Movie studios love stories about dysfunctional families because they make for great material. We enjoy these family dramas because they make us laugh, weep, and even think about our own relationships.
“The Sound of Music” and “E.T.” are two of the best movies to see if you’re looking to laugh at your own family while simultaneously being reminded of how special they can be (craziness aside). Using Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores, we’ve compiled a list of the top family dramas that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family.
1. Field of Dreams
“They’ll come if you create it.”
“You” being Kevin Costner’s character, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, who receives a mysterious order to construct “it” – a baseball diamond amidst his cornfield. Because they’re the 1919 White Sox club that was paid to toss World Series games in what came to be known as the “Black Sox,” and Ray’s new field was named after them.
If you don’t recall, Kevin Costner used to be the king of baseball movies, with films like “Bull Durham” and “For Love of the Game” being both filthy and terrible. The sentimental punch of “Field of Dreams” is unmatched, thanks in part to James Earl Jones and Hollywood icon Burt Lancaster in supporting roles. We dare you to watch Ray and his long-deceased father playing catch in the last moment without getting choked up.
2. The Sound of Music
Dramatic music fills the air among the hills. A three-hour musical extravaganza from the 1960s, starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and a huge ensemble cast, begins as a lighthearted romp full of excellent songs before the Nazis invade 1930s Austria. Sound of Music” is a terrific movie for the whole family to enjoy as they follow the adventures of the von Trapp family in Salzburg, Mozart’s hometown, over six decades after its release.
For younger audiences, the pre-World War II scenario provides an opportunity to discuss Europe’s pre-World War II status and how actions made in 1919 laid the stage for the considerably more destructive Second World War.
Is it possible to imagine waking up one morning and realizing that you’re approximately twice your age? It happened to Tom Hanks in this fascinating coming-of-age story about a child who wants to grow up too quickly.
When Josh, played by Hanks, makes a desire to be “huge” at an amusement park, it comes true. It doesn’t take long for him to get a girlfriend and a job that pays enough for his New York apartment. When he discovers how much he’s losing out on because of his absence, it’s all a whirlwind of joy until he returns home to an anxious mother and a bored best friend.
4. A Christmas Story
What are you hoping to receive for Christmas this year? “A Christmas Story” is a 1983 holiday favorite based on the writings of Jean Shepherd if your answer is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. Bob Clark, “Shep’s” co-screenwriter and director, adapted several of the former’s short stories into a holiday fable about a young boy named Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his quest to acquire the aforementioned BB gun on Christmas morning.
Fun fact: The Christmas Story House, where the filming for the film took place, may be visited if you happen to be in Cleveland. Since then, it has been transformed into an interactive museum where visitors may experience Christmas morning in the Parker house. On the other hand, the museum house is closed on Christmas Day, which is unusual.
5. Little Miss Sunshine
The Hoovers embark on a cross-country road journey to compete in a beauty competition in Redondo Beach, California, in this independent comedy. We see Toni Collette as Olive’s mom Sheryl, who is determined to see her daughter succeed in life.
Her spouse, son, brother, and father are all on board. As the family’s old yellow Volkswagen van has a difficult time making the journey, tensions rise. This touching picture, which serves as a reminder of the importance of family ties, seamlessly blends comedy and tragedy.
6. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Elliott (Henry Thomas), a fatherless child, was in desperate need of a buddy, but he never believed he’d acquire one from a galaxy far away. One of Steven Spielberg’s greatest works, “Alien” tells the story of an alien who is stranded in a suburban neighborhood and attempting to get back to his home planet by “phoning home.”
There are a few colorful remarks between Elliott and his siblings, but what family doesn’t witness such jokes thrown around?
7. The Incredibles
Not every family is a superhero; some families are the antithesis of that. The Incredibles, a 2004 film based on the book series by Brad Bird and Edna Mode, returned to theaters in 2018. While “The Incredibles” are super-powered, they nevertheless deal with the same problems as the rest of us, albeit with a healthy dose of heroics thrown in.
The over-the-top “Frozone” spoken by Samuel L. Jackson, as ridiculous as always, is worth the price of admission in and of itself.
“Juno,” a new indie comedy starring Ellen Page, chronicles the life of a pregnant girl. Mark and Vanessa Loring, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, help Juno in her search for a good family to adopt her child.
Juno’s connection with her adoptive parents is depicted over the course of nine months in the film. Every time Juno decides to come home, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons provide some comic relief.
9. How to Train Your Dragon
Once upon a time, our house was home to a dragon. Toothy ate everything in the refrigerator, destroyed all of our furniture, and refused to duck his head when he was in doorways. His name was Toothy.
Even if we hadn’t seen this 2010 DreamWorks Animation film, we’ll know how to do it better next time. In the end, no one ever said owning a pet would be simple.
10. The Princess Bride
epee-fighting, giants, monsters, fugitives, escapes, real love, and miracles are all part of the action.
I should also point out that it’s a film that can be seen over and over again without tiring. It’s hard to think “The Princess Bride” didn’t do much business in theaters, given how popular it has become. Westley and Buttercup’s escapade was made famous by home video rentals (you know youngsters, back in this time, streaming was called “renting videotapes”) and Rob Reiner.
Overall, it’s a lot of fun. The fact that an elderly man (Peter Falk) reads the narrative aloud to his grandson (Fred Savage) is what really makes this a “family drama,” as many of us remember our own grandparents doing.
11. The Nightmare Before Christmas
A spirit from “Halloween Town” trying his hand at Christmas was a bold or foolish move on Tim Burton’s behalf, but the filmmaker has never been one to follow the beaten route. As a result, there’s a memorable scene in which a youngster discovers a severed head under the tree on Christmas morning (don’t worry, this movie is PG).
Magic and originality abound in this delightful mashup of two of your favorite holidays, thanks to the talents of Danny Elfman, who has worked with Tim Burton on numerous occasions.
12. The Little Mermaid
It’s hard to believe, but Disney’s animated films weren’t always a must-see. For this film version, the Mouse House put all its resources into Hans Christian Anderson’s tale and hired composer Alan Menken to produce the catchy songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” which have stuck in our heads ever since.
There was a box office boom and numerous awards, including Menken’s songs, for the film.
13. Miracle on 34th Street (tie)
Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) doesn’t just dress up like Santa Claus; he insists he really is Jolly Old Saint Nick in the flesh. Is he a crazed old man, or is he the genuine article? A Santa at Macy’s hires Kris, and his too-honest method of sending customers to rival businesses that supply the items their kids genuinely want, strangely, enhances business at Macy’s. Whatever Kris is, (Imagine Walmart sending customers to Target.)
‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is a feel-good movie from beginning to end. Its humor is both earned and pleasant, and Gwenn’s performance as the eternally optimistic Kris Kringle won him an Oscar. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which ushers in Santa Claus, kicks off the “Miracle” holiday weekend. See it in magnificent black and white if you can instead of the very effortful “color” version.
14. The Iron Giant (tie)
While “E.T.” may sound familiar, “The Iron Giant” is a warped take on the classic children’s story. Because the story takes place during the height of the Cold War, government thugs are on the prowl to either kill or co-opt the metal warrior from beyond.
Brad Bird, whose later credits include “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” and even one of the countless “Mission Impossible” trips, made his directorial debut with “The Iron Giant.”
15. To Kill a Mockingbird
Gregory Peck earned an Oscar for his performance as Atticus Finch, who has been hailed as the greatest movie hero of the 20th century.
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was a book first. In their little Alabama town of Monroeville, lawyer Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout try to sort out the complicated questions of race and innocence.