The 25 best childhood movies for when you're feeling nostalgic

Entertainment Weekly takes a trip down memory lane with our favorite family films from bygone eras.

When life is stressful, and sometimes it feels like there is no place you can escape to. Fortunately, that’s not true; if nothing else, there’s the warm embrace that comes from watching your favorite movies from childhood.

However, nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. The films you once loved may be downright disappointing when you revisit them as an adult. That’s why we sifted through our dusty DVDs (and even VHS tapes) to find the films that are worth a trip down memory lane. Here are the best childhood movies for when you’re craving a blast from the past.

A Goofy Movie (1995)


A Goofy Movie is nostalgic in more ways than one. This cult classic is now remembered as one of Disney’s last great 2-D films before everything went the way of Pixar. It’s hard to watch this tale of young Max (Jason Marsden) on a road trip from hell with father Goofy (Bill Farmer) while desperately trying to impress the girl of his dreams and not think about your own awkward adolescence and familial ties. As EW’s critic points out, it also has an old-fashioned “idealistic hearts-and-flowers message that telling the truth will make you a hero.”

Where to watch A Goofy Movie: Disney+

Director: Kevin Lima

Cast: Bill Farmer, Jason Marsden, Jim Cummings, Kellie Martin

Related content: Revisiting the songs of A Goofy Movie

Air Bud (1997)


Air Bud wears its heart on its sleeve — er, paw — as a story about a young teen (Kevin Zegers) who copes with his father’s death by adopting a dog with a preternatural talent for playing basketball. Dealing with the pressures of life in a new town becomes that much easier when he takes the advice of a kind former athlete (Bill Cobbs) to try out. It’s not too long before the golden retriever becomes the real star thanks to his inexplicable hoop skills, teaching us an important message: “Ain't no rule says a dog can't play basketball!"

Where to watch Air Bud: Disney+ 

Director: Charles Martin Smith

Cast: Kevin Zegers, Michael Jeter, Wendy Makkena, Bill Cobbs, Eric Christmas

Related content: Ranking Air Bud's 5 sports skills

Aladdin (1992)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Disney’s original Aladdin infused the company’s usual fairytale charm with equally powerful jolts of action and comedy. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the dreams of a young street urchin (Scott Weinger) who dreams of a lush life with a beautiful princess (Linda Larkin). Those aspirations are threatened by a creepy Grand vizier (Jonathan Freeman), but a magic lamp has a few twists of fate in store for young Aladdin. The real star is Robin Williams’ genie; as EW’s critic noted, the late star’s improvisational “madness flows in torrents. It’s as if, by being cut off from his physical body, Williams is free to reach newer and purer levels of gonzo.”

Where to watch Aladdin: Disney+

EW grade: A (read the review)

Director: John Musker, Ron Clements

Cast: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried

Related content: Aladdin: Genie, peddler theory confirmed by directors

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Beauty and the Beast lives up to its name, giving us a timeless tale of an inventor’s bookworm daughter (Paige O'Hara) who is imprisoned by a monstrous beast (Robby Benson) before discovering the softer side of Stockholm Syndrome. Sure, the trope of the local hunky hunter (Richard White) being the real threat is less than subtle, but the film compensates with its sheer charm. As EW’s critic wrote, the film emphasizes “the miraculous buoyancy of movement, as if everything on-screen, from the proud heroes to the birdies in the trees, were part of the same swirling visual symphony.”

Where to watch Beauty and the Beast: Disney+

EW grade: B (read the review)

Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Cast: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury

Related content: An oral history of the animated Beauty and the Beast

Cinderella (1997)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In retrospect, this ’90s Cinderella was an early Disney experiment in creating live-action remakes of famous animated features. It gussies up an already-timeless tale with music from Rodgers and Hammerstein and big-name stars, including Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother and Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen. The essential story is still the same, with Cinderella (Brandy Norwood) falling in love with a dashing prince (Paolo Montalban). The modern updates are hit-or-miss, but as EW’s reviewer noted, the cast is killer, lauding Norwood specifically for being “adorable.”

Where to watch Cinderella (1997): Disney+ 

Director: Robert Iscove

Cast: Whitney Houston, Brandy Norwood, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander

Related content: 12 Cinderella movie adaptations, ranked

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a great childhood movie in which legendary director Steven Spielberg plumbs the depths of the audience's imagination, seeing an alien befriend an earthling (Henry Thomas) who eventually lets his siblings (including a young Drew Barrymore) in on the secret. The candy-crushing charms of E.T. are counterbalanced by some scary scenes involving government agents who relentlessly investigate outer space’s secrets. Some parts may be intense for younger children, but nobody knows how to make our inner child laugh — and cry — like Spielberg.

Where to watch E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

Related content: The story behind E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Elf (2003)


Half a decade before he kicked off the MCU, director Jon Favreau created this holiday classic about Buddy (Will Ferrell), one of Santa’s elves who discovers he’s actually human and sets off on a madcap quest to find his biological father in New York City. The plot is mostly an excuse for Ferrell to bounce his manic whimsy off an incredible cast, including Zooey Deschanel and Peter Dinklage, but that’s a large part of why this nostalgic hit resonates with families each holiday season.

Where to watch Elf: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Ed Asner

Related content: Behind the scenes of Elf with Will Ferrell

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

<p>20th Century Fox/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

20th Century Fox/courtesy Everett Collection

FernGully: The Last Rainforest is a surprisingly engaging tale of a forest fairy (Samantha Mathis) who must save the titular rainforest from a malevolent spirit (Tim Curry) that wants to destroy everything she knows and loves. The entire voice cast is talented, but to nobody’s shock, Robin Williams steals every scene he’s in as a bonkers bat with madcap dialogue that feels a bit like the Genie from Aladdin after drinking way too much coffee. The movie’s message is important as well, which EW’s critic says “makes a good eco-lesson for kids and for parents who often can’t see the rainforest for the trees.”

Where to watch FernGully: The Last Rainforest: Tubi

EW grade: N/A (read the review)

Director: Bill Kroyer

Cast: Tim Curry, Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, Jonathan Ward, Robin Williams

Related content: 15 pop culture staples that'll make you want to save the Earth

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had some big magical boots to fill after Prisoner of Azkaban (which is widely considered the best film of the franchise), but this tale of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) surviving a deadly tournament with the help of Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) and trying to keep Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) at bay still sings. Bright and full of delights, the film is arguably more nostalgic than its predecessor because of its keen, deadpan humor. To quote EW’s critic, director Mike Newell “has a gift for light comedy, and he knows just how to release the sour-ball charm of his fellow Brits.”

Where to watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Peacock

EW grade: N/A (read the review)

Director: Mike Newell

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Miranda Richardson

Related content: Harry Potter's Oliver Phelps reveals a scene in Goblet of Fire was unexpectedly 'dangerous'

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)



For a certain generation, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is an unforgettable animal adventure. This is the fur-flying story of two dogs (voiced by Michael J. Fox and Don Ameche) and a cat (voiced by Sally Field) who are separated from their humans and embark on a wilderness adventure full of dangers like bears and snakes. If you don’t mind a few tears, this is fuzzy nostalgia at its best, and a film that EW’s critic lauded as “a breath of animal-oriented realism.”

Where to watch Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey: Disney+ 

EW grade: B (read the review)

Director: Duwayne Dunham

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, Don Ameche, Robert Hays, Kim Greist

Related content: I'm Still Not Over... Shadow's almost-death in Homeward Bound

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

<p>Studio Ghibli/Ntv/Tokuma </p>

Studio Ghibli/Ntv/Tokuma

From legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle is about an orphaned girl (Chieko Baisho) whose new wizard friend (Takuya Kimura) has a magical castle in the sky. When she finds herself in the crosshairs of an angry witch (Akihiro Miwa), it’s up to Howl the wizard to save her. This isn’t Harry Potter, however, as the heartfelt movie is more about introspection than mystical battle royales. As EW’s reviewer points out, the film has a kid-friendly message that “coming into one’s own is the most heroic — and magical — experience of all.”

Where to watch Howl’s Moving Castle: Max 

EW grade: N/A (read the review)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Cast: Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa

Related content: All of the Studio Ghibli movies, ranked

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

<p>20th Century Fox / Everett</p>

20th Century Fox / Everett

The premise of Mrs. Doubtfire is decidedly un-PC: It’s about a recent divorcee (Robin Williams) who decided to stay close to his family by dressing up as their very elderly, very female nanny. These days, it’s admittedly hard not to sympathize more with his ex-wife (Sally Field) and her hunky new beau (Pierce Brosnan), but the combination of great physical comedy and sharp comic dialogue makes the film hard to resist. Problematic plot or not, EW’s reviewer put his finger on the real reason to return to this film: the “inspired comic performance” of Williams.

Where to watch Mrs. Doubtfire: Disney+

EW grade: N/A (read the review)

Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Prosky

Related content: Remembering Robin Williams: The Mrs. Doubtfire sequel that almost was

My Girl (1991)

<p>Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

Sometimes, childhood nostalgia is a bit sad, especially when you decide to rewatch My Girl. This is the story of a young girl (Anna Chlumsky) whose dad (Dan Aykroyd) runs the town funeral parlor. She soon develops a sweet relationship with a young boy (Macaulay Culkin) who has major allergies and a big heart. Everyone remembers its tear-jerking conclusion, but the film should be remembered for Chlumsky’s performance. As EW’s critic noted, “She has an affecting vulnerability, and she manages something rare in a child performer: You constantly see [her] mind working, yet she never seems like a coy show-off.”

Where to watch My Girl: Amazon Prime Video (to rent) 

Director: Howard Zieff

Cast: Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Griffin Dunne

Related content: Macaulay Culkin in his first screen kiss

Space Jam (1996)

Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection
Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection

The plot of Space Jam is hilariously absurd. When our favorite Looney Tunes characters are threatened by aliens, Bugs Bunny and crew must beat their foes in a game of basketball. To do so, they recruit (who else?) Michael Jordan. MJ is just one of a bunch of big stars who appear as themselves, including Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, and Bill Murray for some reason. But for the target kid audience, the true appeal is seeing live-action characters interact with famous cartoons. Thin story or not, there is plenty of heart in what EW’s reviewer admittedly called “an 87-minute novelty act that grew out of a TV commercial for sneakers.”

Where to watch Space Jam: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Director: Joe Pytka

Cast: Michael Jordan, Billy West, Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle, Danny DeVito

Related content: Space Jam: The story behind Michael Jordan's improbable victory

Stand by Me (1986)

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Stand by Me traces the starkly genuine friendship between very different boys (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) as they make a macabre journey to see a dead body. It’s funnier than it sounds, thanks to everything from their amusing misadventures (swamp leeches, oncoming trains) to their wisecracking chemistry. That makes the film consistently enjoyable even in its more melancholy moments, as we spend time with a tight-knit group who are, as EW’s critic pointed out, “bound together for what feels like an eternity of campfire tales, pinkie swears, and debates about whether Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman.”

Where to watch Stand by Me: Hulu

EW grade: B+ (read the review)

Director: Rob Reiner

Cast: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland

Related content: Kiefer Sutherland reveals how he, River Phoenix, and a guitar may have inspired Stand by Me's title

The Goonies (1985)


The Goonies is vintage Steven Spielberg storytelling at its best, even if it was Richard Donner behind the camera instead of Spielberg (who created the concept) himself. Donner delivers an unforgettable tale of precocious kids (including Sean Astin and Corey Feldman) who set off on a desperate attempt to find hidden treasure and save their parents’ homes. Along the way, they tangle with scary criminals, find an unexpected ally, and learn a bit more about what it means to grow up. That’s ironic, of course, because re-watching this movie is the quickest way to feel like a kid again. After all, what’s the point of nostalgia if we can’t relive our youth?

Where to watch The Goonies: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Director: Richard Donner

Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, Anne Ramsey

Related content: The Goonies cast: Where are they now?

The Iron Giant (1999)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The Iron Giant is Brad Bird’s animated love letter to a bygone age. The movie focuses on how the titular giant (a powerful and mysterious robot voiced by Vin Diesel) changes the lives of the young boy (Eli Marienthal) who befriends him and other memorable characters like the local beatnik artist (Harry Connick Jr.). Both nostalgia and Cold War paranoia are baked into the ambitious tale which, as EW’s critic declared, “transports you back to that moment in the Atomic Age when a simple nuts-and-bolts robot could seem as magical to a kid as anything in science fiction.”

Where to watch The Iron Giant: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

EW grade: A- (read the review)

Director: Brad Bird

Cast: Eli Marienthal, Vin Diesel, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney

Related content: How The Iron Giant director Brad Bird built a robot with a soul

The Lion King (1994)

Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Lion King has sometimes been dismissed as Hamlet for kids, but it’s so much more than that. This film about a young lion (voiced by both Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick) whose father (James Earl Jones) is killed by an evil, usurping uncle (Jeremy Irons) defined a generation. It’s not so much a story of growing up as deciding what kind of person you want to be (or not to be). Disney songs have never been catchier, nor the characters more colorful, and the messages — about maturing and embracing your full potential — are truly timeless.

Where to watch The Lion King: Disney+

Director: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff

Cast: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly

Related content: All the differences between the original Lion King and the 2019 remake

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The Mighty Ducks initially appears to be a standard sports film about a disgraced lawyer and former athlete (Emilio Estevez) whose community service punishment for a DUI is coaching a local hockey team. Sure, it sounds like Bad News Bears on ice, but the narrative is delightfully unpredictable. The kids — including Joshua Jackson and Elden Henson — are charming and funny, but the real star is the amusingly out-of-place Estevez, who makes the most out of every scene. As EW’s critic originally noted, that makes this the rare “kids’ movie that’s mostly about an adult.”

Where to watch The Mighty Ducks: Disney+

Director: Stephen Herek

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Joss Ackland, Lane Smith, Joshua Jackson, Heidi Kling, Elden Henson

Related content: Mighty Ducks oral history: What we learned

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Henson Associates/courtesy Everett Collection
Henson Associates/courtesy Everett Collection

Kermit and the gang have had many theatrical adventures, but none are as memorable as the original. The Muppet Movie sees everyone's favorite frog chasing a career in show business, but that’s mostly an excuse for him to go on a crazy road trip and bounce off fellow Muppets like Miss Piggy and a live-action trickster (Charles Durning). Trust us: You’ll be humming “Rainbow Connection” all day after you re-watch this classic.

Where to watch The Muppet Movie: Disney+ 

Director: James Frawley

Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Charles Durning

Related content: Watch Jamie Dornan channel Kermit the Frog in adorable, spot-on rendition of 'Rainbow Connection'

The NeverEnding Story (1984)



Is there any child of the ’80s who wasn’t traumatized by The NeverEnding Story? It’s about a young boy (Barret Oliver) who escapes the trauma of school bullies and the recent death of his mother by disappearing into fantastic tales. One magical book sends him on a literal (and literary) journey, where he intersects with a noble warrior (Noah Hathaway) who’s trying to heal a sick empress (Tami Stronach). Sure, the movie includes one traumatizing scene we won’t talk about here, but the powerful work of Alan Oppenheimer — who lends his voice to several key characters — helps audiences remember the spectacle more than the sadness.

Where to watch The NeverEnding Story: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Alan Oppenheimer

Related content: The NeverEnding Story oral history: How 3 kids helped save the world

The Princess Bride (1987)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Despite its modern framing device as a purely fictional fairytale, The Princess Bride is a sincere fantasy adventure, complete with a heroic farmhand (Cary Elwes) out to save a beautiful princess (Robin Wright) from a royal drip (Chris Sarandon). With the help of a fencing master (Mandy Patinkin) and other eccentric allies, he must navigate everything from evil servants to rodents of unusual size. Speaking of unusual size, EW’s review singled out one unexpectedly great performance: “The Princess Bride is a fun, sad, scary, witty fairy tale featuring the greatest performance ever given by a professional wrestler, the late Andre the Giant.”

Where to watch The Princess Bride: Disney+

EW grade: A (read the review)

Director: Rob Reiner

Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, Chris Sarandon,

Related content: What more is there to say about The Princess Bride?

The Sandlot (1993)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The Sandlot has a nominal plot about a new kid in town (Tom Guiry) who must retrieve an invaluable baseball from the home of a neighbor (James Earl Jones) whose fearsome dog, “The Beast,” keeps a vigilant, slobbery watch. That conflict is a launching point for a film about the joys of being young and exploring friendship through shared activities in the summertime. The movie was made for children but now holds special appeal for adults. As EW’s critic put it, “Certainly the sight of nine middle-class kids playing ball instead of Nintendo on a sunny day will draw a nostalgic sigh from any parent.”

Where to watch The Sandlot: Disney+ 

EW grade: B+ (read the review)

Director: David Mickey Evans

Cast: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi, Denis Leary, Karen Allen, James Earl Jones

Related content: Secrets of The Sandlot

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The Wizard of Oz is the timeless classic of a young girl (Judy Garland) taken far from Kansas and deposited in a fabulous new land filled with figures like a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley), Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). The film’s use of color, comedy, and music still holds up almost 100 years later, with visual wonders and oddball surprises helping to keep the whole family engaged. According to EW’s writer, that broad appeal is by design, as the movie “remains the weirdest, scariest, kookiest, most haunting and indelible kid-flick-that’s-really-for-adults ever made in Hollywood.”

Where to watch The Wizard of Oz: Max

EW grade: N/A (read the review)

Director: Victor Fleming

Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton

Related content: How the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz became the ultimate Hollywood symbol

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Robert Zemeckis directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and it shows. This tale of a grizzled detective (Bob Hoskins) helping an animated rabbit (Charles Fleischer) defeat an evil judge (Christopher Lloyd) who has figured out how to kill cartoons incorporates the comedy beats you’d expect from Back to the Future with the manic panic of the weirdest Looney Tunes shorts. The animation is subtle and the performances are perfectly over-the-top. Those strengths work in tandem to blend different genres, elevating and uniting them into an exploration of animation and live-action that, to this day, has never been topped.

Where to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Disney+

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Joanna Cassidy, Mel Blanc

Related content: Christopher Lloyd recalls favorite scene and more from Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.