The best family movies on Netflix (that you'll enjoy even if you don't have kids)

The best family movies on Netflix (that you'll enjoy even if you don't have kids)

Clockwise from top right: indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (Screenshot); Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures); Rugrats In Paris (Screenshot); The Witches (Screenshot); The Princess And The Frog (Walt Disney Pictures); Hugo (Screenshot); The Boy & The Wind (Screenshot)
Clockwise from top right: indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (Screenshot); Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures); Rugrats In Paris (Screenshot); The Witches (Screenshot); The Princess And The Frog (Walt Disney Pictures); Hugo (Screenshot); The Boy & The Wind (Screenshot)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Netflix list, but we decided horror films deserved their own spotlight since they are often not included on our year-end lists as much as other genres. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is classified by Netflix as a family-friendly film (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Netflix announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Amazon Prime, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu. And if you’re looking for a scare or a laugh, check out our list of the best horror films and the best comedy movies on Netflix.

This list was most recently updated on Oct. 1, 2020.

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Back To The Future

Back To The Future

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd
Screenshot: Back To The Future

It’s hard to imagine anyone being more perfect for the Marty McFly role than Michael J. Fox. In Back To The Future, Fox is small and squinty and breezily charismatic. Fox was 24 when he shot the film, but he was so good at stammering disbelief that he easily passes as a high schooler. On top of that, Fox was already famous for playing Alex P. Keaton, a sort of avatar of Reagan youth. The central conceit of Family Ties was that the aging-hippie parents can’t understand how their son has become a square and uptight young Republican. In the ’80s, a big part of the Republican sales pitch was a return to ’50s values. Marty McFly and Alex P. Keaton are two very different characters, but there’s still something primally satisfying about seeing this kid go back to the ’50s and learn that ’50s values are not what he thought. [Tom Breihan]

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Back To The Future Part II

Back To The Future Part II

Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox
Screenshot: Back To The Future II

Arriving four years after the original, Back To The Future Part II faced the difficult task of following one of the most beloved movies of the ’80s. And it’s successful, partly because it shifts focus. Whereas the original Back To The Future was, at its heart, a personal story about a kid learning to understand his parents, Part II is a straightforward time-travel adventure. Its shifting time-space continuum sends Doc Brown and Marty McFly to the future, then back to an alternate 1985, then back to the 1955 of the first film, with a trip to the Old West waiting in the wings. [Kyle Ryan]

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Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

I’m Batman
I’m Batman
Image: Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

Batman was born when the Waynes were gunned down in Crime Alley, and the years Bruce spent training and studying around the world are the childhood years of Bruce’s new identity. The flashbacks in Mask of the Phantasm are Batman’s adolescence, as he goes through an identity crisis sparked by emotional confusion and sexual desire. Batman reaches adulthood when Bruce puts on the mask for the firs time, conceding to the influence of the cape and cowl. The present-day action forces Bruce Wayne back to the surface when Andrea reenters his life, but unbeknownst to him, she has undergone a similar transformation. When Batman sees his former fiancée Andrea at her mother’s grave, a dark mirror of their first meeting years ago, she has already fallen into the abyss by having killed Chuckie Sol. Andrea builds up a lie that suggests her father is the man behind the killing, but she can’t fool the world’s greatest detective, and as the World’s Fair where she fell in love with Bruce is engulfed in flames, she sees her life burn away with it. When Buzz Bronski goes to leave roses at Chuckie’s grave, Phantasm strikes again, crushing Buzz with a giant statue in an open grave. Once Bruce and Andrea reignite their relationship, Phantasm stops killing, as Sal Valestra (Abe Vigoda) hires the Joker to take care of Batman but ends up getting a smiling face full of Joker’s poison, killing him faster than the cigars he smokes throughout the movie. Mark Hamill nails every one liner the writers throw at him, and his signature Joker laugh is used to chilling effect throughout the film. When Phantasm discovers Sal Valestri’s dead body (the first time someone has died from Joker’s poison in the DCAU), Joker laughs. When Batman realizes Joker’s civilian identity Jack Napier is the man with Carl Beaumont and the mobsters, Joker laughs. And when the World’s Fair is exploding all around him and Batman watches his greatest love slip away, Joker positively loses his shit. [Oliver Sava]

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The Boy & The World

The Boy & The World

The Boy & The World
The Boy & The World
Screenshot:

“The Boy” in Alê Abreu’s animated fable The Boy & The World is a dinky little guy, with a big round head that contains three wispy hairs and two giant vertical eyes—as though someone had erased his original features and replaced them all with the number “11.” In the opening minutes of the film, The Boy is playing on his family’s farm, which initially looks spare and monochrome before Abreu pulls back to reveal pretty pastel landscapes and trees that the kid can climb all the way into the clouds. It’s while rolling around in a pillowy sky one day that The Boy first sees smoke-belching machines darkening the air around his home. Not long after that, his father snakes away on a train to go look for work. And then The Boy takes off too, on a mission to figure out why everything that seemed so placid and perfect is suddenly changing for the worse. The Boy And The World is part fantasy, part social realism. It’s both joyous and angry—an explosion of abstract colors that resolves into a vision of stooped human figures struggling to survive. Once The Boy leaves the country, he encounters both parades and sweatshops, and mountaintop metropolises that look magnificent from below but cramped and cruddy up close. The arc here is simple, and easy to follow: The tiny hero is driven out of paradise, and on his travels he gets a closer look at how things actually are. He sees rich kids floating above him in glittering cities, and arenas full of sports fans cheering pogo-booted athletes, while people in nearby slums subsist on canned glop (when they can afford it). But he also sees the working classes helping each other, when no one else will. [Noel Murray]

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The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal

The Skesis
The Skesis
Screenshot: The Dark Crystal

For co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982's The Dark Crystal was a large, risky step away from their stable of familiar characters from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and the theatrical Muppet movies. Oz’s first feature and Henson’s second (after The Great Muppet Caper) began with the puppet techniques Henson and his Creature Shop had already refined, but the five-year filmmaking process was a constant process of creating and testing new materials, devices, and performance techniques to fully realize Henson’s storyline. The story involves a world where an evil race of sybaritic bird-monsters called Skekis rule over a magical purple crystal in a decaying castle. When a little elfin creature named Jen learns that he’s meant to fulfill a prophecy and end Skeksis rule, he begins a long, incident-filled hero’s journey toward their castle. Much of that trip simply seems designed to let Henson and Oz play with creatures and environments; the pacing is sometimes lumpy and the tone is portentous as Jen travels through landscapes richly appointed with exotic life, thanks to Froud’s fantasy designs. The story is a standard fairy-tale concoction, but the New Agey philosophy about healing and heroism makes for a classic Henson story, all heart and rapturous wonder at the world’s incredible possibilities. [Tasha Robinson]

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Hugo

Hugo

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz
Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz
Photo: Hugo

By now, the story of Martin Scorsese has become legend: As an asthmatic kid, he watched from his bedroom window in Little Italy as other children played on the street, and he retreated into the fantastical worlds conjured up by filmmakers like Alexander Korda. Based on Brian Selznick’s popular illustrated book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese’s enchanting Hugo burnishes that legend, filtering a whimsical half-fiction about silent pioneer Georges Méliès through a childhood of loneliness salved by the movies. In other words, it’s both a movie about young Scorsese and a movie that young Scorsese would have loved, while also bearing the distinct signature of the filmmaking world’s most passionate historian and preservationist. [Scott Tobias]

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Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
Screenshot: Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Released in 1981, Raiders Of The Lost Ark puts Harrison Ford in search of the Ark of the Covenant, racing against Nazis who would use it for their own purposes, and bulldozing through one action-packed episode after another. Much of the blame for the all-action-all-the-time approach of current summer blockbusters can be placed on Raiders, but if any of the copycats had Steven Spielberg’s command of storytelling and visual gags, it wouldn’t matter. Raiders finds the right balance between reverence and wit, and the sight of Ford outrunning that giant boulder thrills as much on the 14th viewing as the first. [Keith Phipps]

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Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Sean Connery and Harrison Ford
Sean Connery and Harrison Ford
Screenshot: Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

This 1989 sequel captures Raiders’ spirit and adds a layer of human warmth. Trotting from Utah to Venice to Berlin to the Middle East in search of the Holy Grail, Ford is forced to team up with estranged father Sean Connery. The two stars have a natural chemistry, and even though some of the big setpieces seem like rehashes of the first film, Crusade possesses a sweetness that no other Indiana Jones movie can claim. Even when Harrison Ford and Connery are pursuing game as big as the Grail, their personal quests keep bringing them back to each other. It’s a small world after all. [Keith Phipps]

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Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

Joe Mangianello and Paul Rubens
Joe Mangianello and Paul Rubens
Photo: Netflix

Big Holiday returns Pee-wee Herman to the highways and byways for a shaggier, less rigorously paced adventure, finding frequent and long-lasting laughs along the way. At 63, Paul Reubens’ physical and vocal range isn’t what it once was, but he still gives Pee-wee (and Big Holiday) an undeniable energy. Dulled though his tics and twitches might be, Reuben’s face still sparks to life in close-up, like a child discovering all the many ways to twist and contort the human features. It’s clear that Pee-wee and his weird, wonderful world continue to amuse and excite Reubens, and his Big Holiday collaborators share the sentiment. John Lee’s direction doesn’t have the unmistakable personal stamp of a Tim Burton, though that just gives more authorial control to the main character. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is the Pee-wee movie that really makes its possessive apostrophe count. [Erik Adams]

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The Pirates! Band Of Misfits

The Pirates! Band Of Misfits

The Pirates! Band Of Misfits
The Pirates! Band Of Misfits
Photo: Aardman Animations

Aardman Animations’ stop-motion releases like the Wallace & Gromit shorts, Chicken Run, and Shaun The Sheep are instantly recognizable for the almost exaggerated sense that every aspect of the production has been formed by hand, with the caricatured distortions of children’s drawings mixed with the fussy craft of a crocheted doily. That fussiness also extends to the studio’s house brand of humor, a precisely tuned blend of maiden-aunt primness and broad, goofy absurdism. All these familiar flavors are again front and center in The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, the feature that returns Aardman to theatrical stop-motion after the CGI of Arthur Christmas and Flushed Away. It also returns Aardman co-founder Peter Lord to the director’s chair for the first time since 2000’s Chicken Run. But it doesn’t feel like a return to form—or a new direction, though it’s Aardman’s first book-to-film adaptation, Hugh Grant’s first animated film, and the studio’s maiden foray into 3-D stop-motion. It still feels like a comfortable visit with an old friend. [Tasha Robinson]

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The Princess And The Frog

The Princess And The Frog

The Princess And The Frog
The Princess And The Frog
Image: Walt Disney Pictures

The Disney princess phenomenon has become a marketing gold mine, spawning special branding, a dedicated website, a Broadway show, and endless frilly products for little girls. So it’s hard not to see The Princess And The Frog as a calculated cash-in, an attempt to add another highly salable princess (and the first African-American one!) to the stable, especially since so much else about the film is a calculated recycling of Disney successes of the past, from the character design to the predictable story beats. But for those who grew up on Disney’s animated films—or for those too young (and maybe too princess-crazed) to see the gleaming dollar signs in every frame—Disney’s triumphant return to hand-drawn 2-D animation still holds an awful lot of familiar, comfort-food charm. [Tasha Robinson]

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Ralph Breaks The Internet

Ralph Breaks The Internet

Ralph Breaks The internet
Ralph Breaks The internet
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Ralph Breaks The Internet riffs a lot on its enormous parent company, from that princess bit to the Sterling Holloway tone that new good-luck charm Alan Tudyk brings to his vocal performance to a goof on the de facto parenting advice that’s at the heart of so many Pixar movies. Intentionally or not, the movie makes Disney feel as enormous as the internet itself, containing a series of micro-targeted idiosyncrasies and in-jokes that are nonetheless controlled by a cultural monolith (whether that’s Disney or whatever massive corporation owns your local ISP). It’s a playful game, but also a rigged one. And like a lot of memes, Ralph Breaks The Internet appears proud both of its clear place within a system and its ability to stand outside and poke fun at that system. If the movie never falls into a feedback loop, credit should probably go to Reilly and especially Silverman, who bring human vulnerability to little bits of ultra-branded ones and zeroes. (This may well become Silverman’s defining film role.) Twice now Reilly and Silverman have helped to give a cartoon’s happy ending real emotional depth. And twice now, they’ve made their characters so endearing that some fans may feel oddly conflicted about the prospect of undoing those endings just to see them again. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

Rocko
Rocko
Photo: Nickelodeon

Rocko’s Modern Life, the surrealist, wildly enjoyable 1993 cartoon created by Joe Murray, has what you might call a “bad boy” reputation. Static Cling maintains the original show’s look, sound, and aesthetic perfectly (although Philbert appears a bit off-model at times). It takes a moment to get reacquainted with the show’s energy and pacing, which is a bit slower and more easygoing than one might remember, but by the time Rocko, Heffer, and Philbert land back in O-Town, you’ll feel right at home. And the more genuine storyline that’s explored is a much more significant piece worthy of consideration, so much so that it’s worth re-evaluating Rocko’s Modern Life as a whole. [Kevin Johnson]

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Rugrats In Paris

Rugrats In Paris

Rugrats In Paris
Rugrats In Paris
Screenshot:

The Rugrats Movie, the 1998 big-screen adaptation of the hit Nickelodeon cartoon, distinguished itself by not being as insulting, mercenary, and creepy as most contemporary children’s entertainment. But the tykes’ maiden foray into film blunted the series’ gentle satire by focusing almost entirely on the show’s youngest characters, a move that helped make the film a blockbuster, but also made it something of a chore for adults. Thankfully, Rugrats In Paris restores much of the show’s understated appeal, sending its cast of precocious toddlers and babies (along with their parents) to Paris, where electronics whiz Stu Pickles is sent to help fix a robot gone awry at EuroReptarland, an amusingly surreal Parisian theme park. [Nathan Rabin]

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Miles Morales
Miles Morales
Image: Sony Pictures

If you had told me at the beginning of 2018 that a new superhero movie, let alone one featuring multiple Spider-Men, would be one of the best films of the year, I wouldn’t have believed it. All it took was a confident, funny script and comic-book-style animation to prove me wrong. If we’re going to keep churning these things out until the end of time, please keep them animated and make them as powerful as this one. [Vikram Murthi]

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The Witches

The Witches

The Witches
The Witches
Screenshot:

The Witches beautifully captures the surreal grotesqueness of Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s book. The violence, menace, and food-related nastiness of Dahl’s tome are brought to the screen in all their horrific glory by director Nicholas Roeg, whose preponderance of cockeyed camera angles and extreme close-ups lend a fittingly bizarre quality to the fantastical tale. It concerns a young boy (Jasen Fisher) taught by his cigar-smoking grandmother (Mai Zetterling) how to identify witches: Look for their purple-tinted eyes, wigs covering itchy scalps, toeless feet, and attempts to lure children into their clutches with candy. After his parents’ death, he finds himself vacationing at a seaside hotel hosting a gathering of Great Britain’s witches. Operating under the guise of a royal organization for protecting kids, the villainous creatures are led by Anjelica Huston’s Grand High Witch, a strutting and sneering black-clad beauty who plans to turn the country’s children into mice via her magical “Formula 86.” [Nick Schager]

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