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Even before the new stay-at-home reality, it wasn’t always easy finding a movie the whole family could watch. Kids’ movies can feel too dumbed-down for adults, while grown-up films often veer into inappropriate territory. Once you’ve gone through “West Side Story,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and all the “Harry Potters,” what’s left?
There’s more out there than you might think. We’ve compiled a list of crowd-pleasing family films, with some hidden gems, forgotten favorites and older classics that should hit the sweet spot.
GNOMEO & JULIET (2011) An animated twist on Shakespeare featuring garden gnomes dancing to the music of Elton John — sounds awful, right? Actually, it’s fun and quite clever, with a stellar voice cast (James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne) and more gardening-based jokes than seems humanly possible. The 2018 sequel, “Sherlock Gnomes,” isn’t very good. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
INCEPTION (2010) If you’re going to show your kids an action movie, why not pick something inventive, brilliant and totally unique? Christopher Nolan’s story about a dream thief (Leonardo DiCaprio) who delves into ever-deeper layers of the subconscious features some truly dazzling visuals and an ace cast (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy). “Inception” delivers lots of action and intensity, but nothing truly awful, making it a great choice for families with tweens. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL (2008) This theatrical release was supposed to launch the American Girl dolls into a major franchise, but it didn’t happen. Too bad, because it’s a lovely little movie, with a winning Abigail Breslin as a budding reporter in 1934. The fine support cast includes Stanley Tucci, Joan Cusack and Julia Ormond. It’s old-fashioned kid stuff, but well-crafted and endearing. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
MATILDA (1996) Danny DeVito brings a dark, campy vibe to this Roald Dahl adaptation about a little girl (Mara Wilson) with supernatural powers. DeVito and his wife, Rhea Pearlman, play Matilda’s wonderfully awful parents; look for Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” as a humorless FBI agent. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
NATIONAL TREASURE (2004) and NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007) Disney’s two-film franchise is a shameless (yet inspired) rip-off of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” with Nicolas Cage as an American history expert and adventurer. The first movie is rousing good fun, with car chases and non-bloody shootouts. The sequel is a letdown, but watchable. Check their availability on Netflix, which has been losing some content to Disney+. (YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
PADDINGTON (2014) and PADDINGTON 2 (2014) Based on Michael Bond’s books about a polite little bear transplanted to London, these two British productions feature Ben Wishaw as the voice of our CGI hero and a live-action cast of Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and others. The first film, with Nicole Kidman as the villain, is a fluffy little treat. The second, starring Hugh Grant, is flat-out fantastic. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
STALAG 17 (1953) Billy Wilder’s zingy comedy-drama about American soldiers trying to escape a Nazi POW camp — a predecessor to TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes” — makes the whole experience seem almost fun! William Holden won the Oscar for his portrayal of JJ Sefton, a cynical loner who (of course) turns out to have a heart after all. There’s some brief violence — this is war, after all. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)
THE LITTLE COLONEL (1935) Think your kids won’t sit through a Shirley Temple movie that’s 85 years old? Younger ones might like this sparkly classic, which features the child star and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in their famous tapdancing duet — the first black-and-white pairing on celluloid. Be prepared, though, to discuss the post-Civil War setting and the concept of plantations with your kids. (YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)