By Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
From superpowered adventures to book-based favorites to amazing true stories, these movies offer the best of 2017 for kids, teens, and families. They entertained us, made us think, and gave us plenty to talk about. At the same time, they offered worthwhile messages, modeled important character strengths, and left us oohing and aahing at their big-screen spectacle. 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.
Born in China, age 6+
This beautiful, fascinating documentary — which introduces viewers to remote, rarely seen parts of China and the animals that live there — mixes honest scenes about the dangers of life in the wild with themes related to courage and family.
Cars 3, age 6+
There are a couple of intense sequences in this diverse, uplifting “threequel,” but the characters learn key life lessons, and there are positive messages about perseverance, communication, empowerment, and mentorship.
Coco, age 7+
Pixar’s vibrant film about the Day of the Dead is a tribute to Mexican traditions and customs. There are some sad moments, especially for those who’ve lost beloved relatives. But it also has powerful themes of perseverance, teamwork, and gratitude, and it encourages audiences to love and appreciate their family and follow their dreams.
The Lego Batman Movie, age 7+
Clever, creative, and funny, with nonstop action, this big-screen Lego movie has strong takeaways about teamwork and humility, but you never feel hit over the head by them because you’re too busy marveling at the movie’s technical achievements and laughing at the snappy humor.
Beauty and the Beast, age 8+
This gorgeous remake of Disney’s “tale as old as time” is fantastic, although definitely a bit scarier/more intense than the animated original. But as always, the story encourages viewers to look beyond the superficial and to be compassionate, curious, humble, and generous.
Jane, age 8+
Jane Goodall is an excellent example of someone who marched to their own drummer and became a pioneer in their field; her story, documented here, epitomizes the values of perseverance, hard work, determination, curiosity, and compassion.
Kedi, age 8+
Sweet, loving, and filled with beautiful visuals of felines and the surprisingly moving and fanciful thoughts of those who know them, this cat’s-eye view documentary is full of respect, compassion, and love of animals.
The Red Turtle, age 8+
This beautifully animated, dialogue-free drama about an island castaway who finds companionship in a very unexpected way has some peril and violence, but it’s the themes of empathy and love and messages about the importance of family that will linger.
Wonderstruck, age 9+
Set in both the 1920s and 1970s, this thoughtful, arty take on Brian Selznick’s excellent novel is a historical adventure for all ages that explores the importance of family and friendship, as well as the value of perseverance, curiosity, art, and science.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, age 10+
Clever, funny, and true to the Spider-Man spirit, this take on everyone’s favorite web slinger has perilous moments and some salty language, but ultimately it’s tween-friendly, with messages about courage, perseverance, and responsibility.
Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, age 10+
The epic middle installment of the current Star Wars trilogy has thrilling sci-fi action, as well as several strong female characters, notable diversity within the Rebellion, and strong messages of courage, teamwork, hope, and loyalty.
Step, age 10+
Moving and inspiring, this powerful documentary about a group of Baltimore high school students in a step-dance troupe offers a bounty of positive messages about teamwork and perseverance, as well as great real-life role models.
Wonder, age 10+
Based on R. J. Palacio’s hugely popular, award-winning novel, this drama about a tween boy with a facial difference is earnest and sweet, with great messages about kindness, friendship, and acceptance based on who someone is, not what they look like.
The Breadwinner, age 11+
This intense, beautifully animated drama from the co-director of The Secret of Kellsis set in post-Taliban Afghanistan and has scenes of upsetting, realistic violence against girls and women — but ultimately, themes of perseverance, curiosity, and courage prevail.
My Life as a Zucchini, age 11+
If your family enjoys stop-motion animation and your kids are ready for big themes with a side of laughter and possibly tears (as well as strong themes of empathy), this Oscar-nominated French-Swiss animated movie about an orphaned boy who goes to live in a group foster home is a must-see.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, age 12+
Marvel’s favorite motley crew of reformed outlaws is back for another space adventure full of classic tunes, epic battles, and charming comedy. Things definitely get violent, but underlying the action are clear messages about teamwork, friendship, and unconditional chosen-family bonds.
Thor: Ragnarok, age 12+
It has lots of explosive action, but this is also the funniest movie to date about the hammer-wielding hero. Packed with wild, bold choices and tons of cinematic style, it deals with themes, including courage and perseverance.
Wonder Woman, age 12+
Both starring and directed by women, this engaging, entertaining, empowering origin story set during World War I is a surprisingly diverse superhero adventure with strong messages about teamwork, courage, and compassion.
Your Name, age 12+
Stunningly animated and well acted, this extraordinary Japanese coming-of-age tale is equal parts body-swap comedy, time-travel romance, and adventure film — with themes of compassion, empathy, and curiosity.
Marshall, age 13+
Despite some mature material, this biopic about eventual U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall has excellent role models and strong messages about courage, teamwork, and tolerance, making it a great pick for families with teens.
Megan Leavey, age 13+
Inspiring and poignant, this fact-based drama about a young Marine corporal who bonds with a bomb-sniffing dog has tense, violent moments — but also clear themes of teamwork, perseverance, communication, and courage.
Tickling Giants, age 13+
This powerful documentary about an Egyptian surgeon-turned-comedy-talk-show host who’s been hailed as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt” is both funny and thought-provoking, underlining the importance of both bravery and comedy as tools for dissent.