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12 Underrated Family Movies for the Festive Season

No offense, ‘Elf,’ but there are other movies to watch during the holidays

Vicky McDonald

Published on: December 22, 2021


During the holidays, something magical happens — and I am not just talking about the arrival of the big man in the red suit. During the year, many of us watch different shows on different devices, and it’s rare for families to agree on the same thing, much less watch it together. But for some reason, the festive season is the perfect time for a cozy family movie night

We asked ParentMap readers to name their favorite family movies for the holidays. Unsurprisingly, we were inundated with proclamations of love for “Elf.” We also received many suggestions of the usual suspects: “​​​​​​​The Polar Express,”  “​​​​​​​Home Alone,” “​​​​​​​The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “​​​​​​​A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “​​​​​​​Miracle on 34th Street,” “​​​​​​​It's a Wonderful Life,” etc.

But perhaps this year you might want to watch something different — something nostalgic, something silly or something that you wouldn’t normally watch. Read on for a collection of unexpected holiday gems from the past 30 years that you might want to try. 

Picks from the 2000s

A combination love story and cautionary tale with a very important message. “It only takes a moment to fall in love with this movie!” Best for ages 5 and older.

This animated Netflix title from 2019 is very popular with kids. Voiced by Rashida Jones and J.K. Simmons, this sweet movie is described as heartwarming, and it's perfect to get you in the Christmas mood. Best for ages 6 and older.  A recent study revealed that this is the favorite Christmas movie in Washington state! 

Angela's Christmas
This short animated movie from Ireland is a sweet tale about the power of community, family and the resourcefulness of kids. A sequel called “Angela's Christmas Wish” was released in 2020. Best for ages 6 and older.

Big Hero 6
This action/adventure animation is a hit with young kids. One of our readers loves watching it with her family at Christmastime. She describes it as “sweet and heartwarming,” adding “It’s sad but also optimistic.” Best for ages 7 and older.

Picks from the '90s 

My Neighbor Totoro
Expand your horizons with this beloved 1988 Japanese animation title that had its U.S. release in 1993. If you need a break from Pixar and Disney, this is a great option. Best for ages 5 and older.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Dog lovers, get your tissues ready. According to one staff member at ParentMap, “I grew up watching it and haven't tired of the adorable animals and heartwarming story line!” Best for ages 6 and older.

While You Were Sleeping
Take a step back into the '90s with this sweet romance featuring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. Best for ages 11 and older.

Sleepless in Seattle
This cheesy rom-com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan begins on Christmas Eve and plays out like a fairy tale. Best for ages 11 and older.

Picks from the '80s

The Last Starfighter
One reader wrote, “The '80s nostalgia is brilliant, and it's fun to share with my son that I was his age when this movie came out.” Best for ages 9 and older.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
This classic family comedy from the '80s is full of heart. Best for ages 9 and older.

The Karate Kid
Who can resist this one!? “‘The Karate Kid’ is one that I secretly love from back when I was a kid.” Best for ages 11 and older.

This classic will make you laugh, cringe and cry — maybe even all at the same time! Be warned, one of the characters mentions that Santa is not real, so make sure your kids are old enough to watch this movie or be prepared to have a really good explanation ready. Best for ages 12 and older.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2019, and updated in December 2021.

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