If you have family or friends gathering for this holiday week, here are some smart, entertaining films with broad appeal. I’ll list a few good choices from some of the major streaming services, and let you know if they’re appropriate for young kids. I believe even the child-friendly films will be enjoyable for us grownups.
You can buy almost anything you want on Prime or Apple+. These stream free for subscribers:
Dolemite Is My Name (2021) – A hilarious biopic with Eddie Murphy playing Rudy Ray Moore, the Ed Wood of ’70s blaxploitation pictures. Warning: Rated R for Raunchy, but a real crowd-pleaser.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – Genial, quirky, and thoughtful animation for the whole family.
The Water Man (2020) – A sensitive PG coming-of-age film about loss, resilience, friendship, and faith in one’s self.
My Octopus Teacher (2020) – A documentary with something for all ages. A man tries to befriend one of the most alien-seeming of all creatures, an octopus living near his beach house. Philosophical and heart-warming.
Any nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough – These are all absolutely enchanting, spectacular, educational, and life-affirming, especially if you have a screen large enough to transport you to these gorgeous settings in some detail. Night on Earth, without Attenborough, is also great. All rated G.
Crip Camp is an inspiring documentary, but may not please young kids as it deals with disabled adults.
Fantastic Fungi – One more documentary, with universal appeal for anyone curious about nature.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – Animation by the Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki. Magical, for all ages. If you’ve seen this one, HBO Max has 7 more Miyazaki films suitable for everyone. Search for them.
The Gold Rush (1925) – Hilarious, and touching at times. Silent movies are great for family viewing, since a bit of talking won’t interrupt the story. Also on HBO Max: The Circus, The Kid, City Lights, A Dog’s Life.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – A musical that makes everyone smile.
My Favorite Year (1982) – A light-hearted, swashbuckling PG comedy.
Three comedies for adults and older kids: Airplane!, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian.
The NeverEnding Story (1984) – A great adventure for kids and those who once were kids.
Chicken Run – The superior progenitor of all those good Shaun the Sheep pictures.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – Don’t believe the reviews. This is smart and funny.
This service is the treasure trove of family entertainment. I like:
Finding Nemo (2003) – And any Pixar movie made before 2010. Also, Inside Out (2015) is a winner.
Science Fair (2018) – Something more real and heady than the usual Disney / Marvel fare.
Honestly, all the old Disney classics are must-sees and you know what they are. And if you’re a Marvel fan, have at it. Disney+ is your oyster.
Apple+ is a desert for high-quality family fare unless you somehow haven’t seen Ted Lasso.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Stylish animation for the whole family.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Still my favorite Christmas movie.
Wallace & Gromit, the complete collection – Irresistible claymation fun.
Captain Fantastic (2016) – Rated R for some salty language, but this is a charming movie about a father (Viggo Mortensen) trying to raise his kids off the grid, and his admirable principles facing up against modern times.
Lord of the Rings trilogy – Violent, yes. But so excellent and engrossing. My teenage kids have seen it 5 times.