Scary movies can be great fun for kids. The excitement, the shivers, the pride of participating in a “grown-up” activity… they can all come together to form nostalgic, long-lasting memories for your children.
Your job as a parent is to make sure that things don’t get too frightening. You want your little ones to have fun, not nightmares! You’ll also want to steer clear of anything that isn’t thematically or developmentally appropriate for their age.
To help you out, we’ve created a mega-list of scary movies for kids that are broken down into age groups. We explain what the movies are about, and we provide ratings, run times and warnings about potentially disturbing content. Our age data is taken from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that monitors media materials and judges their suitability for kids.
Are you ready for some thrills and chills? Let’s get started!
For Young Children (5-7)
Scary movies for little kids are usually quite light on the actual “scares.” Instead, they’ll be funny animated romps about monsters, ghosts, haunted mansions and other Halloween-related topics.
Occasionally, there will be a moral message about misunderstood monsters and how it’s not right to judge people by appearances.
As long as you do your homework and make sure that there’s nothing truly spooky in them, these kinds of movies should be safe for elementary schoolers.
Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Where do monsters go when they want to relax? The answer is Hotel Transylvania. Run by Count Dracula, the overprotective, high-strung father of an 118-year-old daughter, the hotel is an oasis for ghouls, mummies, vampires, werewolves and science experiments… until there’s a security breach in the form of a young human traveler.
To make matters worse, he falls in love with Dracula’s daughter! Hotel Transylvania is much more “zany” than “scary,” but it’ll familiarize your kids with names like Dracula and Frankenstein, and it’ll be a fun popcorn flick for October 31st.
There are also several sequels that expand the universe, so if your child enjoys this movie, you can keep the fun going with Hotel Transylvania 2, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation and the upcoming Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Darkly whimsical, The Nightmare Before Christmas is an all-ages movie that combines catchy musical numbers with clever takes on werewolves, zombies and other creatures of the night.
The main character is a skeleton who lives in Halloween Town but accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town, leading to an obsession with the other holiday that disturbs the balance of the world.
It’s directed by Tim Burton and contains all of the fun, bizarre and visually enchanting elements that you’d expect from his work, and the stop-motion animation gives everything a very unique aesthetic. All in all, the film is a fairly gentle introduction to the idea that scary stories can be fun.
Made with the dual powers of Disney and Pixar, Monsters, Inc. is a sweet and family-friendly movie about two “monsters” who deliver harmless scares to children as part of their day jobs at Monsters Incorporated.
When a two-year-old girl wanders into their world, however, they have to work together to get her home. This becomes harder than they thought when they get attached to the cute little human!
Filled with heart and humor, this movie offers a fun, fuzzy take on the usual bumps in the night. It barely dips the tip of its pinky toe into frightening waters, but you can still use it as an excuse to cuddle up on the couch with your little ones.
Room on the Broom
At just half an hour long, Room on the Broom is perfect for young kids with short attention spans.
It’s based on a picture book about a friendly witch who keeps inviting more and more animals on her flying broomstick, much to the consternation of her cat, who warns her that they’re running out of space.
It’s a simple story, but it can show your little ones that witches aren’t always the scary, boil-covered villains of traditional fairy tales. It also has a star-studded cast that includes Gillian Anderson voice acting as the witch!
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
This movie is from 1993, so it might feel a bit dated to kids who are used to today’s razzle-dazzle CGI, but it’s quite charming otherwise.
It stars Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as a pair of seven-year-old twins who embark on a mission to save their aunt from a Halloween curse. It’s one of those rare films that’s truly appropriate for all ages; there’s no blood, no death and no bad words.
The worst danger from the villain is when she threatens to turn everyone into animals. Double, Double, Toil and Trouble can be enjoyed by even the smallest of audiences, so if you’re looking for something at kindergarten level or thereabouts, it’s one to stream.
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Based on the Disneyland ride of the same name, The Haunted Mansion tells the story of a family who moves into – you guessed it – a haunted mansion.
Eddie Murphy plays the dad, and as he encounters everything from tombstones in the backyard to disembodied voices echoing in the ballroom, he has all of the hilarious, over-the-top recreations that you’d expect.
This is a movie that will have your kids rolling around the floor with laughter even as they gasp and shriek at the ghosts, spiders, skeletons and witches in crystal balls.
Halloweentown is a Disney Channel movie that eventually spawned an entire series, and since it revolves around the same trio of siblings, it’s a great chance to show your kids some coming-of-age messages about growing up, trying new things, reaching new milestones and always falling back on your family for love and support.
The main characters start their journeys as young kids who realize that they have magical powers, and as they get older, they go through all of life’s ups and downs with a background of goblins, pumpkins and spell books.
The scares are few and far between, and there’s always a happy ending. You could definitely do worse in terms of Halloween movies!
The Wizard of Oz
Beloved by millions, the The Wizard of Oz isn’t a very scary movie, but it does have intense and occasionally frightening sequences that can leave an impression on young viewers.
For example, who can forget the flying monkeys that attack Dorothy? Or what about the fierce tornado that scoops up her house in the first place? If you’re wondering whether your child is old enough to handle the occasional scary movie sequence, The Wizard of Oz is a good way to test them with an otherwise safe and age-appropriate movie.
You might also be interested in the sequel, Return to Oz, though it’s considered much darker and spookier than the original.
With a main character nicknamed “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” you wouldn’t expect Casper to be a horror movie, and you’d be right.
It’s a sweet film about a lonely young girl who loses her mother and bonds with the spirit of a boy who haunts her new home.
The only things to watch out for are the frank discussions of death, grief, loss and remembrance; these might be a bit much for very young children.
Otherwise, Casper is a PG movie that’s just fine for younguns. It also has a whole host of sequels, including Casper’s Haunted Christmas and Casper’s Scare School.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
You might remember this movie from your own childhood if you were around in 1966. A classic from the Peanuts gang, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown follows Charlie, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the others during Halloween season.
They go trick-or-treating; they carve jack-o-lanterns; they bob for apples and explore pumpkin patches.
There’s very little plot, so it might be a bit boring for older viewers, but it’ll be a nice and wholesome Halloween-themed movie for younger ones. It’ll also introduce Charlie Brown to the next generation, which is always a plus!
For Big Kids (8-9)
At this age, your child might be tiring of toothless scares. They might want to move on from animated Draculas and Frankensteins into things that can actually make them jump. Here are a few kids’ movies with more intense scenes of action and fright that are still appropriate for pre-preteens!
The Witches (1990)
Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl, The Witches tells the story of a young boy who accidentally stumbles on a witches’ convention while visiting a hotel with his grandmother. When he’s caught, the witches turn him into a mouse!
While it has a campy premise, there are some legitimate scares in this movie, including an infamous scene where the witches reveal their grotesque forms hidden beneath their human exteriors.
The original book also has something of a dark fairy tale ending, and the 2020 film retains some of it while the 1990 version softens it. It’ll be up to you to decide which is right for your kids developmentally-wise.
The Goosebumps movie is a surprisingly fun and non-scary version of the books that scared the pants off of us in the ’90s.
It depicts author R.L. Stine as a reclusive writer who keeps his creations under lock and key because they can come alive with the right spell. When some teens accidentally activate it, he has to work with the young whippersnappers to get monsters like the Abominable Snowman and Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy back under control.
While there are a few scenes of intense action, there’s nothing truly frightening about this movie, so it’ll be a wild and family-friendly ride with things that go bump in the night. Adults will appreciate the nostalgia while kids will appreciate the fun!
Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away is an animated Japanese film from Studio Ghibli. It’s available with both subtitles and English dubbing.
While not a scary movie, it does contain some strong themes and potentially creepy monsters and transformations; it has a very fairy tale aesthetic not unlike the original Brothers Grimm stories.
The basic plot is that a 10-year-old girl must rescue her parents from a curse by entering another world filled with kami (“spirits”) who give her various tasks to complete.
All in all, it’s a rich, beautifully detailed film that draws on Japanese myths and folk tales as well as everyday cultural traditions, so it’ll be a great movie if you’re trying to introduce your kids to other ways of life.
Monster House (2006)
Hailed as “Tim Burton for kids,” Monster House uses a unique, computer-generated animation style to deliver thrills and chills to young viewers.
The basic plot is that a group of friends are trying to stop a man-eating house from terrorizing their neighborhood. After some adventuring, however, they realize that there’s more to the house’s story than what meets the eye.
A surprisingly complex plot unfolds, and with good characters, detailed set pieces and thrilling action sequences, a good movie unfolds with it.
Phone home with this classic alien flick from 1982. While the story is ultimately a heartwarming one, there can be some scary imagery for young viewers, including masked men breathing heavily in space suits and aliens having distorted limbs and facial features.
There’s also the infamous scene where it looks like E.T. has died, and young Elliot is begging him to be okay. If your child can handle a few gasp-worthy scenes like these, they should be able to enjoy the film as a whole. Who knows? It might even kick off an alien obsession just like millions of other kids in the ’80s!
The Boxtrolls (2014)
Raised by quirky, fun-loving trolls, the young human hero of this movie is immune to the sight of their wrinkled skin and jagged teeth, but the other humans who live above their underground society find them repulsive.
This sets off a chain reaction of events where the humans decide to exterminate the trolls whether they like it or not.
As you might imagine, the overall message of The Boxtrolls is about the importance of tolerance, but it takes awhile to get there. Until then, there are both fantastical frights and real-life scares about being judged and discriminated against in an unfair society.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Hocus Pocus is a cult classic from the ’90s starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as a trio of evil witches. The ladies completely ham it up with their costumes, props, accents and overall performances, and the old-school special effects add just the right amount of cheesiness.
As a bonus, since the film is set in Salem, Massachusetts on October 31st, this could become a yearly Halloween movie for your family! The only thing to watch out for is the subject matter. There are a few off-screen deaths here and there as the witches suck the life force out of others to maintain their own youth, which might be a bit too scary for very young children.
The rest of the movie, however, is a magical, fun-filled romp about a group of kids setting out to stop their villainy once and for all.
Scooby-Dooby-Do, where are you? It’s a question that’s been heard in many movies, games, TV shows and theme park rides throughout the decades, but Scoob! is the most recent of the lot, so it’ll appeal to kids who are used to the fancy and high-def graphics of today’s animated movies.
It can also be reconsidered a reboot of sorts; it tells the story of how the gang all met. One thing to note that its reviews are less than glowing, so you might find yourself unfavorably comparing it to the original cartoons of yesterday, but your little ones won’t know the difference. Ultimately, if they enjoy the movie, that’s what really matters.
Do you remember this movie from 1986? David Bowie delivered an iconic performance as the flamboyantly sinister goblin king Jareth.
If your kids are too young to appreciate him, however, they’ll still enjoy the tale of teenage Sarah trying to rescue her infant brother from the elaborate, monster-filled “labyrinth” that surrounds the goblin king’s castle. There are action scenes, musical numbers, riddles, scares, talking creatures and more.
Don’t forget the moral message of the movie as well: Be careful what you wish for! Sarah wanted her brother to disappear, and the goblin king actually listened!
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
The Spiderwick Chronicles follows a trio of siblings who are drawn into the world of European folklore, encountering all kinds of nice and nasty creatures such as brownies, trolls, sprites, griffins and hobgoblins.
While not technically a horror movie, it contains very realistic CGI for its mythical monsters, and there’s a fair bit of adventure violence with things like sword fights and dashing escapes from mortal peril.
It might be the kind of movie that unintentionally scares your smallest children, but your older ones should be just fine.
For Pre-Teens (10-12)
At this age, your child is growing up. They can handle the more mature topics and themes of PG/PG-13 movies, and they aren’t scared by the cheesy effects of movies aimed at little kids.
This doesn’t mean that they’re grown, of course, and you’ll still want to screen what they’re watching to make sure that things don’t get too adult, but don’t be alarmed if they start pushing boundaries about what they can watch. You remember being a preteen, right?
The Corpse Bride (2005)
Utilizing stop-motion animation to its fullest, most ghoulish potential, Corpse Bride tells the story of a groom who accidentally says his vows to the spirit of a dead woman, thereby condemning him to the underworld unless he can find his way back to the land of the living and true bride.
There are some serious topics in this film, including murder, but they’re deftly hidden beneath beautiful sets, imaginative details, whimsical musical numbers and a surprisingly emotional story. Preteens should be able to handle Corpse Bride just fine.
ParaNorman is often described as “a zombie movie for kids.” It’s animated, so there’s no gore to worry about, but it doesn’t shy away from the concept of brain-eating monsters and the terror that they can inspire.
It tells the story of a young boy who acts as a medium and speaks to the dead, encountering ghosts, spirits, zombies, corpses, skeletons and other end-of-life symbols along the way.
If your kids are familiar with the concept of death, it shouldn’t be too scary, but if you’ve yet to have the “here’s why Mr. Fish had to be flushed down the toilet” conversation, it might not be suitable for the younguns.
Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999)
One of the first Disney Channel movies to earn a PG rating, Don’t Look Under the Bed is also considered one of the darkest and scariest movies to come from its original lineup.
It’s still Disney, of course, so there’s nothing too bad about it, but certain scenes of long-fingered boogeyman have embedded themselves in the nostalgic nightmares of past viewers. You might want to stream it yourself to decide if your kiddos can handle it.
The basic plot is that a teenage girl is being framed for a series of pranks around her neighborhood, but the true culprit is a more sinister – and supernatural – one.
A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting (2020)
Girlpower rules the day in A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting. When a teenage babysitter loses her charge to a menacing, goblin-like figure, she’s recruited into a secret society of monster hunters, and they team up to save the child on Halloween night.
It’s more of an adventure movie than a horror movie, but the action scenes are tense, suspenseful and fraught with danger, and the goblin figure is a twisted and monstrous thing that might be nightmare material.
Parents should also know that there are realistic high school scenes depicting and referencing things like parties and drinking.
The Addams Family (1991)
They’re creepy and they’re kooky/Mysterious and spooky… This is actually a quote from the 1960s TV series, but as you’re probably aware, The Addams Family has been given many makeovers over the years. Which one is right for family movie night? It depends on your kids.
The 1991 movie is rated PG-13, and it has some pretty sophisticated humor, especially from the adult characters; it might go over the heads of your little ones. The animated 2019 remake might be more entertaining for them with its simpler jokes and gross-out gags.
No matter which movie you watch, however, The Addams Family will retain its surprisingly wholesome message with a loving family that just so happens to be into the mad and the macabre.
Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! There aren’t a lot of scares in Ghostbusters, and young kids have been growing up on that theme song for years, but the movie does contain some adult jokes and concepts that might fly over the heads of very young viewers.
You might find that they’re only interested in the iconic movie monsters such as the green Slimer and the giant marshmallow Stay Puft. Otherwise, feel free to let them enjoy the tale of four guys who team up to exorcise ghosts and spirits around New York City.
You might also be interested in the 2016 reboot that turns them into four women!
A dark fantasy movie made with stop-motion animation, Coraline is a fanciful flight into the weird, strange and occasionally grotesque.
It’s about a little girl who discovers another dimension in her house, but beneath its fun, colorful exterior, it’s actually a nightmare world controlled by a sinister witch who wants to trap her there forever.
The subject matter isn’t any creepier than your standard fairy tale, but there are many frightening scenes involving spiders, ghosts, heights, mirrors and children with buttons for eyes. This is one of those scary movies for kids that you might want to save for preteens and older.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls (2018)
The House With a Clock in Its Walls was directed by Eli Roth, a name that you might recognize from many gory and violent movies. This time, however, he reined himself in and created a “starter horror movie” for kids and families that’s only rated PG!
It tells the story of an orphaned 10-year-old who moves in with his aunt and uncle only to discover that they’re a witch and warlock caught in a power struggle with supernatural forces.
There are spells, corpses, creepy dolls, demon summonings and dark hallways galore. Tweens can scare themselves silly without actually going into the R-rated world.
Another movie that deals frankly with the subject of death, Frankenweenie is about a young boy who is so devastated after the loss of his beloved dog that he conducts a mad science experiment to revive him with electricity.
It works, but then he shares his secret with his friends, and they revive their own cats, rats, hamsters and turtles. The end result is chaos!
This is a movie with good moral messages to impart on its viewers, and its humor, action and animated tricks will keep adults entertained just as much as kids.
Be sure, however, that your kids are old enough to distinguish fiction from reality. You don’t want them conducting their own electrical experiments in the garage!
For Teens (13+)
Teenagers are too cool for goofy animated movies about singing pumpkins. Come on, mom! They want to scare themselves with hair-raising tales of murder and mayhem, but they don’t always know their limits, and that’s where you come in. You can safely steer them in the direction of horror movies for kids that straddle the line between “too much” and “not enough.”
Gremlins was originally rated PG when it was released back in 1984, but some of its darker and more violent scenes prompted questioning from parents, so it became one of the watershed films leading to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
It centers around cute, furry little creatures who morph into destructive monsters when their owners break the rules about never feeding them after midnight.
While their mischief is never too graphic, it does lead to some jump scares and suspenseful scenes of action and danger, and there are even a few fatalities stemming from their reign of terror. Despite the cuteness of the Furby-like creatures, it’s a movie best suited for teens and older.
Highly atmospheric, The Others is a scary movie that relies on shadows and whispers rather than blood and gore. It tells the story of a woman living with two small children in a remote country home in the 1940s.
As unexplained things keep happening around the house, she becomes more and more convinced that it’s haunted, but is that really true?
The Others is a fairly benign introduction to the world of grown-up horror movies, and with a PG-13 rating, it’s safe to show to middle and high schoolers. It’s also a superb example of how films can be frightening without having to resort to slasher-like special effects.
Poltergeist is another old movie that escaped with a PG rating by the skin of its teeth, but it definitely pushes the boundaries of “family-friendly” by today’s standards, so parents should be aware of what might or might not be appropriate for their teens.
There are monsters hidden in closets, attacks from malevolent spirits and nightmarish visions that distort reality. There’s also the famously creepy little girl who says, “They’re heeeere.”
This is a film that can really bond parents and their kids through a multi-generational horror movie night, but be warned that the PG rating is a very loose one.
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! You probably made this cry in the ’80s and ’90s, and now you can pass it along to the next generation.
It’s another Tim Burton flick with all of his trademarks, including elaborate sets, iconic costumes, off-kilter humor and cheerfully gothic aesthetics, and it withstands the test of time as a fun romp through the horror genre.
The digitally remastered version will make it pop from the screen even more. Are you ready to show your kids why Michael Keaton is a legend?
A Quiet Place
In a world overrun by bloodthirsty monsters with highly acute hearing, the only way to survive is to be so silent that they can’t detect your presence.
This is the premise of A Quiet Place, an award-winning horror movie about a family struggling to survive after the apocalypse. There are definitely scary scenes, including several jump scares, but the biggest frights are psychological.
How do you protect your loved ones in a world like this? What sacrifices are worth it? How can parents and children work together to defeat impossible odds? Bring tissues and a hand to hold. Though it’s only rated PG-13, this is a movie that will leave a mark.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Released in 1986, this cult classic tells the story of a shopkeeper with a man-eating plant who demands further and further sacrifices of human blood.
It’s a black comedy with lots of song-and-dance numbers stemming from its origins as an off-Broadway production, but beneath the snappy dialogue and funny, irreverent action scenes, it can also be genuinely creepy.
Additionally, you’ll want to watch out for bad language, death scenes and other elements of an adult nature.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
With blood, death and some innuendo, this is definitely a movie that you’ll want to avoid showing your youngest children, but middle and high schoolers should be able to handle it.
It’s based on the book series of the ’80s, and it’s basically a Goosebumps movie treated seriously and given a big budget for creepy costumes and special effects.
Some of the grislier images might even stick with you as an adult! It’s one of the best horror movies for kids who are truly interested in horror as a genre.
Love and Monsters (2020)
Have you ever wondered what would happen if a chemical apocalypse mutated the world’s animals into oversized, bloodthirsty beasts? Love and Monsters taps into primal, animal-based fears just as surely as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, but it has the benefit of modern, snappy dialogue and full-color CGI spectacles, so it’s less likely to bore your kids.
The basic plot is that a boy lives in a bunker along with the other remnants of humanity before deciding to venture into the outside world to reunite with his girlfriend.
There’s some less-than-stellar language along with violent scenes of struggle and survival, but it’s no worse than any other action movie, so it should be okay for teens who want some scares to go along with their post-apocalyptic adventures.
If your child isn’t already afraid of spiders, this is the film to do it! Arachnophobia is filled with shudder-worthy scenes of creepy crawlies making their way across walls, windows, floors, sinks, barns… and humans.
The plot centers around a strain of “super spiders” that are brought to the United States from Venezuela, but to be honest, no one watches this film for the plot.
It’s basically junk food in the form of a movie, but if you’re just looking for something fun to shriek and throw popcorn at during family movie night, it’ll fit the bill nicely.
The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
There’s nothing like The Twilight Zone for thrills and chills, but if your kid doesn’t have the patience to sit through black-and-white episodes from the ’50s and ’60s, they might like this more compressed and modern version.
It even comes pre-divided into smaller parts as an anthology movie! Four different directors took the helm for four different stories, including one by Steven Spielberg.
All of them are freakishly grim and gruesome. With any luck, they’ll make your teen realize that “old” doesn’t equal “bad,” and their minds will be more open to watching classic movies in the future.
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a genuine horror movie to watch with your teen, consider Lights Out. It’s one of the scariest entries on this list, and it contains standard PG-13 fare in the form of violence and swearing, but it’s just tame enough to be appropriate for high schoolers.
It tells the story of a young woman who must protect her boyfriend and little brother from a malevolent spirit that can only attack in the darkness. In addition to the heart-pounding scares, it’s also fairly imaginative in the ways that the tech-savvy protagonists keep the lights on.
If your kid has ever watched a movie and groaned, “Come on, why aren’t they using their iPhones?” then they might watch Lights Out and say “Finally!”