What are the best scary movies for kids? It’s only natural we want to share some of our favorite creepy stories with our nearest and dearest, but we don’t want to be showing our kids The Exorcist, so where’s a good place to start when introducing them to this hugely varied genre?
If you’re someone who watches a lot of kids movies, you’ll know a lot of them are actually pretty damn scary. In fact, many have scares that can rival those of even the best horror movies. Movies with safe scares are a brilliant way to address some dark and heavy themes in a way young people can relate to and empathize with. So, settle in, grab your popcorn, and find the squishiest cushion you can hide behind.
15. Halloweentown (1998)
Disney Channel puts in the work come Halloween time, so it’s no surprise that they have an original movie about a town that solely celebrates the spooky holiday. It’s about a trio of siblings who are delighted to discover that their grandmother is a witch, and hails from a cute little town occupied by mythical creatures and other magical beings.
If you’re a Halloween nerd like us, then you’ll fall in love with this idea just as much now as you would have done when you first saw it. Yeah, the visuals are clunky, and the dialogue leaves something to be desired, but if you really want to indoctrinate your kids into the spirit of Halloween, this is as good a place to start as any.
14. Scooby-Doo (2002)
We couldn’t talk about scary movies for kids without bringing up Mystery Inc., could we? Scooby-Doo has been brought to life time and time again after the original animated series in the ’60s, but our favorite iteration has to be one of the best 2000s movies. With a star-studded cast and a horrific but endearing animated monstrosity of a dog, Scooby-Doo is a silly mystery movie, and it’s great.
When the gang breaks up, they’re pulled back together years later with a mysterious invitation to a theme park named Spooky Island, where something strange is happening to the guests. Make no mistake, Scooby-Doo may be one of the ugliest films you’ll ever see, but we love it all the same.
13. Goosebumps (2015)
Many will be familiar with the Goosebumps paperback books that caught our young eyes on the library shelves, or the original series with that iconic opening theme tune, but kids of today will probably be most entertained by the horror-comedy movie starring Jack Black. It’s a lighthearted family adventure at its core but also provides plenty of spooks.
When a young teen discovers that he’s living next to horror author extraordinaire, R.L. Stine (played by Jack Black), he gets pulled into a frightening quest to save the town after Stine’s fictional creations begin to come to life. Our inner Goosebumps fan is squealing with joy.
12. Labyrinth (1986)
If you saw Labyrinth when you were a child, you probably had a lot of questions. Why is this baby being harassed by puppets? Who’s this strange man with the big hair? Well, these are exactly the kind of questions you want your kids to be asking because Labyrinth is one of the most wonderful and weird movies you can show them.
Not strictly a horror movie, Labyrinth still touches on fantastical and frightening elements, all kicking off with the kidnapping of a young baby into a magical maze world. The creations from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop never lost their ability to shock and amaze and make this fictional world seem all the more real.
11. Casper (1995)
With its playful and funny scares, Casper is a good introduction to some darker themes as a nice, gentle ghost movie. After the death of her mother, Kat (Christina Ricci) moves from town to town with her father James (Bill Pullman), a therapist for the “living impaired”. They come to Whipstaff Manor in the hope of ridding it of some lingering spirits, including Casper (Malachi Pearson) and his three poltergeist uncles.
A friendship grows between Kat and Casper, and together they attempt to help James move on and let go of his deceased wife.
Sad, funny, and compelling in equal measure, with an excellent cast, Casper is ghostly fun for even the most nervous among us.
10. Hocus Pocus (1993)
An exciting musical romp, Hocus Pocus is one of the best Halloween movies on Disney Plus. Set on Halloween night, Max (Omri Katz), his sister Dani (Thora Birch), and Max’s crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) light the black flame candle, bringing the Sanderson Sisters back to life.
With the help of a boy turned cat, Thackery Binx (Sean Murray), skeptical Max and his keenly superstitious companions must find a way to send Winnie (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimi) Sanderson back to hell.
Hocus Pocus builds its mythology brilliantly with excellent performances from the three witches, making it an October essential watch. And good news! There’s a sequel, Hocus Pocus 2 — if you’re wondering how the Sanderson sisters return, you’ll have to check it out.
9. Gremlins 2 (1990)
The slightly sillier sequel to Gremlins (1984) lets the critters loose in a high-tech office building. Complete with talking elevators and fire alarms, a TV studio, and a lab (run by Christopher Lee!) that seems to do some fairly questionable things.
While Gremlins is arguably the better monster movie, Gremlins 2 is such a chaotic meta masterpiece that it’s unforgettable and so much fun to rewatch. Plus, you get to see Gizmo dress up as Rambo! Just keep in mind that this one is definitely for older kids, it’s likely a bit too much for ones on the younger side.
8. The Goonies (1985)
The Goonies has everything. Adventure, a treasure hunt, a pirate ship, booby traps, some really nasty bad guys, and genuine stakes underpinning it all. A group of kids who all live in the Goon Docks of Astoria, Oregon, get together for a final weekend before their homes are foreclosed to make way for an expanding country club.
While playing in Mikey Walsh’s (Sean Astin) attic, they find a gold doubloon and a treasure map. They realize that they could lead the way to a treasure beyond their wildest dreams, and the Goonies go on a quest to find it and prevent the loss of their homes. This is without a doubt one of the best adventure movies of all time.
7. ParaNorman (2012)
One of the best zombie movies for kids, in our opinion! Norman (Kodi Smitt-McPhee) can see ghosts. He watches movies with his deceased Grandmother (Elaine Stritch) and greets a whole menagerie of spooks and spirits everywhere he goes. While Norman and his friends learn of the local legend of a witch who tried to destroy the town, his uncle (John Goodman) tries to warn Norman that there are certain things he must do to prevent her return.
With the standard of animation and storytelling you can expect from Laika, the studio behind Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, ParaNorman also boasts enough classic references to keep any horror buff entertained.
6. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Despite the titular reference to cinema’s favorite goth, The Nightmare Before Christmas was in fact directed by Henry Selick — known for some of the best dark animations around, including Coraline and James and the Giant Peach. The Nightmare Before Christmas is, however, pure Tim Burton, with his signature style (borrowed from the silent films he revered growing up) and some genuinely disturbing characters.
Well-meaning Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) kidnaps Santa Claus (Ed Ivory) with the intention of lending a hand and taking care of Christmas. Unfortunately, he sets off a chain of events that will take all the Christmas spirit the citizens of Halloween Town can muster to repair. Is it a Christmas movie, or a Halloween movie? We say, it doesn’t matter, as you can watch this delightful musical any time.
5. Addams Family Values (1993)
Another slightly daft and quirky sequel. In Addams Family Values, the long-lost Uncle Fester of The Addams Family decides to marry the new nanny, Debbie (Joan Cusack). Unfortunately, she is not quite what she seems, with each step leading to further erosion of everything the Addams family holds dear.
With a segue to a summer camp, a controversial version of the Thanksgiving story, and the family being forced into a motel, it’s a snappier and smarter film than its predecessor. If you like the Addams family, you should check out our guide to the Wednesday season 2 release date.
4. The Witches (1990)
How do you make a kids’ film that is genuinely dark, disturbing, and terrifying? Hire the guy who made Don’t Look Now to direct it! Based on the book by Roald Dahl, Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches is responsible for a certain generation’s mental picture when it comes to those mysterious women who hate children.
Purple eyes, no toes, no hair, and claws like a cat. The film tells the story of a young boy, Luke (Jasen Fisher), who goes on a trip to the seaside with his grandmother (Mai Zetterling). Thankfully she’s taught him well and he soon realizes that the hotel is the venue for a witchy conference.
3. Arachnophobia (1990)
Arachnophobia is one of those films which are terrifying if you’re afflicted by the phobia in the title, or hilarious if you aren’t. Dr Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) moves to a quaint little town on the understanding that he’ll be the population’s primary physician. Not only does he get there to find that most of his patients are staying with their (very) old doctor, but the few patients he does have started dropping dead of mysterious heart attacks.
He begins to link these deaths to a particular type of spider, and with the help of an exterminator and an entomologist, Ross must find the nest before they spread beyond the boundaries of the town. Arachnophobia is one of the weirdest and best ’90s movies.
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
It’s impossible to sum up the widespread impact and appeal of Ghostbusters in a few sentences. When Doctors Venkman (Bill Murray), Stanz (Dan Aykroyd), and Spengler (Harold Ramis) are fired by Columbia University, they start a business hunting ghosts, helped by Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).
As the extent and impact of the hauntings escalate, centered around the apartment of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), they start to realize there may be something big about to happen. A giant marshmallow man and a shape-shifting god of destruction later, the Ghostbusters have become the stuff of legends.
There are a few more spooky scenes and some grown-up jokes in this comedy movie which may not be suitable for the youngest viewers, but seeing this film is a rite of passage. And an integral part of movie pop culture.
1. Coraline (2009)
Another animated entry from the incredible Studio Laika, Coraline is the gold standard for storytelling that can captivate children and adults alike. Based on the Neil Gaiman novel, the movie follows a young girl trapped in another dimension.
The narrative and imagery are spine-chilling and the ideas running through the story are thematically mature — it never once talks down to its young audience and always gives them the respect they deserve in knowing kids can absorb the storytelling.
For more kid-friendly fun, check out the best fantasy movies, best family movies and best animated movies. We also are looking forward to the Percy Jackson TV series release date and the Hocus Pocus 3 release date.
Or, if you’d rather think about the adults in the room, here is our list of the best movies of all time. And, as always, we’ve also got one eye on the future and have written about the new movies coming soon. Be sure and check out everything that’s new on Disney Plus too!