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 A still from the Netflix Original movie Nightbooks. A young boy hides from a woman wearing a pink coat.

The best scary movies for kids for a family-friendly fright

From macabre animation to PG horror classics, these are the best horror(ish) films for young audiences.

Written by
Andy Kryza
Written by
Allie Early
Danielle Valente

Everyone enjoys a good scare – even the little ones. But introducing kids to the joy of scary movies is an experience that needs to be handled with care. Pick the right scary movie, and you’ve opened a gateway to the sort of film genre that can become an entire lifestyle. Terrify them too much, though, and enjoy sleeping with a shivering scaredy cat for the next few months.  

To help turn your sweet angel into a fright fiend, we’ve collected some of the best gently freaky fare for all ages. We recommend leaving the severed body parts on ice for a few years, but there are enough bumps in the night among these 25 flicks to ensure that everyone on the couch is getting a nice jolt of fear, without needing to make space in the bed for a freaked-out tot afterward.


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Scary movies for kids

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Courtesy Disney

1. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Best for: Little Kids

A surefire win (with teeny, tiny scares) for the youngest movie buffs, this classic Pixar film was an extremely memorable leap in animation technology and remains a heartwarming 'spooky' story for your littles. Monsters Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) work together at Monsters, Inc., a power company in a Monsters-only world. The power company is fueled by the screams of human children (collected by monsters who go into the human world to scare them). When one of Mike and Sully's nightly haunts fails terribly and brings a small child into their world, they must work together to make things right (and ultimately save 'Boo' from even more terrible creatures). Rated G.

Coraline (2009)
Courtesy Laika Inc./Universal Pictures

2. Coraline (2009)

Best for: Big Kids

When Coraline moves into her new house—which just so happens to be old—it's quite a snooze fest. Her mom and dad are wrapped up, and she's left bored as a result. All of that changes when she finds a hidden door and an alternate universe behind it. How's that for an interesting abode? In this new realm, everything seems perfect, but nothing truly is. You won't be able to say no to a screening of this Neil Gaiman book-turned-movie when autumn swoops in. Rated PG. 

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1950)
Photograph: WALT DISNEY PICTURES/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection

3. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1950)

Best for: Little Kids

Washington Irving's grisly tale of Sleepy Hollow becomes more palatable for the kiddies in this cartoon, the second of two featurettes. Following The Wind in the Willows adaptation is the story of bumptious schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his nemesis the Headless Horseman. It's a trite, chocolate-box picture of colonial days—until the Horseman shows up for one of those nightmare sequences with which Uncle Walt so relished terrifying his young audience. Rated G.

Monster House (2006)
Photograph: Courtesy Sony Pictures Imageworks

4. Monster House (2006)

Best for: Little Kids and Big Kids

Halloween is naturally the perfect time for spooky antics, but a group of kiddos think one residence goes too far. After some sleuthing and a handful of unexplainable moments, a trio of buddies discover that the house next door is actually not a house—it's a monster. The scares are a little more grown-up in this animated adventure from Steven Spielberg's Amblin, making this a solid primer before your little ones graduate to PoltergeistRated PG. 

Hocus Pocus (1993)
Photograph: Courtesy Disney

5. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Best for: Little Kids and Big Kids

What makes a better Halloween movie than three evil witches? Head to the 1600s, where Sanderson sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy) cast a spell that killed a little girl and turned her brother into an immortal black cat. Then, fast forward to the‘90s and meet Max Dennison, who just moved from Los Angeles to Salem, Massachusetts with his parents and his little sister. He’ll do anything to impress his cute neighbor, Allison, who just so happens to have access to the old Sanderson House. He even lights the Black Flame Candle, which as legend has it, will bring back the Sanderson sisters—and does! But hey, who believes in all that hocus pocus, anyway? Rated PG

Labyrinth (1986)
Courtesy TriStar Pictures/Labyrinth

6. Labyrinth (1986)

Best for: Big Kids

‘Children’s movies’ were defined a bit loosely in the ’80s. Among the several puppet-intensive fantasy flicks of the era seemingly designed to traumatise its target demographic, this Jim Henson-directed feature is probably the most purely fun – but it’s still plenty freaky, sending a young Jennifer Connelly on an adventure through a fantastical realm full of dwarves, horned giants and fart bogs in order to rescue her baby brother from Jareth, the evil (and, played by David Bowie, uber-glam) Goblin King. Rated PG.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Photograph: Courtesy Disney Enterprises Inc.

7. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Best for: Big Kids

To say Jack Skellington is over Halloween is an understatement. The Pumpkin King has had his fair share of frightening hijinks, and he just can't seem to muster up the spooky spirit that one expects from his prestigious title. Instead, Jack finds himself drawn to Christmas, a holiday he hasn't encountered beforehand. He does a bit of research and soon decides to step on Santa's turf. Naturally, his holly jolly plan is nothing short of a disaster. In true Tim Burton form, this stop-motion classic delivers all you've come to expect from the artist: odd, yet totally lovable characters. Viewers will also delight in some toe-tapping tunes from Danny Elfman. Rated PG. 

Frankenweenie (2012)
Photograph: Courtesy Disney Enterprises

8. Frankenweenie (2012)

Best for: Big Kids

Tim Burton’s career of conjuring gentle scares began in 1984 with a short film about a boy who puts bolts in his dead dog’s neck and brings him back to life a la Frankenstein’s monster. Thirty years later, Burton reanimated his own creation – pun slightly intended – as a stop-motion feature, allowing him to do stuff with the story he couldn’t the first time around, particularly with the thrilling creature-feature climax. Rated PG     

  • Film
  • Animation

Best for: Tweens, Teens

Norman Babcock sees dead people, and he’s pretty fine with that, considering they treat him quite a bit better than the living ones do. But when an ancient curse causes the dead to rise, this horror-loving misfit is the only person who can save his hometown from a full-on zombie apocalypse. Animation house Laika’s second stop-motion feature (after the fab and freaky Coraline) is more madcap than macabre, but it’s a fun, funny supernatural caper that serves as an excellent gateway to bigger scares for the burgeoning lil’ horror fiend in your life. Rated PG

Goosebumps (2016)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Best for: Tweens

Not to be mistaken for Netflix’s very-R-rated take on Fear Street, Goosebumps adapts RL Stine’s other, younger-skewing book series as a much more whimsical tale. Essentially Jumanji with monsters – and with Jack Black taking over Robin Williams’ manic mantle – the film sees the monsters from Stine’s books running rampant across town, with a rag-tag group of kids forced to keep the deranged dummies, werewolves, mummies, vampires and horsemen at bay. Rated PG.

The Addams Family (2019)
Photograph: Courtesy Cinesite

11. The Addams Family (2019)

Best for: Big Kids 

The kookiest clan in town got the animated treatment in 2019. In this tale of spooky shenanigans, Gomez and his gang are waiting for a visit from relatives. However, things are turned upside down when a TV personality arrives instead and insists that the family's eerie hilltop home is standing in her way of taking down the entire neighborhood. This is the perfect entry point to Charles Addams' outcasts, best followed by a viewing of the 1991 live-action classic if the kids want more. Rated PG. 

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Photograph: Courtesy Metro-Goldwn Mayer

12. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Best for: All Ages

While technically not defined as a horror movie, The Wizard of Oz has given children nightmares for generations. They'd be lying if they told you otherwise—just take a look at that witch! In this classic film, a girl stuck on a farm in dreary, sepia-toned Kansas dreams of a more exciting life somewhere over the proverbial rainbow; she gets her wish and then some when a tornado deposits the Midwesterner and her little dog, Toto, too, into a technicolor wonderland. Rated PG. 

  • Film
  • Fantasy

Best for: Tweens, teens

Of all the kids movies from the ‘80s that seemed purposely designed to scar the childhoods of their target demographic, none was creepier than this nominal sequel to The Wizard of Oz, if only for how grotesquely it distorts the beloved original. Set shortly after her original visit, Dorothy (a very young Fairuza Balk) returns to the titular land of Technicolor whimsy, only to find it reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by creatures out of Jim Henson’s worst acid trips. You’ll wish there were flying monkeys in this just to lighten the mood. 

The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)
Photograph: Universal Pictures

14. The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

Best for: Big kids

A little boy named Lewis is shipped off to live with his magic-practicing uncle in a spooky old house that makes an unusual ‘tick-tock’ sound. Somehow the youngster manages to awaken the dead and unleashes mayhem on a once-quiet town. Starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, the whimsical film was directed by notorious gorehound Eli Roth, of all people, but don't go in expecting Hostel for kids: This is very much a ripping kid-lit yarn void of real menace. Rated PG. 

Beetlejuice (1988)
Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

15. Beetlejuice (1988)

Best for: Tweens

Guilty as charged: We love Tim Burton. Beetlejuice is one of our favorites for many reasons, including young goth Winona Rider, putrescent Michael Keaton, over-the-top masks and costumes and a creative storyline (That waiting room? That attic? Come on!). When a couple gets killed in a tragic car accident and returns to Earth to haunt their own house, a horrible family moves in—and there's only one ghost that can help. Don't forget to scream Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! Rated PG (from the '80s).

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Photograph: Disney

16. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Best for: Tweens, teens

For a brief period in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Disney reinvented itself as a purveyor of grand guignol kids entertainment, marching out PG-rated horrors like The Watcher in the Woods and this adaptation of renowned kid-lit icon (checks notes) Ray Bradbury’s (?!!) tale of a dark carnival descending on a small town. Jonathan Pryce is the ringmaster in a kids-eye-view story that provides solid entry-level terror for the horror-curious set. Rated PG. 

The Witches
Courtesy Warner Brothers International Television

17. The Witches

Best for: Tweens

A witch convention is certainly not the first thing you expect to come across while staying at a hotel in England with your grandmother. Unfortunately, little Luke's curiosity gets the better of him, and he's caught spying on their evil gathering. It's up to Luke and his Grandmother to fight back against the witches, but it's just a hair more difficult now that Luke has been turned into a mouse. Rated PG.

Nightbooks (2021)
Photograph: Netflix

19. Nightbooks (2021)

Best for: Tweens, teens

Like Debbie Harry in the cult-classic Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, Krysten Ritter presides over this horror anthology as a witch holding a child hostage and demanding scary stories. But this semi-anthology is less all-out terror and more funhouse scares, a film in the spirit of RL Stine’s Goosebumps (but definitely not Fear Street) that doles out scares without tipping too far into the abyss. Rated PG.

Corpse Bride (2005)
Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

20. Corpse Bride (2005)

Best for: Big Kids, Tweens 

Victor is having a difficult time getting his vows straight‚ which is naturally problematic for his bride to be. While reciting his promises of love and devotion, Victor accidentally proposes to another bride...a dead one at that. Whoops! Try explaining that one, pal! In this charmingly eerie Tim Burton film, a groom with cold feet is pulled into the underworld by an enthusiastic deceased bride and learns quite a bit in the process. Equally endearing, heartbreaking and creepy, Corpse Bride is a must when Halloween rolls around. Rated PG.  

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Photograph: Courtesy Lionsgate/CBS Films Inc/George Kraychyk

21. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Best for: Tweens 

With their horrifying illustrations and grisly campfire tales, the Scary Stories books are the stuff of tween sleepover legend. So who better to bring them to life than monster master Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal? This is very much pitched at older kids who haven't quite graduated to Stephen King's R-rated It films: A nerve-shredding tween nightmare best viewed from behind a security blanket. Rated PG-13.  

Ghostbusters (1984)
Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

22. Ghostbusters (1984)

Best for: Tweens and Teens

Three spirit-obsessed scientists are canned from their jobs at NYU, but they don’t let that get ’em down; instead, they put their talents to good use. Using their passion for the occult as a driving force, they start a ghost-extermination company to help New Yorkers handle some very real ghost troubles. Their work doesn’t come without its skeptics, even wrongly jails them for fraud! Ultimately the unlikely team helps to save the city from an ancient god. Be warned: It’s not quite rated for the current day, and Ghostbusters is really only appropriate for tweens and older. Rated PG.

Frankenstein (1931)
Courtesy Universal Pictures

23. Frankenstein (1931)

Best for: Tweens and Teens

Dr. Henry Frankenstein will stop at nothing to create life by alternative means, even if it involves assembling body parts of the deceased to build a new person from scratch. He gets his wish, but things certainly don't go as planned, and the creature causes a lot of trouble when it escapes. For kids interested in Universal's classic days, this is essential viewing. NR.

Poltergeist (1982)
Courtesy MGM/UA Entertainment Co./Poltergeist

24. Poltergeist (1982)

Best for: Tweens and Teens

Let's get one thing straight: This movie still scares us. Between a supernatural child abduction, evil clown dolls, moving furniture and a crackling TV set, it's jam-packed with the heebie jeebies. Also, you can't unsee those skeletons in the pool. Basically, the moral of the story is to not build any houses on an ancient burial ground. Seriously... don't do that. But do watch this movie with your tweens and teens, because it's amazing. Just don't be deceived by the PG rating... the ‘80s were a very different time. Rated PG.

Jaws (1975)
Courtesy Universal Pictures

25. Jaws (1975)

Best for: Teens

If you want your kids to be able to get into the bathtub without fear, it's probably best you skip out on Jaws until they're in their double digits. This monstrous Great White shark is terrorizing the waters surrounding Amity Island—just as summer begins. Naturally, the beach town is in a panic and afraid to go anywhere near the water. It's up to Chief Brody and co. to find this menacing creature. As the saying goes, “You're gonna need a bigger boat.” Rated PG. 


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