The Decade in Review: Top 10 Live Action Family Films

What makes a good family movie? Is it wacky talking animals doing silly stuff? Is it a melodrama tackling issues that affect young people? Fun? Silliness? The answer is all of the above.

For me a family movie is not something aimed at kids that will only entertain them with childish humor, excessive pop culture references, and bright colors. For me, a family movie is something for everyone, something that will hold the attention of the kids, as well as the parents who pay to take them to the movie. This has to be accomplished with a combination of fun, comedy, well-written characters, and themes that every single person can relate, or at least feel for what the characters are going through.

Sadly, movies that fit this criteria are rare. These day, most live action family films are badly-written and too childish. Every time I watch something like The Pacifier or The Game Plan I can’t help but cringe. Yet, since they entertain their kids, parents eat them up, therefore they give Hollywood the chance to make more. But everyone that attends those movies deserve better.

Even then, there were a few of them that did fit the criteria. They weren’t a lot, but they were very good. Ten of those few are in this list.

Here are my picks for the best live action family movies of the decade:

10. Freaky Friday


Mark Waters | 2003

Before Lindsay Lohan started to do drugs and take on crappy roles, she was a promising actress that did justice to every role given to her. Such was the case in this fun and hearth warming remake about mother and daughter switching bodies until they learn to understand one another. Yes, there is some Disney fluff thrown in there, but the way the emotions are presented, the mostly-good script, and the great performances form Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, makes this better than most Disney live action features (except for three others that rank higher on this list).

9. The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep


Jay Russell | 2007

Like most post-Potter movies, the advertisement of this movie focused on the fantasy element of the story. However, it is much more than that. Like E.T. the movie is about the friendship that is developed between a boy and a strange creature, about how the absence of his father affects him, and how the monster seems the only thing he can relate to. Just a truly great movie that left me in tears.

8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Tim Burton | 2005

Many people dismiss this film because it is not quite like the movie that came out in the 70s with Gene Wilder. This is the reason why I like it so much. When you look deep into the books by Roald Dahl’s books the story is dark and takes on some not-so-kiddie-friendly themes. However, Burton’s take on the story does get that, and it is shown through the cinematography, sets, and Johnny Depp’s performance. Yes, the script is not very good, but every other element makes up for it and turns it into an entertaining delight.

7. Enchanted


Kevin Lima | 2007

Sometimes one performances goes a long way into making a film memorable (just watch most Meryl Streep movies), and this is one of those. Enchanted has a great idea, to spoof the Disney princesses. The script does fulfill that promise, until the end. In comes Amy Adams to save the project. Her performance here is so perfect that I can’t help but to love this movie enough to put in on this list. She turns the movie from possibly above average to simply great.

6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Alfonso Cuaron | 2004

The last of the family-friendly Potter movies is also one of the best in the franchise. After two adaptations that were too close to the book Cuaron worked with writer Steve Kloves to make the series more character drive and less about the wonder of seeing a movie about a young wizard. They realized that Harry Potter was just another boy, with special abilities. This movie is the best thing that could have happened to the franchise.

5. Son of Rambow


Garth Jennings | 2007

Another story about friendship, except this one however bring two kids together because of the situations with their families and their love of film, particularly First Blood. This one is full of creativity and charm, which family movies rarely seem to have. Every actor gives it their all, and the script is full of funny and heartwarming scenes. It is also quite a good take on the hold religion seems to have on people and on children growing up neglected by their parents.

4. Millions


Danny Boyle | 2004

What happens when one of the most audacious, filmmakers whose whole career (well, most) up to that point was made up of deep and disturbing adult dramas decides to make a family movie? Millions is what happens. This movie takes on mature themes such as the death of a loved one, the economy, sexuality, religion, and the consequences of a crime that doesn’t alienate the younger viewers, but also doesn’t dumb it down enough for adults to roll their eyes. Plus, it is fun thanks to Boyle’s editing and Alex Ethel’s performance.

3. Holes


Andrew Davis | 2003

Had Disney ever taken on youth delinquency in the way it is  presented here before? Either way, I commend them for turning Louis Sachar’s great young adult novel into a movie and not censor it too much. Performances are great across the board, among them a young, pre-Transformers Shia LaBeouf, in what is quite possibly his best performance. However, I must point out Sigourney Weaver’s Warden Walker. She seriously turns this role that could have been overacted badly and turns it into one of the scariest villains in a long time.

2. Bridge to Terabithia


Gabor Csupo | 2007

Not many people would have the courage to pull off the final act of this movie. Oddly enough Gabor Csupo, the creator of Rugrats did and I’m glad he did. There was no other way to tell this story about growing up, loss, and belief in something greatesr than us. It also would not have been possible without the performances by AnnaSophia Robb (one of the finest this decade) and Josh Hutcherson. Also props for the great cinematography.

1. Where the Wild Things Are


Spike Jonze | 2009

This is what family films are all about. It has the right mix of drama, thoughtfulness, wackiness, and entertainment. This is all thanks to Spike Jonze’s vision. Without him this probably would have been just another crappy adaptation, full of pop culture references, “funny” voice performances, toilet humor, and loads of CGI. Because of Jonze we have a film that speaks to audiences of all ages that is among the finest crafted movies of the decade. It is also one of the top movies of the decade.

Honorable Mentions: Hotel for Dogs (2009), Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008), Speed Racer (2008), City of Ember (2008), Race to Witch Mountain (2009), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), Marley & Me (2008), Cheapter by the Dozen (2003).

There you are, thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on my choices

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