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Photograph: Laika

The best Halloween movies for kids of all ages

From dark carnivals to Scooby Snacks, these are the films your kids will be squirming over.

Written by
Andy Kryza
Written by
Hannah Doolin
,
Allie Early
,
Danielle Valente
&
Oliver Strand
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Kids love monsters, ghosts and ghouls... until they don’t. That makes curating Halloweentime movie night extra tough: Choose wrong, and your child will be scarred for life. But choose right and you’ve got a new All Hallow’s tradition. 

To help you on your quest for age-approprate scares, we rounded up a few of the best Disney movies and animated classics that'll satisfy the little ghosts and goblins in your crew, then sprinkled in some scarier stuff for kids ready to dip their toes into the wonders of Tim Burton and Charles Addams. And for those who are truly brave enough to handle a good scare, we even included a Stephen King adaptation. Don’t worry, it's not Gerald’s Game. 

Best Halloween movies for kids

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Photograph: WALT DISNEY PICTURES/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection

1. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Best for: Little kids, big 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 this 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. He sure liked to terrify his young audiences. Rated G.

Best for: Tweens, teens

Young Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) are dead, and a new family is moving into their home! What to do? Cue Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), in all his putrescence, known for expelling unwanted houseguests (and solving other problems, too). Living goth child Lydia Deetz (played by a translucent-skinned Winona Ryder) helps Beetlejuice expel her unbearable parents and reclaim the home for good. The film serves as a great entry point to horror and an introduction to the wonders of Harry Belafonte! Rated PG.

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Best for: Big kids, tweens

When Elliott finds an alien hiding in his mom’s tool shed, a friendship blossoms into something truly–ahem–out of this world. With the help of his siblings, he keeps E.T. a secret, but it’s hard to keep the creature safe with government agents sniffing him out. You’ll overlook some slightly salty banter to allow your pint-size crew the joy of giggling when Elliott dresses E.T. as a ghost to sneak him out of the house on Halloween, and you’re sure to say “awww” when young Drew Barrymore comes onscreen. Oh, and a final fun fact: Steven Spielberg’s character E.T. is actually inspired by an imaginary friend he had as a child. Rated PG.

Poltergeist (1982)
Photo: Courtesy of MGM/UA Entertainment Company

4. Poltergeist (1982)

Best for: Tweens, teens

Once you watch this film it's hard to forget, especially if you're introduced to it as a kid. Um, hello, those decomposed bodies in the pool? #NOPE. We’ll state right up front that this movie definitely terrifies little kids. However, when the time is right you can introduce it to your older kids, tweens and teens, who will rate it as an instant classic—you’ll love seeing it through their eyes. (Don't bother with the remake from 2015.) No need to summarize a plot you already know, but if you need to jar your memory, how about this: “They're he-ere” Rated PG.

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It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
Photograph: Everett Collection

5. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Best for: Little kids, big kids

Can’t get enough of Charlie, Snoopy, Linus and the rest of the gang? This sweet flick is one of several holiday-themed family favorites involving your favorite characters. Though A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of our go-to’s, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown frequently makes its way into our movie marathons in early fall. We love the cute costumes, the trick-or-treating, the pumpkins and—gasp—getting a glimmer of Lucy’s softer side. Not rated.

Best for: Big kids

The first film from stop-motion wizards Laika adapts Neil Gaiman’s book to delightfully twisted effect, creating a tactile alternative universe for a young girl who crawls into a hole in the wall and discovers a button-eyed version of her family hiding a sinister agenda beneath a pile of sweets. The visuals are wholly unnerving, particularly the final form of Other Mother, but there’s enough whimsy present to keep things light in between the scares. Rated PG. 

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Gremlins (1984)
Courtesy Warner Bros.

7. Gremlins (1984)

Best for: Tweens, teens

A father seeks a very special gift for his son, ultimately purchasing a very cute “mogwai” (uhh…”monster”??) with strict instructions in Chinatown. As expected, Billy does not care for the critter named Gizmo exactly as instructed, and total mayhem ensues, complete with rapidly-multiplying hideous monsters. The film takes place at Christmastime, but the horror here is flexible enough to creep your kids out at any time of year. Rated PG. 

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Best for: Tweens, teens

A true classic in every sense, Ghostbusters is a rite of passage for young viewers thanks to its quippy dialogue and fantastic creature design. Just approach that PG rating with caution: The ‘80s were a different time… one where ghost sex and raunchy zingers were still considered wholesome family entertainment. 

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Best for: Teens 

This candy-colored dark comedy is now a horror classic, the film that launched the career of Tim Burton and turned Johnny Depp into a movie star. It's probably more stylized than you remember: those houses, those dresses, those stilted conversations. It's also probably more cruel—Edward has a rough time of it. This is a film to watch with your older kids and tweens. Rated PG-13.

IT (1990)
Photograph: Warner Bros.

10. IT (1990)

Best for: Tweens, teens

Stephen King's infamous story of a killer clown named Pennywise has terrorized generations, and this TV film is where it all began. Venture to Derry, Maine, where Pennywise takes on many forms to prey on innocent victims. A group of friends encounters the demon at its worst, but they promise to stick together—even if it comes back. We have a feeling that you'll never look at sewers and red balloons the same way again. Just approach with caution: Despite the dated TV-movie aesthetic and watered-down themes, things are very dark and adult, with themes of domestic violence as unsettling as anything the clown unleashes. And for the love of god, don't queue up the recent R-rated movie with kids around. Not rated. 

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Best for: Tweens, teens

Being reunited with loved ones is always exciting, but something is a bit...strange about Uncle Fester's homecoming (even for his standards). The entire kooky clan begins to pick up on his unusual ways, and soon everyone suspects this man isn't the Addams he claims to be. We must ask, “Will the real Uncle Fester please stand up?” Rated PG-13.

Best for: Big kids

What happens when the Pumpkin King is totally over Halloween? If you're Jack Skellington, you tumble into Christmas Town and set your mind to making this the best Christmas ever—even if that means kidnapping Santa. He puts his plan into action to goofy and macabre results. It seems the residents of Halloween Town can’t exactly master the art of making toys most kids like (cue evil wooden ducks and carnivorous wreaths). The film is a little dark for younger kids, but it’s a visual delight, and it's full of over-the-top Halloween-themed songs that will get your toes tapping. Rated PG.

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Best for: Big kids, tweens and teens

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, Mass, 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! Incidentally, those same sisters will be back in an upcoming sequel... all the more reason to get caught up on the original. Rated PG.

Best for: Tweens, teens

As it turns out, Uncle Fester is sitting on some serious cash. His worth has garnered the attention of the Black Widow, a money-hungry woman who will stop at nothing to get a man's wealth—even if it means killing him. (Which she's done many times.) She goes undercover and attempts to pose as Wednesday, Pugsley and newbie Pubert's babysitter while sinking her teeth into Gomez's beloved brother. The results? A crazy summer camp, new faces and the usual creepy, kooky fun...but not for Debbie the Black Widow. Rated PG-13. 

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Best for: Big kids, tweens

Instead of inheriting her father’s millions (as expected), Carrigan Crittenden gets only his broken-down mansion. She soon realizes that in order to claim the house (and the hidden fortune that may be inside), she needs to boot the troublesome ghosts that call it home. Crittenden hires Dr. James Harvey, an experienced afterlife therapist who moves into the mansion, and his daughter Kat meets Casper (the only friendly ghost of the bunch). They all work together to help the spirits cross over to the other side (expect some mild cursing in the process). Will they be able to pull it off? Rated PG.

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Best for: Big kids, tweens, teens

A dark oddity from the brief period in which the Mouse House ditched princesses for lite horror (see also, The Watcher in the Woods), this Ray Bradbury adaptation proved that Disney was into dark carnivals way before the Juggalos showed up. Jonathan Pryce is the ringmaster pulling the strings here, and while the adventure unfolds from a kids-eye-view, this is solid entry-level terror for horror-curious youngsters. Rated PG.

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Halloweentown (1998)
Photograph: Courtesy Singer White/Ventura Valley Film/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

17. Halloweentown (1998)

Best for: Big kids, tweens

Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown) is toughing it out in a household that can’t stand Halloween, but little does she know she’ll soon be living out every tween’s dream: She’s actually a witch and has magical powers. After overhearing a conversation between her mother and grandmother, Marnie sets off to see for herself if Halloweentown is real—and boy is it ever! But remember that whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing? It’s the truth, and Marnie (alongside her brother and little sister) encounters more trouble than she bargained for. Rated TV-G.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Courtesy Disney

18. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Best for: Little kids, big kids

As we all know, monsters live in a parallel world: Their job is to scare us, and they can only pull that off if they hide that we actually terrify them. When a regular day of spooking children doesn’t go quite as planned, two monster pals end up with an adorable kid in tow (eeek—what could be scarier!), and need to get her home safely. Monsters, Inc. has the feel-good ending you'd expect of a family film, and with leading voices from John Goodman and Billy Crystal the film became an instant Haloween classic. Rated G.

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The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Photograph: Disney

19. The Haunted Mansion (2003)

Best for: Big kids 

Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) didn't mean to bring his work on vacation with him. It just sort of happened! When the realtor plans to take his family on vacation, he is asked to stop at a creepy-looking home he's to sell. The visit becomes a debacle when he realizes the humble abode is haunted and the spirits need his help. The film is based on a Disneyland ride, and will soon be re-booted with Owen Wilson set to look very frightened. Rated PG. 

Harry Potter (2001–2011)
Photograph: Courtesy Warner Bros.

20. Harry Potter (2001–2011)

Best for: Big kids, tweens and teens

First, let your kids read the books. Then, let them watch these films, as literature's greatest child wizards come to life in the fantastical world of muggles, monsters and mystics created by J.K. Rowling. Fact is that Harry Potter is now a cultural touchstone, and these vivid stories deal with loss and heartache as well as friendship and overcoming adversity. Besides, the magic is really cool. You should note that this eight-film series grows progressively darker: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) is suitable for seven-year-olds, but the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010 and 2011) is better saved for older kids. Rated PG and PG-13.

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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.  

Best for: Big kids

Things take a spooky turn for absent-minded inventor, Wallace, and his trusty canine companion, Gromit, in this stop-motion, claymation flick based on the popular series. The pair create one of their infamous contraptions in order to help their friends protect their gardens from hungry rabbits. A malfunction results in the creation of a giant, rabbit-like monster, which gets Wallace into trouble in more ways than one. Rated G.

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Return to Oz (1985)
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Best for: Big kids, tweens, teens

If you thought the flying monkeys were scary, little will prepare you for the horrors of the Droog-like Wheelers and the monolithic Nome King in this dark, Burtonesque ’80s follow up to the classic. Things get dark quick as Dorothy is threatened with electro-shock therapy, but the film balances it all with some delightful new characters, among them a hoity-toity robot and the childlike Jack Pumpkinhead. Rated PG.

Best for: Big kids

One house on the street is not like the others, and teenager DJ knows it. Unfortunately, it’s harder than expected for him to convince the police and his babysitter that their neighbor’s home is actually a living, breathing monster. DJ and his friends must embark on a crazy adventure in hopes of saving the people the house has eaten (and ideally destroying it afterward). Anxiety-prone kids should pass on this one, but young horror fans will dig this film for its relatable characters and heartwarming ending. Rated PG.

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Goosebumps (2015)
Hopper Stone, SMPSP

25. Goosebumps (2015)

Best for: Big kids, tweens

Not to be mistaken for Netflix’s very-R-rated take on Fear StreetGoosebumps 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.

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  • Fantasy

Best for: Big kids, tweens

Don’t Look Now’s Nicolas Roeg, of all people, directed this skin-shedding tale of a boy turned into a mouse and hunted by a coven led by Anjelica Huston. The Roald Dahl adaptation is plenty cute, but also manages to be a creepy introduction to the wonders of body horror. A Robert Zemeckis-directed remake hit HBO Max last year with Anne Hathaway in the lead, and while it’s a lesser film, it’s a lot more palatable for younger kids with witchy urges. Rated PG

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Best for: Big kids

Young Victor Frankenstein is unpopular at school, so when his dog (and best friend) Sparky dies in an accident, he does what any brainy boy would do, and brings him back to life. This moody and beautiful black-and-white film could only come from the mind of Tim Burton–it's actually the feature-length remake of a short from 1984–and it's filled with strange creatures and oddball humans. The stellar cast includes Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short. It's silly, but it's also fairly dark, and better suited to older kids. Rated PG.

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.  

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Best for: Big kids, tweens

Sure, Norman Babcock is kind of a weirdo, but we love him anyway. Anyone can relate to not quite fitting in, but let us be clear: This isn’t your average 11-year-old. Norman can talk to the dead, and it’s not exactly normal, but his judgy town is soon to change its tune when 17th-century zombies want to come out and play. We love this film because it’s quirky and teaches compassion and tolerance for the strange and unusual. Rated PG.

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

30. 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. 

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