As Halloween approaches, horror films start to crowd prime-time programming. In order to determine what’s safe for your kid to watch and what’s too scary, you need more information than just the rating. Some PG-rated films can be chock-full of violence, while a few PG-13 movies are relatively tame but contain inappropriate language or mature themes.
We’ve weeded through the fright-inducing fare of a wide range of Halloween themed movies directed at young audiences to find the best (and worst) movies for families. So cue up the credits and settle in with some candy corn for some fun, scary films that’ll won’t make the kids scream in terror.
Here are 15 scary movies that are safe for the family and a few frightening films that you might want to skip:
Halloween Movies for Kids Ages 3-5
1. Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie
This adorable romp takes Pooh and his friends into the forest, where adventure awaits courtesy of the dreaded Heffalump. This is a subdued take on a Halloween film that features nothing scarier than a handful of chattering jack o’ lanterns and some flying bats.
2. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Considered a holiday classic for young children, Charlie Brown’s Halloween themed cartoon is a tradition for many families. It involves some good old-fashioned trick or treat, apple bobbing, and lots of nostalgic moments that appeal to adults. Kids won’t find much to be frightened of here with the exception of a few floating ghosts and dancing skeletons. You’d have to be a “stupid blockhead” not to say yes to this one.
3. Monsters, Inc.
While the premise of this movie might seem scary, kids will quickly realize that these extremely nice monsters mean no harm. Sully and friends seem to be equally terrified of kids and the movie might encourage some little ones to get beyond the “monster under the bed” phase. There are a few tense moments that involve stealing the frightened screams of a child, but beyond that you’ll find this Pixar film satisfying instead of scary.
Halloween Movies for Kids Ages 6-8
4. The Book of Life
A gorgeous, vibrantly rendered movie, The Book of Life celebrates Mexican culture by focusing on Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. While the movie does have a positive message overall, there are some elements that children could find scary, including scenes involving death, bullfighting, and a plethora of skeletons.
5. Nightmare Before Christmas
This beloved Tim Burton movie has become a Halloween classic and many parents may have fond memories of watching it themselves as children. However, it should be noted that younger kids will find this darker tale a bit creepy, including some of the scenes that involve headless characters.
6. Hotel Transylvania
Hotel Transylvania is actually a delightful film about a father and daughter who just happen to be vampires. There is the typical vampire fodder of sharp teeth and allusions to blood but otherwise, this movie should inspire more giggles than shrieks. Some parents complain about all the potty humor, but you can’t live 118 years without making a few inappropriate remarks.
7. The Dark Crystal
This dark fantasy is not what you’d expect from Muppet creator Jim Henson, but older kids will enjoy the exploration of good and evil. There are some especially tense moments, including human-like gelfings who are restrained in chairs while their “life essence” is taken from them with large needles. For older kids and adults, this movie hits just the right balance between scary and sentimental.
Is there anyone who doesn’t have a special place in their heart for this film? Spielberg’s masterpiece leans towards the suspenseful rather than the scary, but there is some strong language, including scenes of beer chugging and a few sexual innuendos. The magic ET casts will have your kids trying to phone home well past Halloween.
Halloween Movies for Kids Ages 8-10
If you’re thinking the cartoon, think again. Casper is a movie adaptation starring a young Christina Ricci. While it does have some inappropriate language and mature themes, the scariest thing Casper can conjure up is a few cranky ghosts. Beyond the language issues, this is pretty wholesome fare for the whole family.
Unless you have a kid who is just terrified of goblins, they’ll probably find this bit of Henson puppetry mesmerizing. Labyrinth is an imaginative fantasy film that features David Bowie and a quest to find the goblin king. Many families consider this one a classic and it’s generally appropriate fodder for most families.
Because this film is animated and rated PG, parents often confuse it as safe viewing for younger kids and it’s absolutely not. Coraline is a fantastic movie but frightening, where the main character faces death multiple times and is kidnapped and tortured. Kids may also be scared by some of the stylistic elements of the 3-D stop motion animation, including button-eyes and a creepy but cool feel that mimics Nightmare Before Christmas.
A Tim Burton film, Frankenweenie is another beautiful piece of stop-motion animation, done in black and white. But be warned that this one is about the death of a beloved pet and a child’s efforts to reanimate him. There are several pet deaths in the movie itself, so if anyone in the family is sensitive to this topic, it might be best to avoid this one. Burton fans agree that this film, done early in his career, is one of his best.
Halloween Movies for Kids Ages 10-12
ParaNorman is directed by Chris Butler, who also did Coraline, and you’ll find lots of similarities in approach and style. This film, however, is a bit more frightening and chock-full of zombies, corpses, witches, and plenty of violence in the form of bullying and dismembered bodies. But it’s another stop-motion wonder that’s totally worth your time, especially if you have older kids who can handle the more complex, positive message buried in the plot.
Who are you gonna call for a spooky good time? Probably Ghostbusters. This original version is a bit racy with lots of swearing and smoking, but the heart of the movie relies on a campy type of humor that dispels much of tense moments as the team tracks down paranormal activity. The 2016 reboot is rated PG-13, but is still recommended for 11 and up.
15. Harry Potter
There’s no better time to delve in to the magical world of Harry Potter than Halloween, and the movies are fantastic companions to the books. Keep in mind though that while the early films might be safe for 8-10 year olds, the rest of the spooky series is definitely for tweens. The last two or three movies are particularly violent, so if you intend to watch the whole series, wait until the kiddos hit middle school.
7 Movies Too Scary for the Whole Family
Unless you’re looking forward to your kiddos terrifying shrieks every time they see even a small spider, it’s best to steer clear of this creepy crawly film.
2. The Birds
It’s an old classic so it can’t possibly be that bad, right? Ummmm… it is. This film holds up to the test of time, still producing plenty of scare despite a lack of real gore or blood.
This film is rated PG, but it should probably have earned a PG-13 rating, which didn’t exist at the time it debuted. There are creatures getting chopped up and body parts being blundered so it’s not for the faint of heart. Yuck.
Nope. Unless you want your kid to never get over the monster under the bed or the stranger lurking in the closet thing. Plus someone’s face gets ripped off? Let’s not even go there.
5. Watcher in the Woods
Disney does scary, and it’s just spooky bad. This one isn’t necessarily frightening, but it’s poorly done so skip it as a family movie.
This movie is single-handedly responsible for every child’s fear of the deep end. And in case you don’t remember, it’s a gore fest at the end. Jaws is a classic horror movie that everyone should see, but not until you’re old enough to escape from its grip.
7. The Sixth Sense
Unless you want your kid to start “seeing” dead people, you might want to steer clear of this one. Sixth Sense is more suspenseful than scary but the suicide in the beginning of the movie and the hanging corpses are probably too much for even tweens to handle.
Looking for more family movies that go beyond ghosts and goblins? Check out Common Sense Media’s 50 Movies All Kids Should Watch Before 12.
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