The best scary movies for kids

These scary movies for kids will send a shiver down your spine during family movie night, so beware!

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Photograph: Courtesy Laika Inc./Universal Pictures

Prepare to sleep with one eye open! Our lineup of scary movies for kids features haunted houses, creepy clowns and a lanky skeleton with an identity crisis. Now's the time to stock up on the popcorn and candycorn for your family screening. 

Although the scariest Halloween movies for kids on our list (such as IT and The Shining) are better suited for teens, the little ones can get in the spooky spirit with tot-friendly flicks like Monsters Inc. and Coraline. It's even safe for your little goblins to watch some of these movies before bed. Phew! At least if they're losing sleep, it's because of the candy they scored during trick or treating in NYC, not a horrifying monster! 

While taking advantage of the coolest fall activities for kids, wrap up the festivities with a screening of the best scary movies for kids...if you dare. What better way to welcome the Halloween season

Scary movies for kids

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Photograph: Courtesy Disney

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Best for: Little Kids

A surefire win (with teeny, tiny scares) for the youngest movie buffs, this classic Disney 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.

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Photograph: WALT DISNEY PICTURES/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection

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.

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Photograph: Courtesy Sony Pictures Imageworks

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. Can they stop horrific things from happening before trick-or-treaters ring the bell? Rated PG. 

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Photograph: Courtesy Disney

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

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Photograph: Courtesy Laika Inc./Universal Pictures

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. 

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Photograph: Courtesy TriStar Pictures/Labyrinth

Labyrinth (1986)

Best for: Big Kids

This one's for all the kids who've wished their siblings would disappear. In Labyrinth, teenage Sarah wishes exactly that—and the Goblin King (David Bowie) happily honors her request! Sarah only has until midnight to save her baby brother from a castle in the middle of a labyrinth, or else he'll become a goblin forever. The Jim Henson-directed film is a winner for any kid who loves magic, thrills and elaborate costumes. Rated PG.

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Photograph: Courtesy Disney Enterprises Inc.

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 along the way. Rated PG. 

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Photograph: Courtesy Disney Enterprises Inc.

Frankenweenie (2012)

Best for: Big Kids

Poor Victor has a difficult time fitting in at school. Fortunately, the young science geek is very close to his canine companion, Sparky...until the unthinkable happens. Losing his pup is heartbreaking for the lad, but when his science teacher sparks an idea to bring the mutt back to life, all is right in the world again. Well, at least until Victor's peers catch on to his experiment and try it out for themselves, with some horrific results. Rated PG.  

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Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

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).

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Courtesy Warner Brothers International Television

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.

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Photograph: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Corpse Bride (2005)

Best for: 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 roles around. Rated PG.  

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Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

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, though...one 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.

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Courtesy Universal Pictures

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. NR.

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The Others (2001)

Best for: Tweens and Teens

Love a good ghost story? Nicole Kidman and her two children (both of whom are photosensitive) must stay in their darkened home to avoid the light, but suddenly strange things begin to happen. She must defend her home from spirit intruders—and things may not be as they seem. PG-13.

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Courtesy MGM/UA Entertainment Co./Poltergeist

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. Rated PG (from the '80s).

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Courtesy Universal Pictures

Jaws (1975)

Best for: Teens

One thing's for sure: This crew definitely needs a bigger boat. Summer is in full swing on Amity Island, but the beaches have a menacing creature lurking close by: a great white shark! Naturally, everyone is afraid to go near the water, and understandably so. However, the town's chief and a few enthusiastic shark experts hop on board of the Orca (in hindsight, probably not the best boat for the task) and go head-to-jaws with this terror of the deep. Steven Spielberg's renowned horror flick will make young viewers think twice about bath time, so it's probably best to save this one for the older kids in your crew. Rated PG. 

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Courtesy Warner Bros.

The Exorcist (1973)

Best for: Teens

When a young girl becomes possessed by a very determined demon, a young priest steps in to try and exorcise it. The Exorcist remains one of the most iconic horror flicks of all time, complete with vomit, gore, possession and pretty fantastic stage makeup. Is it scary? Yes. Is it, at times, totally horrifying? Yes. We will say that there is a very crude (and hard to forget) scene involving a crucifix, though this is edited out of some versions. This is not a movie for children, but for teens and adults. Rated R.

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Courtesy Warner Bros.

The Shining (1980)

Best for: Teens

What happens when a recovering alcoholic takes a job as a caretaker in a haunted, remote mountain hotel (with no one but his wife and gifted son for company during the year's darkest winter months?). Well, you can probably guess: Nothing good. Your teens will be mesmerized by the quiet suspense of the Overlook Hotel, as well as the film's creepy characters and telekinetic young protagonist. Rated R.

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Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Alien (1979)

Best for: Teens

As with many of the movies on our list, there was nothing quite like this one when it came out in the late '70s (its successor Aliens was pretty great too). It leads with suspense and lots of shiny teeth rather than blood and guts, though there are a few scenes where folks meet a pretty unfortunate demise. Sit back, relax and enjoy the chaos of a starship's crew encountering some very unusual organisms and attempting to escape alive. Rated R.

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Stephen King's IT (1990)

Best for: Teens

Surpassing The Exorcist, the reprised IT broke records in 2017 as the most successful horror film of all time. The 2019 sequel has proven to be equally ground-breaking, but there is something about the original that we can't seem to shake. The Stephen King classic, which was adapted as a mini series, places Pennywise (Tim Curry) at the center of Derry's disfunction. Children begin to disappear and the town is left in the wake of a horrifying man-eating clown's cannibalistic antics. A group of misfit friends with demons of their own join forces to face the frightening force, and they promise to reunite years later if it comes back (which, unsurprisingly, it does). With some slapstick humor, a few dark plots and a clown much-less menacing than Bill Skarsgård's modern interpretation, the original IT will always be one of our go-to horror movies during the Halloween season...even if it provides a few laughs along the way. Rated TV-14. 

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Photo: Courtesy of Walter Reade Organization

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Best for: Teens

One word: Zombies! Can the (living) inhabitants of a farmhouse defend themselves from an army of flesh-eating corpses? We. Shall. See. This low-budget film offers some creative gore and nods to the political environment of the late '60s. NR.

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