The Best Netflix Instant Movies to Watch With Your Entire Family
The holiday season is upon us. The next two months will see millions of people all over the world traveling home to see their families and, since this is the 21st century, avoiding conversation with them by putting on Netflix. But this is a time of mixed company. If you are going to stream something, you better be sure it’s a good choice for both the adults and the kids in the room.
That’s easier said than done. Netflix’s “Just For Kids” section is a nightmare of awful direct-to-DVD junk that would make anyone over the age of eight contemplate leaping out the nearest window. Every other section is riddled with movies that will either bore a kid to tears or traumatize him. Picking a movie that the whole family will enjoy is tough work, but someone has to do it!
So let us do it for you. Forget about labels. Forget about what Netflix says or recommends. When it comes to entertaining your entire family, here are the 15 movies that will work every time.
'Mirror Mirror' is a silly and cartoonish riff on the Snow White fairy tale, but it's also charming and completely harmless, a kids' movie that rarely tries to cater to an adult audience. That may be a turn-off for some, but for families hoping for a slice of innocent whimsy, this will certainly get the job done. The snobs in the audience can simply enjoy director Tarsem Singh's stunning visuals and attention to detail. This is one gorgeously made movie.
In many ways, 'Antz' set the template for every lousy DreamWorks Animation movie that people have been complaining about for over a decade now. But unlike so many of its brethren, this movie is just plain weird enough to be worth your time. Kids will enjoy it just fine because it's an amusing, colorful movie with funny characters, but the adults in the crowd can just marvel at how a major animated bug comedy not only stars Woody Allen, but is structured like one of his movies. That's just a little crazy.
There are a lot of Disney movies on Netflix, but truth be told, there are shockingly few bonafide classics (unless you're one of those people who actually saw 'The Emperor's New Groove'). In fact, one of the few "golden age" films available for streaming is 'Dumbo,' the iconic story of the adorable elephant who learns how to fly. Watch it because, like so much early Disney work, the animation is beautiful even if the story is oddly clunky by modern standards. Also watch it because it's a much weirder, darker, stranger and generally bizarre movie than you remember.
'The American Scream'
What's this? A documentary on a list of family movies? Although kids generally aren't the kind of viewers who thrill to non-fiction filmmaking, you should really consider trying to change that with 'The American Scream,' a charming look at the obsessive men who transform their backyards into haunted houses every Halloween and the wives and children who (often begrudgingly) support them. Although entirely true-to-life, the movie follows the structure of a Hollywood screenplay. You know: hopes, dreams, pitfalls and, of course, ultimate triumph. Other than a scene or two of profanity, this is squeaky clean entertainment that should strike a chord with every kid who loves Halloween, AKA, every kid who is actually worth knowing.
'The Secret of Kells'
Look, if you're going to make an animated movie centered around the creation of a famed illuminated manuscript of the Bible, you've got to offer the audience something to get them in the door. In the case of 'The Secret of Kells,' that something includes striking animation and a fantasy-driven story that combines Irish mythology with history. It may not have the initial flash most modern animated movies, but this Oscar-nominated film is significantly better than most of its American competition.
It may have underperformed in theaters, but 'ParaNorman' is a very funny and occasionally scary stop-motion animation movie that truly does offer something for everyone. Although the story is straightforward enough to appeal to anyone (kid sees ghosts, kid must save town from zombies), there are enough tiny references to to the horror genre to delight even the most jaded horror buffs. Amidst all of the silliness and spookiness, the film also manages to quietly build to a message of tolerance and respect that's just plain bold for how straightforward and honorable it is.
'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan'
Every kid needs a little red-blooded adventure in their lives and it doesn't come better or more family-appropriate than 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.' Still the best 'Trek' movie ever made, the film is hard-edged enough to be thrilling but it never really steps outside of its PG-rating. This is not only less violent than some 'Pirates of the Caribbean' or 'Transformers' junk, it's more exciting, moving and coherent. Heck, it's more exciting, moving and coherent than most all genre cinema being made today. Look, there are two kinds of people in this world: good people who enjoy 'Star Trek' and bad people who don't. Make sure your family is the former.
'The Nightmare Before Christmas'
There was a time when 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' was the edgy alternative to regular holiday family fare, but over the years, it's stopped being the black sheep and has taken its place as a genuine classic. But, its newfound place as one of Disney's crown jewels hasn't defanged the film, not in the slightest. This is a still a dark and deranged movie that gleefully subverts the idea of Christmas with Halloween imagery. If you watch one horror-tinged stop-motion Christmas musical with your family this year, make it this one.
'The Adventures of Tintin'
Since Steven Spielberg's 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' isn't on Netflix, you might as well watch 'The Adventures of Tintin.' Made with the same playful, adventurous spirit as the first three Indiana Jones movies, Spielberg's adaptation of the beloved comic icon is a joyous experience. Lighthearted but never afraid too get its hands a little dirty, this gorgeous motion capture animated movie contains set pieces that would be literally impossible to pull off in the real world, making a must-watch for action junkies and their easily amused children alike.
There's an awful rumor floating around that kids don't like black and white movies. That's not true -- there are only parents who don't like black and white movies and pass their ignorance onto their children. Don't be one of those people. Instead, get the ball rolling by watching 'Duck Soup,' one of the funniest movies ever made and a perfect introduction to the Marx Brothers, one of the funniest comedy teams of all time. This movie is essentially a live action cartoon, an anarchic ode to lunacy that's all slapstick on the surface and all sly political satire at the center. This is one of the most rewarding and skillfully made comedies of all time and thanks to the filmmaking restrictions of the '30s, 100% appropriate for family viewing.
Look, you've already seen 'The Avengers.' Your entire family has already seen 'The Avengers.' But it's on Netflix. And it holds up insanely well on repeat viewings. And it's pretty much the best superhero movie ever made. And any family who watches 'The Avengers' together becomes a stronger unit. And that may be a made up fact, but you just know you want to watch 'The Avengers' again, and you know it's a better fit for a family audience than any recent DC movie. Why do we even have to say this? Your kids are probably watching it right now. Go join them.
Find us someone who doesn't count 'Ghostbusters' among his or her favorite movies and we'll show you someone who hasn't seen 'Ghostbusters' yet. This classic comedy has been changing lives for nearly thirty years, effortlessly winning over viewers of all ages. Sure, there's some stuff that's pretty risque (yes, that ghost is doing what you think its doing to Dan Aykroyd), but it'll fly right over the heads of the young 'uns, who will be begging for their own proton pack by the time the credits roll. 'Ghostbusters' is the rare film that pleases everyone without having to sacrifice anything. That's uncommon, but hey, this is an uncommonly good movie.
The poster poster may promise a fluffy, kid-friendly adventure, but Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' has a ridiculous amount of great stuff going on just underneath the surface. Sure, you do get Asa Butterfield as a plucky orphan who lives in a train station and gets into the occasional perilous situation, but you also get a compelling mystery that's ultimately all about the importance of film history and preservation. Does that make 'Hugo' educational? Yes, it does. Does that make it boring? Nope. Not in the slightest.
'Time Bandits' isn't going to be for everyone, but if it clicks with you, it'll click hard. Terry Gilliam's fantasy masterpiece is a family movie that's also an anti-family movie -- it's a pitch-black takedown of traditional values, suggesting that you shouldn't trust your parents and that the people who say they're your friends will probably stab you in the back. Harsh? Yeah. But funny, imaginative, weird and perfect for families who read the 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' and Roald Dahl books. Your kids will probably have questions about why a movie about time traveling dwarves and their new kid partner gets so odd, but those are questions that you'll probably delight in answering.
'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'
Movies in general don't get much better than Robert Zemeckis' 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,' so it was a shoe-in for this list (and for a lot of lists, actually). Like so many of the best family movies, it's playing on two levels. For some, it's going to be a very funny slapstick adventure about humans and cartoon characters living in the same world. For others, it's a sly film noir parody, a dissection of Hollywood culture and a deconstruction of animation as a genre. All of that and it's a technical marvel that still looks amazing today. Whatta movie!