Good movies have the power to grip us and make us a feel a range of emotions. Great movies, on the other hand, will entertain us while also widening our scope on the world and inviting us to think outside of ourselves. That's the magic of storytelling: It teaches us things in a fun, relevant way. But remember that saying "With great power, comes great responsibility"?
Unfortunately not every movie affects us in a positive way—especially when we don't know much about a given topic, community, or experience. While this gets easier to navigate as adults, it's trickier when it comes to movies for kids. And admittedly it's pretty hard not to be reductive when you're trying to package a complicated world into an age-appropriate and digestible film. But it's possible and well worth the extra effort.
To make things easier, we rounded up the best movies for kids that teach empathy and convey strong messages around curiosity, kindness, integrity, diversity, and resilience. Not only will they encourage your little ones to navigate life with wisdom, but they can also make difficult conversations easier. Scroll through our list of 17 fun movies for kids that teach empathy, and make plans to watch them together.
If you're looking for a Disney princess animated movie, this is a great option that moves beyond some of the outdated conventions of earlier films. This version of Rapunzel is bright, curious, kind, and optimistic despite the hardships she faces, and Flynn is a good example of growth and integrity despite previous wrongdoings.
Up is a movie about the beauty in unlikely, timeless friendships. There are images of a happy, healthy marriage, and we see the value in multigenerational connections. Though there are moments of sadness in this movie, it's ultimately more uplifting and heartwarming than anything. It's also a visually stunning film, which is a treat for both kids and adults alike.
Imagine if all of your emotions were actually little characters with minds of their own living inside your head. That's what Inside Out is about, plus so much more. It's about major life transitions, coping with our feelings, and learning how to regain control over them. All of this is lightened up with sweet, humorous lines delivered by the star-studded cast (Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling). It'll help your child understand their moods more, as well as those of others.
Imba Means Sing
Imba Means Sing is a heartwarming and inspiring documentary that reinforces the value of education. It follows two children living in Uganda as they embark on a world tour with the African Children's Choir. You'll get to know the three central protagonists intimately as they process the transformations that occur during the tour.
This movie is an adaptation of R.J. Palacio's best-selling young-adult novel Wonder, which is also the book that inspired the Choose Kind movement. It's about a child who wants to belong and shows us how we can all connect to one another, even if we don't look the same. It teaches empathy, compassion, and accepting people for who they are inside.
Akeelah and the Bee
Akeelah and the Bee traces a clever girl from South Los Angeles as she qualifies to compete in the National Spelling Bee. You'll want to root for her the entire way, and you'll also see inspiring displays of community support and connection. It also has some good examples of the power of mentorship.
A mom and teenage daughter constantly butt heads and misunderstand each other's points of view—it's a story as old as time. But here's the twist: They wake up in each other's bodies, forced to live in each other's shoes until they can switch back, ultimately gaining much more appreciation for the other's priorities, moods, and hardships.
Remember the Titans
Remember the Titans is an amazing movie that tells the story of integration by spotlighting a high school football team. It dives into the broader issues of race and class while also honing in on the personal relationships and dynamics at play in the newly integrated team.
Kindness is Contagious
This is one of those feel-good movies that'll make you cry the happiest of tears. It interviews various people about one small act of kindness that someone did for them, and how that changed their entire life for the better. It shows us how kindness can create a better world.
Queen of Katwe
Ten-year-old Phiona lives in a Ugandan slum and struggles each day—until she meets a man who teaches her how to play chess. She has a natural curiosity, passion, and talent for the game, and under his mentorship, she quickly becomes a top player, traveling to compete in tournaments. She's a great role model, exhibiting strength, loyalty, and ambition throughout.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
The rom-com genre is finally getting some love again, and we're definitely here for it. To All The Boys I've Loved Before is a coming-of-age movie about a high school girl, Lara Jean, whose romantic fantasies are leaked to all the love interests she's ever had. Lara Jean is an intelligent, family-oriented, caring young woman who grows into confidence and courage over the course of the film.
This is the story of a talented, brave young boy who breaks through gender stereotypes to pursue his passion for dancing. It's also a good one if you want to encourage children to speak up against intolerance and conformity, and to help others do the same.
If your teen (or mature tween) wants to watch something unique, Amélie is a must-see. You'll get drawn into the world of a quirky, charming young woman living in Paris when she falls in love. It also shows us how small acts of generosity and compassion can change lives for the better.
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser
This movie is such a great watch, but beyond being funny and gripping, it also shows us that everyone has their own struggles. Even more, it shows us that everyone screws up, and that's perfectly okay—in fact, it's inevitable. What matters is how we handle our mistakes. Ultimately we learn that kindness and honesty are the best policy, but if you falter, you can always learn and grow if you take responsibility for your misgivings and choose not to repeat them.
Available on: Netflix
For a kid-friendly movie about mental illness, watch Elizabeth Blue. It's an indie drama about a young woman living with schizophrenia after spending time at a treatment facility. It's definitely better for more mature tweens and teens since it's pretty emotionally charged, but it's definitely worth watching if they like indies. It also promotes compassion and unconditional support.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, we get to know Charlie, the wallflower referred to in the title, as he navigates adolescence. He struggles to find a sense of belonging, coping with loss and family tragedy while bonding with new friends and falling in love. The main character definitely has some faults, but the movie isn't necessarily encouraging kids to act like him—it's more about extending compassion, learning how to build a community, and staying true to who you are.
This highly entertaining, Oscar-winning animated film follows bright-eyed bunny, Judy Hopps, to the big city of Zootopia where she becomes the first rabbit to join the police force. Though she endures bullying and ridicule from all the other animals, including a cunning fox, her story of triumph teaches us all to not only believe in ourselves, but to see the best in others and never judge a book by its cover.