It’s Halloween season again, which means scary movies are on the mind. But you can’t exactly watch Friday the 13th with your kids. That’s why we decided to round up a list of the scariest children’s movies around. There’s no shortage of children’s films bursting with pumpkins candy pails. These are not those. These are movies that are filled with legitimate suspense and scares of the PG or PG-13 sort. So if you think your kids are ready to get in the seasonal mood, here are 31 of the scariest kids movies ever made.
Monster House (2006)
Monster House might have its fair share of humor, thanks to co-writer Dan Harmon of Rick and Morty fame, but no amount of gags can neuter the animated film’s titular monster: a demonic, anthropomorphic mansion that gobbles kids up like candy. The three suburban kids at the heart of the film have their work cut out for them when no one else believes them about the neighborhood’s biggest evil threat. Monsters that hide behind corners are bad enough, but monsters that are the corners themselves are an entirely different beast.
Who you gonna call? Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question. Ghostbusters contains an abundance of lighthearted goofs. But the scene when Sigourney Weaver gets strapped down to her armchair by a barrage of skeletal arms and then pushed into the glowing doorway where Zuul awaits is pretty frightening at first-glance.
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Presumably the first intended entry in a film franchise that never quite took off, The Spiderwick Chronicles is based off of the bestselling series of the same name and stars Freddie Highmore (that kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Highmore plays identical twins Jared and Simon, who uncover a dangerous world of magical creatures after moving to a mysterious estate.
Based on the YA tale by Neil Gaiman, Coraline tells the story of a young girl who discovers an “Other World” with an “Other” version of her family. Enthralled by her discovery, Coraline soon realizes that this new world is far, far more dangerous than she thought. It turns out parents with buttons for eyes are just as disturbing to see onscreen as they are to read about on a page.
The Goonies (1985)
Richard Donner’s quintessential eighties adventure seems innocent enough on the surface: two brothers and their group of misfit friends follow a mysterious map to uncover a pirate treasure. But things go downhill fast from there, between the Fratellis, a family of criminals evading the police, and, of course, Sloth. For a family-friendly movie, The Goonies sure does put a group of kids in one dangerous, often terrifying, scenario after another.
Produced by Tim Burton, 9 adopts a twisted, steampunk aesthetic to tell the story of a small, mismatched group trying to understand their own creation, and, in the process, save the world. While it might be a sci-fi adventure starring sentient ragdolls, the film’s post-apocalyptic world contains terrifying sights at every turn.
Once again, only Tim Burton could get away with the premise of adapting the story of Frankenstein in stop-motion, only the monster is a young boy’s dead dog. Based on an early-career Burton short of the same name, things expectedly don’t go according to plan when Victor brings Sparky back from the grave with a jolt of lightning.
Goosebumps mashes up several of author R.L. Stine’s classic frights from his bestselling book series. Jack Black plays a version of Stine himself, who’s trapped literal monsters within his manuscripts. When two teens accidentally free his imprisoned horde, they must team up with the mysterious writer before the monsters overwhelm their whole town. R.L. Stine’s original creations from his book series do most of the horror heavy-lifting here, particularly Slappy from Night of the Living Dummy, a devious talking ventriloquist’s doll.
Return to Oz (1985)
This informal sequel to the 1939 classic bears little resemblance to its predecessor. Dorothy returns to the magical land of Oz to find that it’s nothing like she remembers. The Emerald City is in ruins, its citizens have been turned to stone, and Dorothy must traverse this new post-apocalyptic-esque landscape to save Oz. Return to Oz is a pure fantasy nightmare that probably never should’ve been made.
Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton remains undefeated when it comes to giving children nightmares in stop-motion. In this bittersweet, macabre tale, young Victor inadvertently finds himself betrothed to an undead bride. Finding himself spirited away to the Land of the Dead, Victor must navigate his new unconventional engagement. Decay and maggots abound, so Corpse Bride is probably not for the squeamish.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
The first Pirates of the Caribbean certainly holds up, but the swashbuckling fantasy adventure is creepier than you remember. Ships full of ghosts pirates and reanimated corpses are certainly spooky. And, sure, Johnny Depp’s antics as Captain Jack Sparrow lighten the mood a tad, but then that zombie monkey pops onscreen.
Little Monsters (1989)
Little Monsters features Fred Savage, that kid from The Princess Bride, hanging out with Howie Mandel, who plays the goopy, blue monster living underneath his bed. Seriously. Similar to Monsters, Inc., in the world of the film, monsters are real and able to emerge at night from portals under kids’ beds. Oh, boy, and do they ever.
Casper himself might be the friendly ghost that everyone knows and loves, but that title doesn’t apply at all to Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso, Casper’s trio of ghoulish uncles who love nothing more than scaring the living daylights out of humans. The Ghostly Trio is a pretty upsetting addition to an otherwise fun film.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Based on the classic novel of the same name, The NeverEnding Story tells the tale of Bastian Balthazar, an outcast bibliophile who comes into possession of a mysterious book. As Bastian reads more about the world of Fantasia, however, he begins to suspect that the book is far more powerful, and dangerous, than he thought.
Growing up an outcast is never easy, especially when you can talk to ghosts. Laika’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous stop-motion feature is a throwback its director described as “John Carpenter meets John Hughes.” Zombies, witches, and ghosts from every era abound. Plus, there’s a disemboweled ghost-dog that’s far from cute.
Sarah gets more than she wished for when she rashly asks the Goblin King Jareth to take her little baby brother away. When Jareth, played by an unforgettable David Bowie, threatens to turn the baby into a goblin forever, Sarah only has 13 hours to navigate the labyrinth and save her brother. Despite a few upbeat musical numbers, Jim Henson’s puppetry is consistently super creepy, particularly the “Helping Hands” scene.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
James and the Giant Peach starts off whimsically enough: an orphaned boy accidentally grows a massive peach in his backyard and sets off to New York with a crew of life-size anthropomorphic bugs. But soon James’ terrifying, cruel aunts begin to close in, skeletal pirates threaten the journey, and a ghostly rhinoceros looms threateningly in the sky.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island starts as a run-of-the-mill Scooby-Doo caper … until it becomes anything but. The full-length feature brings the Mystery, Inc. gang back together for a gig deep in the Louisiana bayou. While the usual heaping of (mostly food-related) gags are thrown it, Zombie Island quickly takes on a dark, gruesome tone hardly seen in any Scooby-Doo story before or since.
The Addams Family (1991)
Based on the classic 60’s sitcom, the creepy, kooky, and altogether ooky Addams Family returns to live-action in this dark entry directed by Men in Black’s Barry Sonnenfeld. Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley and the rest of the gang deal with the return of estranged Uncle Lester, who’s been lost in the Bermuda Triangle for 25 years. Like any good Addams Family tale, it’s filled with macabre eeriness from start t0 finish.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
When Halloween Town’s Jack Skellington wanders through a portal into the realm of Christmas, he sets in motion a ghoulish, musical tale. Plus, it’s a perfect watch for either Halloween or Christmas.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
In this Halloween-themed fantasy, teenagers inadvertently resurrect the spirits of three 17th century Salem witches, who plot to eat and suck out the souls of all of Salem’s children. It’s dark fare for a Disney-produced children’s flick, led by stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the three Sanderson sisters.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Leave it to Jim Henson to effortless craft nightmare-fuel. The classic fantasy adventure is known for its groundbreaking animatronics, but this tale of an elf-like creature on a quest to restore balance to his alien world using a lost shard is equally memorable for some of the most terrifying visuals ever intended for children.
Knock, knock. It’s Tim Burton again, this time directing a Michael Keaton-starring macabre romp about a recently deceased young couple who terrorize their former home as ghosts. Keaton plays Betelgeuse, a lewd freelance ghost hired by the couple to scare away their old house’s new, living residents.
The three rules are simple: don’t expose it to light, don’t let it get wet, and never feed it after midnight. Unfortunately, sticking to the rules is a lot harder than it sounds in this Christmastime horror comedy with a few disturbingly violent scares.
The Black Cauldron (1985)
Infamously known as one of the most unexpectedly-terrifying Disney films ever made, the fantasy adventure tells the story of young Taran, who must protect his magical pig from the evil Horned King who plans to use the animal to find a cauldron that can bring the dead to life. Though praised for its visuals and revered as a cult favorite, The Black Cauldron is utterly devoid of the cheeriness and humor Disney films have become known for.
The Witches (1990)
Anjelica Huston stars as a nefarious witch (the Grand High Witch, actually) in this film adaption of Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name. Like many of Dahl’s best stories, this one is again about inflicting warped violence on kids. It doesn’t take long to realize that the intentions of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are far from humane.
The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
One of several Disney attempts to produce spooky, live-action films, Watcher in the Woods feels something like a phantasmagorical fever dream that never really makes sense but also doesn’t need to. While the film’s plot is incredibly difficult to follow, it does feature missing persons, strange lights, séances, eclipses, aliens, and, yes, something mysterious lurking in the woods.
The Hole (2009)
Two brothers stumble upon a mysterious, seemingly-bottomless hole in their basement that leads to a nightmare realm. Directed by Joe Dante of Gremlins fame, The Hole is a suburban teen thriller throwback that’s as fun as it is terrifying.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a dark fantasy tale of a traveling carnival that visits a small, Midwestern town one October. As two young boys investigate the foreboding carnival and its mysterious leader, Mr. Dark, an insidious, otherworldly plot slowly comes to light.
The Gate (1987)
Best friends Glen and Terry discover a mysterious geode in their suburban backyard. Do they leave it alone? No! Of course not. They dig it right up, unleashing a horde of malevolent demons from the gateway they’ve opened from the hole beneath. Glen and Terry, along with their friends, must team up to stop the rise of the Old Gods. Also, there’s a scene where the ghost of a character’s dead mother actually turns out to be their dead dog. Yeah. That happens.
While billed by Disney as a horror-comedy, this creepy-crawly B-movie throwback is nothing but pure terror for anyone afflicted by the film’s titular fear of spiders. After scientists discover a new breed of spiders, the pests quickly proceed to reproduce and terrorize a small California town. It’s up to a family physician, played by Jeff Daniels, to save the day from these lethal arachnids.