What are the best scary movies for kids? As we settle into the Halloween season, it’s only natural that we want to share some of our favourite creepy stories with our nearest and dearest. We don’t want to be showing our kids The Exorcist, so where’s a good place to start on introducing them to this hugely varied genre?
If you’re someone who watches a lot of kids movies, you’ll know that a lot of them are pretty damn scary, from the references to The Shining in Toy Story to the giants who eat children in Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Movies with safe scares are a brilliant way to address some dark and heavy themes in a way that young people can relate to and empathise with.
There’s a huge wealth of movies that the whole family can enjoy while they carve pumpkins, and sip on a pumpkin spice latte, or whatever other pumpkin-related thing people do these days. Most of these movies are of a quality that they won’t put off any adults who sit through them too. And there’s really something for everyone. Whatever your poison is; witches, ghosts, spiders, pirates, skeletons, interdimensional demonic entities – they’re all here. So, settle in, grab your popcorn and the squishiest cushion you can find to hide behind, and enjoy this very accessible list of horror movies.
What are the best scary movies for kids?
- Hocus Pocus
- Gremlins 2
- The Goonies
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Addams Family Values
- The Witches
With its playful and funny scares, Casper is a good introduction to some darker themes. 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.
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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.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
An exciting musical romp, Hocus Pocus is literally a Halloween movie. 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 (Jason Marsden), sceptical 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 make it an October essential watch.
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 (ran by Christopher Lee!) that seems to do some fairly questionable things.
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While Gremlins is arguably the better film, 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!
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.
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While playing in Mikey Walsh’s (Sean Astin) attic, they find a gold doubloon and a treasure map. They realise that they could lead 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.
A zombie movie, for kids! 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.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Despite the titular reference to cinema’s favourite 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.
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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.
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 a further erosion of everything the Addams’ family hold 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.
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 generations 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 realises that the hotel is the venue for a witchy conference.
Arachnophobia is one of those films which is either 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.
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).
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As the extent and impact of the hauntings escalate, centred around the apartment of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), they start to realise there may be something big about to happen. A giant marshmallow man and a shape-shifting god of destruction later, and the Ghostbusters have become the stuff of legends. There are a few more spooky scenes, and some grown-up jokes 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.
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