25 Modern fairy tale movies to watch with your family

by - Friday, March 22, 2013

Having grown up reading Hans Christian Anderson while discovering the allure of Disney, I'm quite the fan of the fairytale genre. I particularly love watching modern fairy-tale films with my children and (thus far) have not experienced a poor reception of the movies I suggest we watch together.

Here are 25 of our favourite modern day fairy tales to share with your family in which I hope to suggest a few movies you may have yet to enjoy.
All of these film are (in my opinion) "family-friendly" and range in classification from U (Universal - suitable for all ages) to 12A (where it is not recommended for children under twelve years old to watch the film without an adult).

I've created a handy playlist of trailers for the films in this list over on YouTube which is embedded towards the end of this post.

You might also like to check out my list of 100 Family Friendly Films for even more suggestions of movies to watch with your children.

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth tells the story of Sarah, a fifteen year old girl, who accidentally wishes her baby brother away to the Goblin King, Jareth. She has thirteen hours to complete Jareth's labyrinth and save baby Toby before he will be turned into a goblin forever!

Classification: U
Release date: 1986
Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connolly, Toby Froud

The Neverending Story

Bastian is a bookish, withdrawn boy who is being bullied at school. After chancing upon a mysterious volume in a bookstore, he retreats to the school attic to read and is drawn into the story to such an extent that he begins to realise the hero of the story is him!

Classification: U
Release date: 1985
Starring: Noah Hathaway, Barrett Oliver


Another classic from the Eighties, Legend is a magical fantasy film (a very young) Tom Cruise. A demon who seeks to create eternal night by destroying the last of the unicorns and marrying a fairy princess is opposed by the forest boy Jack (Cruise) and his elven allies.

Classification: PG
Release date: 1985
Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia is a story of friendship between the best runner at school and the new girl in town. Despite their differences, the pair form a close bond and help each other through the troubles they experience as pre-teens, and together, they create Terabithia, a land of monsters, trolls, ogres, and giants and rule as king and queen.

Without wanting to post any spoilers, I must point out that a part of this story may be rather upsetting for younger viewers. It remains one of my daughter's favourite films, though when she first watched (age seven) a particular scene made us both feel rather sad!

Classification: PG
Release date: 2007


Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. This film reminds me very much of the "Cinderella" genre, wherein the young Hugo's life is transformed from rags to the richness of friendship and finding his place in the world.

Classification: U
Release date: 2011
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Directed by the visionary Terry Guilliam, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen offers an account of the aristocrat's supposed travels and fantastical experiences with his misfit accomplices. Being swallowed by a giant sea-monster, a trip to the moon, a dance with Venus and an escape from the Grim Reaper are only some of the improbable antics!

Classification: PG
Release date: 1988
Starring: John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley

Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton's excellent film tells the story of Edward - the greatest creation of his inventor "father" who passed away before his work could be completed, leaving Edward with scissors in place of hands.

Lonely and vulnerable, Edward is adopted by Peg and her family and invited to live with them in their quiet suburban home. At first everyone welcomes the strange man into their community, but soon things take a change for the worse. 

Classification: 12A (uncut)
Release date: 1990
Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

Spirited Away

Dubbed a modern-day "Alice in Wonderland", this is a fantasy adventure about Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl who is leaving behind everything she knows and is moving to a new home. Along the way,Chihiro and her parents stumble across a tunnel that leads to a spooky, deserted open-air restaurant and her parents sit down to eat while she wanders off to explore.

After discovering that her greedy parents have been turned into pigs, she learns the number one rule of the new world she is now part of: laziness is not tolerated, and only working hard can enable her to break the spell on her parents.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2001
Starring: Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Miyu Irino

The Brothers Grimm

Will and Jake are the legendary Brothers Grimm who dazzle small towns with their imaginative folklore and elaborate illusions. When the brothers journey into a real enchanted forest to help a village rid itself of an evil witch, they encounter many of the fantastic characters and thrilling situations found in their beloved fairy tales.

Classification: 12A
Release date: 2006
Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Lena Headley

Spiderwick Chronicles

Upon moving into the run-down Spiderwick Estate with their mother, twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace, along with their sister Mallory, find themselves pulled into an alternate world full of faeries and other creatures.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2008
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, David Strathairn


In a fantasy world of opposing kingdoms, fifteen-year-old Helena works at the family circus with her parents. Ironically, she wishes that she could run away from the circus to join 'real life', but instead finds herself on a strange journey into the Dark Lands, a fantastic landscape filled with giants, Monkeybirds and dangerous sphinxes. She must find the fabled MirrorMask in order to save the kingdom and get back home.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2005
Starring: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon


In a countryside town bordering on a magical land, a young man named Tristen makes a promise to his beloved that he'll retrieve a fallen star by venturing into the magical realm. But the star is no lump of rock, it's a maiden, Yvaine, and Tristen is not the only one looking for her...

Classification: PG
Release date: 2007
Starring: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer


After finding her Prince Charming, princess Giselle is banished by an evil queen from her magical, musical animated land and finds herself in the gritty reality of the streets of modern-day Manhattan. Gisele wonders how she could possibly survive in a world where there are no "happily ever afters" until she is rescued by a charmingly flawed divorce lawyer. While she is already promised to a perfect fairy tale prince back home, she begins to fall in love with her hero and wonders if fairytale romance can thrive in the real world.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2007
Starring: Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden


When Coraline and her parents move to a dreary old house, she finds herself bored and feeling somewhat neglected by her busy parents. One night she follows mysterious mice to find a secret passage leading to a parallel version of her life. On the surface, it seems very much like reality - only better - but when her Other Mother asks to replace her eyes with buttons and to stay forever, she finds herself trapped in a nightmare, with only the talking black cat as her ally.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2009
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman

The Water Horse

Angus is a lonely boy, pining for his father who is serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. He finds a mysterious egg which hatches into a sea creature known as a "water horse" (who inevitably will become known as "the Loch Ness Monster") quickly learns that he needs to hide the rapidly growing creature from both his family and the soldiers who inhabit their home.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2007
Starring: Emily Watson, David Morrissey, Alex Etel

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Dr. Parnassus leads an extraordinary Imaginarium which promises it's patrons an irresistible journey to the limits of their imagination by means of a mysterious mirror. Unfortunately, the doctor harbours a dark secret: years before he made a pact with the Devil to secure immortality in exchange for the soul of his first-born child on the day of their sixteenth birthday. 

As his daughter nears this fateful age, the troupe is joined by the shapeshifting Tony and together they embark on a wild and surreal journey through parallel worlds to save Valentina and undo the mistakes of the past.

Classification: 12A
Release date: 2009
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp


Ondine is a lyrical modern fairy tale that tells the story of Syracuse, an Irish fisherman whose life is transformed when he catches a beautiful and mysterious woman in his nets. His daughter Annie, believes that the woman is a selke (a water nymph), while Syracuse falls helplessly in love. However, like all fairy tales, enchantment and darkness go hand in hand.

Classification: 12a
Release date: 2009
Starring: Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachelda, Dervla Kirwan

Big Fish

Big Fish tells the story of a dying father and his son, who is trying to learn more about his dad by piecing together the stories he has gathered over the years. The son winds up re-creating his father's elusive life in a series of legends and myths inspired by the few facts he knows. Through these tales, the son begins to understand his father's great feats and his great failings.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2003
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup

Where the Wild Things Are

This beautiful film is an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world--a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler.

Classification: PG
Release date: 2009
Starring: Max Records, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker


In this modern-day romantic tale, Penelope is about a young girl's inspiring journey, a mysterious family secret, and the power of love. With all odds against her, in order for Penelope to break the family curse, she must find true love with "one of her own kind" and realize the most important life lesson, "I like myself the way I am."

Classification: PG
Release date: 2006
Starring: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Reese Witherspoon

Ever After

In Renaissance Italy, sixteen-year-old Danielle has been reduced to the level of a servant due to the caprices of her wicked stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla. When Danielle meets Prince Henry , they quarrel, but a second encounter, with Danielle dressed as a noblewoman, sees romance blooming. However, the relationship is threatened when Henry's father tells him he must marry the Princess of Spain.

A classic retelling of the Cinderella story which even includes the appearance of Leonardo da Vinci!

Classification: PG
Release date: 1998
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Angelica Houston, Dougray Scott

Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro)

Satsuke and her younger sister Mei, move into a house in the country with their father to be closer to their hospitalized mother. They soon discover that the nearby forest is inhabited by magical creatures called Totoros with whom they experience magical adventures.

Classification: U
Release date: 1988
Starring: Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, Toshiyuki Amagasa


Everyone knows the classic tale of Red Riding Hood, but in an interesting twist this film begins where the fairytale left off, placing Red, her Granny and the wolf at the centre of an almost film-noir style plot in which the wolf plays detective and attempts to unravel the mysterious events.

Classification: U
Release date: 2006
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton

Howl's Moving Castle

When a young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.

A beautiful animation based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.

Classification: U
Release date: 2004
Starring: (English Language version) Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal

The Princess Bride

Princess Buttercup is saddened by the disappearance of her true-love Westley whom she believes to have been kidnapped by murderous pirates. She finds that she has no choice but to become engaged to the odious Prince Humperdinck , but Westley soon arrives back on the scene and, along with his mismatched band of adventurers, sets off on a daring mission to rescue his beloved.

This is a classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince and a beautiful princess as read by a kindly grandfather.

Classification: PG
Release date: 1987
Starring: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright

Preview all 25 film trailers

I created a YouTube playlist of trailers for all the films on this list to help you and your family decide which of these suggestions you'd most like to watch:

Which are your favourites?

Are your favourite fairy tale movies included in this list? Perhaps we've missed out a classic film that you'd like to suggest for other families?

Please feel free to join the conversation by leaving your comments below.

Image credit (main banner): Anabel Rose Photography, via Flickr. 

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