It’s showtime and we’re here with our list of the best movies for families in 2021, with a great mixture of new blockbusters and timeless classics. All of the movies that we’ve recommended below are available on one or more of the best TV streaming services, so you should easily be able to access them online, on your device of choice.
Speaking of your device of choice, the way that families watch movies has changed dramatically in recent years. It used to be that the whole family would gather together around the TV in the living room to watch a movie, but these days there are so many screens in the house. You can watch movies on your laptop, tablet, or even smartphone if you don’t mind the tiny screen. You can even snag one of the best mini projectors and create a cinema experience in your own home or garden.
With the ongoing pandemic keeping families apart, it can be harder than ever to get all your family together to watch a movie though. Thankfully, streaming services have adapted by creating features like Netflix Party or Disney Plus Groupwatch which let you simultaneously stream a movie with your friends and family, no matter where they are - you can even chat together using the text chat, or via a video calling service like Zoom.
Most of our top picks have come from Netflix and Disney Plus, which isn’t surprising. Netflix has been dominating the streaming world for years, and Disney are the kings of family entertainment. With that said, there are some excellent choices on the other networks too including HBO Max, Prime Video, and Hulu, so whichever choice you made, you’ll find some great movies for your family to watch together.
1. Spirited Away - HBO Max
A timeless classic from Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away is probably the most famous, and well-received piece of Japanese animation, and for good reason. It tells the story of Chihiro, a young girl who finds herself transported into the spirit world along with her parents, who are transformed into pigs by an evil witch. She takes a job at the witch’s bathhouse in order to rescue her parents.
Spirited Away blends Studio Ghibli’s iconic art style with a touching, if somewhat surreal, tale that deals heavily with themes of environmentalism and consumerism, but blends them seamlessly into a narrative deeply embedded in Japanese folklore. It might not be filled with jokes and gags like a lot of the family-friendly movies on this list, but we guarantee that you and your family will be glued to the screen.
2. Moana - Disney Plus
What can we say except you're welcome, for introducing you to Moana. This modern Disney tale is absolutely chock full of catchy songs from a diverse cast that includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Chloe Auliʻi Cravalho, and Jemaine Clement (that guy from Flight of the Conchords).
Moana, the titular character, is a Polynesian girl and daughter of the village chief, who is chosen by the ocean itself to complete a perilous task - reuniting a mystical relic with its rightful owner, the goddess Te Fiti, in order to save her village from catastrophe. Along the way she stumbles upon Maui, a legendary demigod (and part-time trickster). The two reluctantly team up and sail across the vast ocean, fending off the perils of the sea and singing a few fantastic songs along the way.
3. The Addams Family (2019) - Prime Video
OK, sing it with us. They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky, they're altogether ooky, the Addams Family. Depending on your age, you’ll have a different incarnation of the Addams family that you grew up with, and this 2019 animated movie is the new generation’s introduction to America’s strangest family, and thankfully it’s a worthy successor to the line.
The cast is jam packed with talent too - Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, and Chloë Grace Moretz as Wednesday - it's even got Snoop Dogg as Cousin Itt. There are jokes a plenty, as we’d expect, but the Addams Family has always had great lessons to teach about family and how it’s Ok to be a little different, and those core Addams Family values are on full display here.
4. Kung Fu Panda - Prime Video
It’s Jack Black as a Kung Fu Panda. That’s it, that’s the sales pitch. You don’t need anything else. Go watch this movie this instant.
Oh all right then. Dreamworks aren’t exactly knocking them out of the park at the same rate that Pixar does when it comes to creating instant classics, but Kung Fu Panda is certainly up there with the best animated movies. Black is his usual hilarious self playing Po, a clumsy panda with a penchant for noodles (and any other food he can find). When an evil Kung Fu tiger escapes his prison and seeks to wreak havoc on the land, Po must learn the ways of Kung Fu and become the prophesied Dragon Warrior.
Cue training montages, slapstick comedy and a really heartwarming message about believing in yourself and, most importantly, being who you are, not who others expect you to be. We can’t think of a finer lesson for the kids than that.
5. Soul - Disney Plus
The most recent release on our list, Soul has just arrived on Disney Plus and it has been pulling in rave reviews, and for good reason. Soul follows Joe Gardner, a high school music teacher with a passion for jazz piano, as he finally scores his big break. That is, until he falls down a manhole and (kind of) dies. While that sounds like a big spoiler, it’s actually just the premise. The viewer is plunged from a stunningly animated New York City into a world of souls as Joe finds himself in the Great Unknown. He latches onto a cynical soul called 22 in a bid to make it back to his life.
Soul isn’t a film about death, it’s actually a film about life. This surprisingly existential film that makes the viewer consider the meaning of their own life, and reminds them to live each day to the fullest. It’s got a star-packed cast featuring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Daveed Diggs, and Graham Norton. The animation is striking, and it’s full of comedic moments to punctuate what could be an otherwise serious subject matter.
6. Home Alone - Disney Plus
A true Christmas classic, and a movie that has aged surprisingly well considering that it came out 30 years ago. Did you start withering away to dust when you read that fact, because we certainly did.
Home Alone sees eight-year-old Kevin McCalister (Macaulay Culkin) left “home alone” for Christmas and finds himself tangling with a pair of bungling burglars who’re trying to rob his family home. It’s a heartwarming Christmas movie with a heavy dose of slapstick comedy that will keep kids and grown ups alike enthralled.
7. Frozen/Frozen 2 - Disney Plus
We’ve promised ourselves that we won’t make a single “Let it go” pun in this entry, so let’s see how that goes. While it doesn’t quite dominate the cultural landscape like it did a few years ago, this magical Disney tale is still an absolute classic, and the wintery theme makes it ideal for the chillier half of the year.
When the kingdom becomes trapped in a never ending winter, Princess Anna sets out to find the accidental culprit, her sister Elsa, who has the power to control ice and snow. She teams up with an unlikely menagerie of characters including Olaf the snowman (star of the show). This musical-filled tale of love and family is the perfect kids movie for the holiday season, with beautiful animation, a heartwarming story, and some excellent comedic moments. Then when you’re done with Frozen, the sequel will be there waiting for you. Anyway, we’ve taken enough of your time so we’ll let you go… dammit!
8. Ice Age - Hulu
Another winter themed family movie, set during the worst cold snap that our planet ever saw - the ice age. This hilarious animated adventure sees Sid the sloth, Manny the mammoth, and Diego the saber-tooth tiger form an unlikely team after they find a human baby that has been lost by its tribe. Ice Age is consistently funny, while also being surprisingly touching as the squabbling trio learn to put their differences aside to save the baby (and often themselves) from the many dangers of their frozen prehistoric world.
There are also frequent cutaways to the movie’s best character - a determined but unfortunate squirrel named Scrat who just can’t seem to hold onto his prized acorn. These scenes are sure to have you in stitches. Ice Age is available on Hulu via Starz.
9. The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again - Netflix
Fans of The Princess Switch will be delighted to know that the sequel, The Princess Switch: Switched Again, has just dropped onto Netflix this holiday season and is filled with triple the royal shenanigans!
Duchess Margaret finds herself in line for the throne which complicates her love life. Torn between her duty and her heart, Margaret’s double Stacy - former Chicago baker turned princess - steps in to help save the day. With the Christmas coronation fast approaching, the Duchess hopes to rekindle her romance, but a third look-alike has her eyes on the throne and is looking to cause trouble!
Full of atrocious but lovable accents, funny dialogue, and cheesy Christmas charm, hopeless romantics will fall in love with this feel-good family flick starring High School Musical icon Vanessa Hudgens in all three main roles.
10. Elf - Sling TV
Will Ferrell movies can be a bit hit and miss, with a lot more in the miss camp recently, but Elf is certainly one of his best movies. When Buddy (Ferrell) finds out that he’s not actually an elf, but a human who was raised in Santa’s workshop, he sets off in search of his biological father who turns out to be a curmudgeonly businessman in the big city.
Elf is one of the most effortlessly quotable movies on this list, and Ferrell’s trademark outlandishness is on full display here, but in a much more family friendly style than usual. It’s a classic tale of a fish out of water as Buddy attempts to navigate the human world while spreading Christmas cheer to everyone he meets.
11. How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Netflix
One for all you grumpy pants out there who struggle to get into the Christmas mood. Jim Carrey is his usually exuberant self in the title role as the Grinch, a vengeful creature who decides to ruin Christmas for everyone in the town of Whoville after they cast him out as a child. His dastardly plot to ruin the holiday takes a turn when he meets Cindy Lou Who, a small girl who slowly helps him to see the joy of Christmas time as they become friends.
This is the kind of role that Carrey was made for, and his comedic chops and trademark overacting carry this movie to great heights. There are also more than a few sneaky little jokes in there for the adults in the room too.
The holidays might have come and gone, but this movie is great all year round.
12. Angela’s Christmas - Netflix
This Irish / Canadian collaboration adapts a classic Christmas story based in Limerick, during the 1910s. While that doesn’t sound too thrilling, it’s actually a heartwarming tale focused on Angela, who heads out alone on Christmas Eve to try and make sure everyone in her neighborhood has a nice time, even if her actions cause both chaos and concern in equal measure after she kidnaps the baby Jesus from a church nativity scene.
It’s a delightful short film, and at 30 minutes it’s the perfect length for children between the ages of about five and ten. What makes it stand out is that there’s plenty of Christmas spirit and positive messages, but without the overly sweet and saccharine glitz of more traditional Christmas movies. With a brilliant, if unknown cast of voice actors, this is ideal for anyone wanting to get all the Christmas feels without seeing the same old story rehashed yet again.
Again, it's not Christmas anymore, but this is a great movie no matter the weather.
13. Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse - Prime Video
Controversial opinion time - this is the best Spider-Man movie, and its an excellent family movie to boot. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse see’s intrepid hero Miles Morales diving through dimensions and meeting up with the various Spider personas that inhabit them. We run into the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Spider-Gwen and even Spider-Ham - yes, he’s a crime-fighting pig. What more could you want?
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse has a stunning and distinctive art style, but also features a surprisingly moving story filled with action, heart, humor, and ham… Seriously, it’s a superhero pig called Peter Porker, what more could you want? Sadly it just left Netflix, but you can still rent it for $3.99 on Prime Video.
14. Muppets Christmas Carol - Disney Plus
Another movie that you might not expect to be living in the house of mouse, but The Muppets are under the Disney umbrella and that means that you can find the best Christmas movie ever (other than maybe Die Hard) on Disney Plus too. This retelling of the classic Christmas Carol tale has everything you’d expect from The Muppets, and a lot you wouldn’t.
It follows the original story closely, but blends in that wonderful mixture of intellectual and physical comedy that made The Muppets a household name for decades. It also has a shockingly good performance from Michael Caine. Not shocking because he’s a bad actor, far from it, but shocking because of how utterly he hurls himself into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge when acting across from a bunch of hand puppets.
15. Klaus - Netflix
Offering up an enchanting alternative to a traditional Christmas tale, Klaus follows the story of a self-involved postman who’s sent to a town where Christmas joy is nowhere to be found. Tasked with a target of delivering thousands of letters in a year, the postman soon finds that nobody in the town gives out greetings let alone letters and gifts. Oscar-nominated Klaus, sees the postman and a shy toymaker form a friendship that delivers not only gifts to the town, but also a big dose of happiness and festive cheer.
Beautifully animated, Klaus isn’t your standard Christmas movie, but it delivers that festive feeling all the same.