I adore Halloween and, by extension, I love Halloween movies. But not all of them are family-friendly, and children with nightmares is no fun! Here's a starter list of films that you can enjoy with your kids (with some discretion).
The classic comedy duo cross paths with Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's monster in what is widely considered one of their best films, with Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney reprising their iconic roles.
Cary Grant stars in this classic romantic comedy that also has hidden corpses, murderous old ladies, insane relatives, and a torturous criminal disfigured by plastic surgery. It's all in good fun though, and it's a blast to see Grant so comedically hammy.
Featuring a pre-30 Rock Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis (remember her?), Winona Ryder, and Michael Keaton in the title role, the real star of this film is director Tim Burton, whose darkly funny and wildly creative take on the afterlife fills every frame with imagination and zeal.
Writer-director Richard Dutcher's underrated “Mormon murder mystery” is well acted and highly accessible to audiences of all faiths, using the culture and religion not to convert audiences, but to flavor the story. Tastefully (and effectively) leaves most of the violence to our imagination. In its examination of a once-peaceful small town torn apart by fear and mistrust, it feels totally real, making it truly scary and profoundly moving.
Like a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, this visually dazzling film serves as cautionary tale for kids. The creepiest PG film I've ever seen, but also a well-told story with a strong female lead and surprising moral lessons.
Decades before his work in The Lord of the Rings and the Star Wars prequels, Christopher Lee was the horror icon of the 1950's and 1960's, here portraying Frankenstein's monster (further down the list he's Dracula and the Mummy).
Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Serenity) gives us this hilarious, low-budget, Emmy-winning internet sensation. It's a 45-minute musical about an aspiring mad scientist/supervillain (Neil Patrick Harris, Doogie Howser, How I Met Your Mother) and his efforts to keep the girl of his dreams away from his arch nemesis, the narcissistic superhero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, Castle, Firefly). The dialogue zings and the songs are truly catchy (clip has mild language).
From Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, this is a film that I include with some reservation, as it's definitely not for everyone. It's the closest thing to a true horror film on this list. But it's so intentionally silly, so wildly creative, and its version of demons and Hell so far off the radar as to be pure fantasy, that I thought it was a lot of fun. Imagine a mixture of the dread found in the old Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, the absurd violence and gross-out humor of an Itchy and Scratchy episode, and the madcap energy of Looney Toons. If that sounds good to you, go for it. If not, move along to something more your taste.
A few Halloweens ago I watched all of the original Universal monster movies of the 1930's (Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, etc.) and these two are the only ones that hold up well after all these years. Creative, iconic, scary, and surprisingly touching.
Tim Burton's delightful stop-motion treat is a fine mixture of his early work and classic monster movies. Essentially a boy-and-his-dog version of the Frankenstein legend, Frankenweenie is a triumph of design, with wonderful characters, a killer third act, and a heartwarming finale.
Though Deathly Hallows Part Two is my favorite in the series, this is the best standalone film and easily the most Halloween-ready. Ghostly soul-sucking dementors, a convicted murderer on the loose, a werewolf, crystal balls, pumpkins, witches, wizards, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and Alfonso Cuaron's brilliant direction. This terrific film also happens to feature wonderful moral messages and the powerful truth that light and hope dissipate darkness and despair.
I didn't care for the original Hellboy, a movie about Satan's son who turns against his father and fights for good; I thought it was a cool idea, but the movie was flat and under-cooked. I was extremely surprised, therefore, that this sequel was a terrific standalone action film that fixed all the problems of the predecessor. Getting lost in 2008's summer superhero shuffle amidst The Dark Knight and Iron Man, this is an overlooked gem that you can enjoy even if you've not seen Part One. Funny and scary, with wonderful characters, wildly creative design, and rockin' action.
Lighthearted animated romp is a fine choice for the whole family; it's funny and touching, with a wonderful gathering of classic monsters as Dracula tries to keep his daughter from falling in love with a human at his hotel, hid deep within a haunted forest, that serves as a safe haven for the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein, and more.
Totally underrated. Though not as smart as Raiders or as funny as Last Crusade, it's far better than Crystal Skull (a film that I don't consider to be Indy canon). Temple of Doom is a perfect Halloween movie. You've got gross-out humor (monkey brains, anyone?), nail-biting suspense (the spike room), and creepy crawly insects by the thousands. For 20 minutes it turns into a straight-up horror movie, depicting the voodoo-practicing, blood-drinking, brain-washing, and heart-pulling practices of an evil child-enslaving cult. But then it unleashes the fury of Dr. Jones, and I've never found the character more heroic than when he's kicking evil's butt and returning those children joyously to their loving families. Short Round is funny, and even Kate Capshaw's incessant screaming is tolerable if one considers that TofD is meant to tip the hat to classic horror films, where women screamed all the time. I've grown to love this film.
If you've never seen Mystery Science Theatre 3000, buckle up. These guys take something potentially annoying (talking during a movie) and turn it into an art form as they mock terrible old sci-fi movies with merciless wit. This film version is a great first sample for newbies.
A moderate success upon its release in 1993, this stop-motion classic has grown in pop-culture influence over the years and is now considered requisite Halloween viewing by many, including myself. Glorious design and perfect music by Danny Elfman.
Normally I don't care for haunted house movies, but this one stands apart. It's intelligent, well-acted, and atmospheric with a terrific twist. It's also, for me, just scary enough without overdoing it.
A nice mixture of genuine scares, laughs, and heart, this stop-motion delight from the makers of Coraline finds an eleven-year-old who talks with ghosts as the only one who can prevent a witch's curse and a zombie invasion from being unleashed on his small town. Nice messages about tolerance, friendship, and love overcoming hate, mixed in with a loving tribute to 80's horror. Creepy with some mature humor, this PG film is best for older kids, teens, and adults.
The film version of Andrew Lloyed Webber's smash hit musical was somewhat panned by critics, but then, so was the enormously successful stage play. There's enough gothic atmosphere and murderous scares for the holiday, but there's also wonderful music, stirring romance, and terrific spectacle. Emmy Rossum makes for a terrific Christine, and Gerard Butler, though his vocals are merely adequate, gives a smoldering performance as the dreaded “opera ghost.”
Christopher Nolan's underrated obsessed magician's thriller features a dependably solid performance by Christian Bale, with Hugh Jackman raising the bar for himself to match it. Perfect if you're looking for intelligence and chills instead of flat-out terror.
Hands-down my favorite Halloween movie, this British zombie comedy is rated R, but an edited version is often on Comedy Central if you want to watch it with your older kids. Though it's scary, it is first and foremost a comedy, with clever dialogue, wonderful characters, and dark humor belly laughs galore.
Every bit as good as you remember, this one is truly frightening, but also wonderfully moving. Haley Joel Osment gives one of the all-time best child actor performances and in many respects Bruce Willis has never been better. As for the ending, now that the surprise twist is common knowledge, go back and watch how touching it is.
The Mystery Science Theatre 3000 guys take the story of Edward and Bella and turn it into one of my favorite comedy series, as they provide hysterically cruel commentary all along the way. Available for downloadhere.
I hated this when I first saw it, but it's grown on me as a guilty pleasure. Van Helsing is an aggressively stupid hodgepodge of classic Universal monster movies and modern action sensibilities, but if you go with the flow, it can be an eye-rolling good time.
Mismarketed as a thriller, The Village disappointed audiences looking for scares and death, but a re-examination shows that it's actually a moving romance, a smart character study, and an engrossing morality fable with some spooky undertones.
Another R-rated one some families might want to find on TV, I was surprised to find actual character arcs and emotional engagement to go along with the giggles and jumps.
I hope this was helpful! I leave you now with a personal Halloween favorite!
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.