Top 10 Family Films of All Time

The Radio Times here in the UK held a reader poll to discover the best family film of all time with over 2500 people voting Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” number 1. It’s a curious list with only a couple of films (“E.T.” and Robert Zemeckis’ “Back To The Future”) lacking at least one musical interlude. Given the readership of the magazine I’m guessing the 2500 people who voted consisted mainly of grandparents wishing to occupy their children’s children with a melancholic sing-a-along hence the inclusion of films “Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” amongst others.

But the poll has certainly identified some marvellous films across various genres and time periods. “The Wizard of Oz” dates back to 1939 while “The Jungle Book”, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, “Back To The Future”, and “Toy Story” take us through the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, until we reach the 21st century with “Shrek”. Science-fiction, fantasy, musicals, and animation form the predominant genres, with musical-animation appearing as the favoured time-killer.

10. The Sound of Music (Wise, 1965)

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Tony Sloman, a film writer and producer, says: “This artful crowd-pleaser continues to reach out to every generation, thanks to expert and unsentimental handling from director Robert Wise (replacing William Wyler) and a magnificent performance from Julie Andrews. She is perfectly cast as Maria, the reluctant nun who discovers her true calling (of course; she’s Mary Poppins) as governess to a houseful of youngsters. It still looks lovely, in particular the stunning opening panoramic sweep onto the mountain top and the Do Re Mi tour around Salzburg (location-scouted by the uncredited musical genius Roger Edens), and the Rodgers and Hammerstein score is as refreshing as ever. For those who have never seen it, do. For those who love it, no persuasion is needed — it’s as fresh and as magical as Andrews’s smile.

9. The Jungle Book (Reitherman, 1967)

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Andrew Collins says: “The last animated feature made under Walt Disney’s personal supervision before his death, this barnstorming classic occupies a truly rewarding perch in the studio’s history, repaying repeated releases in all formats, and ageing not a jot. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories, it drops the ‘Man Cub’ into a jungle at first perilous, then welcoming, then perilous, and so on. As with all the best Disneys, there’s a terrific voice cast that includes Phil Harris as Baloo the bear, Louis Prima as the scat-singing orangutan King Louie and George Sanders as the suavely villainous tiger Shere Khan. Many of the songs — such as “I Wanna Be Like You” and the Oscar-nominated “The Bare Necessities” — have become standards. The period’s feathery drawing style abounds, and an all-round warmth pervades.”

8. Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985)

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John Ferguson, a film journalist who writes for publications in the UK and Australia, says: “This irresistible combination of dazzling effects and sly comedy propelled Michael J Fox to stardom and Robert Zemeckis to the front rank of Hollywood directors. And time has not robbed it of any of its vitality. Fox plays the young student who travels back in time to the 1950s and acts as matchmaker for his future parents, who are showing no sign of falling in love. It’s beautifully played by the cast (honourable mentions to Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover), and makes the most of an ingenious script from Bob Gale and Zemeckis that finds time to poke fun at 50s icons and lifestyles between the bouts of time travelling. Zemeckis’s direction is equally adroit and he never lets the effects swamp the film.”

7. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Stuart, 1971)

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Tom Hutchinson says: “Adults might view this musical fantasy as a grim fairy tale, with wild-eyed candy-maker Gene Wilder ruthlessly sorting out the honest from the two-faced among the child winners of a tour of his sweetmeat depot. But a child’s-eye view usually sees through the sadistic coating — Roald Dahl adapted it from his even more cruel novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — to realise there’s a harmless soft centre to all this black magic. Whether they enjoy it depends on the child.”

6. Shrek (Adamson/Jenson, 2001)

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Andrew Collins, Radio Times’ film editor, says: “This animated fantasy comedy from DreamWorks is an irreverent, occasionally scatological fairy tale with state-of-the-art computer-generated images that almost steal a march on “Toy Story”. Shrek is an ugly, antisocial green ogre (voiced in a variable Scottish accent by Mike Myers), who must rescue a human princess (Cameron Diaz) in order to appease evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) and rid his swamp of an infestation of traditional fairy-tale characters: three little pigs, a Pinocchio-style character and so on (the disrespectful treatment that they receive suggests a sly dig at Disney orthodoxy). The animators achieve a startling level of reality, but it’s the characters that carry what is an incredibly slight beauty-and-the-beast story. The only problem, and it’s very minor, is the degree to which Eddie Murphy’s Donkey — a partly-improvised vocal turn to match Robin Williams’s in Aladdin — steals the film. Children will love it, while adults can enjoy the action-movie homages and Disney-mocking.”

5. Toy Story (Lasseter, 1995)

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Tom Hutchinson, a film journalist and television presenter, says: “Though this magnificent film will go down in history as the first completely computer-generated animation feature, it is much more than just a technical tour de force. Making full use of a superb, Oscar-nominated screenplay and an accomplished voice cast led by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, director John Lasseter has delivered a great adventure story that will not only entertain children but can also be enjoyed as a jokey parable by adults. In a suburban bedroom, Woody (Hanks), an old-fashioned pullstring cowboy, lords it benevolently over Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles), Bo-Peep (Annie Potts) and Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shawn) and remains his owner’s favourite toy until the arrival of birthday present Buzz Lightyear (Allen), a hi-tech space-ranger. Apart from the brilliant characterisations of Hanks, Allen and the rest of the cast, mention should also be made of Randy Newman’s masterly score, which was Oscar nominated along with his song “You’ve Got a Friend” and provides a perfect complement to the action.”

4. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Hughes, 1968)

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Radio Times critic Adrian Turner comments: “Producer Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli gave this children’s story from the pen of Bond author Ian Fleming the big-budget treatment and it nearly worked. With the combined talents of the teams behind “Mary Poppins” and the Bond movies, this musical about a flying Edwardian motorcar should have been a box-office blockbuster; the fact that it wasn’t is a mystery, given the expertise on board: writers Roald Dahl and Richard Maibaum; designer Ken Adam; musical star Dick Van Dyke; Goldfinger himself, Gert Fröbe; and songs from the Sherman brothers, including the unforgettable title tune. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s probably too long, but if you’re looking for something entertaining for younger children, look no further than this.”

3. Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964)

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David Parkinson, a critic for The Guardian and contributing editor for Empire magazine, says: “This is easily the best of Disney’s experiments in combining animation and live action, and one of the studio’s best-loved films. The last feature overseen by Walt Disney before his death, it was nominated for 13 Oscars and scooped five, including best actress for Julie Andrews in her screen debut. She is splendid as the prim nanny who transforms the lives of her young charges through their visits to her charming fantasy world. Quite why Dick Van Dyke was not even nominated for his performance as Bert the chimney sweep remains a mystery, as his energy is one of the picture’s main assets (though his cockney accent does leave something to be desired). Packed with unforgettable sequences, adorable cartoon characters and timeless songs, it’s quite simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

2. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, 1939)

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Radio Times and Cinafantastique writer Alan Jones says: “One of Hollywood’s quintessential productions, this musical adaptation of L Frank Baum’s classic fable is probably the most beloved fantasy film of all time and the ultimate family picture. It has something for everyone: wonderfully strange lands, fun-scary moments, a dazzling assortment of fairy-tale characters, fabulous songs to take us all somewhere over the rainbow, a peerless Judy Garland performance, and meaningful messages in abundance. Continuously enthralling, this is one hardy perennial you can never tire of watching. Uncredited King Vidor directed some of the sequences.”

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982)

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Film critic Joanna Berry says: “Steven Spielberg’s ode to aliens could also be seen as a tribute to all the loners of the world, as little ET, abandoned by his pot-bellied extraterrestrial pals, has to cope on Earth until they can come back and rescue him. Luckily, he’s befriended by an equally lonely little boy named Elliott, played by Henry Thomas, who proceeds to teach his alien chum how to talk, dress up in women’s clothes and guzzle beer. This is a special, delightful adventure, in which Spielberg manages not only to entertain young children but also reach out to the child in all of us.”

Originally compiled by Radio Times and posted on its blog here.

See also: Top 25 Films to make you happy

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. James Ewing Reply

    I remember watching a lot of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” as a kid and I always had fun with that one. “The Jungle Book,” for me, was just okay as a kid. There were plenty of Disney films I loved more as a kid.

    “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” instilled within me a fear of short people (not really) and the film freaked me out for some reason.

    My family doesn’t watch a lot of movies together. Most of the ones we did watch were the old black and white Disney films like That Darn Cat, The Ugly Dachshund and The AbsentMinded Professor. They’re okay, but don’t hold up to viewings as an adult.

    Probably the best film I watched with my family recently was “M. Hulot’s Holiday,” a great little French comedy in the vein of Charlie Chaplin. In fact, I would say Keaton and Chaplin are two great sources of family films. Those films get a lot of laughs from my family.

  2. Rodney Reply

    James has it right: I’d dispute the inclusion of The Jungle Book on this list. The top three are spot on (although perhaps ET would come in lower than Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins…) and it’s good to see some modern films in there too.
    Great list.

  3. Fitz Reply

    Beauty and the Beast would headline my list. I still love that film.

  4. Dan Reply

    @James: Interesting points James. I don’t remember watching a lot of these films as a child with the family. I never liked the live-action/animation films as a child (apart from Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit). I do, however, remember watching E.T. and other Spielberg films as a family – notably, we went to see Jurassic Park together, and we always used to watch Jaws too. Back To The Future was another big one we used to watch. I’m also suprised to see Star Wars not appear on the top 10.

    @Rodney: I might be tempted to swap E.T. with Wizard of Oz too. Watched Oz again recently (for the first time in years) and it has lost none of its magic.

    @Fitz: I have vague recollections of seeing Beauty and the Beast at the cinema…I’m guessing that was with my Mum since I wouldn’t have been 10 when it was released.

  5. Castor Reply

    Oooh The Jungle Book, I completely forgot about it even though it was a staple of my childhood. Great list Dan although I must admit, I haven’t seen more than half of those movies…

  6. Encore Entertainment Reply

    God, I love Mary Poppins. Lovely list, really. (I’d put Sweeney Todd on…my nephew loves it…he’s six – *crickets*)

  7. Aiden R. Reply

    Great list, man. Think I’d give Back to the Future my #1 spot because that’s always my go-to when a parent or a babysitter asks me what movie they should rent. What’s not to love? But the same can be said about all of these. Well played, good sir.

  8. Marc Reply

    I thought for sure I’d see The Princess Bride here. Though I still have trouble seeing how a movie “about irresponsible alien parents leaving their child behind, causing him, because of his abandonment issues, to becomes an alcoholic, who then dies and comes back as a zombie alien” could be a kids movie. Oh and there’s cursing and shotguns and kids ignoring their curfew. What kind of people took this poll anyway? lol :P

  9. amy Reply

    I’m siding with Rodney here, Hmmm Jungle Book? xD

    I don’t know about swapping ET for Oz. Tough choice! I still love that scene when Dorothy opens the door and the technicolor comes in! Magic! Reminds me when I was little, and used to think that the “old” world was black & white while colors began appearing as the years went by! xD

    I once read someone that said they had their kids watching The Sound of Music, and cut the film with the So Long Farewell song. LOL

    What do you think of that?

  10. Summer Reply

    I’ve seen them all, some of them very close to my heart bringing back sweet childhood memories..

  11. DEZMOND Reply

    I’ve never heard of number four, but the rest really are family classics. I’d put ICE AGE instead of TOY STORY since it was more popular among family audience around the world not just in USA and the characters from ICE AGE are more beloved and appealing than the TOY STORY ones.
    Now, let us sing something from THE SOUND OF MUSIC … :)

  12. Mettel Ray Reply

    Lovely list. I would have seen Home Alone in it cause it has just so many good memories.. or Back to the Future a little bit higher on the list. But Shrek and Toy Story suit this list very well!

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