The 20 Greatest Kids Movies of All Time
Sandlot is one of the greatest kids movies of all time.
20th Century Fox
Perhaps unexpectedly, choosing the greatest kids movies of all time is quite the serious task. First of all, just deciding what constitutes a kid movie is surprisingly difficult. Should we judge by the ratings and only go with films rated G? PG? Include a few that are PG-13? Instead of ratings, we are defining kids movies as any film that was geared towards a younger audience when it was made, but holds up or likely will hold up over time to still be enjoyed by adults. It's subjective, but, well, that's the premise. We even threw in a couple recommendations for similar titles that didn't make the cut, but should still be given some love. With that in mind, here they are, in no particular order:
Sports movies made for kids can run the gamut from uber cheesy to relatively inspiring and funny if done correctly. But The Sandlot? Oh, sweet Sandlot, how you brought together all that is good and nostalgic from childhood to America's favorite pastime in one film is just amazing. You even taught us a valuable lesson about chewing tobacco and carnivals, being that both should be avoided at all costs and at the very least never combined. Best moment: Squints kissing Wendy Peffercorn at the pool. Admit it. He won for us all that day.
Friendship, adventure, treasure, romance- this classic has it all. When a small town on the coast in Oregon is in danger of being demolished, a group of local kids go in search of the long-lost "rich stuff" that is rumored to be nearby. With a family of bad guys hot on their trail, booby traps galore and danger lurking around every corner, it has just enough intensity to keep kids rapt with attention and adults entertained for a first viewing or with nostalgia looking back. Best moment: when Mikey delivers a riveting speech about it being "our time down here" and follows it up by taking a puff from his inhaler. Want to see something similar? Check out The Chipmunk Adventure (1987). No, really. Alvin, Simon and Theodore facing off against the Chippettes in a race around the world bankrolled by diamond smugglers? It's like Goonies, but with musical numbers.
The story of the boy who can fly has been retold many times on stage and screen, but it is still the Disney version that most people hold most dear. It's also the animated film from the Walt Disney company that is so iconic that one of its characters (Tinkerbell) has become symbolic of Disney magic. Every kid dreams of being able to fly off to Neverland, especially as adulthood looms, and what adult wouldn't give anything to slow down or turn back time? Best scene: when the kids and Peter fly off to Neverland through the London sky. Give the 2003 live action version of the same name a look sometime if you missed it, don't forget about Hook (1991), and let's all try and forget about last year's live television version, shall we?
Here we have the first on the list that we assume many of you have never seen, and that's okay. This Danny Boyle masterpiece came out to little fanfare, but with a beautiful story about giving back, inventive cinematography and editing, and two little boys who get to decide what to do with a bag full of money they find, it's worth a look. The best moment of this one is a spoiler, but we'll say this: it'll hit you right in the feels. For something similar, but much lighter, don't forget about Blank Check (1994). If you don't think that 10 year old you would have blown a huge chunk of money on a water slide inside your house, you're kidding yourself.
Remember before how we were talking about how ratings would play into this list? Here's a movie we love, but thought there's no way it could have been aimed at kids. But guess what? Big is rated PG. For a movie that gets into some pretty adult territory by the end (including Josh Baskin losing his virginity), that seems odd, but hey- this movie is awesome and deserves to be on this list for so many reasons. It's a cautionary tale for us all to not grow up too quickly, and a reminder that even when you do, you should probably still act like a kid every once in a while. Best scene: Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia's "Heart and Soul" duet on the floor piano. Not just the best scene in this movie, but one of the greatest in film history. For more "be careful what you wish for" fare, watch Freaky Friday, either version.
This should honestly be required viewing for all kids as they enter junior high and then once more in high school. Could we stamp out bullying nationwide if kids watched this at orientation instead of getting a tour of the campus? Maybe not, but it's still a great movie about how Lindsay Lohan should have just been her sweet, simple self all along instead of turning into the worst version of herself, advice that would have served her well in the real world, too. Best moment: when poor Gretchen Weiners goes into a rant about Brutus and how we should all STAB CAESAR!
The Wizard of Oz
Kids movies don't have to have some big life lesson in order to be great, but they all kinda seem to, don't they? Along with Dorothy, we learn that there's "no place like home" and that some bad witches may chase you around to try and steal your shoes. That last one isn't really a universal truth, but hey- good to know. Best scene: when Dorothy sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." If you love this film and are brave, watch Return to Oz (1985). This freaky sequel is truly creepy, but...actually, no but. It's creepy.
An American Tail
It's long been said that Walt Disney insisted his animated characters experience loss so that they would be more identifiable. Don Bluth animation, which gave us this sweet story about a mouse separated from his family in New York City, basically said "you think that's pain? Watch this." An American Tail is the best of what Bluth made, but don't act like you don't cry for poor Fievel as he searches desperately for his Mama and Papa. Best scene: the separated "Somewhere Out There" duet and, of course (spoiler alert) the reuniting at the end. Still have a few tears left? Watch All Dogs go to Heaven (1989), the Don Bluth doggy snuff film that rivals Old Yeller and Marley and Me for producing the most tears relating to a pet.
Beauty and the Beast
It's hard to pick the best Disney film from the studio's renaissance period (which also includes The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King), but we're going with this one for a few reasons. Firstly, it was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Secondly, it was nominated because it's just awesome. Belle was a huge breakthrough character for kids movies, and a great role model for girls. She loved to read and wanted independence, neither of which should have been revolutionary, but it really was. It's as funny as it is magical with one of the best supporting casts of any Disney movie. Best scene: the ballroom dance with the title song brought to you by Angela Lansbury/Mrs. Potts. For another girl-empowering animated movie, look no further than Frozen (2013). There's a reason it made a billion dollars at the box office, folks.
We're going to cheat here for just a minute and include a trilogy as one entry because it's just too hard to pick the best of these movies. We're cautiously optimistic for the fourth installment that's in the works, but everything Pixar has put out related to this franchise (including several shorts) has just been so good that we're going to trust them that they have more story to tell. The bromance between Woody and Buzz alone is enough to carry the films, but it's the whole concept of toys coming alive when we're not around that brings out the kid in us all. Worst moment (because there are too many best moments to choose from): the "When She Loved Me" song from Toy Story 2. Sarah McLachlan's voice combined with a terribly sad song is too much even for those ASPCA commercials, let alone a kids movie. But, hey, it did make us re-think how we treat our toys when we're done with them.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Again, a little bit of cheating here, as the first in this franchise is meant to represent all eight films. However, as far as kids movies goes, the first Harry Potter film really should be the representative film here, as it's the one that feels the most whimsical. The series obviously takes a darker turn as the kids get older, but here, we get to experience the first magic of Hogwarts through Harry's eyes and the joy he feels at finally finding out where he belongs. Best moment: Hermione's famous line, "Now, if you two don't mind, I"m going back to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed, or worse... expelled."
Here's an Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney classic that we're guessing many of you haven't heard of, let alone seen. When 12-year-old Taylor becomes the owner of an unruly horse, she decides to train him to run the Grand National steeplechase. It's heart-warming and beautifully shot, plus there's a gorgeous horse to ooh and aah over. Alas, the best moment of this film is a full-on spoiler, but just trust us that the race at the end is worth the journey it takes to get there. For another great kids movie about a girl and her horse, don't forget about cult classic Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991).
The Sound of Music
On paper, it's hard to believe this movie is even appropriate for kids. It's a love story between a nun and a widow set against the backdrop of Austria during the Nazi regime's rise to power, and yet, it's rated G. Although it may be slightly adult thematically, the content and music keep it squarely in the beloved family film category. Julie Andrews singing a Rodgers and Hammerstein score is pretty much as good as it gets. Best scene: Maria and the Von Trapp children singing "Do, Re, Mi" through Salzburg. Julie Andrews shot this right after Mary Poppins, (1964) so if you prefer her as a brunette, you can easily swap these out and still have a wonderful viewing experience.
This movie about an orphan boy (Pete) and his dragon friend (Elliot) is not only great for its music and story, but it combines animation with live action in one of the few movies where that actually worked well. It's also a movie about tolerance and inclusion with an outstanding cast performing both the large scale music numbers and quiet, sentimental scenes perfectly. The relationship between Pete and Elliot is truly touching and it's hard to think of any other situation where a kid and an animated dragon can actually make you cry. Best scene: Nora singing "Candle on the Water" for her beloved Paul who is missing at sea. Also great kids films in the animated/live-action combination category: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Enchanted (2007).
Whereas we've used one film to represent a franchise earlier on this list, here we are limiting to the original (subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope) and the two others in the original trilogy. If anything, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is the most loved by kids thanks to those lovable Ewoks, but the first one that took us to a galaxy far, far away has the slight edge. The later made prequels, however, have no place on this list, though we are optimistic that Episode VII will be awesome. Best scene: the whole movie, minus any additions that George Lucas went back and added 20 years later.
The Princess Bride
Oddly enough, this movie actually flopped when it first came out, thanks to a studio that had no idea how to market it. Was it a kids movie? A romantic comedy? A fantasy film? An action adventure? Because the answer was yes to all of those questions, it never quite found its audience and it wasn't until it was released on VHS that it began to pick up steam. And steam it most certainly picked up, with it now being recognized as an undeniable classic beloved by multiple generations. Best scene: Andre the Giant's voice ringing out over the water to ask "anybody want a peanut?" Cary Elwes (who played Westley in the film) published a book titled As You Wish last year with great behind the scenes stories. It's worth a read by anyone who loves the film.
John Hughes may have made a name for himself as the ultimate 1980s writer/director (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, etc), but it's this Christmas movie starring Macaulay Culkin as a kid left behind when his family goes on a trip that is watched and introduced to a new generation of kids every holiday season. Kids love to feel empowered, and the thought of not only having the house to yourself for a while, but then defending it from bad guys is just so perfect. Best scene: though many would say it's Kevin slapping his cheeks after applying after shave, we're going to go with his use of sound clips to not only mess with the pizza delivery guy, but also the Wet Bandits when they case the house.
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
Here's a fun trivia fact that's also a spoiler, so skip this entry if you somehow have never seen this Spielberg classic: When E.T. appears to die towards the end, Steven Spielberg told the kids that he really did die, and those are the reactions you see on screen. Go back and watch Drew Barrymore, who believed E.T. was real, and see if you don't get choked up right along with her. Best scene: the end. The gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, sob-fest ending that made us all wish for our own alien friend. Speaking of super awesome movies with a sci-fi feel, Meet the Robinsons (2007) has nothing to do with aliens, but there is an element of time travel and finding a place to call home. E.T. gave us "phone home," while Robinsons contributed "keep moving forward," which are both equally important things to remember.
The movie that introduced the world to Hayley Mills is one that, we realize, may just be too sweet for this cynical day and age. But, that's why it's so important to not forget the little orphan girl who believes in the goodness in everyone and everything. If we were to show Mean Girls to school-aged kids to stamp out bullying, maybe we could show Pollyanna to world leaders before they take office and just demand they start being nice to each other. Best scene: when the even-tempered Pollyanna loses her cool while visiting an elderly woman and screams at her to basically get her head out of her butt and start living. If you just can't stand the sweetness, watch The Parent Trap (1961) to see a sassy double dose of Mills (who plays twin sisters) as she tries to reunite her estranged parents.
Miracle on 34th Street
There's no more magical time of the year than the holiday season, and what could be more magical than a film proving that Santa Claus really does exist? Nothing, that's what. Many movies have run with this premise, but none have done it as well as the original Miracle on 34th Street. Edmund Gwenn is credited as Kris Kringle, but we're pretty sure he's actually the real Santa Claus who took time away from the North Pole to make a movie. Best scene: the courtroom scene where all the letters are piled on top of the judge. There are lots of other great Christmas movies that could have made this list, but Elf (2003) would be next in line on the greatest of all time list.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.