unscripted cartoons in Fantasia serve as a wonderful way to introduce children of any generation to famous classical music compositions.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
The movie It’s a Wonderful Life may be an oldie, but its message of appreciating what matters in life is always au courant.
The tale of Annie and her rise from hopeful orphan to a girl with the family she always dreamed of is a feel-good movie no child should miss. Sure, you could watch a newer remake of this classic film, but there’s something special about sharing a movie with your child that you yourself adored as a kid.
If you’re looking for an iconic fairy-tale princess, then Cinderella has you covered. Besides, no child’s fairy-tale education is really complete until they see just how tricky it is to run while wearing glass slippers.
‘The Wizard of Oz’
Although it was released more than 75 years ago, The Wizard of Oz has scenes to delight children of every generation: unpredictable weather, a battle between good and evil, a quest to meet the mysterious wizard and one awesome pair of shoes.
‘A Little Princess’
Looking for a positive role model for your own little princess? A Little Princess’ themes of staying strong and being true to yourself are still current.
‘The Secret of NIMH’
The Secret of NIMH is a fantastic adaptation of a classic children’s novel about a mama mouse who will do anything for her kids.
‘Swiss Family Robinson’
A shipwreck, pirates and the coolest tree house ever make Swiss Family Robinson a great film for every young adventurer.
‘Beauty and the Beast’
With a positive message about the power of inner beauty, Beauty and the Beast is so much more than just a fairy-tale romance.
The spirit/human romance plot of Casper isn’t as racy as that in Ghost; it’s a touching look at love and the bonds of family that last well beyond death.
‘James and the Giant Peach’
James and the Giant Peach is an entertaining adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl book that will leave your child begging to read it if they haven’t already. Plus, the film’s stop-motion animation scenes are gorgeous.
‘The Black Stallion’
The Black Stallion is the perfect movie for any child who has a special bond with animals.
An unlikely tale of friendship between a wayward boy and a captive orca whale, Free Willy will leave you and your kids feeling as though anything is possible.
Hook answers the burning question: What would happen if Peter Pan grew up? With an all-star cast (including Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts) this classic film is one both adults and kids will want to watch over and over again.
‘The Secret Garden’
This celebrated children’s book makes a wonderful movie. The Secret Garden is about hope, mystery, and the magic of Mother Nature.
‘The Little Mermaid’
The Little Mermaid combines magic and romance in a coming-of-age cartoon that makes every child want to jump in the tub and pretend they live under the sea.
‘The Parent Trap’
Your child might be familiar with any of the various remakes of The Parent Trap, but the original tale of twins separated at birth who switch places has unparalleled charm.
‘Angels in the Outfield’
A heartwarming tale of hope and faith, Angels in the Outfield can simply be enjoyable evening entertainment or a great way to start a bigger discussion about spirituality with your child.
‘Escape to Witch Mountain’
Escape to Witch Mountain is a delight for any child who’s ever wondered if they’re secretly from another planet.
In Jumanji, a young boy is trapped inside a board game that unleashes jungle plants and animals on unsuspecting players. One screening of this movie, and your kids will never again complain about playing good-old Monopoly.
‘An American Tale’
A child's movie that gives a glimpse into what it was like to be an immigrant in the early 1900s. For a cartoon about a mouse, An American Tale has a ton of heart.
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’
A stop-motion animation masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas blends a holiday tale with just a tiny bit of spookiness.
‘Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey’
Three talking pets on a quest to find their owners make Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey a movie your kids will want to watch over and over again. Luckily, the DVD won’t wear out the way the VHS did when you were a child.
In this film adaptation that’s every bit as engrossing as the children's novel, Matilda is the story of a young girl who uses her special powers to overcome adversity and find her own happiness.
‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’
A blend of live action and animation makes Bedknobs and Broomsticks a memorable movie for any generation.
Elaborate costumes, gigantic puppets, musical numbers and the wonder that is David Bowie’s hair make Labyrinth a movie the kids will want to watch time and time again — and you’ll be just as eager to press play.
Thanks to a stream of successful sequels and plenty of branded merchandise, your child is probably already familiar with Woody, Buzz and their gang. But a viewing of the original Toy Story can’t be beat.
‘A Christmas Story’
Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, after watching A Christmas Story, your kids will have a frame of reference for all of Grandpa’s stories about growing up.
Talking farm animals and a lovable piglet are what make Babe a film kids will always adore.
A Shirley Temple classic, Heidi tells the story of an anti-social man who goes to great lengths to rescue his granddaughter from an unkind caretaker.
The film will particularly resonate with kids who have a close relationship with a grandparent.
‘All Dogs Go to Heaven’
All Dogs Go to Heaven is a memorable animated film that deals with the concept of death in a sensitive way that children can process.
If your kid is a big fan of video games, The Wizard will let them imagine what it’s like to be the best player in the world. It also has plenty of classic Nintendo scenes so Mom and Dad can wax nostalgic about their own days as young gamers.
‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’
The very first full-length animated Disney feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has songs your child won’t be able to stop singing — and a cast of lovable dwarfs. Side effects of viewing may include a temporary suspicion towards apples.
‘Lady and the Tramp’
Lady and the Tramp teaches kids to never judge someone before you get to know them. Plus, the iconic spaghetti-and-meatballs scene is sure to make the next time your family eats pasta highly entertaining.
So much more than a holiday movie, Home Alone lets kids imagine what it would be like to be on their own — and outsmarting bad guys.
‘The Muppet Movie’
Kermit and his friends have been all over the place by now, but The Muppet Movie will take your kids back to where it all began — and let them see what things were like when Miss Piggy was the only swine in town.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair will introduce kids to one of the first, and arguably the best, classic musical films.
The delightfully evil Cruella de Vil and a ton of adorable puppies make 101 Dalmatians an animated classic that stands the test of time.
Here are 54 must-see classic movies for kids of all ages that are still just as entertaining as they were the day they hit the big screen years ago.
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