September 22, 2022

Abstact Arts

Spearheading Arts Goodness

30 Best Kids Movies on HBO Max 2021: Family Movies to Stream

9 min read

Ella Enchanted.
Photo: Miramax

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.

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.

That’ll do pig, that’ll do. One of the best family films of all time and its nearly-as-good sequel are both on HBO Max. Subscribers looking for smart family entertainment that isn’t afraid to challenge kids while also entertaining them need look no further than Chris Noonan’s 1995 Best Picture nominee and its truly insane 1998 sequel, directed by George Miller himself.

They can’t all be Ghibli. Sometimes the kids just want something silly to pass the time, and this Nickelodeon/Paramount feature from 2006 does the trick. It’s actually a spin-off of the hit The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, and features the voice work of Kevin James, Courteney Cox, Sam Elliott, Danny Glover, and many more.

One of the first films greatly impacted by the 2020 pandemic was this early-year release, largely ignored when theaters shut down at the beginning of the year. That means the kids in the family probably haven’t seen this adaptation of the Jack London classic of the same name starring Harrison Ford and a creepy CGI dog. It’s not the best distillation of London but many of the themes remain and it might introduce the little ones to the work of a great writer.

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 this sweet and hysterical story of an average American family around Christmas time. You’ll shoot your eye out!

Given his very adult sense of humor in the ‘80s, most people wouldn’t have predicted that Eddie Murphy 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. This 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.

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.

It doesn’t have to be the holidays to watch one of Will Ferrell’s most joyous and lovable movies. Before Iron Man, Jon Favreau directed this glorious fable about a human raised by Santa’s elves and the trouble he gets into on a trip to New York City to find his biological father. It works any time of the year.

Loosely based on the 1997 novel of the same name, this 2004 rom-com was a major breakthrough for Anne Hathaway. Yes, long before she won an Oscar or inspired so much internet vitriol, Hathaway starred in this clever fairy tale alongside Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, and Eric Idle. It’s a sweet, charming little movie.

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.

There once was a time in the ‘90s when turning animated classics into live-action feature films was a major thing in Hollywood. It didn’t always work, but this trippy adaptation of the ‘60s Bedrock hit did well enough to produce a sequel, also on HBO Max. It stars John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, and Rosie O’Donnell in the main roles, and just might be the nostalgic hit subscribers are looking for when they boot up HBO Max.

One of the most unexpected hits of the ‘90s, this family film about a captive orca freed by a foster boy became a blockbuster, producing sequels that are also on HBO Max after making over $150 million on a budget that was a fraction of that. People of all ages took to this heartwarming tale of acceptance and freedom.

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.

Jim Henson of Muppets fame directed this fantasy film from 1986 that featured a young Jennifer Connelly and an unforgettable David Bowie. Connelly plays a teenager who tries to save her baby brother from a fantasy world that features a massive maze that she’s forced to navigate. George Lucas produced it; Terry Jones of Monty Python fame wrote it. It rules.

Most people probably don’t realize that this lyrical adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the man behind Roma and Gravity. His sense of the natural world translates well into this story, adding production values of such a high caliber that we don’t usually see in family films. (It was even nominated for two Oscars for its art direction and cinematography.)

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.

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.

There’s a whole generation out there scarred by the end of this movie. It’s one of the better family films on HBO Max that’s not animated, starring Anna Chlumsky and Macaulay Culkin in a coming-of-age tale of a young girl growing up in 1972. It was a massive hit, making over $120 million, and leading to buckets of tears.

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.

Remember when they made CGI movies based on comic strips? That’s the case with this 2006 DreamWorks Animation film with a modestly goofy plot but a fantastic voice cast that includes Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, William Shatner, and Nick Nolte. Yes, that’s a crazy group for an “animated family film” and the movie has just enough quirky humor to make it work.

Yes, everyone loved Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, but it was really this amazing 1985 comedy that made Pee-Wee Herman a beloved icon. Directed by Tim Burton, making his feature debut, it’s a clever road trip comedy about a boy trying to get his back bike, but it’s also about so much more, including never being afraid to express yourself. It’s joyous, hysterical, and has held up perfectly.

They’re nowhere near as good as most of the original Peter Sellers movies, but the two Pink Panther flicks featuring Steve Martin as the legendary bumbling detective have a more family-oriented, kid-movie energy. Martin stars alongside Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, and Emily Mortimer in this 2006 remake that critics mostly hated, but families enjoyed enough to produce a sequel three years later, also on HBO Max.

Yes, motion-capture animation in 2004 looks even creepier now than it did then, but there’s enough charm and sentiment in this Robert Zemeckis film that people keep returning to it every holiday season. And, no, it doesn’t have to be Christmas to watch it.

If you’re old enough to remember Johnny 5, you probably have a warm nostalgic place in your heart for this silly little family film about a robot who basically comes to life after being struck by lightning. Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, and Fisher Stevens play the humans but this movie is stolen by the robot.

Audiences kind of dismissed this family action film at the end of 2019 but it’s kind of clever and easily rewatchable—two important elements when a parent is looking for something to watch with the family on a streaming service like HBO Max. Will Smith voices a super spy who gets shrunk down into the body of a pigeon (just go with it) and Tom Holland voices the nerd who can help him save the world.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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