While horror is obviously a very adult oriented genre that doesn’t mean kids can’t get in on the fun. In fact, horror is one of the few genres where even the most child-friendly material usually always includes an adult-friendly edge. In the 90s I was introduced to horror thanks to animated features that incorporated gothic themes and darker tones and over the years I’ve seen many quality products continue that trend using stop motion, computer animation and even live action. With a “Goosebumps” sequel on the way this weekend I thought it was the perfect time to look at some of my favorite horror movies that provide a perfect introduction for those still too young to embrace the more brutal aspects of one of cinema’s most popular genres. These are my picks for the Top 10 Kid-Friendly Horror Movies.
For this list I limited the selection to only PG and G rated theatrical films but I decided not to include films that are clearly geared towards adults even with a PG rating so movies like “Beetlejuice”, “Poltergeist” and “Gremlins” won’t be seen here. To me those movies weren’t really made for kids despite taking advantage of loopholes of the time to earn the PG rating. Because these are kid’s movies overall quality wasn’t the biggest factor. Instead I looked at how effectively these movies serve as an introduction to the horror genre for younger kids and how fun they are to watch this time of year. For the sake of this list I considered the term “horror” to include dark fantasy movies or any kid-friendly film dealing with spooky, dark or macabre subjects that are usually considered as horror themes.
Almost all of these movies have proven to be popular with adults over time too so even if you don’t have kids there’s probably something on this list for you to enjoy yourself. What’s your favorite kid-friendly horror movie? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list.
10. “Monster House”
Remember back in 2006 when we all thought motion capture was going to revolutionize animation? Well back then Columbia Pictures utilized the gimmick to bring to life “Monster House”. This animated feature showcases a trio of friends who discover that a local house is actually a monster that merged with a human soul to become sentient. “Monster House” sports some pretty cool visuals as all the humans were, in fact, rendered from using motion capture technology giving them a unique look and feel to their movements that kids can follow and enjoy. The monster house itself is really neatly designed using everyday household items to create different parts of its innards while the door and patio are obviously the mouth and the windows its eyes. “Monster House” feel inspired and imaginative even if today it’s a bit dated. It packs plenty of kid-friendly scares and rarely takes the easy way out which helped it become a critical success and a perfect film to kick off this list.
9. “The Haunted Mansion”
Years ago Disney seemed to believe it was a good idea to bring their theme park rides to the big screen leading to several movies based on some of the most popular attractions including 2003’s “The Haunted Mansion”. While not a very good movie per say this Eddie Murphy-led feature isn’t a bad film to use as an introduction to horror. It features all kinds of spooky characters and dark set pieces as well as an intense story involving a curse and a long-lost love. It’s a simple film with enough Disney magic and spooky backdrops to get the job done even if it does lack scares and isn’t very funny. It might be more of a chore for parents to watch, which is why it’s so low on this list, but there’s a reason Disney continues to replay the film on Freeform every October because despite its flaws “The Haunted Mansion” still contains an odd charm that reminds viewers that just because something look incredibly dark and creepy that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and family friendly.
8. “Corpse Bride”
“Corpse Bride” may be the one film on this list that some could look at and question if it’s really a horror film, but this 2005 dark fantasy directed by Mike Johnson and Tim Burton sports a macabre atmosphere and spooky themes that make it the perfect pseudo-horror feature for young audiences to grasp. The story focuses on a groom who gets cold feet on his wedding day before he inadvertently awakens a dead bride and helps her unravel the mystery of her demise. “Corpse Bride” packs plenty of dark visuals that create an atmosphere that’s both chilling and immersive while the character models are suitably odd in their own right. It’s pleasantly dark and focuses on some pretty mature themes that give it that perfect horrific edge without taking things to the extreme. Like another Tim Burton project on this list that I’ll touch on later “Corpse Bride” provides the perfect opportunity for any young viewer to embrace the darker side of animation without going too far into the realm of horror which has helped it become a stop motion classic.
Alright so we all know the story. Casper is a friendly ghost rather than a scary one subverting the traditional belief that ghosts are there to haunt and torture the residents or visitors of their home. Well that’s what he was expected to do when a paranormal author and his daughter move in at the beginning of this 1995 fantasy film. Like “Corpse Bride” some might argue that this isn’t really a horror movie, but once we meet Casper’s three brothers and they try to scare the new residents away we get plenty of kid-friendly spooks and the atmosphere, set design and the fact that the whole story takes place around Halloween pretty much makes it a de-factor child friendly horror feature. This one will probably not scare your kids, but it will introduce them to the supernatural which is a staple of the horror genre as a whole. It also includes nice nods to other family friendly horror classics like “Ghostbusters”. Casper’s big screen adventure may have not gotten a lot of love when it was initially released but as years have passed it’s taken its place as a Halloween season staple and one of the most delightfully fun kid’s horror films on this list.
6. “Hocus Pocus”
Alright so hear me out. You’d think the 1993 cult classic “Hocus Pocus” would be higher on this list, right? Well while it does have its merits there are plenty of other more fitting kid friendly horror movies that I have yet to touch on. That said though “Hocus Pocus” is not only a perfect introductory horror tale it’s practically the go-to such film today although children of the modern generation may have a hard time relating to its world because of the dated references. Still this tale of a young man and his allies having to fend off a trio of sister witches he unintentionally freed is a downright perfect children’s horror feature that also packs some effective adult humor and even focuses on the need for a virgin to complete a spell…good luck explaining to your kids what exactly a virgin is folks. Anyways it’s a classic tale that has somehow remained timeless despite its age and is shown yearly on syndication for young viewers to enjoy as Halloween approaches so it’s a worthy addition to this countdown.
Like “Casper”, the 2015 “Goosebumps” movie isn’t really scary, but it brings several horror elements to the table. Inspired by the works of legendary children’s horror author R.L. Stine, who is often considered the Stephen King of kid friendly scary novels, the “Goosebumps” movie is the newest entry on this list and brings many of Stine’s famous book characters to life including possibly his most famous creation Slappy the doll. “Goosebumps” is quite literally a perfect starting point for any kid looking to see what horror is all about. It contains numerous monsters and creepy scenarios while the narrative also trusts the young audience to be able to handle some pretty creepy imagery and ideas. It’s not the best movie in the world, but it packs a lot of charm and has quickly become a modern kid-friendly horror staple balancing out it’s creep factor with great humor and even a bit of subtle self-awareness. It’s worth checking out especially with the sequel on the way.
Often overlooked in favor of other stop motion products, 2012’s “ParaNorman” has earned quite a cult following since its premier. The story focuses on the titular Norman who can communicate with ghosts which leads him to be responsible for ending a witch’s curse. “ParaNorman” balances its spooky atmosphere and macabre subject matter with family-friendly themes all brought to life through some slick stop motion animation strategies and designs. The detail put into the dead characters can be a bit unsettling, but that only adds to the movie’s charm. As one of several stop motion movies on this list “ParaNorman” deserves more respect than it tends to get providing a fun story that’s dark and chilling but also fun and lighthearted. It’s a perfect blend of what makes horror so fun and fascinating as well as what makes it so creepy and morbid which for me makes it a must see for both children and parents alike.
3. “The Witches”
The witch is among the most popular monsters in cinema history and while many movies have featured such a character one of the most famous and nostalgic is “The Witches”, a 1990 fantasy horror film that, believe it or not, was in fact made with kids in mind. It was actually based on a Roald Dahl children’s novel, but it was released in the 90s and what was considered kid friendly was a bit more extreme than what is acceptable today. “The Witches” contains some incredibly well-designed witch characters who are stealing and killing children leaving a boy and his grandmother trying to stop them. One of the movie’s most famous scenes is when the witches shed their disguises to show their true selves. That scene alone serves as a fine introduction for any child to the general concept of horror. It’s a fun film that was ignored upon its release, but its legacy has built over the years to make it a nostalgic cult classic. It’s a fun flick that both parent and child can enjoy despite being one of the more disturbing films on this list.
2. “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
One of most balanced dark fantasy films ever made, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a perfectly executed blend of adult friendly concepts and visuals and child friendly flair and fun. Even today it’s near impossible to escape this 1993 stop motion classic with merchandise littering store shelves for both Halloween AND Christmas yearly and the likes of Jack Skellington and Sally remaining timeless characters to this day even for a generation born two decades after the film’s release. If you’re kids haven’t watched this movie yet I don’t know what to tell you. You’ve gotta get on that. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” sports a perfect spooky atmosphere and some absolutely terrifying monsters who, in all reality, are just lovable characters with unique personalities that just enjoy Halloween. It provides some kid-friendly scares while remaining a timeless classic for adults to watch each year. Plus, it’s a film that fits TWO holidays making it all the more fun for kids and parents to watch together for three months out of the year.
While it was tough not to put “The Nightmare Before Christmas” at the top of this list I could not deny “Coraline” the credit it deserves. Based on Neil Faiman’s novel of the same name this 2009 stop motion classic is a masterpiece in my personal opinion. It showcases a young girl sick of her simple reality who finds a more perfect world hidden through a portal in her new home. That world, and its inhabitants, turn out to be much more than they appear. The result is a film that balances disturbing but tasteful imagery and a fun story and juggles moments of joy and levity with some seriously creepy and spooky circumstances for Coraline to escape. “Coraline” is the absolute perfect balance of what makes horror movies great and what makes children’s films so timeless and universally watchable. Adults can enjoy the dark themes and imagery while kids can get behind the characters and the sense of adventure. While it didn’t make a killing upon its release there’s a reason why “Coraline” has become a cult classic. What “The Nightmare Before Christmas” became for 90s kids “Coraline” has quickly reached the same heights for those born in the 2000s and in my opinion it’s an absolutely perfect kid friendly horror movie the whole family should check out.