20 of the Best Films About Family for the Holidays

Watch it on: Disney+, or rent it

The Martian (2015, directed by Ridley Scott)

Mark Watney (Matt Damon), the stranded astronaut at the center of Ridley Scott's terrific space adventure, spends most of the movie alone on Mars trying to grow potatoes and extend his oxygen supply as he waits to be rescued. Some of the best family movies are about solitude, and the absence of Mark's colleagues, and of any human life, makes the prospect of his eventual return home seem all the sweeter and more meaningful. The Martian is also about collaboration--the film jumps between Mars, NASA headquarters, and Mark's space shuttle, knitting together a broad ensemble all working toward one common goal and creating a new family in the process. Watch it on: Available to rent

This Is My Life (1992, directed by Nora Ephron)

Nora Ephron was already a famous writer, known for her work on such films as When Harry Met Sally and Heartburn, when her directorial debut came out in 1992.

But This Is My Life is the forgotten gem in Ephron's filmmaking career, a candid but nonetheless whimsical portrayal of a woman balancing work, success, and motherhood. Julie Kavner plays Dottie Ingels, an aspiring stand-up comic and a single mother to kids Erica (Samantha Mathis) and Opal (Gaby Hoffmann); as her star begins to rise, her relationship with her kids grows strained. Ephron works in plenty of sweet moments between mother and daughters, but the film stands out because it doesn't shy away from Dottie's flaws or from the challenges that working mothers face.

Watch it on: Available to rent

Toni Erdmann (2016, directed by Maren Ade)

One of the funniest and strangest comedies in recent memory, Ade's German film has the running time of an epic (162 minutes), even though it's just about the dysfunctional relationship between an immature father and his overachieving daughter. When a dad, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), lover of weird pranks, visits his daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller), during an important work trip, farcical antics ensue, mostly revolving around Winfried pretending to be an eccentric businessman called Toni Erdmann. The film is odd enough that it defies easy summary, but it's a smart and bittersweet examination of a loving duo, with a closing set piece that is mind-bogglingly hilarious and sad.

Watch it on: Available to rent

Wild (2014, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee)

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) spends almost all of Wild alone, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in search of meaning and purpose after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage. Despite its emotional intensity, I find Wild a surprisingly calming and rewatchable movie, maybe because Strayed's journey has a destination and a clear sense of purpose. Though her big trek is about building her own inner self back up, much of the movie concentrates on her close connection to her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), who appears in scattered flashbacks.

While the holidays are a time for gathering, they can be as much about remembering family and friends you've lost and the traditions you used to share. Wild is a lovely memorial to that tough but important process.

Watch it on: Available to rent

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