50 Essential Movies For Kids

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(Photo by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection. Thumbnail image: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.; Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection; MGM.)

Looking to enrich your kid’s viewing habits? Or if you’re under 13 yourself, love movies, and you want to watch some of the best ever made, take it from us when we list 50 Essential Movies For Kids!

These are not just great children’s movies, but movies that play well for the curious and growing mind. While all these movies are classics and can be seen at any age, some have stronger themes than others that would play better during upper years. So, we separated the movies in suggested age categories:

Ages 1-5: Kids may not actively recall everything from this age, but a good baseline is fundamental in developing a healthy appetite for movies. Here we feature colorful classics (The Wizard of Oz), fun adventures (Chicken Run), and tales as old as time (Beauty and the Beast).

Ages 6-9: As more time is devoted to school and outside life, movies become more of an escape, and their power to transport starts to become apparent. Don’t miss out on epic quests (Star Wars), wish fulfillment (Home Alone), and dazzling fantasies (Spirited Away).

Ages 10-12: The magic window, the time in life when movies can move and change tweens, and stick for the rest of time. A good era for the classic portrayals of youth (The 400 Blows), face-melting action (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and romance (Romeo & Juliet).

Whether you’re a parent looking for a moral, entertaining movie night with your kids, or you’re a young student of movies making the leap on your own, check out these 50 Essential Movies For Kids!


#50

Adjusted Score: 105021%

Critics Consensus: Enchanting, sweepingly romantic, and featuring plenty of wonderful musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most elegant animated offerings.

Synopsis: A French maiden takes the place of her captured father in the enchanted castle of an accursed prince, and her… [More]

#49

Adjusted Score: 104502%

Critics Consensus: Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.

Synopsis: A dashing rooster and the hen he loves lead an escape from a farm in 1950s England…. [More]

#48

Adjusted Score: 101887%

Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.

Synopsis: A fearless young princess (Kristen Bell) sets out with a mountaineer (Jonathan Groff) to find her sister (Idina Menzel), whose… [More]

#47

Adjusted Score: 100513%

Critics Consensus: Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.

Synopsis: Kiki and her talking cat, Jiji, move to a seaside town in accordance with her village’s tradition for witches in… [More]

#46

Adjusted Score: 99050%

Critics Consensus: Alfonso Cuarón adapts Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel with a keen sense of magic realism, vividly recreating the world of childhood as seen through the characters.

Synopsis: A British Army captain’s (Liam Cunningham) 10-year-old daughter (Liesel Matthews) irks the headmistress (Eleanor Bron) of her girls school in… [More]

#45

Adjusted Score: 93188%

Critics Consensus: The Muppet Movie, the big-screen debut of Jim Henson’s plush creations, is smart, lighthearted, and fun for all ages.

Synopsis: Fried-frogs-legs franchisers (Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton) follow Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and company to Hollywood…. [More]

#44

Adjusted Score: 98648%

Critics Consensus: My Neighbor Totoro is a heartwarming, sentimental masterpiece that captures the simple grace of childhood.

Synopsis: Two sisters encounter a mythical forest sprite and its woodland companions when they move to rural Japan…. [More]

#43

Adjusted Score: 97216%

Critics Consensus: The Red Balloon invests the simplest of narratives with spectacular visual inventiveness, making for a singularly wondrous portrait of innocence.

Synopsis: A red balloon with a life of its own follows a boy around Paris…. [More]

#42

Adjusted Score: 111385%

Critics Consensus: With its involving story and characters, vibrant art, and memorable songs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set the animation standard for decades to come.

Synopsis: A wicked queen casts a spell upon a beautiful young girl in this Disney adaptation of the classic fairy tale…. [More]

#41

Adjusted Score: 106907%

Critics Consensus: Entertaining as it is innovative, Toy Story reinvigorated animation while heralding the arrival of Pixar as a family-friendly force to be reckoned with.

Synopsis: A flashy new action hero’s arrival creates upset in a community of toys that comes to life when people are… [More]

#40

Adjusted Score: 106424%

Critics Consensus: Wall-E‘s stellar visuals testify once again to Pixar’s ingenuity, while its charming star will captivate younger viewers — and its timely story offers thought-provoking subtext.

Synopsis: After years of tidying up an Earth devoid of humanity, a robot janitor (Ben Burtt) meets a mechanical scout and… [More]

#39

Adjusted Score: 118424%

Critics Consensus: An absolute masterpiece whose groundbreaking visuals and deft storytelling are still every bit as resonant, The Wizard of Oz is a must-see film for young and old.

Synopsis: After a tornado whisks Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) to a magic land, she must travel to the Emerald… [More]

#38

Adjusted Score: 102099%

Critics Consensus: The rare family-friendly feature with a heart as big as its special effects budget, Babe offers timeless entertainment for viewers of all ages.

Synopsis: An Australian farmer (James Cromwell) adopts a piglet that becomes a champion sheepherder. Live action/animatronics…. [More]

#37

Adjusted Score: 104149%

Critics Consensus: Inventive, funny, and breathlessly constructed, Back to the Future is a rousing time-travel adventure with an unforgettable spirit.

Synopsis: A teen (Michael J. Fox) takes a crackpot’s (Christopher Lloyd) DeLorean time machine to 1955 and sees his parents in… [More]

#36

Adjusted Score: 114518%

Critics Consensus: Coco‘s rich visual pleasures are matched by a thoughtful narrative that takes a family-friendly — and deeply affecting — approach to questions of culture, family, life, and death.

Synopsis: Accompanied by a charming trickster, a young musician embarks on an extraordinary journey through the colorful Land of the Dead… [More]

#35

Adjusted Score: 113972%

Critics Consensus: Playing as both an exciting sci-fi adventure and a remarkable portrait of childhood, Steven Spielberg’s touching tale of a homesick alien remains a piece of movie magic for young and old.

Synopsis: A boy’s close encounter with an alien stranded on Earth leads to a unique friendship in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film…. [More]

#34

Adjusted Score: 90462%

Critics Consensus: A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell’s funny and charming performance as one of Santa’s biggest helpers.

Synopsis: Adopted as a baby by one of Santa’s elves (Bob Newhart), a man (Will Ferrell) leaves the workshop to search… [More]

#33

Adjusted Score: 101015%

Critics Consensus: Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delightfully funny feast for the eyes with multi-generational appeal — and it shows Wes Anderson has a knack for animation.

Synopsis: After three nefarious farmers declare war on them, a sly fox (George Clooney) rallies his animal neighbors to fight back…. [More]

#32

Adjusted Score: 81617%

Critics Consensus: The Goonies is an energetic, sometimes noisy mix of Spielbergian sentiment and funhouse tricks that will appeal to kids and nostalgic adults alike.

Synopsis: Coastal Oregon kids (Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen) follow the treasure map of pirate One-Eyed Willie past his deadly… [More]

#31

Adjusted Score: 88995%

Critics Consensus: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone adapts its source material faithfully while condensing the novel’s overstuffed narrative into an involving — and often downright exciting — big-screen magical caper.

Synopsis: An orphan (Daniel Radcliffe) attends a school of witchcraft and wizardry and pieces together the mystery of his parents’ deaths…. [More]

#30

Adjusted Score: 69691%

Critics Consensus: Home Alone uneven but frequently funny premise stretched unreasonably thin is buoyed by Macaulay Culkin’s cute performance and strong supporting stars.

Synopsis: Accidentally left by his Paris-bound family, an 8-year-old (Macaulay Culkin) makes mincemeat of two burglars (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern) in… [More]

#29

Adjusted Score: 105472%

Critics Consensus: Boasting dazzling animation, a script with surprising dramatic depth, and thrilling 3-D sequences, How to Train Your Dragon soars.

Synopsis: A misfit Viking teenager (Jay Baruchel) sees a chance to change the course of his clan’s future when he befriends… [More]

#28

Adjusted Score: 116066%

Critics Consensus: Inventive, gorgeously animated, and powerfully moving, Inside Out is another outstanding addition to the Pixar library of modern animated classics.

Synopsis: An 11-year-old girl’s (Kaitlyn Dias) five emotions try to guide her through a difficult transition after she moves from the… [More]

#27

Adjusted Score: 91895%

Critics Consensus: Utterly predictable and wholly of its time, but warm, sincere, and difficult to resist, due in large part to Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio’s relaxed chemistry.

Synopsis: A New Jersey teen (Ralph Macchio) moves to California, meets bullies and learns karate from a handyman, Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki… [More]

#26

Adjusted Score: 102170%

Critics Consensus: The endearing Iron Giant tackles ambitious topics and complex human relationships with a steady hand and beautifully animated direction from Brad Bird.

Synopsis: A malevolent government agent threatens to destroy the friendship between a boy and a huge alien robot…. [More]

#25

Adjusted Score: 107409%

Critics Consensus: Boasting beautiful animation, a charming voice cast, laugh-a-minute gags, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, The Lego Movie is colorful fun for all ages.

Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO figurine (Chris Pratt), thought to be the key to saving the world, is accompanied by a fellowship… [More]

#24

Adjusted Score: 77306%

Critics Consensus: Little Manhattan is a sweet story of young love that provides an enlightening if pragmatic view on love and courtship.

Synopsis: A New York boy (Josh Hutcherson) finds his first love, while the marriage between his parents (Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon)… [More]

#23

Adjusted Score: 90667%

Critics Consensus: Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda is odd, charming, and while the movie diverges from Roald Dahl, it nonetheless captures the book’s spirit.

Synopsis: A little girl (Mara Wilson) develops extraordinary mental abilities, despite neglectful parents (Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman) and a brutal headmistress…. [More]

#22

Adjusted Score: 83561%

Critics Consensus: A magical journey about the power of a young boy’s imagination to save a dying fantasy land, The NeverEnding Story remains a much-loved kids adventure.

Synopsis: A New York schoolboy (Barret Oliver) escapes into a book about a boy warrior (Noah Hathaway) and an empress (Tami… [More]

#21

Adjusted Score: 111879%

Critics Consensus: Paddington 2 honors its star’s rich legacy with a sweet-natured sequel whose adorable visuals are matched by a story perfectly balanced between heartwarming family fare and purely enjoyable all-ages adventure.

Synopsis: One fine day, Paddington spots a pop-up book in an antique shop — the perfect present for his beloved aunt’s… [More]

#20

Adjusted Score: 104828%

Critics Consensus: A delightfully postmodern fairy tale, The Princess Bride is a deft, intelligent mix of swashbuckling, romance, and comedy that takes an age-old damsel-in-distress story and makes it fresh.

Synopsis: A storybook stableboy turns pirate (Cary Elwes) and rescues his beloved (Robin Wright), who is about to marry a dreadful… [More]

#19

Adjusted Score: 68468%

Critics Consensus: It may be shamelessly derivative and overly nostalgic, but The Sandlot is nevertheless a genuinely sweet and funny coming-of-age adventure.

Synopsis: The best baseball player (Mike Vitar) in the neighborhood helps a new kid (Thomas Guiry) with his clumsy ball-handling…. [More]

#18

Adjusted Score: 103523%

Critics Consensus: Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.

Synopsis: Lost in a forest, a 10-year-old girl (Daveigh Chase) meets animals, ghosts and weird creatures…. [More]

#17

Adjusted Score: 97796%

Critics Consensus: A kinetic and fun movie that’s sure to thrill children of all ages.

Synopsis: When a technical genius kidnaps retired spies (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino), only their children can save them…. [More]

#16

Adjusted Score: 108171%

Critics Consensus: A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster filmmaking and things have never been the same.

Synopsis: Robots and other allies help a youth (Mark Hamill) and a space jockey (Harrison Ford) rescue a rebel princess (Carrie… [More]

#15

Adjusted Score: 96684%

Critics Consensus: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is strange yet comforting, full of narrative detours that don’t always work but express the film’s uniqueness.

Synopsis: A poor boy (Peter Ostrum) and his grandfather (Jack Albertson) win a tour through the marvelous factory of a wily… [More]

#14

Adjusted Score: 105922%

Critics Consensus: A seminal French New Wave film that offers an honest, sympathetic, and wholly heartbreaking observation of adolescence without trite nostalgia.

Synopsis: Neglected by his parents (Claire Maurier, Albert Remy), Parisian schoolboy Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) runs away from home and turns… [More]

#13

Adjusted Score: 90195%

Critics Consensus: A warm, family-friendly underdog story, featuring terrific supporting performances from Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett.

Synopsis: Akeelah (Keke Palmer), an 11-year-old girl living in South Los Angeles, discovers she has a talent for spelling, which she… [More]

#12

Adjusted Score: 99756%

Critics Consensus: Louis Malle’s autobiographical tale of a childhood spent in a WWII boarding school is a beautifully realized portrait of friendship and youth.

Synopsis: Filmmaker Louis Malle tells of the friendship between a Jewish boy (Raphael Fejto) and a Roman Catholic boy (Gaspard Manesse)… [More]

#11

Adjusted Score: 100814%

Critics Consensus: Hugo is an extravagant, elegant fantasy with an innocence lacking in many modern kids’ movies, and one that emanates an unabashed love for the magic of cinema.

Synopsis: A resourceful orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) and a bookish girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) set out on a quest to unlock… [More]

#10

Adjusted Score: 77425%

Critics Consensus: A charming, quirky, and often funny comedy.

Synopsis: A gawky teenager (Jon Heder) from an odd family (Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell) helps his new friend run for class… [More]

#9

Adjusted Score: 90071%

Critics Consensus: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure brings Paul Reubens’ famous character to the big screen intact, along with enough inspired silliness to dazzle children of all ages.

Synopsis: Childlike Pee-wee (Paul Reubens) loses his vintage bicycle and embarks on a cross-country adventure to get it back…. [More]

#8

Adjusted Score: 101753%

Critics Consensus: Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie of uncommon smarts and passion, and outstanding performances by Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo help to elevate the film past its cliches.

Synopsis: Missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) mentors young chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) in the slum of Katwe in Kampala,… [More]

#7

Adjusted Score: 103737%

Critics Consensus: Featuring bravura set pieces, sly humor, and white-knuckle action, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time.

Synopsis: Globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones races the Nazis for possession of a legendary religious artifact…. [More]

#6

Adjusted Score: 98600%

Critics Consensus: The solid leads and arresting visuals make a case for Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet as the definitive cinematic adaptation of the play.

Synopsis: Shakespeare’s tragic Renaissance teenagers (Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey) fall in love despite their families…. [More]

#5

Adjusted Score: 82127%

Critics Consensus: Though undeniably sentimental and predictable, Rudy succeeds with an uplifting spirit and determination.

Synopsis: With heart and determination an Illinois youth (Sean Astin) tackles shortcomings to play Notre Dame football…. [More]

#4

Adjusted Score: 118276%

Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse matches bold storytelling with striking animation for a purely enjoyable adventure with heart, humor, and plenty of superhero action.

Synopsis: Bitten by a radioactive spider, teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into Spider-Man. He must now… [More]

#3

Adjusted Score: 93658%

Critics Consensus: Time Bandits is a remarkable time-travel fantasy from Terry Gilliam, who utilizes fantastic set design and homemade special effects to create a vivid, original universe.

Synopsis: Cosmic dwarfs take a boy on an odyssey featuring Robin Hood (John Cleese), Napoleon, King Agamemnon (Sean Connery)…. [More]

#2

Adjusted Score: 100570%

Critics Consensus: Buoyed by Robert Wise’s dazzling direction, Leonard Bernstein’s score, and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, West Side Story remains perhaps the most iconic of all the Shakespeare adaptations to visit the big screen.

Synopsis: Rival New York City gangs affect the love of a young man (Richard Beymer) and woman (Natalie Wood) from each… [More]

#1

Adjusted Score: 96247%

Critics Consensus: With a deliciously wicked performance from Angelica Huston and imaginative puppetry by Jim Henson’s creature shop, Nicolas Roeg’s dark and witty movie captures the spirit of Roald Dahl’s writing like few other adaptations.

Synopsis: A Norwegian (Mai Zetterling) and her grandson (Jasen Fisher) outwit British witches after one (Anjelica Huston) turns him into a… [More]


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