Re-watching the beloved films of one’s childhood later on in life, with an adult mindset, can be a crazy, sobering, and outright ridiculous experience. As grown-ups, it’s not uncommon for us to wholly enjoy movies that were made and meant for children—in fact, there were several kids’ flicks last year alone that we loved. Being an adult, however, generally comes with certain analytical and critical thinking skills that children just haven’t developed and/or cannot be bothered with.
Thus, while there are some children’s movies that terrify people young and old alike, there are also many movies that children absolutely adore that adults simultaneously watch in sheer terror. These are films that kids watch casually while sipping their juice boxes, never batting an eye, entertained all the way, while adults watching the exact same movie will alternately lose and try to turn off their minds to, because they’re simply too bothered by what they’re seeing and hearing.
Without further adieu, here’s our list of 15 Movies Kids Love That Terrify Adults:.
This is another great movie with themes and scenes that make adults way more uncomfortable than the little ones. Its subject matter is heavy, even for grown-ups, yet kids, blissfully unaware of history, are unlikely to catch on.
Paranorman has a Sixth Sense vibe; the film’s main character, Norman, is a young boy who can see and communicate with dead people. His uncle Prenderghast (voiced by the always perfect John Goodman), who can also communicate with the dead, tells Norman it will soon be his job to protect the town shortly before dying of a stroke. Uncle Prenderghast then returns in spirit form to tell his nephew to retrieve a book necessary for a ritual that will save the town. Norman does retrieve the book—from his uncle’s corpse—and begins a terrifying journey that includes running from a lynch mob formed by angry townspeople (who also hunt down zombies).
Again, this film is a quality picture, with strong anti-bullying themes and a thoughtful examination of the ways we form our identities. But when the school play highlights the town’s centuries-old lynching of an 11-year-old girl and Norman himself loves John Carpenter movies, adults tend to find the film a tad bit freakier than kids do.
14. Home Alone
This Christmas classic remains a delight for children of all ages and a nightmare for their parents, or anyone not between the ages of 5 and 13, really. Not only is nearly every element of the plot highly implausible (Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin can stop by the grocery store, but not the police station?), but you can only watch someone get hit in the head with a steam iron so many times.
Kevin does everything kids are told NOT to do by their parents, from taking a sharp razor to his face to climbing a bookshelf that ends up toppling down on him. He’s obsessed with an old black and white gangster movie that seems way too violent for an 8-year-old to be quoting verbatim, especially considering the acts of violence he commits throughout the movie. He concusses the burglars with paint cans. He shoots Daniel Stern’s character in the forehead with a BB gun, and later rigs a blowtorch to scald the top of Joe Pesci’s head. It’s all a bit much, especially if you consider the real-world ramifications of such brutalities.
Home Alone remains a must-watch for many around the holidays, but while kids enjoy it, adults watch (and re-watch) with furrowed brows.
13. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
This is one of the 60’s most beloved musicals and family films. It’s also terrifying and bizarre in all the wrong ways. With musical numbers by the same folks who scored Mary Poppins, a scrappy family led by Dick Van Dyke’s wacky inventor Caractacus Potts, and a screenplay co-written by Roald Dahl, the film feels wonderfully quirky at first. But the second we hear that the name of the female lead in the film is Truly Scrumptious, we’re way more offput than we used to be (seriously—and it’s not really used ironically to good effect, it’s not an effective running joke, and it doesn’t even have a big payoff—it’s nothing other than good old fashioned sexism).
The film’s title refers to a junk heap car that once had days of racing glory. When Caractacus buys the car, and takes Truly and his kids on a picnic, they end up becoming a part of a story he’s telling them about an evil Baron. When they flee men that the Baron has sent after them, they literally drive off of a cliff, and the car sprouts wings and starts to fly. Arguably the most terrifying part of this film comes in the form of the Baron’s Child Catcher, whose carriage is actually a cage used to imprison children. Kids generally don’t take him too seriously, but when he stops at a toymaker’s shop (where the jack-in-the-boxes are actual people) and talks about smelling children, our skin just about crawls off.
12. The Monster Squad
This contemporary cult classic is beloved by many adults who grew up watching it in the ’80s, but they’re not exactly jockeying to show it to their children. Written by Shane Black, The Monster Squad is the only PG-13 movie on the list, and it stretches the limits of that rating. Teens and preteens find it wildly entertaining, but parents may be bothered by the ease in which children are endangered in the film.
The titular group of boys get together to discuss and celebrate their love for all things creepy, so naturally, before long, Dracula takes note, disguises himself as a teacher in their middle school (Mr. Alucard–Dracula spelled backward, of course), and calls one of the boys at home. But the film’s climactic events are what truly terrify adults. In order to send Dracula and his monstrously evil cohort packing, the boys must get their hands on a magic amulet AND get a female virgin to read an excerpt from Van Helsing’s diary, which is all fun and games until the girl chosen for the task is the five-year-old little sister of a group member. This moment alone terrifies adults way more later on than it did during their initial viewings.
Parents have always been more scared of this franchise than their kids have been, and the cinematic version is no exception. The 2015 Goosebumps film stars Jack Black as creator and writer of the children’s book series, R.L. Stein, and Mr. Stein’s primary antagonist in the film is truly terrifying. As a general rule, ventriloquist’s dummies are always freaky as hell, but Slappy the Dummy is one scary dummy. Slappy appears in the book series as well as the TV show, and in the film, he also can teleport, which makes him even scarier. He’s a dummy who unleashes a Cabin in the Woods-like myriad of monsters and boogeymen on the good guys. Oh, and he later breaks Stein’s fingers with a typewriter so he cannot write anymore. Plus, those eyes—they’re huge and beady all at once, and always full of menace and hate.
10. The Peanut Butter Solution
This is one of the weirdest movies of all time. The film’s young protagonist is Michael Baskin, an 11 year-old boy from an average family. One day, while playing outside with his best friend Connie, the two come across the charred remains of a mansion that had recently succumbed to a fire. While snooping around there, Michael has a run in with some pretty terrifying ghosts, and he and Connie flee. But when he wakes up the next day, he has something the film refers to as “The Fright,” which apparently just means that you wake up totally bald after you get frightened.
A suddenly bald human (much less a 12-year-old human) to kids is comedy gold, but adults are immediately freaked out. The film’s cure for baldness is further fun for the little ones, and sheer terror for grown-ups: later, the ghosts come to Michael in a dream and tell him that the cure involves rubbing peanut butter on his head. When Michael tries to make the magic hair cream, his recipe is slightly off, resulting in major hair growth he cannot control. Connie, meanwhile, decides he wants to grow extra body hair and also tries this magic peanut butter solution, so throughout much of the film, two young boys run around growing hair uncontrollably. Follicular follies such as this are fun for kids, but for adults? They’re just weird and kinda gross.
First off, there’s the smiling. It’s beyond unsettling to see the front end of a car, animated or not, replaced by a huge, toothy, grinning mouth. Then, there’s the windshield being replaced by huge, expressive eyes—it’s all just a wee bit difficult to get used to. There’s also reality: adults know the very real dangers of car accidents, so when they see scenes like, say, Mack falling asleep at his wheel, they both fear for Mack’s safety, and they also fear having to explain the repercussions of real-life behavior such as that to their children.
In many ways, this film was written for adults; the jokes about male cars refusing to ask for directions, for example, or the hippie Volkswagon’s banter with the crusty old Jeep, are definitely aimed at older crowds. And we won’t deny that many adults certainly enjoyed this movie. But when you throw in the potential/alleged role of cars and/or machines in the Pixar universe, we simply cannot ignore the creepiness potential of this movie.
8. Space Jam
The first 10 minutes of this 1996 classic are basically an homage to Michael Jordan, complete with endless highlights, childhood photographs, and references to his short-lived baseball career, so nothing too scary occurs. And we can handle the way the evil alien toons (aka the Monstars) enter the bodies of NBA players to siphon out their talent, but when the toons’ bodies start to physically change, and they turn into dinosaur-spined creatures with evil intent, things start to get weird fast.
We then learn the central conflict of the story: Bugs Bunny and his Looney Toon gang risk being enslaved for eternity by these bulked up space aliens if they lose a basketball game to them. Bugs enlists the help of His Airness, and instead of providing protection or comfort, an uncomfortable amount of toon-on-toon violence is still inflicted upon the good guys despite Jordan’s presence. Tweety is smacked into a wall, tiny toon mice are smooshed under basketballs, and several of our heroes get knocked around repeatedly. Kids still love it, but adults may find several moments in the film quite uncomfortable, including a scene towards the end where Wayne Knight gets blown up to look like a giant hot air balloon.
We can still appreciate the metaphorical implications of this image—we’d just prefer to never see it again because it’s too disturbing. We’ll settle for the honest trailer.
7. Spirited Away
This 2001 Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece is a wonderful film with amazing and refreshingly original moments that are more than a bit scarier to watch with adult eyes. The film’s main character is a 10-year old girl named Chihiro, and she is immediately more relatable than any Disney princess we’ve ever met. She’s neither bright nor starry-eyed, and she acts every bit the impatient child during a long, boring car ride with her parents. That boring car ride leads her and her parents to an abandoned amusement park, and when they enter the park when it opens the next day, they quite literally get transported into another world—one that’s definitely geared more towards Chihiro and kids than adults.
When her parents start eating ridiculous amounts of food at a shop there, they turn into pigs, and Chihiro, who’s off looking around, ends up inside a giant bathhouse. She becomes trapped inside this wildly imaginative other-realm, where she’s given a job (child labor is no fun for adults to watch) and a new name (Sen). She’s told that she cannot leave or save her parents until she recalls her old self, which becomes harder and harder for her to do.
It’s a beautiful film that adults enjoy; they just tend to get more freaked out by, say, characters like No-Face, and they’re more bothered by the idea and significance of polluted rivers swallowing things. That giant baby is straight-up nightmare fuel, by the way.
6. The Wizard of Oz
This classic is almost a century old, and it remains a must-see film for people of all ages. That said, there’s simply too much weirdness to overlook when re-watching this classic through older eyes. Many adults have heard horror stories about the numerous difficulties the actors went through during production, from on-set injuries to crazy makeup preparation to drug addiction.
Knowing these things can hinder the viewing experience later on, especially considering that critics and academics alike have viewed the film and noted it may have had potentially veiled references to psychedelic drugs throughout. (The infamous scene where Dorothy winds up in an entire field full of poppies that make her pass right out is the most famous moment supporting this idea.) To kids, Dorothy is temporarily lost and on an adventure. To adults, she’s a scared and lost little girl with a dog, and they both need food and shelter. Plus, flying monkeys are much more fun to watch as a kid. As an adult, they fill us with terror.
5. Howard Lovecraft & the Frozen Kingdom
While visiting his father Winfield at the local Sanitarium (you can see the adult crowd start to shift around in their seats pretty early on in this one), Howard is urged by his father to destroy the Necronomicon. The Necronomicon is a book Winfield himself has written, and he freaks out in really over the top ways whenever he tells Howard to destroy it, so of course, Howard’s curiosity is piqued. He doesn’t destroy the book, but reads passages aloud from it instead, and he is promptly transported to a strange new world that doesn’t terrify children nearly as much as it scares the adults in the room.
In this new world, R’yleh, Howard is almost eaten by a strange dragon-like creature he later befriends, and he learns that in order to free those trapped inside the frozen kingdom of R’yleh, he must defeat another even more dangerous and evil creature. The film is yet another escapism adventure for kids, while adults along for the ride are white-knuckling it the entire time.
4. The Last Unicorn
The Last Unicorn seems innocent enough when you’re watching this film as a kid. A unicorn learns that all of the other unicorns have been herded together and trapped by an evil bull, so she goes on a magic-filled quest to find and rescue them—it’s a journey that pretty much every other hero in fantasy films generally undertakes.
But that journey feels very different when we watch it unfold later on in life, after we’ve had a few perilous journeys ourselves. How perilous is this journey, exactly? During her trek, the unicorn is taken prisoner by the ne’er do well witch, Mommy Fortuna (no relation to Bib, we assume) who runs an awful carnival featuring animals who are trapped there under various spells. The unicorn befriends an inept magician named Schmendrick, and the two escape Fortuna’s together.
Things really get weird when Schmendrick, who makes Orko from Masters of the Universe look like a stellar magician, turns the unicorn into a human girl when they finally encounter the evil red bull. The bull is owned by a king whose son, a prince, then falls in love with the unicorn/human girl, who, unfortunately for adults in the room, returns his feelings. The unicorn is thus conflicted, torn between her feelings of human love and her obligation to carry out her mission. In the end, the unicorn is changed back to her original form, and she finds and releases the other unicorns, but the happy ending is overshadowed by all the aforementioned freakiness.
3. Monster House
While some parts of this 2006 flick may scare some toddlers, the older kids absolutely adore it, especially around Halloween. Adults, who have likely seen or heard of The Amityville Horror, are slightly more perturbed when the title house literally starts consuming young children. We’re also much more weirded out when the house later vomits children out, but the truly terrifying part comes when we learn how the cantankerous old man who owned the place lost his beloved wife.
Apparently, after building the house, his wife slipped and fell while chasing away verbally abusive children. When she fell, she landed in the basement, where she drowned in a vat of concrete and became a permanent fixture of the house. Homeowners everywhere gave pause during that scene, wondering what—or who—might be lying beneath their floorboards. This is another fine, fun film, but it’s also scarier to those old enough to buy or rent a house.
2. Little Monsters
Fred Savage stars as Brian Stevenson, a boy who discovers that there is a monster living underneath his little brother Eric’s bed (his brother is played by real-life little bro
Cory Matthews Ben Savage). The monster, played by Howie Mandell, calls himself Maurice, and if you find Howie Mandell even slightly grating, you’re in for an hour and 40 minutes of pure torture. Adults can barely sit through Little Monsters, but not because it’s scary in any way; the film is actually pretty tame and unscary save for a kidnapping subplot over halfway through.
The true terror comes with watching Maurice and Brian’s antics. Maurice takes Brian to the monster world that exists under Eric’s bed, where they eat junk food galore and abide by zero rules. Later, they play tons of rude, inconsiderate, or gross pranks on Brian’s neighbors (kids may be amused by what monster earwax looks like, but adults can only squirm and shake their heads). Later, we learn that Maurice is actually a child trapped inside the body of a monster, which explains why he acts like a frat house full of Drop Dead Fred knockoffs, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling to watch.
1. The Brave Little Toaster
With its colorful world of talking light fixtures and cynical vacuum cleaners, children are often wildly entertained by this ’80s film, but the majority of adults are likely to find this movie depressing as all get out. The story goes like this: several appliances wait around every day for their owner Rob to return, and when he doesn’t, they set out to find him. Led by Toaster, they head for the city, where they believe Rob is residing.
On the way, they lose several appliances, almost drown in a waterfall, and Toaster has a horrible, twisted nightmare: he dreams that he has been reunited with Rob, but they’re both being tortured by—what else?—an evil clown. But when Toaster wakes up, he doesn’t find much relief in reality. While Rob returns to his old place to find all of his appliances gone, Toaster and company end up getting trapped and tormented in a junkyard. Rob eventually finds what’s left of his old appliances and takes them off to college, but not before they’ve been pretty well destroyed in the process.
What other kiddie flicks get under your skin? Let us know in the comments.
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