From edge-of-your seat adventures and stunning fantasy worlds to moving true stories and powerful role models, these 20 movies offer the best of 2016 for kids, teens, and families. They entertained us, made us think, and gave us plenty to talk about.
At the same time, they offered up worthwhile messages, modeled important character strengths, and left us with beautiful images to ooh and aah over. All also earned the Common Sense Seal, which means they offer an exceptional media experience to families.
Many of these movies are available on DVD or in your streaming queue – and some are still in theaters.
“A Beautiful Planet,” age 6+
This stunning documentary takes viewers onto the International Space Station. It offers incredible views, sobering images of humanity’s impact on Earth, and great astronaut role models. It also emphasizes the importance of communication and cooperation.
“Finding Dory,” age 6+
Poignant and beautifully acted, this adventure promotes teamwork, perseverance, and unconditional love. It’s everything a sequel should be: emotionally satisfying, full of lovable old and new characters, and, just as Dory would want, utterly unforgettable.
“Moana,” age 6+
Centering on a brave, inquisitive female character who’s far more interested in helping her people than in finding romance, this animated adventure has lovable characters, great music, and strong messages.
“Pete’s Dragon“, age 7+
A sweet throwback to Disney movies of the past, this remake is wholesome, fun, and exciting. It mixes moments of peril and sadness with messages about love, friendship, finding family in unexpected places, appreciating nature, and opening yourself up to believing in magic.
“The Eagle Huntress,” age 8+
This powerful, inspiring documentary about extraordinary Kazakh teenager Aisholpan Nurgai soars as it shows viewers exactly why girls and women should never be underestimated.
“Long Way North,” age 8+
When an aristocratic teenager heads out in search of her missing explorer grandfather in late 19th-century Russia, she finds adventure – and learns a lot about herself, as well as why it’s important to do what’s right instead of what’s convenient or easy.
“Zootopia,” age 8+
“April and the Extraordinary World,” age 9+
Mixing elements of steampunk with a pro-science message, this inventive French animated adventure is a sophisticated, riveting story about the power of innovation in society.
“The Jungle Book,” age 9+
This update of the Disney classic has many intense scenes, including a few that will have you jumping out of your seat! But it’s also visually dazzling, with strong messages about the importance of courage, teamwork, family (especially the nontraditional kind), and friendship.
“Kubo and the Two Strings,” age 9+
With themes of courage and teamwork, this epic adventure is set in an alternative fantasy Japan. Despite its peril, at heart it’s a story of familial love, as well as the tale of a young storyteller learning how to be a hero.
“Hidden Figures,” age 10+
Packed with great role models and positive themes (including integrity, perseverance, teamwork, and communication), this inspiring fact-based drama is about three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1950s and 60s as “human computers.”
“Queen of Katwe,” age 10+
This inspiring true story about a girl from the slums of Uganda who becomes a chess champion has many hard scenes, but they’re accompanied by strong themes of empathy, humility, integrity, and perseverance, giving families a lot to talk about.
“Arrival,” age 11+
Deeply thoughtful and compassionate, this sci-fi drama is all about trying to communicate with aliens rather than defeat them. And it centers on a strong, intelligent, curious female character, too.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, age 11+
A complex but rousing and engaging plot – and a diverse cast with strong role models of both sexes – makes this stand-alone Star Wars adventure exciting for both die-hard fans and those who are newer to the franchise.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” age 12+
Quirky and charming, this New Zealand story is part buddy comedy, part coming-of-age drama, part family adventure, and all heart. Plus, it promotes teamwork and friendship between an unlikely pair of allies.
“Life, Animated,” age 12+
This moving documentary tells the story of a young man with autism who processes emotions and relationships via Disney characters and storylines. It’s a phenomenal, poignant movie that’s ideal for families with young teens or middle school-aged tweens.
“Loving,” age 12+
Inspired by the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, this powerful drama deals with some tough topics. But ultimately the message is one of hope and courage: Love and compassion conquer all, even hatred and prejudice.
“La La Land,” age 13+
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in this beautiful, moving romantic musical set in modern-day Los Angeles (but with the feel of old-time Hollywood). It has messages about integrity, love, and following your dreams.
“Lion,” age 13+
This emotional biographical drama about a man who lost his family when he was five and then desperately tries to find them as an adult will make you cry – but it also has powerful themes of perseverance, gratitude, and the power of technology.
“Sing Street,” age 13+
This winning, thoughtful musical drama celebrates creativity. It has some edgy content, but ultimately it’s a rallying cry to be bold, take chances, and make mistakes on the way to self-expression.