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20 Best Family Movies On HBO Max [October 2021]


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20 Best Family Movies On HBO Max [October 2021]

A good family film is exactly that — it has to offer something for every member of a family, providing entertainment and provoking some kind of emotional response for a viewer of any age, be they toddlers, school-aged kids, teenagers, or adults. A family film is more than just a movie without any sort of objectionable or inappropriate-for-younger-audiences content. It’s got to be relatable on multiple levels to keep children and grown-ups engaged. And that’s no small feat. Only a relative handful of filmmakers have figured out how to make fun-for-the-whole-family movies that have stood the test of time, and it’s definitely got something to do with having compelling stories and memorable characters.

However, it can be tough for a family to find a movie everyone can enjoy on a streaming service, with the genre’s seemingly endless options — many of which aren’t worth your time. But HBO Max is a particular haven for quality all-ages-welcome films, and here are the best family movies currently available on the service.

Updated on October 20, 2021: HBO Max frequently adds movies and drops them, too, so we’ll keep this list updated as those changes occur. Check back each month for the latest and greatest in family entertainment.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Come inside, and you’ll find a world of pure imagination. That’s what Willy Wonka promises of his magical, whimsical chocolate factory, but that could just as well describe this film, a candy-colored, wondrous, musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s tantalizingly sweet novel. 

Charlie Bucket is about the nicest boy in the world, and he loves chocolate bars made by the mysterious and imaginative Willy Wonka. When Wonka opens up his secretive production facility for a tour to just a handful of kids, Charlie lucks out and finds a “golden ticket” in a Wonka Bar, a rare treat as his family lives in crushing poverty (and with four sick grandparents). Charlie plunges into the strange and unpredictable world of Wonka, where dreams he didn’t even know he had come true.

  • Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson
  • Director: Mel Stuart
  • Year: 1971
  • Runtime: 99 minutes
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

The Bear

It’s remarkable that “The Bear” was even made at all, let alone that it’s a captivating, adventurous, live-action movie in which the heroes aren’t human — but the viewer can relate to and root for them nevertheless. “The Bear” tells the story of two bears bonding in the Canadian wilderness. After a cub is left to its own devices when its mother dies, it tries to befriend a cranky, full-grown, male grizzly bear who has zero interest in nurturing. The cub begrudgingly wins the older bear’s respect and attention after scaring off some hunters, and the debt must be repaid when humans capture the little bear. “The Bear” is as fascinating as a nature documentary but perhaps a little bit more exciting thanks to the baked-in narrative thread. Plus, it stars real bears.

  • Starring: Bart the Bear, York the Bear, Tcheky Karyo
  • Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
  • Year: 1988
  • Runtime: 96 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

The Witches

If Charles Dickens wrote tales about Victorian children in peril who outwit their oppressors and overcome horrible circumstances, Roald Dahl was the Dickens of the late 20th century, only he added fantastical elements and a direct appeal to kids to the mix. And perhaps none of his stories ever pitted a child against so much as horror as “The Witches,” a book adapted in 1990 by Nicolas Roeg.

In this gritty take on Dahl’s tale, a boy named Luke stays over at an English hotel with his grandmother and stumbles on a convention of witches. It’s here that he learns of the Grand High Witch’s plan to use a potion to turn the children of the world into mice. (Why? Because witches hate children.) The witches find out that Luke is aware of their plan and go ahead and turn him into a mouse first, but that’s not going to stop him from staging a revolt against that conflagration of wickedness.

  • Starring: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher
  • Director: Nicolas Roeg
  • Year: 1990
  • Runtime: 91 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Follow That Bird

Kids who love “Sesame Street” will be delighted to learn that there’s a feature film centering almost entirely on one of the show’s sweetest and most captivating Muppets — Big Bird — while adults who grew up on “Sesame Street” will enjoy a nostalgic look back at the show’s mid-’80s heyday. “Follow That Bird” is “Sesame Street” without the street and with a long road instead. Gentle giant avian Big Bird is forced to leave his home and friends when a social worker sends him away to live with a family of birds in Illinois. Realizing that his true home is on Sesame Street, our hero boldly ventures out on a wild trip to get back to where he belongs.

  • Starring: Caroll Spinney, Jim Henson, Frank Oz
  • Director: Ken Kwapis
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 88 minutes
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Miracle on 34th Street

“Miracle on 34th Street” seems to be a response to the massive, post-World War II population and cultural shift to city life and how urbanization could lead to Americans losing touch with the traditions and mythology that shaped them. This Christmas classic attacks the very idea of cynicism, encouraging viewers to allow more fun, fantasy, and magic into their hearts. 

When the Santa Claus hired for Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Day parade shows up too drunk to perform, a man who looks, acts, and just plain feels like Santa Claus — he even identifies himself as Kris Kringle — steps in. Before long, he’s got the gig as the department store Santa at Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan, delighting children but unnerving management with his insistence that he’s the real Santa. “Miracle on 34th Street” then shifts into courtroom drama, where Kris Kringle must prove he is, in fact, Father Christmas.

  • Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood
  • Director: George Seaton
  • Year: 1947
  • Runtime: 96 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

A Little Princess

Cinematic genius and two-time Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron moved into English-language films in 1995 with “A Little Princess,” a loose and visually compelling adaptation of the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Fun fact: Burnett also wrote the similarly bleak-then-triumphantly transcendent “The Secret Garden.”) Set in England during World War I, Sara is sent to a boarding school while her father goes off to fight. Sara becomes quite popular, a charming hotshot full of wonderful stories, but those same qualities will earn the ire of the odious headmistress. And after her father suffers a tragic accident, her childhood prematurely ends when she’s forced into a life of hard labor. She’ll eventually be saved when her father somehow pulls through and cures himself with the help of a spiritual guru.

  • Starring: Liesel Matthews, Liam Cunningham, Eleanor Bron
  • Director: Alfonso Cuaron
  • Year: 1995
  • Runtime: 97 minutes
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

The Wizard of Oz

It’s arguably the most beloved film ever produced, delighting and enchanting millions of people across multiple generations and becoming part of the collective American cultural experience. And now, “The Wizard of Oz” is among HBO Max’s signature offerings. The classic fantasy film has endured because of its message of an appreciation of family and home (there’s no place like home, after all), but it dazzles viewers because it’s a visually stunning adventure. 

Young Dorothy Gale tires of her life on a Kansas farm — tedious except for the mean old woman who threatens to take away her beloved dog — and a tornado whisks her away to the merry old land of Oz, where she meets wicked and good witches, Munchkins, flying monkeys, and others as she travels to visit a wonderful wizard who will help her get back home again. Plus, she hopes he’ll grant the wishes of her fellow travelers: a Scarecrow in need of a brain, the courage-lacking Cowardly Lion, and the heart-free Tin Man.

  • Starring: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr
  • Director: Victor Fleming
  • Year: 1939
  • Runtime: 101 minutes
  • Rating: G
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Pee-wee's Big Adventure

Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character is transgressive and ironic for adults, but he’s so thoroughly childlike and relatable that younger viewers will enjoy watching him too. Before the zany and ridiculous “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” rocked Saturday morning TV in the 1980s, Reubens starred in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” a tongue-in-cheek road trip comedy. In what amounts to a kids’ movie for grown-ups starring a grown-up who acts like a child, Reubens goes on a cross-country adventure to retrieve his really cool stolen bicycle. Along the way, he grows up (but only a little) as he befriends a rogue who tears the tags off mattresses, dances to “Tequila” in a biker bar, hitches a ride with the ghost of a dead truck driver, and searches in vain for the basement of the Alamo.

  • Starring: Paul Reubens, E.G. Daily, Mark Holton
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 91 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

Dolphin Tale

That title is a play on words — “Dolphin Tale” is the story of a friendly, vivacious sea animal, but it’s also about a dolphin’s tail, and it’s based on the amazingly true story about a kid’s drive to get his ocean friend a prosthetic appendage.

Winter the dolphin gets trapped and injures her tail so severely that her rescuers and keepers at a Florida marine hospital don’t think she has much chance for survival without a working fin. Lonely kid Sawyer finds companionship at the marine hospital with its employees and with Winter especially, and he gets so attached to the dolphin that he enlists the help of a biologist and a specialty prosthetics designer to get Winter the help she needs in what turns out to be a very inspiring, very emotionally satisfying film for viewers of any age.

  • Starring: Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble
  • Director: Charles Martin Smith
  • Year: 2011
  • Runtime: 112 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

The Goonies

There exist thousands of movies about kids, made for kids, but few do as good a job as “The Goonies” does at capturing the essence of childhood. Like real kids, the Goonies (so named because they live in the working-class Goon Docks neighborhood in coastal Astoria, Oregon) are rough and tumble, get into scraps, bust each other’s chops, bristle under adult rules, speak bluntly, form alliances and rivalries, and are often in search of adventures that are no more than a moderate bike ride away. For those reasons, “The Goonies” is an all-time kid-size action extravaganza. Faced with home foreclosure, the tight-knit Goonies discover an old pirate treasure map and head out in search of that gold (as well as a good time). They, of course, wind up in all sorts of perilous scrapes, like running afoul of a nasty crime family, but all is well with a good group of friends who “never say die!”

  • Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 113 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep

There’s a fine tradition of moving movies about kids befriending a misunderstood outsider who’s also an appealing non-human entity, such as “The Iron Giant” with its massive robot, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” with its alien, and “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,” with an adorable lake creature straight out of Scottish legend. In this film, World War II-era tween Angus finds an odd-looking egg just outside of the murky waters of Loch Ness, near his home. It soon hatches, and Angus names the adorable horse-like thing Crusoe (as in Robinson Crusoe, after the shipwrecked literary figure), and he decides to secretly keep it as a pet. Before long, this supposed water horse grows very large and arouses too much dangerous attention, and Angus will have to sacrifice his profound friendship for the safety and livelihood of his animal bud that’s very clearly a brand new Loch Ness Monster.

  • Starring: Alex Etel, Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin
  • Director: Jay Russell
  • Year: 2007
  • Runtime: 111 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Nanny McPhee

Imagine “Mary Poppins” but a little bit darker, more overtly and unabashedly magical, and with some more urgent, relatable adult problems than just “bank stuff,” and you’ve got the formula for “Nanny McPhee,” a film about a fractured family made whole again through a little attention and tough love. In 19th-century England, Cedric Brown’s wife has died, leaving him in the care of their seven children, who show their grief by acting out. They’re so boisterous and destructive that they’ve driven away multiple nannies. Their cruel great aunt, Lady Adelaide, promises to take the children away and break up the family, and that’s when Nanny McPhee, sensing she’s needed, arrives and uses her various powers to get the children to behave and find some semblance of normalcy again.

  • Starring: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
  • Director: Kirk Jones
  • Year: 2005
  • Runtime: 98 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

The Boy Who Could Fly

“The Boy Who Could Fly” — a gentle fantasy and exercise in magical realism — is an overlooked gem from the 1980s and one with a message about the power of empathy and the importance of trying to understand people different from yourself. Teenager Milly moves into a new house, and there’s a boy next door named Eric who’s about her age. Eric is on the autism spectrum, doesn’t speak, and lives with his sad, alcoholic uncle following the death of his parents when he was very young. Eric shares with Milly his fascination with birds, and he’s so into them that he hangs out on the roof and outside of windows, looking like he’s going to take flight himself. And that’s when Milly discovers that maybe Eric really is the boy who could fly.

  • Starring: Jay Underwood, Lucy Deakins, Fred Gwynne
  • Director: Nick Castle
  • Year: 1986
  • Runtime: 109 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%


Parrots are fascinating, sweet, and enchanting creatures, and we probably think that because they can talk. They feel almost human, and “Paulie” imbues its title character, a sensitive parrot who goes on quite a harrowing and tear-inducing journey, with the personality and soul of a person. Paulie can speak, and he speaks very well. In fact, he narrates the story of his life, detailing the time he spent as a part of a performing act, when he was owned by a low-level criminal, and living in the company of a little girl, his very favorite companion. He tells it all to a custodian in the research facility where he’s being held, and the man decides that Paulie shouldn’t be caged but rather reunited with someone very special from his past.

  • Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Gena Rowlands, Jay Mohr
  • Director: John Roberts
  • Year: 1998
  • Runtime: 91 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%

The Call of the Wild

Adults who read Jack London’s classic novel of adventure in the punishing frontier of the Alaskan Yukon and kids who haven’t yet will all likely enjoy “The Call of the Wild” just the same. Despite the gorgeous cinematography capturing the beautiful mountains and wintry wilds of Alaska, it’s an intimate story, told largely from the point of view of a sweet big dog named Buck as he moves from one human master to another. It’s a journey that will take him from a cushy existence in California all the way to a spot on a dog sled team delivering mail, and along the way, his journey will include gold prospecting, defending himself against cruel humans, and learning the ways of his wolf ancestors.

  • Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan, Dan Stevens
  • Director: Christopher Sanders
  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 99 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%

Journey to the Center of the Earth

In a thoroughly modern, meta, special effects-loaded update of Jules Verne’s imaginative but painfully dated 1860s novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” that simple, titular premise takes on new life. 

Trevor is a scientist who studies volcanoes, but sadly, his brother, Max, disappeared a decade prior. When Max’s son, Sean, pays a visit, he brings along a box of his father’s effects, including a copy of Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with notes inside so leading that it prompts Trevor to take Sean on a trip to Iceland. Along with their guide, Hannah, they literally journey into the center of the Earth in search of Max (and adventure), theorizing that the Verne book is a guide, not a sci-fi tale. During their quest, they must navigate around geysers, underwater oceans, dinosaurs, and volcanic explosions.

  • Starring: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem
  • Director: Eric Brevig
  • Year: 2008
  • Runtime: 92 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%

The Last Mimzy

A lot of terrific time travel movies all start off the same way: Someone from the future travels to the present day to warn the hero of some cataclysmic event yet to happen, and they must do whatever they can to prevent those horrible things from occurring. “The Last Mimzy” is that kind of movie, but unlike “Back to the Future” or “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the heroes are little kids, and they unwittingly stumble into saving the planet from ecological problems. 

Brother and sister Emma and Noah discover an old box of toys one day and eagerly play with its contents … until their parents and one of their teachers notice they’re becoming more intelligent by the day. That’s all the doing of the powerful toys, which includes a stuffed rabbit named Mimzy, the last of its kind, who’s on a mission to help procure and bring back pure human DNA to undo environmental devastation.

  • Starring: Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, Chris O’Neil, Rainn Wilson
  • Director: Robert Shaye
  • Year: 2007
  • Runtime: 96 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%

Cats and Dogs

We’ve all wondered what our dogs and cats are thinking and get up to when we’re not around. “Cats and Dogs” takes that idea to its absurd conclusion — a literal exploration of the phrase “fighting like cats and dogs” as if it were an ancient, global, organized war. Both dog and cat families can enjoy “Cats and Dogs,” which presupposes a sophisticated, technologically advanced, but totally secret battle fought out of sight in neighborhoods and suburbs. At this point, the conflict focuses on the cat army’s plan to destroy a newly developed vaccine purported to eliminate a dog allergy in humans, which would lead to more families adopting canines rather than felines. Naturally, the dogs have put a stop to the cats’ plan to push back dog-kind.

  • Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins, Tobey Maguire
  • Director: Lawrence Guterman
  • Year: 2001
  • Runtime: 87 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54%

Ella Enchanted

Kids who love fairy tales will enjoy “Ella Enchanted,” a new story in the princesses/princes/evil guardians tradition but told through a 21st-century point of view, meaning that the female characters have a lot of agency and are no mere damsels in distress. 

Shortly after her birth, baby Ella is cursed with a spell from her fairy godmother that forces her to do whatever anybody tells her to do. As a result, our hero winds up as a servant-like Cinderella when her mother dies and Ella goes off to live with the mean and demanding Dame Olga. When she’s had enough of his not-so-happily-ever life, Ella sets off on a grand quest with the dashing Prince Charmont to find that fairy godmother and break the spell so that Ella can live the life she wishes to lead.

  • Starring: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes
  • Director: Tommy O’Haver
  • Year: 2004
  • Runtime: 96 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50%

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

While some fans prefer the darker “Deathly Hallows” films, you can’t deny that the first installment in the “Harry Potter” franchise, “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” is the most delightful entry in the series. It’s here we’re first introduced to the wonderful world of Hogwarts, with its living portraits, Sorting Hat, and the breathtaking Great Hall.

As for the plot, young orphan Harry Potter lives with his abusive extended family, but his life takes a magical turn when he receives an invitation to Hogwarts — a school for young witches and wizards. But when he arrives at the enchanted institution, he learns that a dark enemy, the nefarious Voldemort, might be coming back, leading to a plot involving unicorns, life-sized chess boards, and a mythical object.

On top of all that, Harry has to pass his classes, which isn’t easy when you’ve got a teacher like the sneering Severus Snape. The result is a modern-day classic that will open up a whole new universe — and franchise — to young and old audiences alike.

  • Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
  • Director: Chris Columbus
  • Year: 2001
  • Runtime: 152 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%

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