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Top 10: Best Award Winning Family Films

Looking at the wholesome features that have transcended age in film history…

top 10 best award winning family films featured image

The family-oriented film has been a staple of Hollywood since the beginning of cinema. The act of going to the theater became a commonplace family tradition as early as the 1920s. Thus, the most wide-reaching of films had to appeal to an audience of all ages. These films have grown and evolved, and with the renaissance of various special effects and growth of cinematic technology, the genre has become more creative and innovative as well.

With the release of the new Disney+ family film “Artemis Fowl from Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branagh (drops on Friday, June 12), we think it is necessary to rank the top 10 family films that won Academy Awards. To provide a fair list, we decided to leave off animated films, as they would deserve a list entirely on their own.

Check out the list below:

10. Babe (1995)
dir. Chris Noonan

Image from the movie "Babe" 1995
© 1995 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

The heartwarming story of an orphaned pig who becomes a sheep-herder, “Babe,” was an adaptation of the 1983 children’s book “Babe: The Gallant Pig” by Dick King-Smith. It won over audiences and critics alike with its heartwarming message about identity, beautifully realistic visuals of farm life, and phenomenal performances across the board, most notably from James Cromwell as Farmer Arthur Hoggett. The film went on to make $254.1 million worldwide and receive several awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Picture- Musical or Comedy and the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, while also receiving Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Cromwell, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. It has only grown in love and reputation since as one of the most revered family films of its era.

9. Enchanted (2007)
dir. Kevin Lima

Image from the movie "Enchanted" 2007
© 2007 Walt Disney Pictures − All right reserved.

A delightfully self-referential homage to animated princess films past, “Enchanted” is easily the best live-action film Disney has made in the 21st century. With a brilliant lead performance by Golden Globe nominee Amy Adams as fish-out-of-water princess Giselle, who is transported from the animated world of Andalasia to real-life New York City, it brings the idea of the conventional Disney princess into the modern world. The Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz-composed music and lush costumes bring a wonderfully familiar Disney feeling, but the script takes what are usually stereotypes in the animated princess films and turns them on their head. The film was a financial hit ($340.5 million worldwide) and critical/awards season success, with the aforementioned Golden Globe nomination for Adams in Best Actress- Musical or Comedy, Oscar nods for three of its original songs, a Costume Designers Guild nod, and a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Family Film. Who knows if the long-awaited sequel will ever be produced, but regardless, “Enchanted” belongs in the pantheon of Disney classics as much as any other film.

8. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
dir. Norman Jewison

Image from the movie "Fiddler on the Roof" 1971
© 1971 United Artists − All right reserved.

The classic adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway show, “Fiddler on the Roof” tells the story of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman in early 20th century Ukraine, and his family as he attempts to lead them in continuing the traditions of Judaism even as the society around them is changing. With an iconic lead performance from Topol, memorable songs, and a heartwarming story of remaining firm in your identity, the film has endured as a staple for families Jewish and non-Jewish alike. The film was also a significant hit ($83.3 million worldwide) and awards-season success. It won the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Actor in the Musical-Comedy category and three Oscars for Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score (notably the first win for John Williams), Cinematography, and Sound, along with nominations for Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor for Leonard Frey, Director, and Art Direction.

7. Little Women (2019)
dir. Greta Gerwig

Image from the movie "Little Women"
© 2019 Sony Pictures − All right reserved.

Though it is the seventh and most recent film adaptation of the classic 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel, Greta Gerwig’s take on “Little Women” has already gained notoriety in the short time since its release. With its fresh dual-timeline narrative structure, gorgeous music, period-appropriate sets and costumes, committed performances, and lush visuals, the film cannot be denied for its craft. What makes it a true future classic is the emotions you feel as you watch the March sisters grow up and discover themselves as young women in their time. The film received 6 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan, Best Supporting Actress for Florence Pugh, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, winning for Best Costume Design. It also won a considerable amount of critics awards (including the Critics’ Choice and USC Scripter) for Gerwig’s adapted screenplay. It was also an enormous box office success, grossing $206 million worldwide. Over time, it appears as though this version may become the definitive film adaptation of Alcott’s beloved work.

6. Back to the Future (1985)
dir. Robert Zemeckis

Image from the movie "Back to the Future"
© 1985 U-Drive Productions − All right reserved.

A classic time capsule of the 1980s, “Back to the Future,” has captivated audiences of all ages since its initial release. It tells the story of Marty McFly (played memorably by Michael J. Fox), a teenager in Hill Valley, California. He enjoys spending his time with eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) to the point that he becomes caught in his newest experiment: a time-traveling DeLorean that sends him from 1985 back to his parents’ high school era in 1955. He encounters his parents’ younger selves (Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover). However, He must prevent his mother from falling in love with him, ensure that his parents still end up together, stop the bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) from foiling everything, and get home from 1985 with past Doc Brown’s help. The film became the definitive piece of time travel fiction since its release and was the highest-grossing film of 1985 with $389.1 million at the box office. It also won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing, while also receiving nominations for Best Sound, Best Original Song for “The Power of Love”, and Best Original Screenplay. It also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture- Musical or Comedy, Best Actor- Musical or Comedy for Fox, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Song.

5. The Sound of Music (1965)
dir. Robert Wise

Image from the movie "The Sound of Music" 1965
© 1965 Robert Wise Productions − All right reserved.

The story of singing nun/governess Maria and the Von Trapp family has been beloved worldwide ever since the Rodgers and Hammerstein show hit Broadway in 1959 but became even more so after the film adaptation was released. With an iconic performance from Julie Andrews as Maria, countless gorgeous shots of the rolling hills and villas of Austria, a culturally ubiquitous soundtrack, and a timeless story, the film has become woven into the fabric of culture as one that almost every family still watches together to this day. At the time of its release, it became a historic box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time and remaining in U.S. theaters for four and a half years in its initial run. It also received 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Music (Scoring- Adaptation or Treatment), Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing, Best Actress for Andrews, Best Supporting Actress for Peggy Wood, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design, winning for the first 5. Additionally, it won the Golden Globes for Best Picture- Musical or Comedy and Best Actress- Musical or Comedy for Andrews. Regardless of classification, “The Sound of Music” is one of the most successful films ever made in all facets.

4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
dir. Steven Spielberg

Image from the movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" 1982
© 1982 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

The timeless story of a boy who meets an alien, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” is probably the unique film on this list. It followed a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas), who discovers a strange-looking alien named E.T. in his backyard and develops a remarkable friendship that leads to a captivating journey. It captivated audiences with its ubiquity and production values, to the point that it became the highest-grossing film upon its release. It received similar critical and industry praise. It won the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture- Drama and Best Score and was nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects, winning for the latter four. To this day, it likely remains the most beloved film that Steven Spielberg has made in a career full of them.

3. Star Wars (1977)
dir. George Lucas

Image from the movie "Star Wars" 1977
© 1977 Lucasfilm − All right reserved.

The film that started one of cinema’s mega-franchises was a fluke. George Lucas had been trying to get this passion project of his made for years, but studios continually refused until Alan Ladd, Jr. agreed to produce it at 20th Century Fox. Production was notoriously troubled, with challenging conditions in Tunisia, Lucas having to build his own special effects studio called Industrial Light & Magic, and tensions throughout filming between Lucas and cast/crew members. But, somehow, in the end, the film not only exceeded expectations but shattered them. It became the highest-grossing film of all time upon release, an enormous audience, and a critical hit. It essentially birthed the style that would later come to define the modern blockbuster. The film won a Golden Globe for Best Score, and received 10 Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guinness, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Visual Effects, winning for the latter 6. To this day, “Star Wars” remains as possibly the most influential film of modern cinema, as without it, there would be no franchise or blockbuster filmmaking that dominates the current system.

2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
dir. Victor Fleming

Image from the movie "The Wizard of Oz" 1939
© 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer − All right reserved.

Based on the beloved novel by L. Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” had a more tumultuous production than its timeless status might lead one to believe. The film went through five directors, eleven screenwriters, two Tin Men, two Wicked Witches, multiple cast injuries, and several stylistic changes throughout production before it was completed. Yet, after release, the rest is history. The film, although initially financially unsuccessful, became culturally ubiquitous and a legendary success after several re-releases and regular television showings. In the contemporary time of its release, however, it was always a critical success, receiving 5 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Special Effects, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow,” winning the latter two and a special Juvenile Award for Judy Garland. There is not much else to say about this film that has not already been said. It remains a timeless landmark achievement of cinema that will last forever.

1. Mary Poppins (1964)
dir. Robert Stevenson

Image from the movie "Mary Poppins" 1964
© 1964 Walt Disney Productions − All right reserved.

Whereas “The Wizard of Oz” would top most lists in this category, the crowning achievement of Walt Disney’s career tops this list. “Mary Poppins” is based on the popular series of stories by P.L. Travers, and follows the Banks family as their traditional turn-of-the-century British lives are turned upside down when a magical nanny floats down from the sky to solve their troubles. While at first, it appears that Mary Poppins (played flawlessly by Julie Andrews) is there to solve the children’s woes after they have run several nannies out of their home, it becomes clear throughout the movie that Mary is also there to help patriarch George Banks (David Tomlinson) realize what he has been missing as a father with his strict, professional-oriented lifestyle. On top of this, the film features magical whimsy in the form of a questionably accented Dick Van Dyke as Bert the chimney sweep, scenes with a beautiful blend of hand-drawn animation and live-action in a chalk drawing world, a tea party on the ceiling of Mary’s Uncle Albert’s house, and a rooftop dance number with the chimney sweeps. On top of it all, the iconic Sherman Brothers songs remain memorable to this day. “Mary Poppins” captivated audiences and became the top-grossing film of 1964. The film also received a whopping 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Andrews, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” Best Score, and Best Adaptation or Treatment Score, winning for Actress, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Original Song, and Score. It was Walt’s favorite film he ever made, and it has lasted well beyond his lifetime as a classic for all families to enjoy.

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Written by Daniel Brilliant

Daniel is a lover of film and pop culture who graduated from the University of Maryland in May of 2019 with a Biochemistry degree. His favorite genres of film are musicals, family dramas, comedies, and science fiction. Additionally, Daniel is a massive fan of the Orioles and Ravens and enjoys cooking.

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  1. Its outstanding to see Little Women on a list like this already, and boy do I hope it becomes the definitive adaptation. It deserves it, and also deserved to win more than 1 Oscar that’s for sure.

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