When I want to start my kid on the road to sharing the wide open world of ideas that is sci-fi, this is what I'll put in front of them.
- Tron: Legacy (2010)
- Meet the Robinsons (2007)
- The Iron Giant (1999)
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
- Ghostbusters (1984)
- The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
- Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
- Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
- Flight of the Navigator (1986)
- Space Jam (1996)
- Star Wars: The Original Trilogy (1977 – 1983)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
- Planet of the Apes (1968)
- Back to the Future (1985)
It’s Friday night and the pizza’s ordered, which leaves you to answer one very important question: What are the family movies to watch with my kids? You love sci-fi so that narrows down your choices. We have the answers you need to guide your streaming journey into watching sci-fi with your family.
Family movies generally fall into only one of two categories: The kind you show your kids to keep them busy while you do something else, and the kind you share with them in the hopes that it’ll be something they remember and cherish for the rest of their lives.
It’s that second kind of family movie we’re talking about here, the movies you have shown or will show your sons and daughters to let them in on the things you care about. The movies you show them in the hopes that it’ll make them better people, or at least help fuel a lifelong obsession for things that are good.
I plan to spend a lot of time sharing that second kind of family movie with my kids, in particular, I hope to pass along my love of science fiction. To do that, I’ll have to start early before their brains are stuffed full of that first kind of film before they’ve been warped by watching Frozen 2 or that one where Jon Cena plays a fireman. But how do you do that?
I can’t wait to watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with my youngest, but realize I’d probably better wait till the little bugger’s eight or even ten unless I want Khan’s earwigs to turn her into a permanent bedwetter. Jurassic Park? Kids love dinosaurs but odds are mom will think severed arms should wait till their nine. I’ll have to ease them into it.
To get my kids interested in science fiction I can’t wait until they’re old enough, or settle for whatever’s playing on Disney Plus. I hear Ben 10 is a lot of fun and Phineas and Ferb are often up to some pretty fantastical shenanigans, but when I want to start my kid on the road to sharing the wide open world of ideas that is sci-fi, these family movies are what I’ll put in front of them.
These are the best family movies for kids with sci-fi-loving parents.
Modern Sci-Fi Family Movies
Tron: Legacy (2010)
Revolutionary in its time the special effects in Tron haven’t aged well at all. So if you want to get your kids interested in the world of Tron, you’re probably better off starting with the more recent sequel, Tron: Legacy.
Legacy is a direct sequel to the 1982 movie and involves the son of Flynn going back into the grid, where he discovers his father has been imprisoned and Clu has gone rogue to corrupt the system for evil purposes.
It’s a Disney movie and totally family-friendly, as long as your family is OK with action and characters dissolving into cubes of pixels. Younger viewers will be wowed by those flashy new cycles made of light and expect them to stage disc battles using frisbees when Legacy’s over.
If you’re lucky, they’ll love Tron: Legacy so much they may want to sit down at watch 1982 original with you, dated special effects and all.
Meet the Robinsons (2007)
In Meet the Robinsons an orphan named Lewis uses his high IQ to create fantastic inventions and ends up traveling to the future where he meets an amazing family named the Robinsons. It’s funny, in that kids and adults will laugh themselves silly kind of way, and it’s smart.
There’s a lot of heart in this family-friendly sci-fi movie, mixed in with some pretty eye-popping, colorful, computer animation. More than enough to keep your kids interested while the film slyly teaches a lesson about the value of perseverance and ingenuity.
Planning to raise a future inventor? This might be just the family film to inspire your Thomas Edison in the making.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Never has any family movie done a better job of feeding that universal little boy’s need for a robot pal better than this one. In The Iron Giant, a massive alien robot ends up on planet Earth, where he befriends a boy named Hogarth before being chased all through kingdom come by the angry US army.
The first film from Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird, it’s maybe the last truly great 2D animated movie ever produced. Touching, sweet, and beautiful to look at the movie sticks with you almost unlike any other.
Share it and it’s the kind of sci-fi movie that will stick with your kid for a lifetime. Don’t be surprised if twenty years from now an all-grown-up Benjamin turns to you and says, “Hey dad, remember that time we watched The Iron Giant?”
Classic Sci-Fi Family Movies
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
In this beloved family movie, Rick Moranis accidentally shrinks his kids and loses them in the backyard, prompting a micro-adventure at a macro level. A group of teens ends up wandering through a lawn-turned-jungle, where they ride giant ants and sleep in Legos. There’s a lot going on here, including an awkward little romance between Russ and Amy which results in a first kiss.
Moranis is brilliant as the distraught, scientist father combing desperately through blades of grass for any sign of his progeny and Matt Frewer is maybe even better as the freaked-out next-door neighbor who can’t figure out what’s going on. The special effects are still pretty great for 1989, and they did it without all that computer-generated cheating.
The world needs Ghostbusters. The truly original and far too often overlooked thing about this now classic movie is the way it approaches the supernatural with flat-out science.
In an age where science is scoffed at and minimized and often questioned for being wrong, here’s a movie from a different time when science was not only appreciated but when pitted against the supernatural was more than its equal.
“Back off, I’m a scientist!” shouted Peter Venkman before picking up his nuclear-powered proton pack and charging in to save the world from ghostly mysticism and unholy evil. Science fiction and the supernatural collide here, and science comes out as the winner.
Younger kids may be scared by some of the ghosts and there is this really weird scene that hints at (but doesn’t really show) ghosts on human sex. In the end, that’ll all go over their heads and they’ll forget to be scared after the movie cranks up that poppy, unforgettable theme song. Who you gonna call?
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)
Professor Ned Brainard is a brilliant inventor whom everyone labels as a crackpot. They’re wrong. Not to be confused with the awful Robin Williams remake, this 1961 original stars Fred MacMurray at the height of his powers.
His Brainard invents a substance called Flubber, which turns his old model T into a flying car and which he later uses to help a local basketball team win a game by jumping through hoops, literally.
This is classic, Disney family entertainment at its absolute peak, and a great way to hook your pint-sized would-be sci-fi fans into the world of black-and-white imagination.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
It doesn’t matter how old you are, this family movie is a guaranteed tear-jerker. That’s alright, I want my kids to cry a little, now and then.
You can’t be happy without the sad, and E.T. is just the right amount of sad for any kid of any age to handle. I mean, it’s definitely not as devastating as Old Yeller. At least E.T. lives at the end.
Spielberg’s movie only gets better with age and it should only be seen in the version that still actually has the guns in it. In recent DVD releases they’ve replaced the guns with walky-talkies to make it, even more, family-friendly, but I prefer my family to live in reality.
I’ve already stockpiled a version with the guns still in it, I suggest you do the same.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
I had a lot of fun with the 2008 version of Jules Verne’s classic tale, but the truth about that Brendan Fraser movie is that it’s only really worth seeing in a theater with a pair of 3D glasses strapped to your head.
Since it’s no longer playing at the local megaplex, I’d rather go with the 1959 Journey to the Center which starred, of all people, Pat Boone.
The real anchor of the thing though is James Mason as Sir Oliver S. Lindbrook, leading an expedition of adventurers into the deepest parts of the Earth. There they find not just hot and steaming magma, but an entire lost world full of angry dinosaurs.
This is still the best family movie version of Verne’s book and though many of the effects are now kind of dated, your kids will never notice. There’s a real sense of distance and danger in this one, but since it’s from the 50s, it’s a perfect gateway into the world of science fiction’s original master.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Kids love giant monsters smashing buildings and they’re young enough that they probably won’t even notice the zipper on the back of Megalon’s suit. Really any Godzilla movie will do here, but this one has always been my favorite and since it also has a little kid with a giant robot pal, it may be the perfect window into the world of Japan’s most infamous export outside of those Toyota’s without working brakes.
Godzilla vs. Megalon is a ridiculous amount of fun, no matter how old you are, and it’s one of the best-looking Godzilla movies too. The cinematography is excellent and the story is just silly enough to be either funny or interesting at any moment.
How much of this family movie’s success is intentional, is debatable, but if you’re getting them at the right time your kids will probably be too young to debate it. Save that as a talking point for Thanksgiving ten years from now.
Flight of the Navigator (1986)
This family movie defines adventure. Combining nearly everything kids love and mixing in a pretty smart science fiction premise to boot, Flight of the Navigator sends a pre-teen boy rocketing through time in an alien spaceship.
Stranded in the future and unaware of what’s happened, our hero ends up being held at NASA and befriending a pink-haired, painfully cut Sarah Jessica Parker.
It blew my 8-year-old mind back in 1986 and it’s sure to do the same thing for a new generation of kids, prompting dreams of a world where they’re able to keep a miniature alien friend in their back-pack and a Paul Reubens voiced robot ship is just around the corner to blast the Beegees whenever things get old.
Space Jam (1996)
Here’s a strange thought: Your kids probably won’t even know who Michael Jordan is. But Bugs, Daffy, and the Tazmanian Devil will never wear out their welcome.
Space Jam is the sci-fi movie to watch when you need a break from all that heavier stuff, science fiction on a kindergarten level with a lot of basketball mixed in.
Maybe it’ll teach your kid to develop a hook shot while Bugs and Daffy help fight off those alien slavers, or maybe it’ll just get the kid giggling as the Looney Tunes do their looniest moves on the basketball court.
All the sci-fi you feed your youngun can’t be heady, or it stops being fun. Space Jam is fun, and not much else. Put it on the free throw line and take a granny shot. Afterward, run outside with the little tyke and get some exercise.
Star Wars: The Original Trilogy (1977 – 1983)
The original Star Wars trilogy may be a little beyond extremely young viewers. Vader is scary, the whole love triangle mixed with occasional incest between Luke, Leia, and Han is a little over the average toddler’s head, and in Empire our hero loses his hand. Doesn’t matter.
The important thing here is that your kids see the original Star Wars before someone corrupts them with the prequels or the new JJ Abrams films.
The thing is, The Phantom Menace, with its fart jokes and marginally racist caricatures, is perfect for elementary schoolers and should they see that first, it and not the original trilogy will end up being your kid’s Star Wars. Don’t let that happen.
Make sure they meet Chewbacca before some well-meaning grandparent introduces them to Jar Jar. Maybe the little tyke will be permanently scarred by the slavering, disgusting, genuinely scary rancor… but who cares. Maybe Star Wars isn’t a family movie exactly, but it’s worth a little desensitizing to make sure your son or daughter sees the Star Wars universe the way it was meant to be understood.
Make sure they see the good ones before they’re ruined with all that talk of midichlorians and people becoming Jedi through magic hand-waving rather than practice.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Here’s another one of those classic, Jules Verne gems. Better known than the 1959 Journey and sporting a bigger budget, the film follows a mad genius named Captain Nemo on a journey beyond imagination into the ocean’s deepest depths, where discoveries both terrifying and wonderful are waiting to be uncovered.
Much of this family movie, like the crew’s battle with a giant squid, is now utterly iconic.
Not all of the effects hold up, but your kids aren’t likely to notice. Everyone should know Captain Nemo.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Groundbreaking in its time, Charlton Heston’s sci-fi movie about an astronaut who crashed on a planet run entirely by intelligent monkeys holds up, even with all the guys in gorilla suits.
It may have the unanticipated side-effect of making your kid deathly afraid of monkeys or result in your daughter insisting on naming the new dog Dr. Zaius. Depends on the kid.
Test your kid’s mettle by seeing what happens when they encounter this mind-bender, in a barren place where humans are slaves and the only thing you can do is shake your fist and shout through the bars of your cage, “you damn, dirty apes!”
Back to the Future (1985)
Not just a great family movie but maybe one of the greatest movies ever made, Back to the Future works at a level compatible with almost any age. Your average 8-year-old won’t understand the intricacies of time travel, but for now, the kid will get crazy on watching that DeLorean streak across the screen trailing fire.
It’s easy to imagine Doc Brown in another life, as the crazed host of some sort of children’s television show, meanwhile Marty McFly’s skateboarding antics never grow old.
Eventually, your kids will grow into the time travel elements too, enough that they’ll be ready for the weirdness of Hell Valley in Back to the Future Part II. But why wait around?
Start their Back to the Future obsession right now, show it to them in small doses, as long as they’re willing to sit for, and go back in time to good old 1985.