Whether you’re ready for it or not, Summer is upon us, which also means it’s nearly time for your small people at home to be released from their schools, and into your custody for at least 6 glorious, noisy, weeks.
Fear not, dear TBG readers, because we’ve come up with a list of 50 great old-school family films to watch with the kids this summer, and guarantee a few hours of peace and quiet so you can secretly drink mojitos in the kitchen.
But before we start we just want to make it clear that this list is in no particular order, nor is it exhaustive. It also includes no original Disney animated movies (because that would pretty much be the whole list right there), and nothing that was released after 1999 has been included. So now you know how the list works, go ahead, scroll down and enjoy.
50. THE SANDLOT (1993)
The Sandlot is one of those great American movies about absolutely nothing of any importance. It’s just a film about being a kid and making friends. There’s no real story as such, it’s just a fun romp that’s very much of its time. Whereas The Little Rascals relied on silly ideas and caricatures to get its laughs, The Sandlot relied solely on relatable snot-nosed punks who like to play baseball to carry their story. I know which of the two movies I’d be showing to my kids.
49. MAC AND ME (1988)
As a kid in the 1980s, the ultimate alien adventure movie was always E.T. – so perhaps making a low-budget rehash which was actually a glorified commercial for McDonald’s wasn’t the best idea. That being said, despite being critically panned and hated, time has been kind to the movie, which is basically the story of a young boy who befriends an alien and helps reunite him with his family.
Unlike Stephen Spielberg’s masterpiece, the aliens in Mac and Me end up being granted citizenship in America at the end of the movie and presumably ended up having a child that would go on to become the 45th President of the United States. But that’s a different story for a different day.
If you can get past the whole E.T.-rip-off vibe then this is a nice example of a bad 80s movie that should still entertain the younger residents of your home.
48. JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996)
A young boy, tired of living with his abusive aunties, escapes his horrible life onboard a giant flying peach inhabited by a bizarre supporting cast of bugs, in this classic reimagining of the Roald Dahl story. Directed by Henry Selick, the real brains behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coraline.
47. THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
Rob Reiner directs this retelling of the 1973 novel of the same name, in which an unlikely hero and his even more unlikely friends set out on a daring rescue mission to save a beautiful princess from a pompous prince.
46. FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986)
A young kid falls down a hill when he’s running home and ends up being picked up by a time-travelling alien in this overlooked classic. After flying around on an alien spacecraft for what seems like a few hours, the kid realises he’s actually travelled forward in time, which makes for meeting up with his parents and formerly younger brother rather awkward.
45. BIG (1988)
Kid Tom Hanks makes a wish to grow up, and as if by magic, becomes man Tom Hanks. The whole body-swap genre was extremely popular in the 1980s, but perhaps none were as funny, heartwarming and brilliant as Big.
44. AN AMERICAN TAIL (1986)
“There are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese”. These famous last words were the setup for one of the greatest hand-drawn animated movies ever made, and perhaps the greatest none-Disney animated movie of all time. Fleeing a difficult life in Ukraine, the Mousekewitz family uproots to America where they are confident they will no longer be persecuted by the dastardly cats they’ve spent their whole lives evading.
Directed by Don Bluth, An American Tail is a must-see movie no matter what age you are, and if it doesn’t have you crying by the conclusion then you’re simply not human.
Further Viewing: An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West (1991)
43. GHOST CHASE (1987)
If you think of Roland Emmerich these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was the kind of filmmaker that only made big-budget blockbusters like Independence Day or Godzilla. But before he was destroying the planet with alien space ships, Roland made a seldom remembered horror-comedy about a haunted mansion. Originally titled Hollywood Monster, Ghost Chase was Scooby-Doo for the Goosebumps generation and had some pretty creepy practical effects that still hold up today.
42. RETURN TO OZ (1985)
What if when Dorothy returned to Kansas no one believed her about her magical adventures in Oz? What if they thought she’d gone mad and locked her away in a mental institution? What if she escaped and made it back to Oz, only to find it a much darker, scarier place than when she left it? Return to Oz is quite frankly nightmare fuel, but it’s so much fun and you’ll enjoy watching the kids squirm at all the severed heads.
41. *BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1987)
An elderly couple who run an apartment block and café find themselves under threat from an unscrupulous property developer, only to be inexplicably saved by a group of small, extraterrestrial spacecraft in this fun sci-fi comedy produced by Stephen Spielberg.
40. MATILDA (1996)
Danny DeVito shines as the ass-hole car salesman with an extremely gifted daughter, in this top-notch interpretation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book. If you have a daughter and you want her to understand how much potential she has in life, then you owe it to her to show her this.
39. PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)
The crazy man-child known as Pee-Wee Herman has his first big-screen adventure in this often forgotten Tim Burton classic. The whole movie centres on Pee-Wee’s quest to find his beloved bike and is exactly the kind of film that made Burton so brilliant in his younger days, and Herman a hot commodity – y’ know, before the whole porno cinema thing.
38. THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982)
The front cover of the VHS for The Secret of NIMH would have you believe this is another crazy caper with cute and cuddly animal protagonists, but the real secret here is that The Secret of NIMH scarred a generation of kids in the early 1980s and continues to do so today. There’s a reason it never gets much air time on a Sunday afternoon, but if you think your kids can cope with the themes (NIMH stands for National Institute of Mental Health) then this is a genuine classic.
37. THE WIZARD (1989)
Fred Savage, Christian Slater, and Jenny Lewis star in this movie about a gifted video game player, but it’s hard to notice any of them for all the shameless product placement that goes on throughout the movie. Still, if your kids love the Nintendo Power Glove and Super Mario Bros. 3, then they’ll enjoy The Wizard.
36. THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER (1987)
Only in the 1980s could you get away with making a film about a self-aware toaster who travels across America to be reunited with its owner after it is mistakenly taken to the dump. As weird as the plot might sound, this is a fantastic animated classic that rivals any of Disney’s efforts from the same era. Come to think of it, the plot does bare more than a passing resemblance to the Toy Story movies.
35. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988)
Remember how you felt when you watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the first time? Well, we have news for you, despite the HUGE steps taken in CGI and making animation more realistic than ever, this iconic (yep, iconic) 1988 movie still holds up.
34. FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST (1992)
I remember watching this at school when I was about 10 and complaining because they were trying to educate us with this ‘message movie’, but oh boy, how shortsighted I was. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is a message movie at heart, but it’s also a fun adventure story with a kick-ass soundtrack and one terrifying villain, voiced by none other than Tim Curry.
33. HEAVYWEIGHTS (1995)
32. BLANK CHECK (1994)
What would you do if you had a blank check and the means to input any value you so desired? That’s the (very) basic premise of this surprisingly fun movie that all the kids raved about back in 1994. Be warned though, it might just put ideas into little Jimmy’s head!
31. HOOK (1991)
Robin Williams is Peter Pan … as a man.
30. THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984)
Kids in the 80s spent an awful lot of time getting sucked into strange fantasy worlds through portals in books, and The Neverending Story was no exception.
29. ERNEST GOES TO CAMP (1987)
Summer camp movies were a thing back in the 1980s, but you hardly see any these days – unless I’m missing a whole summer camp sub-genre (if I am, hit me up). Another thing back in the 80s was Ernest P, Worrell, a simple Southern funnyman played by Jim Varney – the guy who voiced Slinky in the Toy Story movies, FYI. Ernest dominated a niche at the box office with his series of comedy films in which he helps Santa save Christmas, battles a troll that’s terrorising a small town, and in this movie helps to prevent a greedy mining corporation from turning his beloved summer camp into a construction site. The comedy is OTT, and Varney is very much of his time, but there’s always room for Ernest in any classic family movie binge, and this is one of his best.
Further viewing: Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
28. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)
You don’t really need us to explain the plot of Ghostbusters, do you? It’s Ghostbusters for crying out loud – that’s incentive enough to show it to your kids.
Further viewing: Ghostbusters II (1989), because it’s actually better than people would have you believe!
27. CALIFORNIA MAN (1992)
Brendan Fraser stars as a caveman thawed out in the modern-day, who befriends the nerdy Sean Astin and the bizarre Pauly Shore and is forced to fit in at high school in this genuinely funny effort from the great mind behind 1997’s Flubber.
Further viewing: There was a sequel – Encino Woman – but it’s trash. Just avoid any other movie with Pauly Shore in it, please! The last thing we want is for him to have a career revival because of this list.
26. HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989)
If there was ever a movie that made me envy the main characters growing up, it was probably Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. For years I used to stare out onto my parents garden planning my route from one end to the other and back again, should I ever end up smaller than an ant. Released by Disney in 1989, Honey I Shrunk the Kids was a staple of family movie nights in the 1990s and featured one of Rick Moranis’ most iconic performances outside of Ghostbusters.
25. THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979)
Despite the box office and critical success of The Muppets in 2011, the famed fuzzy puppets have failed to recapture the same mainstream pizazz they once had. Anyone who grew up watching the original episodes of The Muppet Show will no doubt remember how much fun Kermit and company used to have, and just how people used to flock to the cinemas to see them appear on the big screen. The Muppet Movie was just the first of many great adventures for Jim Henson’s beloved creations, and although it looks a little dated by today’s standards, is definitely a film to show to your kids at the earliest opportunity, if for no other reason than to draw attention to how poorly utilised they are by Disney in 2019.
Further viewing: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
24. SPACE JAM (1996)
23. THE WITCHES (1990)
We’re just going to come out and say it – The Witches is the scariest kids movie ever made. Make sure there’s plenty of room for the kids to hide behind the sofa when you show them this one.
22. ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN (1989)
Don Bluth strikes gold again with the story of two fun-loving dogs who end up in doggy heaven after they are murdered by their so-called puppy pals. After finding a get-out-of-jail-free clause, the dogs find themselves back on Earth and must help save a young orphan girl named Anne-Marie, who is being held against her will by the very same dogs that killed our heroes, to begin with. It’s all quite dark, but in typical Bluth fashion, it’s also incredibly accessible and really tugs on your heartstrings – but if you’re looking for Lady and the Tramp then you’re going to be disappointed.
21. THE KARATE KID (1984)
Dependent on how savvy your kids are, they may already be familiar with the Cobra Kai TV series on YouTube, and if so making them see how the story all began is an important task … nay, duty … as their parent. Just be prepared for the whole “Wax on. Wax off” line to become a thing in your house once they’ve heard it.
20. HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987)
Bigfoot is real and he’s turning the once tranquil lives of the Henderson family upside down after they accidentally run him down with their car, and inadvertently bring him home to live with them.
Harry and the Hendersons is another example of the incredible practical effects that were so prevalent in the late 1980s and early 1990s and features standout performances from John Lithgow and Kevin Peter Hall.
19. BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989)
Two high schoolers (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) are gifted a time machine to help them complete an oral history exam, the result of which could hold the very key to the balance of the future and sets them on course for a truly excellent adventure.
Further viewing: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
18. THE GREAT OUTDOORS (1988)
John Candy and Dan Aykroyd star as two very different brothers-in-law who end up booking the same cabin in the woods for their family vacations. All John Candy wants is to show his kids how much fun an outdoors vacation can be, while Aykroyd is a smug, well-off yuppy who spends the whole trip trying to one-up his rival at every turn.
The two Canadian funnymen are brilliantly matched here and bounce off each other perfectly to create one of the best comedies of the 1980s. Just wait until your kids see the jet ski sequence and the bear scene – they’ll be in stitches.
17. THE MIGHTY DUCKS (1992)
Emilio Estevez was everywhere in the early 1990s, but perhaps his most famous role was that of Gordon Bombay (seriously), an arrogant attorney turned peewee Hockey coach who is tasked with turning a bunch of misfit kids into state champions. Much like Heavyweights or The Sandlot, the movie relied on the tried and tested formula of punk kids turning good, and was a huge deal for Disney in 1992, spawning several sequels and an animated series.
16. THE PAGEMASTER (1994)
Bloody kids, if they’re not getting sucked into books then they’re buggering off on adventures with them. Perennial 90s child Macaulay Culkin stars as a nerdy young kid who finds himself lost in a magical library where his only hope for survival is the three anthropomorphic books he befriends along the way – Adventure, Fantasy, and Horror.
It’s definitely an unusual concept for a movie but The Pagemaster really works and was a huge hit back in 1994.
15. JUMANJI (1995)
Bored kids get sucked into an enchanted board game and end up having some rather hairy adventures with an even hairier Robin Williams.
14. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Stephen Spielberg has made a lot of movies, but perhaps his most famous was the 1982 sci-fi opus known simply as E.T. A young boy befriends a stranded alien with a glowing finger, keeping him safe from the evil government bastards that want to strap him to a table in a lab and cut him open. It’s kind of like Project: A.L.F. but much better and with a higher budget.
13. THE IRON GIANT (1999)
People often forget this animated adaptation of Ted Hughes’ brilliant science fiction novel The Iron Man, but it truly is one of the very best animated movies ever made. A young boy finds an Iron Giant that has crashed on Earth during the Cold War period and forms an unlikely friendship with the creature. The film is directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and features voice work by Groot himself, Vin Diesel.
12. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990)
There has been plenty of attempts to bring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen with varying results. Despite the advances in technology none of the recent movies has come anywhere near knocking the original 1990 movie of its spot at the top of the pile. You can throw all the CGI you want at the franchise, but Jim Henson and company proved here that practical effects will always be superior when done as expertly as they are here. Your kids don’t even have to be fans of TMNT to appreciate this kick-ass action flick.
11. WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
Roald Dahl was one of the greatest children’s storytellers of all time, but he also knew how to scare the pants off kids, and that’s just what this adaptation of his classic book did in places. Gene Wilder stars as the titular oddball who invites a bunch of snot-nosed kids into his chocolate factory and then systematically kills them off in weird and wonderful ways. Well, technically he doesn’t kill them, but you’ll wish he had after revisiting this with your small people.
10. MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993)
Robin Williams is at his finest here as the estranged father trying to reconnect with his kids by disguising himself as an elderly Scottish housekeeper. Mrs. Doubtfire is as heartwarming as it is hilarious and has infinite repeat viewing appeal.
9. THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988)
If you didn’t think a movie about dinosaurs could reduce you to a weeping mess on the floor, then you obviously haven’t seen The Land Before Time. Don Bluth was the master at giving heart to characters you wouldn’t usually route for, so be sure to bring a handkerchief with you for this one.
8. TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE (1986)
Forget Michael Bay’s big-budget blockbusters, this is the go-to Transformers movie, in all its animated glory. Just make sure you’re ready to have the difficult conversation about a certain hero’s death before committing yourself to watch this one with the kids.
7. STAR WARS (1977)
No list of essential family-friendly movies would be complete without paying a visit to a galaxy far, far away – and if you find yourself having to visit the entire original trilogy then no one’s going to hold it against you.
Further Viewing: Whatever Star Wars Movies you can get your hands on!
6. THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982)
If your kids like their Muppets fuzzy and funny then you should probably pre-warn them that this is one Jim Henson project that is seriously lacking in any kind of rainbow connection.
5. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988)
Choosing a single Studio Ghibli movie to watch with the kids is no easy task, but perhaps none of their back catalogues is as pure and innocent as My Neighbor Totoro. While Western movies of the same era were trying to scare your kids, or touching on subjects that perhaps didn’t belong in a kids movie, My Neighbor Totoro was a meandering stroll through the lives of two young children with some very magical friends.
Further Viewing: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
4. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, there is ALWAYS room for The Nightmare Before Christmas in your movie schedule. Born from a poem by Tim Burton, Henry Selick’s iconic stop-motion animation needs no introduction, but if this is your kids first exposure to Jack Skellington then we envy you because you get to experience one of the best movies ever made for the first time ever vicariously through your children. It’s like forcing them to live out your failed childhood dreams, but with less psychological damage.
3. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly, your typical American teenager who just so happens to be very good friends with an eccentric inventor named Doc Brown. With his crazy hair and wild eyes, Brown (Christopher Lloyd) seems like your typical nutty professor type, but on one fateful night, he actually manages to create a working time machine and sends the hapless Marty back to the 1950s where he accidentally screws up his own parents’ timeline. With each passing minute Marty risks being erased from history altogether, so must repair the damage he’s caused to history before it’s too late.
Back to the Future is a must-see movie no matter what age you are, and has incredible repeat value that will keep the kids happy for years to come.
Further viewing: Back to the Future Part 2 (1989) and Back to the Future Part 3 (1990)
2. LABYRINTH (1986)
If the adult in the room can take their eyes off David Bowie’s protruding crotch for long enough then there’s an iconic story to be told here about love and loss in a time of goblins that every child must experience. Plus the soundtrack is flipping great.
1. THE GOONIES (1985)
The Goonies is the ultimate movie for kids. It has literally everything you could ask for – action, adventure, suspense, horror – and awkward teenage kissing. There’s no way anyone reading this hasn’t seen the movie, but in case you’ve been in a coma since 1984, and you’re still catching up on all the amazing movies that have been released since then let us break it down for you. A bunch of kids finds an ancient treasure map that could lead them to riches beyond their wildest dreams, but they’ll need to outsmart a family of killers along the way. It’s directed by Stephen Spielberg, stars Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, and Josh Brolin, and is quite honestly one of the greatest stories ever told.
You owe it to your kids – and yourselves – to make this the top of your list when it comes to summer viewing. Don’t let us down.