Relative success ... <i>Parental Guidance</i>.

Relative success ... Parental Guidance.

There's at least one every festive season, a feel-good flick that's about families and is designed to tap into the joys and woes of parenting. Or at least make us all laugh at ourselves.

Parental Guidance, out on Boxing Day, is the latest. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play grandparents who have disconnected from their three grandchildren but agree to look after them for a week while their daughter (played by Marisa Tomei) accompanies her husband on a business trip.

It's a feel-good film about family love, a little sentimental, but it has plenty of biting commentary about the generational differences in parenting. Midler says parenting is a topic that always touches on a sore spot in films, even when it's done with humour. ''Most people are mortified by the way they were raised and look forward to raising their own kids in a completely different way,'' she says.

According to Crystal, when you're a parent you're always going to face highs and lows, but you have no choice but to give your best shot.

''I think it's like a relay race,'' he says. ''You run and hand over the baton and your kids pick it up.

''They take the stuff they want and throw the rest away and keep running. That's what life is about.''

For filmgoers, movies with parenting themes can provide either much-needed light relief, a rush of familiarity or even serious and heart-wrenching tales that resonate long after the closing credits have rolled.

Here's our pick of the best (and worst) parenting films ever …

 

THE BEST

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

An all-time classic starring comedian Chevy Chase as the hapless Clark Griswold, who takes his family to a theme park, Walley World, for their annual holiday. The movie is a hilarious take on family life, car trips included, and the desperation of a hapless dad trying to give his kids the holiday he promised. There were plenty of dud sequels but this original film remains comedy gold.

Parenthood (1989)

Steve Martin heads up a cast including Rick Moranis, Dianne Wiest and Keanu Reeves in this all-too-true film about parenting, which covers everything from raising toddlers to teenagers in the story of the Buckman family, with Martin as the patriarch. One of Ron Howard's better films as a director.

Meet the Parents (2000)

Possibly the funniest movie of all time about coming face to face with your future in-laws and trying (in vain) to impress them. The casting of Ben Stiller as Gaylord Focker opposite Robert De Niro as his future father-in-law is pure gold. The sequel, Meet the Fockers (2004), is also worth a mention.

The Sound of Music (1965)

Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) is so devastated after being widowed he has lost all emotional resonance with his children and keeps them in line, literally, with a whistle and a command. Then along comes nanny Maria (Julie Andrews), a former nun, who turns their lives upside down and teaches the father how to show warmth and love to his children again, not to mention falling in love with her, too. A true classic.

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Italian Roberto Benigni (who won an Oscar for this role) stars in the most extraordinary tale of a parent trying to protect his son from the horrors of war and internment in a Nazi concentration camp by pretending the whole thing is a game. It is moving, whimsical, delightful and heart-wrenching. One of the most beautiful movies ever made about a parent's love for his child.

The Castle (1997)

Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) might have loved the serenity, but he loved his kids even more. Just ask Dale, Steve, Tracey and Wayne Kerrigan, who know deep in their hearts their dad is always looking out for them. This comedy is an Australian classic, but also a great film about family, loyalty and parenting.

Home Alone (1990)

More a film about a lack of parenting, but this is the reason Macaulay Culkin is famous. It's about a little kid left home alone while his family go on holidays, and the comedy that ensues. If anything, this is worth it for the laughs but also one of those stark reminders - always count heads at the airport.

Mrs Doubtfire (1993)

Robin Williams plays Daniel Hillard, a man facing a messy divorce from his wife and desperate to see more of his kids. He decides to dress up as an old-fashioned nanny, named Mrs Doubtfire, and scores the role as carer for his children while his estranged wife is at work. Funny and clever, this is also a touching and often emotional film about the effects of divorce on men and women and their children.

Three Men and a Baby (1987)

At the time it was made, this was a fun theme and new territory for filmmakers - blokes with bubs and how they deal with them. Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson play three bachelors who find themselves looking after a baby unexpectedly and they are horrified and clueless, to say the least. It turns all gooey and mushy, of course, but is a fun one about the responsibilities of looking after a baby.

Freaky Friday (1976 and 2003)

The original film, starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as a mother and daughter whose personalities are swapped for a day, was a success. But the 2003 remake starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis was also a great film about a mother and teenager finally trying to understand each other. This was Lohan in pre-meltdown mode and she was great fun on screen.

We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)

This harrowing tale of every parent's worst nightmare, with Tilda Swinton playing the mother of mass murderer Kevin, is one tough viewing experience. But it gained enormous critical acclaim worldwide.

 

THE WORST

Father of the Bride (1991)

Martin Short needs an honorary mention here for his humorous role, but somehow Father of the Bride (starring Steve Martin) felt forced and overly sentimental. That didn't affect its popularity, though, but be warned, the 1995 sequel is even worse.

Look Who's Talking (1989)

It was a funny concept, for the first 10 minutes or so. But a film full of babies who talk, with Bruce Willis as the voice of baby Mikey and John Travolta and Kirstie Alley as his parents, is too ridiculous for words. Yes, this film is still being rented out and downloaded as we speak.

Life as We Know It (2010)

The storyline of this romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel was played out in the trailer and there wasn't much more to the whole film. Two godparents, who don't get along, are made guardians of their friends' baby. Cue the inevitable tension over looking after baby, a touch of romantic chemistry and a rosy future and you have the most predictable film ever made. Yawn.

Poltergeist (1982)

OK, so this is a straight-out horror film, but how did those parents let their little girl walk towards the haunted television before she disappears? Scariest. Film. Ever.

What would you add to the list? Comment below.