The best family-friendly films on Netflix

From Beetlejuice, The Breadwinner and Charlotte’s Web to Matilda and Spirited Away

Oscar-winning  Spirited Away – the highest-grossing film in Japanese history

Oscar-winning Spirited Away – the highest-grossing film in Japanese history

 

For families with kids of any age, there is one tried-and-tested formula for spending some quality time together. Put some popcorn on, bunch-up on the sofa and stick on a great film. Below are the best family-friendly films available to stream on Netflix right now.

Arrietty

Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010
With Netflix recently acquiring the rights to stream the entire Studio Ghibli back catalogue, Arrietty will not be the only film from the revered Japanese animation studio to feature on this list. Loosely based on The Borrowers, it is a beautiful, funny and uplifting family adventure.

Beetlejuice

Tim Burton, 1988
When a recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) fail to scare away the new family who have moved into their home, they call on “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) for help. The most Tim Burton-y film ever made by Tim Burton, and a tad too scary for younger kids.

The BFG

Steven Spielberg, 2016
Directed by Steven Spielberg with only brief flashes of his old brilliance, this is a gentle and kind-hearted adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic. The only challenge is trying to ignore how weird Mark Rylance’s giant head looks throughout.

The Boxtrolls

Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi, 2014
Another visual treat from stop-motion animation studio Laika (Coraline, Kubo, Two Strings), The Boxtrolls follows the adventure of a boy called Eggs and the rubbish-collecting trolls who raised him.

The Breadwinner

Nora Twomey, 2017

Irish-made animation The Breadwinner
Irish-made animation The Breadwinner

This Oscar-nominated animation is far from the usual family-friendly fluff clogging up the Netflix bandwidth. Another superb film from Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon, the studio behind The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, it is a beautiful story of a girl living under Taliban rule in 2001.

Castle in the Sky

Hayao Miyazaki, 1986
Also from Studio Ghibli, the monumentally influential Castle in the Sky. Directed by studio cofounder and all-round story-telling maestro Hayao Miyazaki, it is a rollicking steampunk adventure often hailed as one of the greatest Japanese animations ever made.

Charlotte’s Web

Gary Winick, 2006
A quiet film that won’t blow anyone’s mind, Charlotte’s Web is nevertheless a fine film for a Sunday afternoon. Pleasant to look at, and with plenty of funny animals for the young ’uns, it still has the power to jerk a tear or two.

City Slickers

Ron Underwood, 1991
A classic case of a “three men have a mid-life crises so they get away from their wives until they realise how lucky they are” film. It’s got a great script and it’s always nice to revisit any Billy Crystal film that isn’t Fathers’ Day.

Crocodile Dundee

Peter Faiman, 1986
If you like your family films with lashings of offensive racial and sexual stereotypes, not to mention oodles of unforgivably bad jokes, Crocodile Dundee is just the ticket. Hey, we all watched it and we turned out just fine. Oh, wait. . .

Fighting with My Family

Stephen Merchant, 2019
Its name might suggest a gritty quarantine documentary but Stephen Marchant’s family wrestling comedy (it’s a genre, I swear) is a funny and sweet true story that packs a satisfyingly emotional punch.

Goosebumps

Rob Letterman, 2015
Are the Goosebumps books still a thing? For 90s kids they were a beloved series responsible for countless sleepless nights. This enjoyable adaptation goes all meta, with reclusive author RL Stine fighting his own creations with the help of some likeable local scamps.

The Great Escape

John Sturges, 1963
Why is The Great Escape considered a Christmas film? It has nothing to do with Christmas, and if you think about it, it’s never actually on at Christmas. Perfect for a Sunday matinee, it is a wonderfully feel-good family adventure – until it’s not. And then it’s really not.

Groundhog Day

Harold Ramis, 1993
There are perhaps only a handful of films every decade that can truly be called perfect. Groundhog Day is one such film. Endlessly (and fittingly) re-watchable, it is filled with brilliant, clever jokes and unexpectedly sincere existential contemplation.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson, 2012
Not as good as Lord of the Rings, and there was absolutely no need to stretch it out over three films, but Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit has its moments. It fills an afternoon. These days, what more do you want?

Jurassic World

Colin Trevorrow, 2015
Although clearly not a patch on the original, there is still a lot of pleasure to be had seeing a fully operational dinosaur theme park in all its excessive glory. And despite a predictable smashy-smash finale, there are enough great set-pieces and little tidbits of fan-service along the way to make it worth a watch.

Last Action Hero

John McTiernan, 1993
Last Action Hero has been officially recorded in the Hollywood annals as a critical and box office flop, which is only partly true (it was commercially quite successful). And although the film is a complete mess, it suddenly seems quite charming. Perhaps it’s down to the catastrophic severity of our current situation, but it has been a strange pleasure revisiting this one.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Peter Jackson, 2002
For some reason The Fellowship of the Ring (by far the best in the trilogy) isn’t currently on Netflix, but The Two Towers will do for your annual Middle-Earth fix. If fantasy is escapism at its most unashamed, it just doesn’t come better than this. Apart from Legolas skate-boarding down the staircase at Helms Deep; that bit can go to hell.

Mars Attacks!

Tim Burton, 1996
Mars Attacks! is bonkers on a wide variety of levels. Initially sold on the strength of its special effects and (admittedly stellar) cast, it is a 1950s sci-fi spoof that is tonally jarring and at times just incoherent. Still, it’s worth it to see Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Martin Short (and so many more) chew absolute lumps out of the scenery.

Matilda

Danny DeVito, 1996
The magical story of a lonely child surrounded by cruel, nasty adults; Danny DeVito’s decidedly dark Matilda is one of the more faithful Roald Dahl adaptations (besides moving the action from Buckinghamshire to the US). There are some impressively repulsive characters to root against.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, 1975

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, 1975)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, 1975)

At what age should your kids be introduced to Monty Python? It’s a tricky one. Even trickier is picking what to show them first. On careful consideration, it’s hard to beat the Holy Grail for broad cross-generational appeal. From coconut horses and silly French accents to the Knights Who Say “Ni…” and a killer rabbit, there’s plenty here to keep even inappropriately young audiences in stitches.

My Neighbour Totoro

Hayao Miyazaki, 1988
When their father moves them to the Japanese countryside, two sisters discover their new home is in an enchanted forest filled with mystical creatures. Hayao Miyazaki’s second film for Studio Ghibli, My Neighbour Totoro captures the magic of childhood like few films before or since.

The NeverEnding Story

Wolfgang Peterson, 1984
Wolfgang Peterson’s first English-language film The NeverEnding Story is fondly remembered by many people, but if you ask us, there was an unintentional creepiness to the whole thing. An epic fantasy about a bullied boy escaping into a magical world, the creatures still have an unnerving quality about them.

Okja

Bong Joon-ho, 2017
It’s hard to categorise Bong Joon-ho’s Okja. A spectacularly on-the-nose environmental thriller-comedy it is a wildly imaginative mish-mash of ideas. The only bum note comes from Jake Gyllenhaal’s outstandingly irritating performance, but as a minor character it’s easy to overlook.

Roxanne

Fred Schepisi, 1987
A sweet and very funny rom-com, Roxanne has a played-to-death yet effective message: it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what’s inside that counts. Steve Martin is the man with a whopper schnoz driving the point home.

Spacejam

Joe Pytka, 1996
How to fill the void in your soul now that The Last Dance has finished? In desperation you could turn to Spacejam. Michael Jordan helps Bugs Bunny and the Looney Toons play a basketball match against some angry aliens. Or something. The inevitable endgame to the sportsperson-celebrity experiment.

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki, 2003

The highest-grossing film in Japanese history, the Oscar-winning Spirited Away is as generous and uplifting a tale as you’re ever likely to see. The story of a 10-year-old girl working to lift a curse which has transformed her parents into pigs, it is an extraordinary film that gets better with every viewing.

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