michael keaton as Beetlejuice looking scary in 'Beetlejuice'.

The Best Scary Kids Movies for a Spooktastic Halloween

Here are some family-friendly films to get into the spoopy spirit.

Unpopular opinion: There’s nothing scarier than children.

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They scream. They cry. They make you buy things for them. They force you to watch emotionally challenging shows about cartoon dogs when you were REALLY NOT PREPARED TO CRY THAT DAY. Children are the worst. Horror movies know this, that’s why there are so many creepy children in horror flicks! The Children of The Corn! Antichrist! The Orphan! Child’s Play! Horror movies have tried to warn us about kids. They may be our future, but that future holds torture and death! I’m just relieved that I FINALLY get to write a list of all the scariest kids’ movies to warn adults about the horrors of these half-formed little monsters!

Wait … you meant scary movies for children? Not about children? DID THE CHILDREN PUT YOU UP TO THIS?!?

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

SURPRISE SURPRISE! The film that gave Hot Topic shoppers (I was one of them) their entire personality is at the top of this list. C’mon, it’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Do you think that I could write a list of the best spooky kids’ movies without adding this one? I would be CRUCIFIED in the comments. Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s creepy claymation spectacle is practically required viewing for baby bats, which is a collective term for alt kids and goths in training. What’s it about? A skeleton discovering the joys of Christmas. Because yes, it’s a Christmas movie AND a Halloween movie.

The Witches (1990)

A spooky woman (Anjelica Huston) gives a knowing gaze to someone offscreen in "The Witches".
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ugh. A child is the hero of this film. Based on Roald Dahl’s classic novel, Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches is about a young boy who discovers a sinister plot by a coven of witches (led by a phenomenal Anjelica Huston) to turn the entire population of England into mice. Why couldn’t they have turned all the children into mice? Team Witch, honestly. So what if the human race dies out, we could live out our final days in blissful adult peace. This film serves as a way scarier witch tale than films like Hocus Pocus. ANY child would be traumatized by the jelly-like true form of the head witch. Somehow the blue eyeshadow only makes it WORSE. There’s also Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Robert Zemeckis’s 2020 adaptation starring Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, which is less disturbing (i.e. less fun) than the original.

Spirited Away

Haku and Chihiro in 'Spirited Away'
(Studio Ghibli)

As far as children go, Chihiro from Spirited Away checks out. While on vacation with her family, they stumble into an abandoned town in the middle of the woods. Chihiro wants to turn back, but her gluttonous parents decide to pig out on the free food that mysteriously appears in the village. Pro Tip: NEVER eat the mysterious food you find in the forest! When night falls, the spirits show up, and her parents turn into literal pigs. How will Chihiro save them? In the same way every child saves their parents: by getting a job. For Chihiro, it’s a job at a bathhouse run by a mean old witch! Gotta start somewhere.

Where The Wild Things Are

A furry monster stretches its arms in front of a young boy in "Where The Wild Things Are"
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Where The Wild Things Are is an adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak story from 1963 about a young boy who is just the worst. His wild antics are so disruptive that he ends up ripping through the fabric of reality and entering into an alternate world populated by equally destructive monsters. While these monsters are cuddly and kind for the most part, they’re also sporting fangs, claws, and a penchant for ripping each other’s arms off.

The Dark Crystal

A still from the film The Dark Crystal depicting the Gelflings Jen and Kira flying up the side of a rock face
(Universal Pictures)

A masterwork of the late great Jim Henson, The Dark Crystal is set in a mythical world that is ruled by a tyrannical race of freaky birds meets Ringwraiths meets Sith Lords who are stealing the power of a life-giving crystal for their own selfish ends. Enter Jen, a young Gelfling boy who embarks on a quest to stop them. If you love The Dark Crystal, be sure to check out the limited series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix.

Labyrinth

Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams dancing at a masquerade ball with David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth in the film Labyrinth
(Tri-Star Pictures)

Jim Henson strikes again in Labyrinth! After a teenager named Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) wishes her baby brother away (we get it girl), David Bowie shows up as a hot goblin king to answer her prayer. If only Bowie would arrive to answer ALL of our prayers! Sarah feels bad about wishing her kid brother away, so she has to navigate a magical labyrinth to get the boy back. Seems like a lot of work, Sarah. Just kick back and enjoy being the only child again, why don’t you?

Beetlejuice

Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice
Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice centers around the ghosts of a recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who are chagrinned by the fact that a teenager (Winona Ryder, inventing the goth girl template) has moved into the house that they once called home. Revolting! Well, they’re more revolted by the girl’s obnoxious family, so they hire an equally obnoxious ghost named Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to scare the family away. It doesn’t go as planned, but the teenager does end up passing the vibe check and helping the ghosts out.

Coraline

Coraline in the stop-motion animated film 'Coraline'
(Laika)

Henry Selick’s Coraline is about a teenage girl whose family is a total drag. Mom and Dad are workaholics and never give her a lick of attention. Instead of going out to kick rocks (or whatever teenagers do), Coraline discovers a magical world where button-eyed doppelgängers of her parents treat her better than her real parents ever did! The only caveat is … they want Caroline to join them forever.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Image from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Four kids in Halloween costumes look at a haunted house
(Lionsgate)

While most of the films on this list are of a simply spooky nature, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark lives up to its namesake. A group of teenagers discover a book of scary stories that—when they read them—end up becoming real! The WORST of them all is the tale of The Pale Lady, a teleporting ghost who looks like Oogie Boogie’s f*cked-up sister who absorbs children into her body. Not even children deserve that.

Hocus Pocus

Disney's 'Hocus Pocus' cast
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Aside from serving as a collective sexual awakening in the form of Sarah Jessica Parker’s hot witch character, Hocus Pocus has solidified itself as one of the best “bad” movies ever made. After three evil witches are resurrected in Salem on Halloween night, a group of kids battle to put them to their eternal rest with the help of a magical cat. The movie is charmingly campy, and perhaps one of the most beloved Halloween classics ever made. Many spooky millennials can quote the film by heart. And now, a new generation of children will continue to carry the Black Flame Candle—I mean torch. Make it a double feature with Hocus Pocus 2, which came out on Disney+ last year.

(featured image: Warner Bros. Pictures)


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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.