As a kid, I loved the summer holiday. One of my favorite books remains The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and as a child, I daydreamed in the classroom of escaping the confines of that cinder block schoolroom for the freedom of summer. But while playing outside is a favorite summer activity, that’s not always feasible. Whether it’s too hot, rainy, or you’ve got budding movie buffs, here are the best summertime movies for kids.
The criteria: The best summer movies for children don’t necessarily have to use a summer setting. While some of my picks do feature a beach or camp atmosphere, others will simply offer a sense of adventure, or educational background.
“The Goonies” may be the perfect film. It’s packed with adventure and a true ensemble cast. A defining movie of the 80s, “The Goonies” instilled that sense of adventure which made you want to rush outside and hop on your bike, joined by your closest friends. Plus, in addition to its appeal to kids, there’s some mild, and subtle, adult humor peppered in. A lasting film, elements of “The Goonies” appear in shows such as Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” and indie gem “Turbo Kid.”
Growing up, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” was one of my favorite movies. It’s truly one of the best summertime movies for kids because it’s based on a novel of the same name. Therefore, this could provide a segue into reading the book. After the enthralling cinematic adaptation, who wouldn’t want to read the literary inspiration?
This 1966 classic stars Fred MacMurray and a young Kurt Russell. MacMurray portrays Lem Siddons as an aspiring lawyer who instead finds himself the Scoutmaster of freshly formed Troop 1. As the narrative progresses, Siddons finds himself increasingly focused on his role as Scoutmaster and less on his law ambitions. “Follow Me Boys” is a heartwarming tale that stands the test of time.
While there’s a 1998 remake, the 1961 iteration of “The Parent Trap” is one of the best summertime movies for kids. Headlining Hayley Mills as identical twins Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick, “The Parent Trap” is an adorable romp. Bonus points for being one of the best summer camp flicks of all time as well.
1992 animated film “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” offers a fun story with a relevant theme of environmentalism. As the late, great Roger Ebert put it in his review, “…although [“Fern Gully”] is not a masterpiece it’s pleasant to watch for its humor and sweetness.” Ebert also praised “FernGully” for its “useful lesson.”
While “Star Wars” isn’t specifically a kids movie. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best summertime movies for kids. I still remember watching “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” although that was way back in the early 90s and the day after Halloween, not in the summer. Nevertheless, “Star Wars” is among the select few film series that cater equally well to adults and children. Additionally, “Star Wars” boasts a ton of movies and shows so there’s an entire universe to explore. Pro tip: skip the holiday special.
Maybe it’s because Harry Potter’s birthday is July 31. Possibly it’s owing to the traditional summer release schedule of the books. Arguably it’s due to the literary basis. But for whatever reason, the “Harry Potter” film series is one I associate with the summer. I throw my annual “Harry Potter” rewatch each July. Plus, there’s the book series which ties in, so the “Harry Potter” movies are educational too. Right? Whatever the reason, “Harry Potter” ranks among the top summertime movies for children. If you’ve got gamer kids, the Harry Potter game series is fantastic for young audiences as well.
The summer of 1999 was epic insofar as movies. “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” debuted, Will Smith blockbuster “Wild Wild West” hit cinemas, and “The Matrix” took theatres by storm. However, one animated sleeper hit the big screen and remains a beloved, and wholly underrated flick: “The Iron Giant.” The animated cult classic has a storied history and features Vin Diesel in a voice acting role which foreshadowed his Groot.
“The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” may have the word ghost in the title, but it’s not scary. However, “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” can be a fun opportunity to introduce children to the concept of horror movies at a young age. It’s proof that the “horror” genre doesn’t have to be scary. Instead, it can be silly.
I still associate watching “The Sandlot” on a sweltering summer day in North Carolina, sucking on a banana pop cold from the freezer. It’s one of the best summertime movies for kids AND adults. Just make sure your kiddos don’t pull a Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) at the pool…
Clocking in at under 40 minutes, “The Red Balloon” is a renowned film. I remember watching this at the public library as a youngster in the summer and being completely captivated. With its short runtime, “The Red Balloon” is ideal for younger kids with short attention spans. But despite its simplicity, “The Red Balloon” exhibits some of the best cinematography in any movie to date.
Ok, “Jaws” walks (or swims) the fine line between adult and kid movies. Just judging by rating (which I’ll let Charlton Heston breakdown for you…) “Jaws” earns a PG. That means parental guidance is suggested. While it’s largely a tame film, there’s a pretty bold scene where a kid gets knocked off. Even most hardcore horror flicks won’t kill children. Of course, “Hocus Pocus” wacks a small girl early in the movie, albeit with considerably less blood. When I first watched “Jaws” as a kid, my older sister freaked out when poor little Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) becomes shark bait and refused to watch any more. Notably, I’m a huge proponent of the sequel, “Jaws 2” which might not be the classic of its predecessor, but is still a fun summer-themed movie.
Superhero movies are all the rage with Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Although there are loads of superb superhero flicks, not all of them are appropriate for younger audiences (I’m looking at you “Barb Wire” and “Blade”). However, “Batman: The Movie” is chock full of slapstick humor and goofiness which make it perfectly suitable for all audiences. Violence is pretty cartoonish and of course, there’s the delightful “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” scene which I rank among my favorite cinematic moments. Ultimately, “Batman: The Movie” presents the perfect foray into comic book movies for children, and it’s one of the best summertime movies for kids.
I still remember the day my dad came home with a VHS copy of “Microcosmos” rented from the now defunct VisArt Video. “Oh, how boring” six-year-old me thought, “a documentary.” But instead of boredom, I sat rapt with attention. This brilliantly shot 1996 documentary subtitled “People of the Grass” focuses on the insect world. The visuals are fantastic, music is on point, and it’s educational.
This wacky albeit amazing film is proof that kids’ flicks simply aren’t as epic as they once were. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” features empty suits of armor fighting Nazis. Plus, Angela Lansbury stars. How can a film this bizarre not be one of the best summertime movies for kids?
This 1993 adventure comedy is a remake of the 1963 movie “The Incredible Journey.” Like its predecessor, “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” follows a trio of pets as they get lost in the woods and make their way back home. Unlike the 60s version, the 90s remake lends voices to the animals because what’s more 90s than talking animals?
“Space Jam” is a perfect storm of beloved characters. Who doesn’t love Michael Jordan, the Looney Tunes, and aliens individually? In “Space Jam,” these elements form like Voltron for one of the wackiest but also best movies ever made. Yes, it’s one of the best summertime movies for kids, however there’s plenty of fun for adults as well.
Best Summertime movies for kids: Final thoughts
Although these are the best summertime movies for kids, there are tons of other options. “Free Willy,” “The Indian and the Cupboard,” and “The Pagemaster” are excellent choices. Most Disney films like “101 Dalmatians” and “The Jungle Book” are great summer kids movies. “The Little Mermaid” gets bonus points for being both kid-oriented and beach-themed. “The Brave Little Toaster” stands the test of time, and “The Apple Dumpling Gang” is a fun adventure romp.
Your turn: which summertime movies for kids do you recommend?