10 movies that capture the magic of family vacations

Out of all the possible family vacation movies that you can watch for your next family movie night, the best ones include animations, classics, and popular fan-favourite movies.

Organising a family movie night where all of the members of your family can spend quality time together and connect over their shared experience and a film is a great way to reinforce your family bonds.

Picking a film that is centred around a family vacation for this family movie night is an excellent idea, whether you are all sitting at home, on a vacation yourselves, or you are just planning to have a vacation together in the future.

There are plenty of classics, animations, and generally just hilarious films for you to choose from that will ensure that the whole family is fully immersed in the movie night bonding activity.

The benefits of family movie nights

It can often be difficult to get all of the members of your family to sit still for long enough to spend some quality together and between varying ages and interests, it can be difficult to find an activity that is suitable for the whole family.

This is why a scheduled family movie night, or even an impromptu movie night, can be a great way get everyone curled up on a sofa ready to create shared memories around the movies that you watch together.

Not only are family movie nights a great way to encourage all the members of your family to laugh together, cry together, and/or sing together, but it is a great way to get conversation flowing about important topics and lessons that may otherwise be difficult to approach without the aid of an enticing or heartfelt story.

For young kids, watching movies can be a great, fun-filled way to learn social norms and to bond with their siblings and cousins through this shared experience.

On a less serious note, family movie nights are usually just a fun way for everyone to unwind, eat some classic movie theatre snacks, and have moments together that you will all be able to cherish for years to come.

10 movies that capture the magic of family vacations

Although there are so many benefits to hosting a scheduled, or unscheduled, family movie night, picking the right movie that everyone in the household will enjoy can be quite a challenge. After all, there are so many different genres to choose from.

A comedy is always a safe bet for large families, and a road trip film can really bring out the sense of adventure in you.

On the other hand, a vintage or classic film can be a great way to share and reminisce on some of your own memories from the past with the rest of the group. Furthermore, animations are always a fan-favourite with younger children (and even some adults).

All of these different choices can seem overwhelming, but there is one often-overlooked genre which captures all of the chaos, adventure, and humour that you need for a successful family movie night.

That’s right, choosing a film in the ‘family vacation’ movie genre for your next movie night may be the best way to ensure that everyone is thoroughly enthralled for the entire evening and leaves with a renewed sense of adventure, or at least, the appreciative realisation that your family is not all that bad, after all.

It might seem ironic for your family to sit down and watch another fictitious family as they go on a vacation together while you are comfortably snuggled up at home. But these vacation movies often devolve into absolute hilarity along the way and end up being a little too relatable for  any family who has attempted to travel together.

These movies are also an excellent choice for a family movie night because they have been around for such a long time and subsequently, have a great variety to choose from.

They range from classics like Vegas Vacation, which came out in 1997 and the first National Lampoon’s Vacation film, which was released in 1983 and will likely be nostalgic for some of the older members of the family, to modern iterations that your kids will probably recognise, like Madagascar (2005) or Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation which came out in 2018 – this genre certainly has a lot to offer.

Picking a film from this genre is also an excellent choice if you and your family are going on your own trip soon, or if you are in the middle of one, as these films truly capture the magic of a family vacation, which may not be immediately apparent to everyone on the trip.

Some of these special and relatable moments include travelling in a cramped RV or van like in Little Miss Sunshine, the completely hilarious chaos that can ensue or injuries that can occur on lake vacations like in The Great Outdoors and Dirty Dancing, or even learning to see the best in each other like in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Johnson Family Vacation.

These films certainly offer some perspective and even some deeper lessons that every family can find some value in.

How to pick the very best film that captures the magic of family vacations

The category of films that manage to capture the specific combination of frustration and love that family vacations can entail is definitely varied and it can be difficult to narrow down the perfect film for your family movie night.

From animations and underappreciated cult favourites, to classics, there are certainly enough films for you and your family to fill a few years’ worth of family movie nights with.

Fortunately, this list of the 10 movies that best capture that specific magic of family vacations can help you narrow down your search and limit it to only the most popular and highest-rated films in the genre.

Family vacation film Release year IMDb score Rotten Tomatoes score Metacritic score
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2005 6.5/10 6.7/10 66
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York 1992 6.8/10 4.5/10 46
Madagascar 2005 6.9/10 6.1/10 57
Johnson Family Vacation 2004 4.5/10 3.4/20 29
Dirty Dancing 1987 7/10 6.4/10 65
National Lampoon’s Vacation 1983 7.3/10 7.4/10 55
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation 2018 6.3/10 5.5/10 54
Little Miss Sunshine 2006 7.8/10 7.7/10 80
Vegas Vacation 1997 5.9/10 3.8/10 20
The Great Outdoors 1988 6.6/10 4.9/10 24

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Friends can often be just as good as family, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants definitely proves this. The best part of watching this film is the fact that you basically get four vacation movies all wrapped up into one.

This includes Blake Lively’s summer camp, America Ferrera’s struggle to come to terms with her new family, Alexis Bledel’s adventurous Greek island vacation, and Amber Tamblyn’s stay-cation, which are all connected through a magical pair of jeans that travels between them.

Watch The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on Amazon Prime Video

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Although the premise of the Home Alone films are usually that one of the family members gets left behind on a family vacation, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York still makes the list as the film follows little Kevin as he goes on his own vacation in New York City, where he visits iconic places like The Plaza, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, the Rockefeller Centre, and more.

As always, Kevin steps up and not only booby-traps his uncle’s townhouse, but he also protects a toy store from being robbed by burglars before there can be a sweet family reunion at the end.

Watch Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on Amazon Prime Video


If your family prefers light-hearted animations to heartfelt classics, Madagascar is an excellent choice for your next family vacation. It does not take a lot of imagination to see how this group of escaped zoo animals form their own little family.

The film features beautiful, animated scenes when the group find themselves on the Madagascar which will leave the whole family longing for their own island vacation off the coast of Africa.

Madagascar has a talented cast of voice actors including Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Watch Madagascar on Amazon Prime Video

Johnson Family Vacation

Johnson Family Vacation may have gotten rave reviews from critics, but it has become a cult ‘so- bad-its-good’ film over the years.

The film draws on classic vacation movie tropes and features Cedric the Entertainer and Vanessa Williams as they attempt to drive their family 1500 miles through Colorado and across the country in a converted SUV.

The family encounters everything, from vastly differing music tastes to nuns along the way on their family road trip.

Watch Johnson Family Vacation on Amazon Prime Video

Dirty Dancing

This classic film set in the 1960s follows Baby, who is played by Jennifer Grey, as she slowly matures on a family vacation in  an upscale Catskills resort where she meets Johnny, a young dancer played by Patrick Swayze.

Besides the draw of romance, Dirty Dancing also has a way of making audiences nostalgic for the look and feel of these old summer resorts where activities like samba dancing and chess were planned and buffet tables were set for every meal.

Watch Dirty Dancing on Amazon Prime Video

National Lampoon’s Vacation

The National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise has many excellent family vacation films like National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), and even the reboot Vacation, which was released in 2015. However, the original movie is still many people’s favourite.

This film is highly regarded as the first classic family road trip film and features big name actors like Chevy Chase and John Candy as a few of the various members of the Griswold family, who inadvertently prove that the journey is often better than the destination after they endure roadblocks, mishaps, and misunderstandings on their trip, only to arrive at an amusement park that ends up being closed.

Watch National Lampoon’s Vacation on Amazon Prime Video

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Although Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is the third instalment in the animated Hotel Transylvania franchise, it quickly became the highest grossing out of all the films, and for good reason. This time around, the Monster family takes a summer cruise so that they can all spend some quality time together.

However, as always, this crew of not-so-well-adjusted monsters struggle to fit in among the other passengers. Except for Dracula, that is, who meets a new but unlikely love-interest at sea.

Watch Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation on Amazon Prime Video

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine sets itself up to be one of the funniest family road trips movies right out of the gate. In this film, an entire three-generation family piles into a yellow Volkswagen van to get Olive, who is played by Abigail Breslin, to her “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant, which is being held in California.

This film balances difficult subjects like suicide and addiction with heartfelt themes and has been nominated for many awards, including four Academy Awards, two BAFTA awards, and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award.

Watch Little Miss Sunshine on Amazon Prime Video

Vegas Vacation

Vegas Vacation is another film in the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series, and it follows Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold and Beverly D’Angelo, in the role of Ellen Griswold, as they take a family vacation to Las Vegas to renew the couple’s wedding vows.

This film includes all of the glitz and glam that you would expect from a casino movie, but also all of the outrageously funny moments that you would expect from the Griswold family, which is what makes it such a brilliant movie choice for a family vacation movie night.

Watch Vegas Vacation on Amazon Prime Video

The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors is another movie on this list that is often referred to as one of the classics in the family vacation genre.

This film combines the incredible direction of Howard Deutch, with John Hughes’s unique vision and comedy writing ability, to give the cast, which includes big comedy names like Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Annette Bening, the perfect canvas to be as hilarious as possible. And the entire film is all the better for it.

One of the things that make this film so good is the fact that it does not feature only one bickering family on vacation, but two.

This means double the number of silly fights, double the number of accidents and double the amount of entertainment for your family movie night.

Watch The Great Outdoors on Amazon Prime Video