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The 30 Best Family Films on HBO Max

Hugo. Photo: Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/? 2011 GK Films. All Rights Reserved.
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This article is updated frequently as titles leave and enter HBO Max. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.

Maybe the kids in the house have seen everything on Disney+? Or their parents just want a change from so much Marvel and Pixar? HBO Max, the quickest growing streaming service in history, has one of the deepest catalogs in the world, and their family selection is above average as well, amplified by being the exclusive home of Studio Ghibli’s catalog. Before getting to the best films, it should be noted that they also have a very dense Family TV section thanks to being the home for most Cartoon Network programming. This list will be updated monthly.

*A Christmas Story

It doesn’t have to be Christmas time to enjoy one of the most beloved holiday films in history. Bob Clark directed this 1983 slice of nostalgia that didn’t make much of an impact when it was released but became a massive hit in the eras of VHS and seasonal cable showing. Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, and Darren McGavin star in the sweet and hysterical story of an average American family around Christmas time.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

Disney+ may have a monopoly on streaming animation, but HBO Max has the Don Bluth movies about cute dogs! Beloved from the minute it was released, this is the story of a German Shepherd (voiced by Burt Reynolds), who leaves heaven to solve his murder but ends up befriending an adorable orphan. It’s better than you remember. The 1996 sequel is also on HBO Max.

Clash of the Titans

The first Clash of the Titans was basically advertised as a family adventure film when it was released way back in 1981 and became a huge hit. Harry Hamlin stars in the film that would feature the final work of the legendary Ray Harrhausen, the king of stop-motion visual effects, and loosely retells the myth of Perseus. It’s dated, for sure, but might scratch a nostalgic itch for Gen X-ers with HBO Max subscriptions.

The Dark Crystal

Look! Muppets! It’s a kid’s movie, right?!?! Sorta. Yes, there are puppets in this fascinating fantasy film, but it’s also a dark, often scary adventure story that doesn’t talk down to children and isn’t cautious about frightening them. It’s hard to express how groundbreaking this movie was for its time in terms of puppetry, special effects, and even the way children’s entertainment was written. It’s wildly influential, and there’s a reason Netflix returned to its world almost four decades later.

Doctor Dolittle

HBO Max doesn’t currently have the Eddie Murphy remake, but maybe it’s time to introduce the kids to what entertained young ones back in the ‘60s? Honestly, the Rex Harrison musical surpassed children to become a massive hit for all ages, even landing a nomination for Best Picture. It was one of the most beloved films of 1967.

Early Man

Aardman is just the best. Still mostly known for Wallace & Gromit (and maybe now Shaun the Sheep), the stop-motion masters have made other films too, including this 2018 release about a tribe of Stone Age people facing off against the future really when bronze-using invaders challenge them to a game of football. Nick Park directed this funny flick that may not be Aardman’s best, but minor Aardman is still a family film worth seeing.

Finding Neverland

This one may be more for the families with older kids as it’s a historical drama about the playwright J.M. Barrie and the family he befriended that inspired him to write Peter Pan. A massive critical darling, it landed Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for star Johnny Depp. It was also the breakthrough for a young Freddie Highmore.

Fly Away Home

The great Carroll Ballard is remembered for nature-driven family films like The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf, but Fly Away Home may be his best. Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin star in the true story of Bill Lishman, who created an aircraft to help some stranded Canadian geese find their way home. It’s an incredibly moving, beautiful film.

Free Guy

Shawn Levy directed this 2021 summer hit that’s already on streaming services. Owing a great debt to The LEGO Movie, Free Guy is another tale of someone breaking out of their routine, in this case an NPC (Ryan Reynolds) in a MMORPG who tries to become the hero of his story. His adventure makes him a star in the real world and the enemy of the game’s owner, played by Taika Waititi. Reynolds is his typically charming self, although Jodie Comer kind of steals the movie.

Happy Feet

George Miller would have a place in movie history if he only made the Mad Max movies, but he also directed two pairs of family classics in the Babe movies and the Happy Feet movies, tales of a penguin who needs to learn his heartsong. The winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Film, this is a joyous musical, and the sequel is arguably just as good.

Harry Potter

Given that HBO Max is really the new catalog service for Warner Brothers, it makes sense that their most popular franchise would now be its exclusive property. All eight of the films based on the J.K. Rowling books are here, streaming in HD.

Hugo

Nominated for 11 Oscars (and winning five), Hugo is one of Scorsese’s most acclaimed and beloved films, which should further put to rest any of those dumb insinuations that the legendary director only knows how to make mob movies. It’s a whimsical, delightful film that you can watch with the entire family, and while it may not be in 3D on HBO Max, you can still enjoy its endless visual glory.

The LEGO Batman Movie

More than just a child’s version of a superhero movie or a spoof of the genre, this family flick is a legitimately clever and well-crafted action film. Will Arnett spins off his version of the Dark Knight that premiered in The LEGO Movie for a film that unpacks the clichés about Bruce Wayne and Batman in a manner that’s funny and very smart.

Life of Pi

Family films don’t always have to be animated. Why not introduce them to something more ambitious like this 2012 adventure-drama based on the smash hit Yann Martel novel of the same name. The story of a 16-year-old (Suraj Sharma) who survives a shipwreck with a Bengal tiger is such a visually accomplished piece of work that it won Ang Lee his second Oscar for Directing.

Looney Tunes Back in Action

Look! Muppets! It’s a kid’s movie, right?!?! Sorta. Yes, there are puppets in this fascinating fantasy film, but it’s also a dark, often scary adventure story that doesn’t talk down to children and isn’t cautious about frightening them. It’s hard to express how groundbreaking this movie was for its time in terms of puppetry, special effects, and even the way children’s entertainment was written. It’s wildly influential, and there’s a reason Netflix returned to its world almost four decades later.

Miracle on 34th Street

Two versions of the beloved holiday classic about a department store Santa who claims to be real thing are on HBO Max, and really could fit the bill on a weekend for families any time of the year. The 1947 Edmund Gwenn version is the superior one but Richard Attenborough makes the 1994 one nearly as enjoyable.

Mouse Hunt

The great Gore Verbinski directed this 1997 black comedy that works for the whole family. On the surface, it’s the story of two brothers tormented by one small mouse in a house they’ve inherited from their father. It’s filled with great physical humor from Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, who crib their style from classic comedy duos like Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello.

Nancy Drew

Literature’s favorite mystery-solving young heroine got the feature film treatment back in 2007 when Emma Roberts took on the title role in this film based on the massively successful books. Responses were mixed at the time, but it’s nice to see a film like this for young adults aimed at empowering girls to solve mysteries of their own.

Nanny McPhee

Emma Thompson delivers as the title character in this 2005 film based on the Christianna Brand books. Set in Victorian England, this Mary Poppins riff is another tale of a nanny who assists a widower with seven kids that he can’t manage. Thompson also wrote the adaptation and starred in a 2010 sequel that’s also on HBO Max, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang.

*Paddington 2

What a charming movie Paddington 2 is for the whole family. Paul King returned to direct the sequel to the 2014 original, a film that actually outpaces its predecessor in both humor and heart. Ben Whishaw returns to voice the marmalade-loving bear in a story that takes Paddington to prison and teaches lessons about community that feel like they never talk down to children.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Also known as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, this Aardman gem is from the same studio that gave us Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit. With voice work by Hugh Grant, David Tennant, and Martin Freeman, the 3D stop-motion adventure film is about a group of mediocre swashbucklers fighting to be Pirate of the Year. It’s smart and hysterical.

Shrek the Third

For no explainable reason, the only film in the four-movie franchise about everyone’s favorite big green ogre that’s available on HBO Max is the third one, released in 2007. Directed by Chris Miller, it was released at a time when this series was literally one of the biggest in the world — this movie made almost a billion dollars and was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars. It’s not as good as the first two, but it’s fun enough for a list like this one.

Steven Universe: The Movie

After Steven Universe ended its run on Cartoon Network, they produced a film in 2019 that maintains the hit show’s brilliant blend of fantasy and humor. Most of the ensemble cast returns for another story of the Crystal Gems trying to save all organic life on Earth. Steven Universe is a wonderful show, and this movie is a nice epilogue to its legacy. Note: the series is also on HBO Max.

Studio Ghibli

Almost all of the Studio Ghibli films are on HBO Max, the now exclusive home to them when it comes to streaming. The truth is that we could devote about 10% of this list to Hayao Miyazaki and his colleagues but we’ll give up some that space and just point you here to the ranking of the entire output of the most important modern animation studio in the world. Start with Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle in the Sky. You won’t stop.

Superman

So your kids are too young for Zack Snyder’s Justice League but you want to get a little DC superhero action this weekend? Go back to one of the most influential superhero flicks ever made, Richard Donner’s first film adaptation of the Man in Steel. Christopher Reeve rules as the legendary hero and no one will ever top Gene Hackman’s take on Lex Luthor.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Teen Titans Go! Is one of the smartest superhero cartoons of the modern era and their feature film debut is an underrate joy. The writers here joyfully satirize the world of superheroes, including cameos from many famous DC characters, while never losing the heart of their leading men and women. It’s very funny and clever.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

An adaptation of the comics of the same name, this 1990 action film became a massive hit for all ages, launching an entire franchise. In fact, it was technically the highest-grossing independent film when it was released, and a top ten film overall of 1990. It led to 1991’s The Secret of the Ooze and 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both of which are also on HBO Max. Get some pizza and relive all three.

*Where the Wild Things Are

In 2009, Spike Jonze adapted the Maurice Sendak classic children’s story in a way that only he could. Max Records plays a boy who flees his troubled home to find an island of creatures known as the Wild Things, who make Max their king. A fascinating, beautiful film that works on multiple levels, it’s one of the best movies of 2009, a flick that works differently but equally for parents and children.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

It was announced in January 2021 that creatives are returning to the well again and telling a story of Willy Wonka’s early days before he opened his famous chocolate factory. There’s a reason this 1971 musical has stood the test of time for five decades, passed down as a beloved family film from generation to generation. Gene Wilder gives one of the most timeless performances ever. It will work its magic on kids forever.

The Wizard of Oz

Maybe you’ve heard of it? Seriously, what could possibly be written if you’re on the fence about The Wizard of Oz? Maybe you haven’t seen it since you were a little kid? Revisit the journey of Dorothy over the rainbow if that’s the case and appreciate this wonderful fantasy on a new level.

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The 30 Best Family Films on HBO Max