More than ever, families are looking for distractions that don’t cost a lot of money. If you’re one of those families that already has an Amazon Prime account, there’s a selection of films that work for any demographic that are available right now with your subscription cost. Now, Amazon Prime seems to be the most limited streaming service when it comes to this particular section of the virtual video store, but the shelves aren’t totally empty. Here are 20 films to distract the little ones or schedule an entire family movie night around.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
Sometimes the real little kids need a movie too, right? Why not direct them to this musical comedy starring one of the most famous characters in the history of children’s entertainment. Only the second film to be adapted from Sesame Street, it’s a sweet flick about everyone’s favorite ticklish red puppet.
The optimistic orphan who reminds people that the sun will come out tomorrow has been a pop culture staple for generations, first appearing in a comic strip and then a 1977 Broadway musical before this first 1982 film version, starring Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, and Carol Burnett. It’s a delight.
Big Top Pee-Wee
It lacks the non-stop creativity of Tim Burton’s original but there’s enough joyous lunacy in the 1988 sequel adventure for Pee-Wee Herman to justify a look. Paul Reubens returns as Pee-Wee, who gets tangled up in a circus story that also includes roles for Kris Kristofferson, Penelope Ann Miller, and Valeria Golino.
The Black Stallion
Carroll Ballard directed this 1979 critical darling that adapts the beloved book by Walter Farley and contains stunning cinematography from the legendary Caleb Deschanel. It may not be fast-paced enough for modern younger viewers but kids can still appreciate the lyrical, poetic storytelling here, even if mom and dad end up liking it even more.
Given Eddie Murphy’s very adult sense of humor in the ‘80s, most people wouldn’t have predicted that he would have been one of the biggest family movie stars of the ‘00s, but that’s exactly what happened with the Dr. Dolittle and Daddy Day Care movies. The latter flick isn’t exactly a classic, but it does feature Murphy in that great state where’s absolutely comedically fearless, willing to throw himself into the most ridiculous plots to make kids laugh.
It was probably a mistake to make a sequel to the smash hit Bruce Almighty without Jim Carrey, the main reason it was a smash hit in the first place. But if one looks at the 2007 follow-up as a kids’ movie, it makes a bit more sense. Steve Carell stars as Evan Baxter, reprising his role from the original and the new guy who hears directly from God (Morgan Freeman), who tells the new savior to start building an ark.
Joe Dante directed this beloved 1985 sci-fi/adventure film starring Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix in their film debuts. Dante himself had some issues with the final product, which was rushed to meet a release date and then fell in the big shadow of Back to the Future, but the film gained an audience over the years, in no small part because of the careers that Hawke and Phoenix would develop.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s classic often gets a ton of replay around the holidays, but it’s the kind of heart-warmer that works all year long. This is no mere Christmas movie but a story about the impact that one man can have on an entire community. It really defined the onscreen persona of Jimmy Stewart and has become a beloved film around the world, even in warm weather.
*The Karate Kid
No, not the Ralph Macchio original, but the 2010 remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. It doesn’t have the nostalgic kick of the first movie (or even the Netflix series Cobra Kai), but it’s worth a look for Chan’s commitment. He’s an actor who never phones it in, and he gives his Mr. Han the same kind of grace and wisdom that Pat Morita used to elevate the ‘80s classic.
The Last Unicorn
Remember when they made animated fantasies for kids that were dark and intense? The Last Unicorn is a thrilling adventure film from way back in 1982 based on the beloved novel of the same name by Peter S. Beagle. Featuring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, and more, it’s the story of its title: A unicorn searching for what happened to her kind.
This was once a Netflix original (in the States at least), but it has since been released on Blu-ray and now is available on other streamers too. It’s a charming adaptation of the 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that has become a beloved classic (but the only one to try and stretch the story to a full-length feature). Smart, and visually striking, with great voice work by Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, and many more.
Delayed and rescheduled because of the pandemic, this action-comedy landed exclusively on Amazon Prime in June of last year to mixed reviews. It stars the reliable Dave Bautista as a CIA agent who gets trapped watching a precocious nine-year-old girl. A little violent for the real little ones, it’s worth a look just for Bautista.
Ramona and Beezus
Consider this a nostalgia option for those who grew up with Selena Gomez and are now old enough to show her films to their kids (yes, that’s possible, believe it or not). It’s also a great option for people looking to remember the recently passed and wonderful Beverly Cleary, one of the best writers ever of books for children.
Animation great Don Bluth made his directorial debut with this twisted 1982 fantasy film, proving that he wasn’t going to make movies that talked down or coddled his audience. Adapted from Robert C. O’Brien’s novel, it turns the existence of average field mice into an elaborate fantasy world. Audiences of a certain generation were probably traumatized by its visuals at a young age. Pass the trauma on to your kids!
The Secret of Roan Inish
Take a break from the escapism and show your kids something culturally resonant and unforgettable in John Sayles’s version of a classic Irish legend. With breathtaking cinematography by Haskell Wexler, this is the story of a girl in Ireland who hears that her brother was swept away by a selkie when he was a baby. It’s a tale of magic and legends in a way that could only take place in Ireland.
The great Joe Dante (Gremlins) directed this 1998 sci-fi/family film about toy soldiers that not only come to life but essentially go to war with each other. Frank Langella and Tommy Lee Jones lend their excellent voices to the little guys and Kirsten Dunst plays one of the non-toy characters. It’s not a great movie but may be a nice bit of nostalgia for Amazon Prime subscribers who were the right age when it came out in 1998.
Michael J. Fox voices the title character in this hit adaptation of the E.B. White children’s novel, alongside Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie as the human parents of the adorable mouse. The 2002 sequel is also on Amazon Prime, but you’ll have to pay a rental fee for 2005’s Call of the Wild if you want to keep the mousy fun going.
A parody of surf documentaries, this 2007 computer-animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation may not be “Pixar level” but definitely provides enough laughs to justify a click on Amazon Prime. It features a great voice cast that includes Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, and many more.
Think Like a Dog
This story of a 12-year-old who ends being able to communicate with his dog is undeniably goofy and kind of amateurly made, but it’s different than most other flicks in the family section of Amazon Prime, and so maybe it’s what you’re looking for tonight. Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox star as the dog-talker’s parents in this 2020 flick that barely got released because of the pandemic, buried on VOD by Lionsgate and now free on Amazon Prime.
There’s a film that premiered at Sundance starring Allison Janney and Viola Davis sitting right there exclusively on Amazon Prime and it feels like most people have no idea it exists. This cute period piece actually stars the wonderful Mckenna Grace of The Haunting of Hill House as Christmas Flint, an outcast who tries to take down the more organized scout troops and win a competition. It’s sweet and funny.