Best Childrens Adventure Films, From Honey, I Shrunk the Kids to The Goonies

Best kids’ adventure film

Coming-of-age tales like those featured in kids’ adventure films have long been the backbone of storytelling, using climactic situations to present the relatable experience of a child’s transition from wide-eyed innocent to worldly adult. Growing older is, unfortunately, a part of human existence, but through the magic of these movies, adults can briefly revisit their own youthful exploits as well as the fictional situations that might have inspired them. Here are some of the all-time best kids’ adventure movies to share with your family or give you a burst of serotonin on a cloudy day.

The Goonies

The Goonies is a classic ’80s adventure movie from the minds of Richard Donner, Chris Columbus, and Steven Spielberg. Though its horrifying villains, the Fratelli clan, might be a bit too scary for younger viewers, those ages 10 and up will find plenty of thrills, laughs, and unsupervised mischief to go around. Hoping to save their homes from foreclosure, a group of lovable misfits known as The Goonies goes on a hunt for the long-lost treasure of notorious pirate One-Eyed Willy. Featuring an all-star cast of young actors including Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, and Martha Plimpton, Goonies balances an Indiana Jones-style expedition with the madcap, interruptive babbling of real-world kids at recess.

Stand by Me

File this film under the label “Kids Adventure Films You Cannot Show Your Kids.” Adapted from the Stephen King novella The Body, Stand by Me is a Rob Reiner-directed film set in 1959 about four kids looking for a dead body in the woods. The film is perhaps best known for the harrowing scene in which the boys are forced to outrun a speeding train on an elevated bridge. While most kids’ adventure movies focus on the sweet innocence of youth, Stand By Me provides an unfiltered look at the cruelty, darkness, and grief that often percolate around the edges of such tales. Unlike other films on this list, this one is notable for portraying both the delinquency of youth and the trauma that is often at the root of misbehavior.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

After a rollicking ride on the Knight Bus, Harry Potter finds himself back at Hogwarts for another tour of magical mystery. This time directing duties have been taken over by the ever-stylish Alfonso Cuarón, whose knack for framing fascinating shots brings a whole new layer of depth to the proceedings. The Wizarding World feels a bit darker but no less charming, as Cuarón balances his more gothic, Tim Burton-esque vision of Hogwarts with sight gags and distractions. One particularly memorable shot features a conversation between Mr. Weasley and Harry Potter in the middle ground, while a moving wanted poster of criminal Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) rages in the foreground. The high contrast lighting and the eerie presence of Dementors make this entry particularly Halloween-y, but there are cheerful elements, like the hilarious singing frogs in the Hogwarts choir, to make this film droll as well as creepy.


Along with having an iconic John Williams score, this Steven Spielberg classic tells the tale of a young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) who befriends a marooned alien called E.T. that desperately wants to “phone home.” E.T. is a fish-out-of-water struggling to communicate, and in the process of doing so, he somehow develops a psychic connection with Elliot, causing them to share experiences. When E.T. gets drunk on beer, Elliot feels inebriated even though he is miles away at school. There’s lots of fun to be had with Elliot and his sister, played by a hilarious six-year-old Drew Barrymore, as they attempt to keep E.T. secret from their mom and the nasty scientists pursuing the poor creature. Be warned: some moments of this movie may be heartfelt enough to make even the toughest earthlings cry.

Super 8

Super 8 is perhaps J.J. Abrams‘s best movie, which, depending on your feelings on Abrams, is either saying a lot or very little. Produced and heavily inspired by this list’s thrice-anointed savior, Steven Spielberg, Super 8 follows the adventures of a group of kid filmmakers whose movie-making is disrupted by a train crash that releases an alien menace. Like E.T., this space creature wants to phone home, but it is too gigantic and frightening to communicate without wrecking property and kidnapping people. Compelling performances from the child actors ground this movie in reality, and Abrams’ knack for sleek sci-fi action makes the whole affair a wonderful, popcorn-munching spectacle. Like Stand By Me, Abrams uses this film to reflect on loss, grief and moving on, and the excellent CGI artistry results in a memorable, magnetic metaphor.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

On the lighter side of things, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids tells the tale of a nerdy but lovable scientist, Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis), who is struggling to invent a device capable of shrinking things. When his invention accidentally shrinks his children as well as his neighbor’s, the parents try to locate their picayune progeny before the kids get squished or swallowed. The shrunken children get lost in the Szalinskis’ backyard, where they befriend and ride an ant they name Antie, evade a remote-controlled lawnmower, and battle a scorpion. Director Joe Johnston keeps the comedy light and breezy while James Horner‘s score amps up the terror. The whole affair feels like a wild and wacky amusement park ride, which might explain why it was later adapted into Epcot Center’s Honey I Shrunk the Audience at Walt Disney World.

Moonrise Kingdom

Known for his love of meticulously sculpted shots and scenery, Wes Anderson brought his playfulness and precision to Moonrise Kingdom, a love story about a boy and a girl who decide to run away together. Sam, an orphan attending a Khaki Scout summer camp, plots to abscond with Suzy, a girl he met during a play the previous year. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) enlists a troupe of child scouts to find and capture the runaway duo. Romance blossoms between Sam and Suzy as they enjoy the summer together at an inlet they dub “Moonrise Kingdom.” Though the film is rated PG-13 for language, some violence, and sexual situations, it is mainly a sweet-natured dramedy about kids creating a special place for themselves where they can feel free in an otherwise oppressive, rigid, and conventional world. Half kids adventure movie and half arthouse cinema, Moonrise Kingdom is a witty, colorful, and stylized journey into adulthood, making it a truly unique experience from beginning to end.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The 2005 adaptation of C.S. Lewis‘s 1950 novel is an epic blend of high fantasy and low fantasy, one that sees four siblings travel to the magical land of Narnia to join forces with a lion named Aslan (Liam Neeson) and fight the villainous White Witch (Tilda Swinton). Initially set in England during World War II, the film switches settings to a snow-coated Narnia after the children find a gateway between worlds in the back of a wardrobe. Things quickly become a gigantic CGI extravaganza once winter thaws, setting the stage for a grand battle between mythical creatures with our heroes, the Pevensie children, at the center. This film attempts to marry the Christian allegory of the original novel with the high fantasy immersion of Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings movies and mostly succeeds in threading that difficult needle. On a side note, this movie also provides one of the greatest clapback memes of all time, when Neeson’s Aslan responds to the White Queen, “Do not cite the Deep Magic to me, Witch. I was there when it was written.”


A truly magical kids’ adventure, Ponyo is a beautifully animated Studio Ghibli film that stands among the studio’s finest efforts. The title character, Ponyo (Yuria Nara) begins life as Brunhilde, a small fishy humanoid, living life with her siblings and father, Fujimoto (George Tokoro), under the sea. After making contact with a five-year-old boy named Sosuke (Hikori Doi), Brunhilde decides that she wants to be a human and rebrands herself as Ponyo, sealing the deal by growing arms and legs through sheer force of will (and probably a small helping of magic too). When the sea levels rise due to imbalances in nature, Ponyo and Sosuke set off on an adventure to find Sosuke’s mother at the retirement facility where she works. Much like My Neighbor Totoro, this film is more about the journey than the destination, providing the viewer with scene after scene of joyful experiences and magical encounters. The result is a transformative experience, one that allows the viewer to see the world through the eyes of a child and believe in an innocent type of love that often defies logic or explanation.


ParaNorman is a stop-motion animated comedy about the danger of rushing to judge others. Norman’s an 11-year-old with the amazing ability to speak to the dead, but his family and peers think that he’s making the whole thing up, leading him to be ostracized. When his town, Blythe Hollow, is tormented by the living dead, it’s up to Norman, his sister, and their friends to save the day. What elevates ParaNorman from other paint-by-numbers kids’ entertainment is its willingness to acknowledge that people are capable of making villainous decisions without being innately evil. The treatment of the film’s villain suggests that those who do wrong may yet be worthy of redemption, which is a refreshingly compassionate take for a children’s adventure film. In acknowledging that human beings are morally complex and that sometimes the bad guys deserve empathy, ParaNorman stands out from the crowd.

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon is one of the rare efforts from Dreamworks Animation to capture the magic of classic Disney. The film is full of fantastic world-building, charismatic creatures, and beautiful artwork. HtTYD centers on Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a scrawny Viking not capable of battling dragons with brawn. Hiccup builds devices to help him measure up the others, one of which allows him to capture a rare Night Fury dragon. He begins a friendship with the creature, whom he calls Toothless, and realizes that in studying dragon behavior it is possible to work together with the beast, rather than perpetuating a routine cycle of raids and retaliation. While the film’s message isn’t groundbreaking, in terms of visual style and excitement the movie is picture-perfect. HtTYD has some of the most majestic animated flight scenes outside of Aladdin or James Cameron’s Avatar. When Hiccup leads a squad of young Vikings on dragon-back into a ferocious final battle, the film fully embraces the spirit of kids’ adventure movies.

Enola Holmes

Starring Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame, Enola Holmes is an adaptation of the first book in the young adult series by Nancy Springer centering on the youngest sibling of famed detective Sherlock Holmes. Brown plays Enola with effortless charm, breaking the fourth wall to talk to the viewer as she weaves her tale. Things drift from a reimagining of classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories to adventure territory when Enola has a comical meet-cute with a young lord on the run named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). The mismatched pair slowly kindle some romantic tension, though the inexperienced Enola seems a bit too flustered to enjoy Tewkesbury’s advances. As their paths continue crossing, Enola discovers what it means to be a detective worthy of the Holmes name, namely having lots of disguises. Mixing a satisfying mystery with an enjoyable romance, Enola Holmes is an excellent choice for viewers young and old who love a bit of sleuthing. A sequel is set to hit Netflix on November 4th.

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Mohammad Mo
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