7 Kids Movies that Weren’t Supposed to Scar You for Life but Did
We’ve hand-picked seven movies intended for younger audiences that cause life-long nightmares for viewers of all ages
The Halloween holiday is all about getting your scare on, and we want to help give you the chills.
Even when we know a movie has scary scenes and terrifying twists, if it’s geared toward a younger audience, we expect its fear factor to be somewhat mild. Plenty of family-friendly flicks have shattered that illusion, however, causing both kids and adults to sleep with the light on or peek under the bed before going to sleep.
We’ve picked seven kid-centric movies that have fright-for-life ingredients you won’t easily forget.
As this 1939 musical fantasy film creeps toward its one-hundredth birthday, it can still cause nightmares. Twelve-year-old Dorothy and her little dog Toto end up smack dab in the center of Munchkinland in the Land of Oz after a tornado sends their house spiraling through the air. The home falls on the Wicked Witch of the East, leaving just her ruby-slippered feet sticking out.
Glenda the Good Witch gifts Dorothy the sparkly shoes and, as she transfers them, we see the evil witch’s feet shrivel up and disappear without the fancy footwear. At that moment, it’s clear that we’re in for a creepy ride. With her tiny dog Toto in tow, Dorothy befriends Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tinman—a crew of emotional misfits—who accompany her on the bizarro trek.
In one particularly frightening scene, the new besties are tortured by winged monkeys. In this case, it turns out monkeys can fly. These tormentors also enhance their hair-raising presence with shrieky, ear-splitting howling.
We feel the sweet-natured Scarecrow’s pain when the gentle straw man gets pelted by fireballs slung by a nasty witch (literally). And let’s not forget the musical numbers— those might cause as much residual fright as the number of weirdos this group encounters.
If you’re not sufficiently scarred for life by this one, Disney’s 1985 fantasy Return to Oz is out-of-this-world creepy. Dorothy gets trapped in a couple of dreadful institutions, including an insane asylum and a castle where a prince wants to add her noggin to his collection of heads.
Tim Burton’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl book for kids stars Johnny Depp as eccentric chocolate mogul Willy Wonka. Gene Wilder played that role in the early ‘70s version of the story—Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory—and while weird and whimsical, Depp took the character to a whole new (terrifying) level.
The story follows a poor kid named Charlie Bucket who scores one of the coveted golden tickets hiding inside five Wonka chocolate bars. The winners—who each get a plus one—and their guests get to visit the factory and receive a lifetime supply of chocolate (I mean, who doesn’t want that?).
Clad in a top hat and velvet cloak, looking like he stepped out of a ‘70s glam rock band, Depp smiles as he peppers the tour of his magical chocolate landscape with chilling facts. He mentions that everything in the colorful wonderland is edible, including him. “That’s called cannibalism . . . and it’s frowned upon in most societies,” he says casually, infusing the moment with the imagery of human-on-human flesh chomping. Yeah, yikes.
If his slightly sadistic, wide-eyed stare doesn’t scare you a little (seriously, dude, blink!), the high-pitched, childlike voice he created for the role will leave you with surplus shivers. Maybe that’s just me, but I’d bet a golden ticket it’s not.
Bratty ticket-winner Veruca Salt is no picnic, either—she’s relentlessly bossy and spoiled. While it’s a deserved comeuppance for touching Wonka’s pet squirrels’ nuts after being told not to, seeing her get taken down by a bunch of the rodents makes your skin crawl.
Adapted from the kids’ book of the same name by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are focuses on Max, a boy who’s feeling lonely and angsty after his parents’ divorce. When he doesn’t get attention and support at home, he puts on a wolf costume and ventures out on his own.
He finds a small boat and takes it for a spin on the pond, winding up on an island where several huge monsters surround him. That’s scary enough, but they also want to eat him, making it even more precarious. Though he convinces them he’s a magical king to save himself from becoming dinner, the fact that they might eat him at any moment is unnerving for the duration of the film.
More jarring is a couple of the scenes where animals get hurt. Max’s friend KW—a Wild Thing—takes down a couple of owls by throwing rocks at them. When they hit the ground, he shows Max they are okay and that they like being hit. The same thing happens when, in a fight, a raccoon is used as a weapon and thrown at someone. Apparently, the raccoon enjoys these types of shenanigans.
Though it’s explained away—and to be fair, part of a fantasy-driven movie—it’s hard not to revisit mentally.
The movie is visually stunning, while the story is a haunting look at the uncomfortable, emotional rollercoaster ride of a kid trying to figure out life—that’s scarier than a lot of made-up tales (as we all know).
Based on Neil Gaiman’s novella, Coraline defines itself as a horror movie, so from the jump, you know being scared is part of the equation. Just how scary you’ll see as the main character navigates her way through a parallel reality that seems warm but holds a bunch of sinister secrets.
When Coraline Jones moves into an old manor that has been divided into flats called the Pink Palace Apartments (I’d check out the Zillow just based on the name), she happens upon a small door in the living room. Yes, red flag.
The Other World is on the other side, and it is an alternate version of the world she comes from but slightly better. Coraline starts visiting this new-to-her landscape, and the spookiness ramps up when Other Mother and family conspire to keep her there forever.
Even if you’re not a fan of your parents, finding them trapped in a snow globe is startling (of course you’re tempted to give it a couple of shakes). The nabbing of her folks is just one fright Coraline faces. Being hunted by a spindly, disembodied hand is another—prime material to give you the creepy crawlies right there.
Ghosts, demons, and rats, oh my! Oh, wait—that’s another movie’s catchphrase. Anyhow, those elements are present in Coraline, and they are all jarring, especially the Ghost Children. While sweet-hearted specters, their backstory is grizzly enough to stick.
If you met James Henry Trotter after the film’s events happened and he told you his story, you’d think, “Dang, this kid has been through it.”
Make no mistake, James and the Giant Peach is an exploration of how tragedy can sometimes lead to a happy ending—James does get his—but not after a slew of harrowing experiences. After seeing this one, the ride home from theaters probably had a lot of adults answering questions about life (and death) while they were still feeling chills.
In the beginning, James’ life isn’t too shabby until a rhinoceros kills his parents. In front of him. At the beach. Seeing him forced to watch that monumental loss is hard to forget because it cements the fact that James can never unsee it—and neither can we.
The circumstances find him having to live with his mean aunts who cruelly mock and starve him. The poor kid can’t catch a break. Things start to change when he meets an old guy who gives him some “crocodile tongues,” which James accidentally spills onto a peach tree. Voila, a giant peach grows—we’re talking massive.
James finds a passageway inside this enormous fruit and meets some bugs who help get the juicy ball in motion.
Together, in this mobile fruit-roll-up of a situation, they make their way toward a blissful end. But what happens in between gives James—and audiences—more frightening images to mentally gnaw on, like nightmares about his aunts trying to ax him to death and nearly losing one of his insect friends to zombie skeleton pirates.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets their face ripped off. This 1990 movie follows evil witches who pose as regular, everyday women and a little boy named Luke and his grandma Helga who try to foil their dastardly plan of getting rid of all the children in England.
Helga gives Luke an education on witches, telling him about her childhood friend Erica who is doomed to spend her life living inside of a painting at the hands of witches. Though she’s trying to inform Luke rather than completely terrify him, the calm manner in which she relays the info—along with the fate of poor little Erica—is chill-inducing, to say the least.
Chills become full-on goosebumps when the Grand High Witch—played by Anjelica Huston—addresses a group of witches by yanking off her wig and stretching the skin away from her face.
What’s below? A slimy, oozy witch face derived from traditional lore (think warty, deformed, and pointy). Following her lead, the attendees—witches she’s training— do the same.
Not sure what’s worse, the goopy matter that covers these witches’ faces or the sound the skin makes as it’s being pulled away from its icky surface. Either way, it sticks—pun kind of intended—with you.