Of all the relationships and communities we become a part of in our lives, our family will always be the most important. These tight-knit groups can offer us the greatest sense of love and acceptance beyond what any other community can give us, which help establish our truest identity. Families having the influence they do on a person has made them a frequent topic in many movies for the emotional potential they create for characters.
With so many films that look at families, it has led filmmakers to ask questions about what these relationships are at their core and revealed interesting insights into what a family can be. Families don't necessarily have to be blood-related, they just need to be a group of people that love and accept you for you. Here are some of the greatest films that depict special found-family relationships.
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Short Term 12 (2013)
One of the most difficult topics to discuss is that of at-risk teens. It's never a happy thing when considering young people that are experiencing a complex and difficult real-world situation. Destin Daniel Cretton offers an unflinching look at such a topic while still showing the hope and unexpected joys that still arise in his moving indie film Short Term 12.
The movie takes place in a treatment facility that specializes in helping troubled teenagers and follows the adult counselors that work there. The lead supervisor Grace, played exceptionally by Brie Larson, suffers from her own past trauma as a child that makes it difficult for her to get close to others. The film has many difficult moments with heavy themes due to the nature of the story, but ultimately presents a wonderful, feel-good experience of hope for the future and other people.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Disney is famous for many of the most celebrated family films, but not enough credit is given to Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois' . The film is about an evil alien experiment that crashes into Earth and is adopted by an orphaned Hawaiian girl, who believes the creature to be an ugly dog. The alien is resistant to the young girl's antics at first, but eventually comes to love her and feel he is part of her family.
It's a very sweet story with that famous Disney touch throughout, but still sets itself apart from the other films the studio has made with grounded moments of a real situation. Lilo and her adult sister Nani who raises her deal with real problems of normal life that are made more challenging by the absence of their parents.
They struggle to be a family, despite their being related, but desperately continue trying out of love for one another. Adding a space alien to the story somehow doesn't hurt this aspect but enhances it as the sisters and the intergalactic outcast bond and become a family. A moving family viewing for all ages.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
There's a special delight that comes from films that feature a pure sense of sincerity. Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz's The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of those golden-hearted movies that come from a very genuine place. It's the story of a down syndrome young man whose desire to attend a pro wrestling school leads him to stow away on the boat of a gruff Mississippi fisherman who becomes his closest friend.
The film is admittedly somewhat formulaic with many beats you've probably seen in other films, but what makes it great are the characters. The would-be wrestler Zak and his guide Tyler are wonderfully realized by the actors portraying them, imbuing each character with an instantly endearing nature. It's the kind of film that you can't help but smile the entire time you're watching it, as these two men are brought together by chance form a deep brotherly bond they both needed.
The silly British film about a bear in a red hat and blue raincoat who loves marmalade sandwiched has become a massive internet sensation. People can't really believe how good the film is, but after they watch, they can't help but get everyone else excited to watch it too. While the second film has garnered a great deal of praise, too many forget the equally delightful introduction with Paul King's Paddington.
The film is a simple story of a young Peruvian bear who travels to London to fulfill the dream of his grandparents to see the city and visit a kind explorer they met many years ago. He meets a young family who takes pity on him and agrees to help him in his search but becomes endeared to him as the film progresses. The entire thing is executed with a perfect sweetness as we watch this very good bear clumsily overcome the obstacles of living in the city. It's funny, it's heartwarming, and it's just plain great.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson has made a career of telling stories about atypical relationships that challenge audiences' perspectives of love and intimacy. Each film follows outcasts who have found a sense of community in a place we wouldn't expect, which might be best exemplified in the movie that got him noticed, Boogie Nights.
The film follows a young new talent in the adult film industry who finds a strange kind of family in the people who work in that business. His new community finds comfort in each other as they accept and support one another when the rest of the world does not, as their uncomfortable yet intriguing bond helps them survive. It's difficult to know how to feel about it with aspects that are intentionally problematic, but there is an undeniable fondness between all of them that makes it incredible. It's a widely ambitious sophomore effort from one of today's greatest artists that continues to captivate.
Related: Boogie Nights: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Of the many rising talents in Hollywood today, Taika Waititi is one of the most popular. His talent for mixing comedy with tragedy makes his films powerful experiences that audiences can't help but love. What might be his greatest work is his indie dramedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film about an orphan boy and his foster father surviving together in the New Zealand wilderness.
The film is a hilarious adventure with these two unlikely characters struggling to get along, but Waititi also gives ample room for moments of sincerity and heartache. This tonal balance is what makes the film such a special experience by making you laugh at one moment and have you cry at the next. It's a perfect example of Waititi's artistic talent that anyone is sure to love.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
No matter how many times a story is told, it can always be captivating and new in the right hands. This could not be more true than with the stop-motion dream that is Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, directed by the man himself and Mark Gustafason. It tells the famous story of the puppet boy that is brought to life by a magic wish but with some significant alterations courtesy of Del Toro.
The changes turn the film into a beautiful work of anti-fascism and self-acceptance, with a bold attempt to show the unexpected virtue of disobedience. It also might be one of the most visually stunning animated films to be released in some time, with a one-of-a-kind style of stop-motion art perfect for the story being shown. A wonderful work of art that makes for one of the best family films ever created.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Christmas movies are a fun holiday pastime that rarely go beyond their seasonal novelty, with very few exceptions. One of those expectations that might just be the greatest Christmas film ever made is Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers, a movie about a trio of homeless outcasts who discover a discarded baby in the trash and go on a mission to return it to its parents.
It's an incredible film with Kon's astonishing style of animation that follows this rag-tag family's misadventures through the snowy streets of Christmas-time Tokyo. What takes it beyond its holiday trappings are the nuanced themes it presents of miracles, hope, and family. The three homeless are the exact kinds of people that would normally be dismissed by society, yet these are the ones striving for a virtuous goal with all the hope in their hearts that it'll work out. It's a beautiful movie that should be an annual part of any Christmas watch party.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
There are few directors that have as identifiable a style as Wes Anderson. A body of work filled with beautifully composed images with vibrant color and funny yet poignant characters has made Anderson a household name. One of his most celebrated is the perfectly crafted film The Grand Budapest Hotel, about a meticulous concierge and his hopeful young lobby boy.
The film has all the aspects of Anderson's films we've come to love with the pastel colors and symmetrical shots, but it also has all the brilliant storytelling we don't give him enough credit for, with this film maybe being his best yet. With every moment of quirky humor, there's a moment of real human emotion that gives a real sense of the fondness these people have for one another and the heartache that comes with their absence. A masterclass work from one of the best that deserves the immense praise it has received.
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has made a career of films focusing on unique family dynamics that capture unsaid truths about those special bonds, but Shoplifters has to be his most profound examination of what a family truly is. This strange group of people, some related and some not, defies the typical family unit by definition but fulfills that model in their actions. They love each other and take care of one another in ways even most blood-related families fail to succeed in.
There are still some aspects presented about the family that are highly suspect, with even the family aware of these faults, yet their love is undeniable. It's no wonder the film won the Palm d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, not to mention the immense praise from critics beyond that. It stands as one of, if not the greatest films about found family ever made sure to move the hearts of every viewer.