By Common Sense Media editors
Sometimes there just isn't enough time to sort through thousands of movie choices, wondering which ones are high quality, ok for your family, and not boring for parents. This list is just a snapshot of some of the great movies in Common Sense Media's new Essential Movies Guide. Now you'll know just where to turn when you're looking for great films.
Whether you stream, buy, or rent, this list will help make any movie night a success for kids and parents. And if you want even more ideas, check out the full guide for 185+ of the best movies appropriate for kids from toddlers to teens.
So grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy. Happy viewing!
Animated Favorites: My Neighbor Totoro
In this breakthrough anime film, Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside where their mother is hospitalized. One day, Mei meets a rabbit-like creature she calls "Totoro," who helps them through their difficult time. A true family film, with a leisurely paced story with lushly detailed visuals.
Classics for Kids: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
When someone steals his bicycle, sprightly man-boy Pee-Wee Herman embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in Tim Burton's madcap comedy. This quirky film is a cult classic among devotees of Paul Reubens' bow-tied alter ego, with wild production designs, some Claymation, and lots of unusual toys.
Lovable Live Action Animals: March of the Penguins
Morgan Freeman narrates this stunning, loving documentary about the grueling annual trek made by Emperor penguins. They endure any number of hardships, and some die along the way, in their quest to mate, gestate, lay eggs, and protect them until the adorable fuzzy little hatchlings can walk home.
Classic for Tweens: A Christmas Story
In 1940s Indiana, 9-year-old Ralphie is consumed by one wish: to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Part of the film's appeal is the authentic period detail, but what most engages is the timeless details of childhood, including bullies and double-dog dares. A funny antidote to cutesy TV specials.
Coming-of-Age Tales: The Sandlot
A sports film for kids that isn't about winning. After lucking onto the local sandlot team, Scotty spends a blissful summer honing his baseball skills with help from his teammates. When the gang experiences what they believe is a bad omen, they're off in search of a good one to counterbalance it.
Dramatic Stories: Mad Hot Ballroom
This documentary tracks students from three NYC public schools as they prepare for an annual citywide ballroom-dancing competition. The dedicated, enchanting fifth graders learn the difficult steps and postures for the rumba, tango, swing, merengue, and fox trot -- and learn much about themselves.
Laugh Out Louds: Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite just can't catch a break -- and he may be clueless, but he has a great heart. The deliriously specific detail, superb use of the Idaho setting, affection for its characters, unexpected developments, and genuine sweetness keep us laughing with Napoleon, not at him.
Sci Fi and Fantasy: Back to the Future
This 1980s blockbuster mixes science fiction with romantic comedy as Marty McFly travels back to the 1950s via a time machine, accidentally interfering with his parents' courtship. Now he must aid his father in attracting his mother to ensure his existence. Exuberant and light-hearted.
Intense Dramas: Do the Right Thing
On one hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, residents battle despair, joblessness, discrimination, and each other. Blame is everywhere; anger predominates. Spike Lee's intense study of racism in urban America during the late 1980s.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy: The Hunger Games
Every year, in a post-apocalyptic future, a boy and a girl are randomly selected to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death for the Capitol's amusement... and as a brutal reminder of the 12 districts' failed rebellion. Violent, but in a heartbreaking way.
Classic for Teens: Rebel Without a Cause
This landmark depiction of teen alienation and delinquency was an iconic screen drama of the 1950s, serious-minded and superbly acted. With James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, it has plenty of don't-try-this-at-home moments, but in a Disney world Rebel remains forceful and un-phony.
Coming of Age Tales: Bend It Like Beckham
A color-drenched fairy tale for any girl whose athletic endeavors were ever questioned by conservative parents. Spunky and easy to watch, it centers on second-generation Indian families in England striving to maintain traditions, but the universal theme is following your bliss no matter the hurdle.
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:www.commonsense.org.