Halloween

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15 Scary (But Not Too Scary) Movies For Kids

Halloween is the perfect time for scary movies, so we’ve come up with a list of films with just enough scares for every age

Whomst among us doesn’t love the spooky thrills of Halloween season? This is the time of year for atmospheric creepiness and exhilarating scares. Kids like to get into it, too, but “scares” and “kids” is a sensitive matter. Because, yeah, we want them to be able to get in the spirit, but we don’t want them crying at bedtime and sleeping in with us until New Year’s Eve because they’re scared of monsters they saw on TV. But don’t worry: balance can be reached, as evidenced by these scary movies for kids that you can watch as a family!

The trick is figuring out just what kind of scary your kid can handle, and a lot of that comes down to age: what’s scary for a preschooler isn’t going to be scary for a tween. That’s why our list includes some information on the types of scares you can expect, who would likely be scared by them, and a highly scientific* “fright factor” scale measured in (what else) silly little ghost emojis! 👻 This can help you navigate which movies might be just scary enough and which you might want to skip until next Halloween...

*not really, but it’s fun.

The Wizard of Oz

HBOMax

Dorothy Gale has plans to run away from her Kansas home. But when a tornado sends the farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she soon realizes there’s no place like home after all. With the help of a Scarecrow without a brain, a Tin Man without a heart, and a Lion without courage — and a truly fabulous pair of ruby slippers — Dorothy ventures to the Emerald City to ask the great and powerful Wizard of Oz to help her get back to Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. But with the Wicked Witch of the West in hot pursuit, Dorothy wonders if she’ll ever see Kansas again.

Who might be scared: Preschoolers. The movie is tame, but the green-skinned, cackling Wicked Witch has been frightening little ones for more than 80 years now.

Fright Factor: 👻

Stream The Wizard of Oz, rated G, on HBOMax.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Disney+

Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King, whose spooky genius makes Halloween possible all over the world. But doing the same thing year after year has gotten stale, leaving Jack frustrated, depressed, and uninspired. When he discovers a secret door to Christmastown, he becomes enchanted by the idea of the holiday and is determined to take over. But when Jack’s ghoulish sensibilities permeate Christmas, things go horribly awry.

Who might be scared: Kindergarteners. The citizens of Halloweentown live to scare, but they’re quite friendly. Still, the spooky atmosphere and creepy characters might be too much for sensitive or easily frightened kiddos.

Fright Factor: 👻

Stream The Nightmare Before Christmas, rated PG, on Disney+.

Casper

Prime Video

Whipstaff Manor is a beautiful mansion in the town of Friendship, Maine, and legend has it that there’s a secret treasure hidden inside. One problem: it’s haunted by Casper, the friendly ghost, and his mischievous uncles! But when Casper sees a news report featuring Kat Harvey, the daughter of a prominent “paranormal therapist,” he schemes a way to bring her to the manor so he can finally have a friend. But greedy heiress Carrigan Crittenden has some schemes of her own; schemes that threaten the house and all who live (or... don’t... live?) there!

Who might be scared: Young grade schoolers. Casper is a friendly ghost but, like, he’s still a ghost. His uncles are less friendly and so are their ghostly antics.

Fright Factor: 👻

Stream Casper, rated PG, on Amazon Prime.

Hocus Pocus

It’s been 300 years to the day that the wicked and flamboyant Sanderson Sisters were hanged by the people of Salem for witchcraft. The locals still hold Halloween as a special holiday, but Max, who just moved to town from LA, doesn’t go in for all that hocus pocus. When the Sanderson sisters come back to life to resume their mission to remain young and beautiful forever by sucking the life out of all the children in Salem, it’s up to Max, his sister, Dani, and an immortal cat named Binx to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Who might be scared: Young grade school. The movie is goofy good fun but Billy Butcherson, Winifred’s zombie ex-boyfriend and the fact that the plot hinges on “sucking the lives out of little children” might be too scary for some, but just enough scary for most.

Fright factor: 👻👻

Stream Hocus Pocus, rated PG, on Disney+

Return to Oz

Disney+

We all know about The Wizard of Oz, but what happens after Dorothy clicks her heels and returns to Kansas? Turns out everyone thinks she’s gone insane. Auntie Em is worried, and brings her to a well-meaning but misguided psychiatrist who prescribes shock treatments. When a lightning storm hits the mental hospital, Dorothy escapes with a strange girl, and winds up back in Oz... but not as she left it. The yellow brick road is in shambles and the Emerald City is in ruins and all its citizens turned to stone. Together with new friends (and a talking chicken from back home) she must find a way to restore Oz to its former glory.

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. The scariness in this movie is more atmospheric than anything. Princess Mombi’s collection of wearable heads is a little freaky, as are the Wheelers. Early scenes depicting Dorothy in the turn of the century mental hospital might also be unsettling but, by and large, there’s nothing overtly scary about this film.

Fright factor: 👻👻

Stream Return to Oz, rated PG, on Disney+.

The Haunted Mansion

Disney+

Jim and Sara are workaholic realtors who are intrigued by a beautiful old mansion located in a Louisiana bayou. But they soon learn that the current inhabits of the mansion are actually ghosts, doomed to haunt the halls until the ill-fated lovers who once lived there are reunited in the afterlife.

Who might be scared: Young grader schoolers. Macabre themes and lots of ghosts and ghouls might frighten very little kids, but it’s a good level of scary for the elementary school set looking to be just a little bit scared.

Fright Factor: 👻👻

Stream The Haunted Mansion, rated PG, on Disney+.

Goosbumps

Hulu

Zach and his family have recently moved to Delaware after the death of his father. He thinks he’s found a friend in Hannah, his next-door neighbor, but is warned to keep his distance by her weird father. There’s a reason for the hostility: Hannah’s father is none other than R.L. Stine, beloved children’s author and creator of the Goosebumps series, and he harbors a dark secret. It turns out that all of the characters he’s created actually exist, and must be locked away in their manuscripts lest they wreak havoc on the world. When the characters are unleashed, it’s up to Zach, Hannah, and Stine to set things right.

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. The movie is definitely intended for a young audience but still has a few spooky tricks up its sleeve. Still, it’s a kid-friendly kind of spooky!

Fright factor: 👻👻

Stream Goosebumps, rated PG, on Hulu.

Beetlejuice

Peacock

Barbara and Adam Maitland are dead. It’s a bummer, but at last they’re in their country house (even if they can’t leave the house.) But when the obnoxious Deetzes move in with their strange and unusual teen daughter Lydia, the Maitlands attempt to scare them away without success. But maybe there’s someone who can. Enter Beetlejuice, a chaotic spirit whose "help" quickly becomes dangerous for the Maitlands and Lydia.

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. Beetlejuice is fun and funny, but some of the practical and animated effects might be a little freaky for kids, as well as the fact that many of the characters are ghosts.

Fright factor: 👻👻

Stream Beetlejuice, rated PG, on Peacock.

The Witches

HBOMax

Helga knows all about witches. Her friend was captured by them when they were girls in Norway. She makes sure her grandson, Luke, knows all about how to spot them: square toes, itchy wigs, and, of course, vibrant purple eyes. When the two go on a holiday together on the English seaside, they just so happen to be staying at the hotel where all of England’s witches are secretly gathered to unleash their newest plot to harm children: a potion that will turn them all into mice! Will Luke be able to warn the world in time?

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. Overall the movie isn’t terribly scary (despite being about witches who want to kill children), but the practical effects on the witches out of their disguises, especially the Grand High Witch, see above, is definitely creepy!

Fright factor: 👻👻👻

Stream The Witches, rated PG*, on HBOMax.

Ghostbusters

Amazon Video

When parapsychology professors Spengler, Venkman, and Stanz lose their cushy positions at Columbia University, the decide to form a new business: The Ghostbusters. Using their scientific backgrounds and high-tech equipment, their mission is to neutralize, capture, and contain specters, ghouls, and ghosts. When Dana Barrett calls them to her apartment after a harrowing encounter with a demonic looking dog, the team uncovers a paranormal phenomenon that just might mean the end of the world!

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. The ghosts that the Ghostbusters bust can sometimes be a little bit scary but, like, Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man are pretty funny so...

Fright factor: 👻👻

Stream Ghostbusters, rated PG*, on Amazon Prime.

*but, like, a PG in 1984, which is basically a 2021 PG-13; not because of anything scary, but the language and innuendo can get a little spicy

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Disney+

Infamous pirate Jack Sparrow is a captain without a ship. It was stolen from him 10 years ago by the wicked Captain Barbosa, and Jack is determined to get it back. But little does he know that the ship, and its crew, are cursed to live forever until they restore a haunted treasure and repay blood spilled in taking it. Swept up in all this are the well-born Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner, the son of Jack’s former shipmate, who holds the key to reversing the pirates curse and, if they’re lucky, getting Jack his ship back.

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. The pirate ship crewed by the cursed undead – including a creepy looking zombie monkey – are a little bit freaky, but the swashbuckling fun and comedy generally keep it from being too frightening.

Fright factor: 👻👻👻

Stream Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, rated PG-13, on Disney+.

Coraline

Amazon Video

Coraline Jones has recently moved to the Pink Palace, a spooky old house now divided into several apartments. When she finds a secret door in the living room, she crawls through only to discover a world fairly similar to her own, but better. Her parents are nicer, the house is more fun, and it seems that everyone there wants things to be special, just for her. But things are not always what they seem and, soon, it becomes clear why the owner of the Pink Palace never lets children board there – all of this has happened before. Can Coraline save herself, and her parents, before it happens again?

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. Coraline’s Other Mother (aka The Beldam) and the world she creates become increasingly terrifying as the movie wears on. Definitely quite spooky. The story also includes the Beldam’s other victims, ghostly children who warn Coraline to beware. They’re not scary, but the fact that the children died might be disturbing for some viewers.

Fright factor: 👻👻👻

Stream Coraline, rated PG*, on Amazon Prime.

The Mummy

Amazon Video

Librarian Evelyn Carnahan is an aspiring Egyptologist, whose ne’er-do-well brother Jonathan may have just helped lead her to the find of the century: a map to the lost city of Hamunaptra. The pair employ American adventurer Rick O’Connell, who claims to have been to the city, to guide them there. When they reach their destination, they unwittingly resurrect the mummy of Imhotep, and with him the ten plagues of Egypt.

Who might be scared: Grade schoolers. The mummy and some of the violence he commits – stealing eyes and tongues and all that – is creepy. Also the idea of the walking dead, otherworldly resurrection, and flesh-eating scarabs (don’t worry – it’s not graphic, just freaky) is certainly dark. But, as with Pirates of the Caribbean, the adventure and comedy keep the spookiness in check. (Also, the CGI is from the late ‘90s so... you know, that helps it from being too scary, too.)

Fright factor: 👻👻👻

Stream The Mummy, rated PG-13, on Amazon Prime.

A Quiet Place

Paramount+

Most of Earth’s population has been killed by seemingly impervious aliens, whose super hearing allows them to track and kill humans with ease. It’s how the Abbott family lost their youngest child, Beau. The family lives on a farm, communicating via American Sign Language and doing everything in their power to make as little noise as possible. But when a series of events leads the creatures to the farm, coinciding with the mother of the family going into labor, their survival skills will truly be put to the test.

Who might be scared: Tweens. The movie is more psychologically scary due to tension than it is traditionally scary (though there is some blood and action sequences). Depending on your particular feelings about big, insect-like monsters, the aliens can be quite frightening or cool-looking movie monsters.

Fright factor: 👻👻👻

Stream A Quiet Place, rated PG-13, on Paramount+.

The Sixth Sense

Amazon Video

Cole is a troubled child, but not in the way most 9-year-old boys might be. Day in and day out he is bombarded by the spirits of the dead, who don’t realize they’re died. Mistaking his affliction as delusion and anxiety, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe begins working with Cole, recognizing in him the same trauma as a previous patient of his who met a tragic end.

Who might be scared: Teens (and also maybe adults). Ghosts, tension, and plenty of jump scares abound in this classic. But the fact that there’s no significant gore (though there are some bloody makeup effects) earns it a PG-13 rating and so can technically be watched with teens. Definitely proceed with caution, however — this (excellent) movie delivers some varsity level chills!

Fright factor: 👻👻👻👻

Stream The Sixth Sense, rated PG-13, on Amazon Prime.