We’ve burrowed through the Netflix catalogue for family films that will keep both kids and their parents hooked to the screen.
UPDATED JULY 2021
Why settle for any movie when you’ve got great movies at your disposal? That’s solid logic when it comes to family films—an often unappreciated genre that holds some of the best storytelling you’ll find.
Here are 20 great family films currently on Netflix designed to entertain both kids and adults.
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Competing with two other animated yeti movies at the time, Smallfoot and Missing Link, DreamWorks’ entry carved its own identity with this cross-cultural adventure about a young girl helping a lost yeti escape Shanghai and return to the Himalayas. Despite the straightforward plot, the journey’s often jaw-droppingly beautiful while holding a few surprises up its sleeve.
You could throw a dart at the entire Studio Ghibli collection on Netflix and recommend whatever film it landed on. However, we thought we’d highlight the studio’s underappreciated adaptation of British classic The Borrowers, which follows the friendship between a bed-ridden boy and the thumb-sized girl who lives under the floorboards. As well as been a gentle and downright lovely story, the film’s imaginative way of depicting the world of a 6cm tall person will have kids and adults alike reconsidering the things we throw away.
1995’s classic family farm adventure following Babe—an orphaned, talking piglet trying to find a family and make a home at the ranch of Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell). With the help of the sheepdogs, Babe discovers an unusual knack for sheepherding… Co-written by Mad Max‘s George Miller, who’d take directing reins for the sequel (fear not, he wisely keeps things G-rated each time).
Both hilarious and visually delicious, this animated food comedy erupts with creativity like some sort of confetti volcano. Following a wannabe scientist with huge ambitions, his latest invention miraculously turns water into food. Which is great, until it malfunctions and causes food-related weather events like spaghetti-nados and—you guessed it—raining meatballs. Guaranteed to light up a child’s imagination while continually jabbing a parent’s funny bone.
Eyes rolled at the thought of a Dora the Explorer movie. Then it came out, and those same eyes remained glued to the screen. Anchored by a lively performance from Isabela Moner as teenage Dora, this charming and surprising take on the popular kids’ TV series delivers Indiana Jones-style adventuring without childhood-ruining images of melting faces. It’s a family film so wholesome, it literally saved the life of a Taranaki dad.
The best Sherlock film for youngsters isn’t even led by Sherlock. Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown leads this lively detective film as Enola Holmes, Sherlock’s teenage sister, who takes it upon herself to track down her missing mother. From the Emmy-winning director of Fleabag and based on the novel series by Nancy Springer, this film’s powered by strong talent and—as any sleuth can deduce—results in one wildly entertaining flick.
Want to give kids that Indiana Jones experience that doesn’t include nightmare-fuelling images of melting faces and ripped-out hearts? You’ll find it here with this old-school adventure flick gorgeously shot on location. Upon discovering an old treasure-hunting journal, a group of kids lead their own expedition into the unknown ruins—one that might reconnect them with their Hawaiian heritage.
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The beginning of DreamWorks’ beloved trilogy was, and still is, a total triumph. An easy pleaser for kids who always dreamed of having a dragon as a friend, this joyous animated adventure also shows young boys how to become better men with a lead character who chooses respect over rage and seeks peace rather than power.
Remakes of beloved childhood films are often lousy. This is not one of them. Surprising the heck out of everyone when it first came out, this inspired take on the 1995 Robin Williams original (which is also on Netflix) trades a board game for a video game and places some naive teenagers into the bodies of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. All four players fully commit to the lunacy, resulting in one consistently funny family adventure.
No matter what time of year you’re reading this, BAFTA-winning animated Christmas miracle of a film Klaus is perfect to watch right now. The film follows weasely postal worker Jesper (voiced incredibly by Jason Schwartzman) forced to deliver mail on a frozen island full of jerks—including child jerks. Jesper’s quite the jerk himself, but everything changes when he meets a lone toymaker in the woods. Visually gorgeous and consistently hilarious, this superb story softens you up with colour and jokes before hitting hard with an unmoveable moral on kindness and friendship.
Another quality trilogy from DreamWorks, the Kung Fu Panda series combines the glory of martial arts cinema with the appeal of talking animated animals. The third film isn’t on Netflix (yet), but that’s fine—it doesn’t quite match up to the original and its outstanding sequel.
A triumph of creativity and the imagination, powered by magical practical effects, wonderfully bizarre creatures, and the performances of David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. Jim Henson’s fantasy adventure is thrillingly inventive as it takes us on a wild ride with teen Sarah, who has only 13 hours to solve an otherworldly maze and reach Jareth’s castle—before her baby brother is turned into a goblin.
Uniquely pairing stop-motion animation with CGI, this Netflix Original adaptation of the classic children’s book is simply superb. Following a girl whose mum tries way too hard to prepare her for the dull grown-up world, she finds solace in her elderly neighbour and the imaginative yarn he tells. Pure, storytelling magic.
To try and fix their patchy relationship, a father decides to turn his daughter’s bon voyage to college into a family road trip—one that has them fighting off a robot uprising—in this off-the-wall animated comedy brimming with visual gags and things to say about technology’s impact on our daily lives.
Mixing old-fashioned family-friendly storytelling with Chinese mythology, this Oscar-nominee for Best Animated Feature finds a new way to introduce kids to the tale of the legendary Moon Goddess. Part fantasy adventure and part musical, the story centres on a young girl so determined to prove the existence of the mythical being, she builds a rocket ship and takes off into space.
In a tremendously rare case of a video game movie being worth your time, this atypical adaptation of the Pokémon franchise bases its story on a relatively lesser-known game in the series—one that led to Ryan Reynolds becoming the wise-cracking voice of this film’s great mouse detective. Infusing a playful neon-noir aesthetic with a surprisingly lived-in Pokémon-human world, it’s a fun and often funny adventure that somehow makes a bunch of strange choices click into place.
There are a bunch of Shrek films available on Netflix right now, but families might want to revisit this respectable spinoff film in preparation for 2022’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Making his adorable and charismatic debut in Shrek 2, the Antonio Banderas-voiced swashbuckling cat proved capable of holding his own film with this 2011 adventure that cleverly merged the tales of Humpty Dumpty with that of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Stop motion animated Aardman Studios adventure follows Shaun, whose mischief inadvertently leads to his farmer being taken away and the farm animals heading to the city to rescue him. On the surface, this feature film may seem like it’s only for fans of the TV show. Give it a shot though and you’ll discover an incredibly well-done visual comedy that needs no dialogue to tell its story or sell its gags. Aardman outdid itself here and this movie deserves a (re)watch
You can’t go wrong with the sponge that defined comedy for a generation of kids. You also can’t go wrong with Keanu Reeves playing a tumbleweed. Both these worlds collide in last year’s SpongeBob movie, Sponge on the Run, which sees our square-pants hero and his best mate Patrick venturing through a whole bunch of shenanigans to rescue his stolen pet snail Gary. Sporting a fantastic new art direction, this third feature stays wonderfully faithful to SpongeBob’s signature style of silliness.
Based on the beloved children’s novel, four siblings believe they’re better off raising themselves and trick their awful parents into going on a life-threatening vacation in this animated family film. When it arrived on Netflix, Liam Maguren labeled The Willoughbys “a visually delightful and consistently hilarious black comedy for older kids” in his 4-star review.