It’s that happy time of year again, when the leaves start changing and everyone is talking about pumpkin spice. When the weather gets chilly and the nights get long, we all know that the time for scary movies is at hand. But what if you’ve got kids running around, or have parents in town? It can be tricky to find truly scary movies that the whole family can enjoy without having to cover anyone’s eyes or squirm with embarrassment. That’s why we took the time to create a list of fifteen movies that fit right into this glorious season. These picks were chosen for their scariness, but also because they lack sex scenes, excessive gore, hard language, and have plots you can still follow whether you’re 8 or 80. We included movies from a wide range of years too. Whether you’re feeling nostalgic or want to introduce your kids to the magic of Vincent Price—we’ve got you covered. We’ve even left out spoilers completely, so read without fear!
Without further delay…
Here are 15 Awesome Halloween Movies For The Whole Family.
15 Hocus Pocus
Nerds of a certain age can’t get enough of this 1993 Halloween favorite. The story of three very old witches has become a modern cult classic despite fairly divided critical opinion. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimi are delightfully fun as the cackling witches brought back to life by an evil curse. There’s an immortal cat, bullies getting the what-for, and a highly disturbing segment involving a stitched up mouth. Hocus Pocus also features a young Thora Birch and fun cameos from Garry and Penny Marshall. Despite a 30% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Hocus Pocus still brings happiness to its loyal fans. In fact, the fan rating at RT is 70%, more than double what the critics say.
Witches are practically synonymous with Halloween, which makes Hocus Pocus a good choice for October family viewing. Kids will love the hero, Max, and adults will love the bits of grown-up humor just for them. And of course, everybody loves Bette Midler, right?
14 Silver Bullet
Is it really Halloween without Stephen King? The best way to get your King fix is by reading of course, but a family can’t all read a book at the same time. Besides, Silver Bullet was written as a screenplay, not a prose story. The 1985 movie stars Corey Haim as Marty, an adorable kid, and Megan Follows as his older sister Jane, who live in the small town of Tarker’s Mills. People start dying there one summer, and Marty and his sister accidentally find out why. Silver Bullet also features Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Terry O’Quinn, and the coolest wheelchair you’ve ever seen.
This is a great Halloween movie because it’s set in the fall (the climax occurs on Halloween night) and has a fun nostalgic feel. There are a few scenes of violence, though it’s largely implied. Children are imperiled, but they’re also the heroes. Silver Bullet is light on profanity and big on scares. Don’t bother looking for a Stephen King cameo though. You won’t find it.
13 13 Ghosts
What’s the right age to start kids on classic horror? That’s up to you parents. As for where to start, the films of William Castle are a great place. 13 Ghosts revolves around the Zorba family, who think their money troubles are over when they inherit a home purported to have a fortune hiding somewhere inside. Buck is worried that Elaine, the housekeeper, is a witch. She probably isn’t, but she might be…after all, Elaine is played by Margaret Hamilton, who most of us know better as the Wicked Witch of the West. Yes, the one from Wicked, kind of. Meanwhile, daughter Medea Zorba and her table tapping serve as a strong warning against the use of Ouija boards.
Because 13 Ghosts is about a family, it’s also a great film for families. There’s little overt violence and plenty of cool ghost effects that include a lion and a flaming skeleton. Thanks to the Hays Code (the rules for movie production that say evil can never win), 13 Ghosts has a highly satisfying ending as well.
If you haven’t seen it in a while, you might not remember that the 1975 film Jaws is really frightening. The idea of being eaten alive is already terrifying. But add in John Williams music and an all-star cast and you’re in for an incredibly scary ride. Jaws is largely credited as the reason white sharks neared extinction in the '80s, and have still not fully bounced back. It’s just that horrifying. In fact, it may be too scary for very young children, as there is a scene where the shark snatches a child off a raft and gobbles him up. Jaws used a combination of animatronic sharks, three of them, and footage of real sharks shot by Ron and Valerie Taylor. These days, the Taylors work toward shark conservation efforts.
Despite being downright bone-chilling, Jaws is a movie you can watch with fans young and old. It’s almost amazing that a New York cop, a seasoned sailor, and a smart alecky grad student can get through the entire adventure with this shark without a single swear. Jaws spawned three sequels, though only the first is really worth your time.
11 The Thing From Another World
To truly appreciate 1951’s The Thing From Another World, you might have to think back to how long ago 1951 was. A postage stamp cost three cents, which wasn’t much. The federal minimum wage was a whopping seventy-five cents an hour. It was a long, long time ago. We hadn’t set foot on the moon. We didn’t have high-res pics of other planets. There was no Mars Rover. So the idea that we might suddenly find an alien frozen in the arctic didn’t seem far-fetched. The alien looking basically like a man also didn’t appear unreasonable, nor the fact that it was more flora than fauna. But man, was it scary. Fun fact: the actual Thing is played by Gunsmoke’s James Arness. Weird, right?
There’s an excellent 1982 remake of this film directed by John Carpenter. It’s got a lot more gore and harsher language. But if you’re cool with that, many horror fans consider it a vastly superior film. But around here, we’ve also got a soft spot for the classics.
10 Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
The 1970s were a golden age for made-for-TV horror. Really. A handful of these treasures have totally stood the test of time. ‘Salem’s Lot, Sybil, Crowhaven Farm, Trilogy of Terror ;all good stuff, and modern cult classics that can be found on DVD or digital. Another such gem is the 1973 film Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. It begins with the standard horror trope of moving into an enormous and suspiciously bequeathed home. There’s a mysterious door that was cemented shut, and of course new resident Sally (the adorable Kim Darby) has to get to the bottom of it. When she does, she releases something that—you know what? We’re not going to tell you. You’ll just have to watch and see.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was remade in 2011 for theatrical release. While both films have much to enjoy, we still prefer the original. This film is clean, but creepy, surprisingly bloody, with an ending that’ll kick your teeth out. Not literally, of course.
Right now, we bet a few of you are bummed to see Poltergeist this far down on our list. After all, it’s the kind of film that scarred many young viewers for life. It hits on classic fears not just from horror films, but from life in general. Clowns, scary trees, thunderstorms, and vengeful spirits all have a role to play in this terrifying film. Poltergeist has been around since 1982, and it’s holding fast with an 88% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. Which makes sense, as few people know how to create terror on the screen quite like Tobe Hooper. He gave us ‘Salem’s Lot and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, too.
Most fans consider this film family appropriate. It does have some bloody and disturbing moments, children in peril, and an obscene hand gesture. But all of that is trivial compared to the fearsome time you and your family could have revisiting this chilling horror staple. Does anybody wonder how this movie might be different if Carol Anne had been sucked into an HDTV? This classic was remade in 2015, which we’re telling you only because you’ve probably already forgotten about it (and rightfully so).
8 House of Wax
If there ever were a king of Halloween, it would have been Vincent Price. He’s a brilliant performer best known for his starring roles in films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Simply put, he’s amazing. After all, how many people get TWO stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame? The 1953 classic House of Wax is one of the reasons Price became a household name, and it's remained a horror staple long after his death in 1993. House of Wax tells the story of Henry Jarrod, a brilliant sculptor whose passion is creating wax replicas of great figures throughout history. When he’s betrayed by a partner, he doesn’t take it well. The results are somewhat understandable, and ultimately, very scary. House of Wax also features a young Charles Bronson and a fun performance by TV’s Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones.
This is a wonderfully scary Halloween classic that’s great for horror fans of all ages. It’s also a solid primer to anyone you’re introducing to classic horror, or even horror in general. Price is fantastic, and the movie itself is thrilling without descending into Grand Guignol territory. A remake of House of Wax (starring Paris Hilton, for some reason) was released in 2005, but most horror fans feel that the remake is
completely and entirely avoidable.
7 Something Wicked This Way Comes
When it comes to unnerving short stories, few authors bring their A-game as well or as often as Ray Bradbury. Known for both horror and sci-fi, Bradbury’s work has been made into lots of films, including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and this pick, Something Wicked This Way Comes. This fine nostalgic film boasts a great cast including Diane Ladd, Jason Robards, Pam Greer, and the High Sparrow himself—Jonathan Pryce. It’s a dark and wonderful story about a carnival that sweeps into town, bringing strange occurrences and a mysterious man with it.
Something Wicked This Way Comes didn’t make its money back at the box office, which is tragic. This 1983 film is scary, delightfully atmospheric, and highly memorable, harkening back to a time when the “bad” kids got detention for “whispering in class.” Note: Whispering is how kids used to communicate before they all got their own phones.
Still, Something Wicked This Way Comes is an excellent watch that asks lasting philosophical questions.
The writing of Neil Gaiman has a darkly whimsical quality that’s hard to quantify. The work doesn’t shy away from the horrors of life, but still seems to profess that doing the right thing will make everything okay in the end. Coraline is the logical extension of the occasional childhood wish that your parents are impostors and that other, better parents are somewhere waiting for you to find them. This 2009 movie makes a few changes to Gaiman’s 2002 novella. The awesome cat has a smaller role in the film, and director Henry Selick invented an extra character. The Beldam though, is equally scary no matter the milieu.
Coraline is a mysterious and creepy film with a few surprisingly disturbing scenes featuring the “other” parents. The titular main character is a great example of a child who seems difficult (she won’t eat any food that’s made from a recipe), but it’s mostly because she’s just that special. Older viewers are sure to get a big kick out of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French). Other cool vocal performances are provided by John Hodgman, Dakota Fanning, Ian McShane, and Teri Hatcher.
5 The Nightmare Before Christmas
This movie is so popular, including it on this list seems somewhat redundant. Jack Skellington is Halloween's unquestioned mascot, even when he’s wearing a Santa Suit. Despite having a few weak plot points, 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is a highly enjoyable stop-motion musical, suitable for many rewatchings. (And if you watch the flick in HD, you can see fingerprints on the models!)
What happens when you live your whole life like it’s Halloween? Eventually, you want to know what Christmas is like. So does Jack Skellington, which is where the problems begin.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a traditional holiday film in every sense. Combining the talents of Tim Burton, Henry Selick, Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, and an utterly spectacular supporting cast makes this film awesomely entertaining, which is why it earned its $18 million budget back many times over. It’s big fun for movie fans of any age. And you really can’t tell that Skellington’s speaking voice and singing voice were done by different people.
4 The Addams Family
They’re creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and altogether ooky. You know who they are. The Addams Family brings Chaz Addams’ creations to life in a way nobody could have anticipated. This 1991 film features an amazing Halloween aesthetic, and a stunning cast that includes Angelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christina Ricci, and Christopher Lloyd at the height of their powers. It’s also the first film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. At the time, he was best known for his camera work in the modern horror classic, Misery. The movie presumes that we all know the premise, and immerses us in the action and conflict almost immediately. There’s also a sequel, Addams Family Values, which many die-hard fans think is even better than the first.
Despite undercurrents of implied violence, The Addams Family movies have a strong moral compass and espouse values like honesty, family, and sticking together when times get tough. This was supposed to be a trilogy, but the death of Raul Julia in 1994 means two brilliant Addams Family films is all we’ll ever get. Until Hollywood decides to remake it again, of course.
3 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
More often than not, remakes are not as good as the original films. This is even more true when the original film is a classic. In this rare case though, we’re recommending the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a definite addition to your Halloween watch list. Yes, the 1956 film is a beautiful metaphor for McCarthyism, and has a mind-blowing performance by Kevin McCarthy (no relation). But there are a few great reasons to sit down with your family and check out the remake. For one thing, modern special effects allow for a “monster” to be far more creepy and believable. For another, the cast includes a trio of fan-favorite actors that pretty much everyone can get behind: Jeff Goldblum, Donald Sutherland, and the late, great Leonard Nimoy. It’s pretty rare to see Nimoy in a truly great film that has nothing to do with the Enterprise.
This remake is a good watch for families because it’s light on violence, has very little nudity (just a smidge), and mostly clean language. At the same time, it’s terrifying. Once it gets scary, it really doesn’t stop—making it the perfect watch for Halloween.
2 The Birds
You can’t have a serious discussion about horror movies without mentioning the Master of Suspense himself, Sir Alfred Hitchcock. But how many of Hitchcock’s films have plots straightforward enough for kids (or half-asleep adults) to follow easily? 1963’s The Birds has a simple plot that’s free of fussy details and mysterious intrigue. There are birds, lots of birds, and they’ve decided that they don’t like us anymore. In fact, they’re completely tired of humans and all their egg-eating, thanksgiving-turkey-stuffing nonsense. So, they attack us, and then they attack some more. One of the most interesting things about The Birds is that it has no musical score. The birds themselves, along with the sound of water, cars, people, and maybe an explosion or two, provide the background sound.
The Birds has some violence of course, as the attacks get a little gruesome and the death toll gets a little higher than you might expect (though it's nothing compared to a modern disaster film, of course). The movie is devoid of nudity and harsh language, though there is one epic face slapping that will sting when you watch it. If you're looking to introduce the kiddies to the magic that is Hitchcockian cinema, this is a fine selection. They might not be so inclined to feed the pigeons at your next visit to the local park, though.
It’s easy to be jaded about kid’s movies. So many of them are boring pabulum, or glorified commercials for toys and games. More and more though, we see filmmakers with a passion for making smart, moving, and genuinely meaningful kids movies. Our number one Halloween movie pick for family-friendly viewing is the 2012 stop-motion masterpiece, ParaNorman. It was made by Laika films (who also made our #6 pick, Coraline) and distributed by the Comcast owned company, Focus Features. But don’t let that scare you; it’s an excellent and emotionally poignant film. It’s also got an amazing cast that includes John Goodman, Casey Affleck, Alex Borstein, and Anna Kendrick.
Norman is a sweet 11-year-old boy who happens to talk to the dead, including his much-missed grandmother. As you’d think, this power has its pluses and minuses. ParaNorman is chock full of scary business like witches, frenzied mobs, curses, bullies, mysteries, zombies, and parents who just don’t understand. It’s also got a PG rating, which makes it suitable for just about anyone.
Which of our Halloween movie picks do you plan to watch first? Tell us all about it in the comments.