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Top 10 Family Films

By Noelle Buffam · January 20, 2012

The genre of family film is one that is completely unique and totally dynamic. While most genres have a very specific, targeted audience, family films have the tough task of appealing to a wide range of ages. From ages 2 to 92, these films aim to entertain every member of the family.

While the content is wholesome and appealing to children, family films also capture the imagination of adults. Whether it's through elaborate dance numbers, sophisticated humor, or cutting-edge special effects, family films tend to have that extra "spark" of creativity.

Below are the Top 10 Best Family Films. It is important to realize that, perhaps more than any other genre, family films tend to overlap specific genres. Often, family films are also considered  adventure, fantasy, comedy, or even drama films. Not only that, but because of their nature, family films have a heavy presence in animation and musical film. Whatever sub-genre they may fall into, family films have the important duty of entertaining and delighting audiences of all ages.

10. The Kid (1921)

The opening title reads, "A comedy with a smile–and perhaps a tear". In the film, The Woman (Edna Purviance) leaves her baby in a limousine with a pleading note. Two thugs steal the limousine and dump The Kid (Jackie Coogan) in a garbage can. Doesn't sound like a family movie yet? Stay tuned. The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds the abandoned baby and makes a home for him. Five years pass and The Woman has become a successful and wealthy opera singer. However, the guilt for dumping her baby has never left her. She does continuous charity work with children in hopes of finding her lost baby. A series of events ensue, and the question must be answered. Who deserves the baby–the opera singer, or the lowly tramp? The Kid is Charlie Chaplin's first full-length movie, and the 2nd highest grossing film of 1921. Still upheld as a feat in film, The Kid weaves together comedy and heartfelt emotion.

9. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

It’s called the Disney Renaissance: an era in the late 80s and 90s during which Disney returned to making successful animated films based on classic fairy tales. Arguably, the film’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the first ever animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. In total, Beauty and the Beast received six Academy nominations, winning two. The film was the second movie ever produced using CAPS (Computer Animation Productions System). The result was a wider range of colors, the illusion of depth, and soft shading colored line effects for the characters that brought them to life. While the film used these new techniques, it told a “tale as old as time”.  Beauty and the Beast, in Roger Ebert’s words, was made by “the best writers, musicians and filmmakers [who] are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.” That was a safe assumption to make considering Beauty and the Beast was a significant commercial and critical success, earning more than $403 million worldwide.

8. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Faithful to the original book by Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most celebrated films ever made. When the film premiered, it was promoted by Paramount Pictures as a family film. However, it is no secret that the movie has dark undertones… making it one of the best black-comedies ever made. In the film, the eccentric candy maker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) creates a contest. He hides five golden tickets inside five different Wonka Bars. The five winners get to have an exclusive tour inside Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory (not to mention, a lifetime supply of candy). Four out of the five children that win are horrible brats. However, the fifth winner is Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum)–an amiable, kind boy. The children take the tour, which is crazy, cool, and full of adventure. While Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a more "edgy" family film, it is full of great comedy and fantastic acting. One of the most memorable family films of all time, Willy Wonka is quirky, fun, and all its own.

7. The Princess Bride (1987)

Based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman, The Princess Bride is one of the most popular family-comedy films of all time. When released, the film had a modest start at the box office grossing $30.8 million. However, as time went on The Princess Bride grew into the cult classic that nearly everyone is familiar with today. The film is the perfect combination of comedy, fantasy, and adventure. Narrated through a book read by a grandfather (Peter Falk) to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), there is a princess, an evil prince, sword fights, and giants. The Princess Bride is a story that takes the audience to a faraway land of adventure and intrigue, all while keeping the laughs coming. Often beheld as one of the best comedy films of all time, The Princess Bride is a classic film made for all ages.

6. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It is one of the greatest Christmas stories ever told.It's a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart). Bailey attempts to commit suicide, but his efforts are thwarted when an angel intervenes. The angel goes on to show Bailey what life would be like if he was never born. Upon its release, It's a Wonderful Life was considered a flop in the box office. However, five Academy Awards later the film is an iconic Christmas movie. Its popularity today is as strong as it ever was, with families continuing the ritual of watching the story of George Bailey at Christmas time. This story of one man's journey is a lesson in second chances, an important message that resounds with audiences of all kinds.

5. Mary Poppins (1964)

Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows the songs. Everyone knows the meaning of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". Mary Poppins took the world by storm in 1964, garnering 13 Academy Award nominations. It tells the story of an eccentric nanny, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), and her friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke) as they transform the lives of the Banks children. The children enjoy magical romps along the countryside, floating tea sessions, and wacky horse races. Not only does the film have an intriguing plot, but it is punctuated by unforgettable songs including, "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Let's go Fly A Kite". In fact, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Song. Not only that, but Mary Poppins became the most Oscar nominated Disney film of all time.  A truly innovative film, Mary Poppins stands today as a unique and interesting journey, full of magic and mystique.

4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Elliot (Henry Thomas) is a regular kid–though meek and reserved. However, everything changes one day when Elliot meets a lost alien. Deciding to keep the alien, Elliot names him E.T. When E.T. reveals to Elliot that he is lost, the two team up with Elliot's siblings to find E.T. a way home. Along the way, the pair has quite an adventure, between keeping E.T. incognito and evading the police. Produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, the film was a true blockbuster. It surpassed Star Wars to become the highest grossing film of all time–a record held for over 11 years. The film was a success in every realm. Hershey even saw a 65% increase in revenue due to the film's prominent use of Reese's candy.E.T. captured the hearts of audiences everywhere. Its longevity is seen today, as the film is still considered a timeless tale of friendship.

3. The Sound of Music (1965)

Adjusted for inflation, The Sound of Music made $1.046 billion at the box office (2010 prices). That puts the film in third place of biggest box office hits of all time (right behind Gone With the Wind and Star Wars). There are not many family films as celebrated as The Sound of Music. Taken from the Broadway Musical of the same name, The Sound of Music is originally based on the memoir written by Maria von Trapp: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. The film tells the story of Maria (Julie Andrews), a woman living in a convent in Austria. One day, Maria decides to leave the convent to become a governess to the children of the widower Naval officer, Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). The film won five Academy Awards, and is recognized as the film that saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.

2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Highly regarded as one of the best films ever made, The Wizard of Oz is a staple in the family film genre. Based on the 1900 children’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, the film was directed by Victor Flemming. It tells the story of the simple farm girl from Kansas, Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland). Dorothy awakens to find her house being carried away by a tornado. When she ventures out, she discovers that she is alone in a strange world. In order to get back home, Dorothy must venture to the Emerald City to visit the Wizard of Oz. When it premiered, it was MGM’s most expensive film ever made. However, the film was initially a box office bomb. Still, it won two Academy Awards: Best song for “Over the Rainbow” and Best Original Music Score. Since then, it has been noted for its use of special effects and Technicolor. Not only that, but its adventurous world, fantastical characters, and unforgettable musical score has made The Wizard of Oz one of the most celebrated films of all time.

1. Toy Story (1995)

It is a movie that changed the world forever. The first full-length feature film created in its entirety though the use of computer animation. Toy Story as the leader of the revolution. Not only did the world fall in love with the CGI look, but the witty dialogue and jokes seem to appeal to all ages. Suddenly, a new standard was set for family films. And it was (and still is) a high standard. Not only do family films have to appeal to children, but they must be witty, sharp, and laugh-out-loud funny for adults. Toy Story was not only hugely successful at the box office, but it spurred a revolution. Pixar went on to make hugely successful films like Up and Finding Nemo. Not only that, but it changed the landscape for other studio’s family film productions. With this, we saw the creation of Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon. Not to be forgotten, the original Toy Story produced two successful sequels…with Toy Story 3 achieving the 7th highest gross of all time, earning more than $1 billion worldwide. Fun, heart warming, and innovative, the Toy Story franchise represents what family film is all about.