Best Kids Films Of All Time

The best films we watch as children not only entertain and amaze us; they fundamentally shape who we are and how we see the world. These films stay with us long after we’ve left playground games and imaginary friends behind us. Even as an adult watching a childhood favorite film can feel  uniquely comforting and inspiring, like slipping under a warm fuzzy blanket of nostalgic joy.

So we’re running down our list of the top kids’ films of all time. Whether you’re 8 or 80, these films are all sure to warm your heart, teach you something and remind your face how to smile…

1. The Original Star Wars Trilogy

Our list starts a long time ago in a galaxy far far away… with the original Star Wars trilogy. Since 1977 these are THE films that have almost single handily defined most people’s childhood. With substantial help from revolutionary special effects, George Lucas created the ultimate space adventure that has helped generations of children’s imaginations jump to light speed.

With convincingly alien worlds, lightsabre duels and spectacular space battles Star Wars made intergalactic civil war look fun.  We dreamed of battling Darth Vader to rescues princesses in peril before racing around the galaxy in our Millennium Falcon accompanied by a pet wookie and some bickering droids.

Yoda’s grammatically challenged sage wisdom taught us valuable life lessons, while the Force is responsible for countless wasted hours spent trying to move things with our determined minds.

Even the phantom menace of woefully inferior recent prequels hasn’t managed to tarnish the extraordinary legacy of the Star Wars saga. As adults we may want to decapitate Jar Jar Binks with a lightsabre but nevertheless the Force will always be with us.

2. Willow

Between the early genius of Star Wars and the bitter disappointment of the Star Wars prequels George Lucas did give us another memorably magical fantasy adventure in Willow.

Warwick Davies plays a diminutive would be wizard on a quest to save a baby queen from an evil sorceress and her armies. He’s reluctantly teamed with an arrogant swords swinging mercenary called Mad Martigan, played with maniacal charm by a young Val Kilmer. Together our unlikely heroes must face trolls, fire breathing monsters and all manner of black magic if they’re to save the kingdom.

Warwick Davies shines in a rare opportunity to escape Ewok suites and goblin prosthetics, grabbing the wand with both hands for an endearing star turn. Industrial Light and Magic also continued to break the boundaries of special effects to make this a genre defining sword and sorcery epic.

3. Toy story 1/2/3

At some point every child inevitably ponders the same important question. What do my toys do when I’m not around to play with them? In 1995 Pixar finally gave us the answer.

Heralding the big screen arrival of CGI animation, Toy Story breathed whimsical life into plastic action figures that captivated grownups and children alike.

The most compelling children’s films are those which manage to adeptly layer an accessibly simple narrative with more complex and sophisticated themes. As Randy Newman croons, for younger audiences Toy Story is all about friendship. But bigger kids quietly understand that Buzz Lightyear’s dismayed discovery that he is merely a disposable plaything rather than a real intergalactic space ranger is actually a thinly veiled metaphor for coming to terms with mortality.

Although Toy Story 2 and 3 are equally superb, Toy Story will always be the film that launched Pixar studios and gave us those magical first steps to infinity and beyond.

4. E.T.

Another question which preoccupies the imagination of most children at some point, is wondering what it would be like to have an alien best friend. When Steven Spielberg told that story in 1982 he broke box office records.

Beyond the obvious messiah metaphors E.T. is also transparently about a family dealing with divorce. This sincere emotional core lends the extraordinary adventures of ordinary suburban kids befriending a stranded alien with magical healing powers an aura of authenticity.

Like much of Spielberg’s finest work, E.T. profoundly juxtaposes mundane real life with something special and amazing. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that takes children through the entire spectrum of fear, joy, sadness and euphoria.

Watching E.T. and Elliot soaring past the moon on a flying bike is one of the most iconic and inspiring moments in cinema history. It immediately represents imagination without limits and dreams that do come true.

5. Labyrinth

Combining the musical talents of androgynous rock oddity David Bowie with the genius of the Jim Henson’s puppeteers produced pure goblin magic in 1986 kids classic Labyrinth.

Sporting purple highlights, copious makeup and a prominent codpiece Bowie was perfectly cast as the crystal juggling Goblin King who challenges a young girl to navigate his impenetrable Labyrinth to rescue her little brother from his castle.

With the help of new friends that include a brave doggy knight and a friendly furry giant; she makes her way past riddles, booby traps, ugly goblin armies and the magnificently named bog of eternal stench.

An unforgettable soundtrack combined with all kinds of inventive puppet wizardry make Labyrinth weird and wonderful.

6. The Dark Crystal

Jim Henson creature team sets an incredibly high standard for fantasy adventure in Labyrinth but The Dark Crystal remains their undisputed masterpiece.

Made exclusively with puppets The Dark Crystal doesn’t have any of the musical silliness of Labyrinth, but it remains a dazzling visual achievement of imagination and wonder.

Incredible creature designs by artist Brian Froud and amazing practical effects make this the most astonishingly beautiful and tactile fantasy world ever captured on screen.

Though it’s gone on to be a firm DVD best seller The Dark Crystal had a tough time in cinemas partly because it was deemed too dark for children, but mostly because it was released at the same time as E.T.

7. Return to Oz

Another children’s classic that was originally shunned at the box office for being too scary but eventually embraced as cult classic was Disney’s Return to Oz.

Vastly superior to the insipid Judy Garland original, Return to Oz takes the Technicolor dream of The Wizard of Oz and turns it into an exciting nightmare.

Dorothy returns to the magical Land of Oz to find the Emerald city in ruins and its citizens turned to stone. Befriending strange new companions Dorothy faces a terrifying head stealing Witch, the creepy wheelers and a malevolent gnome king.

In the proud tradition of the Grimm fairy tales films like Return to Oz recognize that not only are children capable of handling a little light horror and genuine peril, they have an insatiable appetite for it.

8. The Witches

One person that understood the dark fascinations of children better than anyone was Roald Dahl. His stories superbly blended whimsy with black comedy to teach children and adult alike valuable lessons.

The Witches was one of his finest creations and the big screen version was faithfully magnificent. Angelica Huston was truly terrifying as the repulsive Grand High Witch, scheming to wipe out every child in the world with her hideous army of bald headed witches.

Watching our childish hero get turned into a mouse was scary, but seeing him enact his daring plan for poisoned soup revenge was exhilarating.

Though Hollywood gave us a happier ending that Roald Dahl might have intended, The Witches remains a joyous thrill ride loaded with subtle life lessons.

9. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has twice made it to the big screen, but even Tim Burton and Johnny Depp couldn’t surpass the oompa loompa brilliance of the first version.

Gene Wilder perfectly captured the playfully erratic genius of magical factory owner Willy Wonka without resorting to an inappropriate Michael Jackson impression and a ladies wig.

The wicked fates that befall the various greedy, spoilt, TV addicted children and their misguided parents are both richly satisfying and entertainingly educational.

Throw in some inspired musical numbers, a candy cane wonderland and an everlasting gobstopper or two and you’ve got the sweet taste of childish adventure.

To paraphrase Hunter s. Thompson “Buy the golden ticket, take the ride.”

10. Bugsy Malone

Bugsy Malone is a unique and charmingly implausible film. It’s a madcap musical about gangsters and dames made with an entirely pre-pubescent cast who drive around in push pedal cars armed with tommy guns that fire mash potatoes.

While the unlikely combination of The Godfather and school musicals might leave cynical minded adults perplexed, it absolutely delights anyone young enough in body or spirit to understand its charms.

An impressively accomplished turn from a young Jodie Foster as sassy lounge singer Tallulah, Fat Sam’s gang of bumbling hoodlums and a collection of memorably melodic tunes make this film fantastically fun and endlessly re-watchable.

By the time the film ends with a climactic gangster food fight you’re thoroughly wishing you were part of the best game of dress up ever captured on camera.

11. The Back to the Future Trilogy

One set of films taught us everything we ever needed to know about time travel. They took us back to 1955 school dances then threw us into a future full of flying cars and floating skateboards.  Finally they let us play out our Clint Eastwood cowboy fantasies in the old west.  Those films were the Back to the Future Trilogy and they did it all in Delorian style.

Christopher Lloyd was the ultimate scatter-brained scientist Doc Brown and Michael J Fox was charmingly baby-faced young hero Marty McFly. Watching them race through the space time continuum at 88 miles an hour taught us how to stand up to bullies and make our own destiny.

12. Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes explored the tantalising possibility that the world’s greatest detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr Watson actually met a school and started their crime solving escapades much earlier than even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have imagined.

Watching young Sherlock easily outsmart bullies, bumbling policemen and master criminals is a perfect personification of the simple truth that children really do always know best.

Although it’s playfully tongue in cheek, a mysterious murderous case packed with deductive reasoning and deadly action makes this one of Holmes best outings ever and a firm childhood favourite.

13. Jungle Book

Another example of classic literature bought to life in a timelessly joyous way was Disney’s animated masterpiece The Jungle Book. They took Rudyard Kipling’s well-crafted prose and introduced singing monkeys, a hypnotic lisping snake, forgetful elephants and a dancing bear.

It’s the film that taught us to look for the bear necessities, forget about our worries and our strife. Though animation techniques may have advanced, the Jungle Book still stands proud over 40 years later as one of Disney’s very best adventures of music and animal magic.

14. Robin Hood

Disney took even more liberties with their interpretation of Robin Hood. They turned the infamous English folk hero into a roguishly good looking fox and Prince John into a cowardly thumb sucking lion. Packed with archery, swordfights, heroic deeds and adorable bunnies this film is the perfect package of history and hilarity.

15. Cinderella

Disney sprinkled more of their bibity bobity boo magic onto Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy-tale of a young girl with ugly sisters, a wicked stepmother and a habit of forgetting glass footwear at parties in Cinderella.  This film is still the reason most little girls dream of princess tiaras and fancy ball gowns. It’s also probably why Prince William and Harry never seem to have any trouble with the ladies.

16. Up

If Pixar are now responsible for most of our animated adventures then the opening ten minutes of UP are surely one of the very greatest gifts they have ever given us. It’s a beautiful and profound celebration of lifelong love that reduces grown men and women to tears even more successfully than the last ten minutes of Toy Story 3.

Though the rest of the film can’t possibly live up to this moving opening, there is still something enchanting about an earnest boy scout and grumpy old man flying into adventure in a house pulled by multi-colour balloons. Doug the squirrel obsessed talking dog is also another stroke of Pixar genius.

17. Shrek 1 & 2

DreamWorks has always lagged behind Pixar in both animation and storytelling quality; however the first two Shrek films remain their crown jewels.

Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas largely steal the show from Mike Meyer’s suspiciously Glaswegian sounding Ogre, as Donkey and the world’s greatest feline lover Puss in Boots.

DreamWorks took us to the magical land of Far Far Away, full of familiar fairy-tale favorites and clever pop culture references.

18. Who framed Roger Rabbit?

Who framed Roger Rabbit was one of the very first films to ever fuse the real world with animated hijinks. As washed up detective Eddy Valentine finds himself reluctantly helping cartoon star Roger Rabbit prove he’s been framed for murder.

While young kids love the zany slapstick antics, older kids can’t help but notice Jessica Rabbit in a tight sequined dress. The buxom cartoon femme fatal was recently voted the second hottest female film character of all time.  Of all the things films taught us ‘special feelings’ was perhaps the most awkward lesson.

19. The Little Mermaid

Speaking of inappropriate crushes on redheaded cartoon characters… The Little Mermaid took us under the sea and made little boys everywhere fall hopelessly in love with Ariel. While little girls were busy admiring the colorful fish little boys were wondering when do we get to Kiss the Girl?

 Evil Octopus-lady Ursula is also one of Disney best villains and her habit of turning people into little brown sea slugs was genuinely a bit creepy.

20. Finding Nemo

Staying underwater Finding Nemo combined a trip to the aquarium with a beautiful story of a devoted father going to incredible lengths to rescue his lost son.  Mesmerizing visuals and characters like surf dude turtles, vegetarian sharks and Dorey the forgetful fish made this one long nautical journey you could happily go on again and again.

21. Babe

One film that features real animal stars is Babe, the live addiction adventure based on the best-selling kid’s book about a confused pig that thinks it’s a sheepdog. This film is the reason Santa still receives countless letters requesting pet baby pigs every year. Babe is so brilliant we’ll even forgive it for the fact that Babe 2 Pig In the City exists.

22. Addams Family Values

One childish sequel that definitely didn’t disappoint was Addams Family Values. It took the kooky gothic charms of the first film to a whole new level of fun. Despite the joyous oddity of Thing, Gomez and Uncle Fester the undoubted highlight is watching Pugsley and Wednesday wreak havoc at a cheery kids camp.

23. Lady and the tramp

Disney’s classic tale of animated puppy love Lady and The Tramp has a timeless romantic charm. Watching two love-struck dogs from opposite sides of the track nuzzle meatballs to each other whilst being serenaded by Italian waiters cannot fail to produce the sound “Awwwwwwww!”.

24. The Aristocats

Although Disney also proved that everybody wants to be a cat in the Aristocats. We loved watching a family of adorable high class kitties finding their way back home with the help of a debonair alley cat.

25. The Lion King

Whether you’re a dog or a cat, in The Lion King Disney taught us that were all connected by the great circle of life. They also made countless children cry their eyes out in the cinema by killing Mufasa.

To be fair they did go on to console us with infamously problem free philosophy Hakuna Mutata.  Although it’s a little worrying that many people’s carefree attitude to life is now based entirely on the advice of a flatulent warthog and a talking meercat.

Still Disney’s African safari themed re-telling of Hamlet is one of the last great examples of traditional animation techniques and makes emotionally complex issues of life and death easily accessible.

26. Rango

Johnny Depp channeled the maniacal spirit of Hunter S. Thompson into a cartoon chameleon cowboy in animated Western Rango. The academy recently awarded this inspired act of insanity with the Oscar for best animated feature.

Rango boast lush quirky visuals that feel somehow more real and tactile than anything you’ve seen before. You could literally reach out and touch the dust on a lizard’s hide or the slime on a toad’s back.

This film is touched by a genius of the most bizarre and sacred kind, that rare magic that only usually exists within the confines of a child’s imagination.

How else can you possibly begin to explain scenes where our hero flees from villainous hillbillies riding a swarm of bats to the sounds of Ride of the Valkyrie played on the banjo?

27. An American Tail & The Land Before Time

It’s important to acknowledge that Disney has never had a monopoly on animated adventures. Don Bluth gave us both An American Tail and The Land Before Time.  Both had an enchanting style all of their own.

An American Tail saw young Feivel Mouskowitz looking for his lost family in the Promised Land of New York, while Land before time saw a misfit band of young dinosaurs searching for the promised land of the leafy great valley while escaping the evil sharp toothed dinosaurs.

28. Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg gave us real dinosaurs with Jurassic Park, an adventure 65million years in the making. Dinosaurs have always fascinated children because in a way they’re the closest thing to real monsters that’s ever walked the earth.  From the first moment we saw the water jiggle we knew that this was an experience that was going to live up to all our wildest fantasies.

Although it was hard to do a playground velocoraptor impression without walking and sounding more like an angry alcoholic that certainly didn’t stop us. Above all this film taught us not to meddle with nature unless we want to be eaten by a T-Rex.

29. The Princess Bride

Only one film combines swordplay, masked pirate heroes, giants, rodent of unusual sizes and an old grandfather reading a sick kid a bedtime story. That film is The Princess Bride. And it’s wonderful! Packed with an inconceivable amount of fun, genre in-jokes and endearing charm.

The fact that Peter Faulk best known as TV detective Colombo plays the gravel voiced storytelling grandpa, makes you want to reach of a cup of hot chocolate and settle in under a comfy duvet.

30. Ferris Bueller’s day off

Speaking of sick days… Ferris Bueller’s day off showed Mathew Broderick living the dream as he scammed his way into ditching school with his friends to go on the best adventure you never had. He was a hero. The kid you wanted to be, the guy who always got away with it. Things just work out for Ferris; everything goes to plan… well almost.

31. Watership Down

Watership Down was an animated antidote to everything insipidly happy about usual kids movie fare.  Instead of the usual lessons about sharing and friendship you got confronted with death and fascism in bunny rabbit form.  A haunting soundtrack and the bittersweet Bright Eyes song still has the power to make most people familiar with this one tear up and stare wistfully into the distance.

32. Aladdin

It’s hard to avoid Disney for too long on this list and thanks in large part to Robin Williams incomparable vocal talents we have to praise them again for giving us Aladdin. A talking monkey a flying carpet and the best blue friend you ever had made this film more exciting than a thousand Arabian nights. It also gave us a pleasing taste of sappy romance with the memorable whole new world duet.

33.   Harry Potter

No list of classic kid’s film would be complete without mentioning to boy who lived and went on to star in seven films and become the biggest movie franchise of all time.  Harry Potter repeatedly defeated he who shall not be named and made a generation of children actually believe in magic.

34.   The Goonies

Based on a story by Steven Spielberg the Goonies are a gang of typical suburban kids on a dangerous journey to find the lost treasure of suggestively named pirate one eyed Willy. Pursued by a bumbling family of crooks, they have to dodge booby traps to escape with their lives and the rich stuff. Highlights along the adventurous way include the infamous Truffle Shuffle, friendly monster Sloth and a mouthy young Corey Feldman.

35.   The Muppets

Jim Henson’s beloved puppet creations are the definition of family entertainment. Their recent triumphant return to the big screen after 12 years away reminded us that we never really stopped loving them at all.

Kermit the Frog , Fozzie, Animal, Miss Piggy and Gonzo the Great. Uttering those names alone is enough to make us uncontrollably smile. Anarchic, whimsical, inspiring and fluffy are just a few of the countless adjective and accolades you could hurl in the Muppets direction.

There are simply no words that can adequately sum up their timeless brilliance.

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