Halloween is a holiday that often gets attached to iconic slashers like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger, but there are many horror films out there for the whole family. October is for all types of frights, including the softest gateway introductions to young-adult streets toward fear. Everyone deserves to explore the darkness, no matter the age. Let’s take a look at some of the best Halloween movies to watch with your loved ones, whether they like to keep things spooky or prefer their haunts on the softer side.
Best Halloween Movies
James and the Giant Peach
Is James and the Giant Peach a horror film? Roald Dahl’s writing has always had a bit of a dark bend, which certainly makes its way into Henry Selick’s stop-motion feature. Can we argue against the gigantic mechanical shark, the aunts with insecticide, or the nightmare rhino? It’s certainly nothing more than gateway horror that gently introduces young viewers to some terrifying elements that could be entirely worse, but works as an entry point nonetheless. Not everyone wants to start with Freddy or Jason – sometimes machine sharks are enough of a thrill.
I love how Hocus Pocus has ties to both Child’s Play (David Kirschner) and Critters (Mick Garris) franchises — the Disney Halloween staple with story credit from the minds of genre madmen. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy can now boast their Sanderson sisters are decades-spanning witchy icons with the newly released Hocus Pocus 2. While the sequel does pale a bit in comparison, you better believe I got all tingly when the sisters reappeared and dove right into a musical reintroduction number. There’s so much kid-friendly Halloween spirit, from magical books with eyeballs to spellcasting to lavish costumes on these 17th-century Salem queens. Hate all you want, but the Sandersons aren’t going anywhere.
Disney’s Halloweentown is the kind of kid-friendly gateway horror that’s cushier than your child’s favorite plush animal. Kids ride a bus stop to a secret place where it’s always Halloween, and monsters come home from a long day of scaring humans. Frankensteins and Gremlins complain about how there’s scarier stuff on Jerry Springer, while skeleton taxi drivers tell awful spooky puns. Everything is meant to ease children into horror like a warm hug, from masks you’d find at Spirit Halloween to the uplifting and light tone throughout the films. Halloweentown is about celebrating the spirit of Halloween, which it does pretty well for young audiences.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
What’s this? A Christmas horror movie on a Halloween movie list? Henry Selick makes another appearance with his stop-motion collision between Halloween and Christmas, featuring a Skellington who refuses to stay stuck within his spooky Holiday realm. As Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, with help from Danny Elfman for musical numbers) explores the wonders of Santa’s duties, we get a heavy dose of holiday crossover that doesn’t negate either. From oogie boogies to — no shock — fabulous stop-motion designs, Nightmare Before Christmas is a timeless classic that dares to dream outside typical October boxes now filled with presents that bite back.
Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps adaptation is one of the better gateway horror films in recent memory, emphasizing family entertainment over outright chills — but it’s plenty good at the former. Jack Black is a hoot as R.L. Stine and the voice of Slappy, as teens must capture all of Stine’s Goosebumps monsters released from their pages. From giant mantises to werewolves to other famous Goosebumps creatures, Letterman oversees a story that incorporates them with such seasonal glee. It’s the perfect pre-teen monster mash, which still works on adults because Black’s comedy talents (citing Orson Welles as inspiration) span generations — a feel-good winner with so much Goosebumps love.
The Lost Boys
Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys is so much movie. Blood can’t just be red liquid; it’s laced with glitter to sparkle like gaudy disco Halloween decor. Vampires can’t just be bloodsuckers; they’re dirt-bike riding, boardwalk menaces with leather jackets and mullets. A cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Feldman, Alex Winter, Corey Haim, and more are going all-in on the over-the-topness of a Schumacher production, which is primarily why the film’s legacy has endured. From the Chinese take-out scene to dangling off bridges over fog clouds, The Lost Boys oozes style and attitude that’s so infectiously 80s. They honestly don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
For me, there’s no better Laika tale than ParaNorman. What a magnificent tale of life, death, zombies, and family. It’s an ode to the outcasts that references everything from Halloween to Manos: The Hands Of Fate. It’s a gateway horror film made by hardcore genre appreciators that doesn’t dilute storytelling for younger audiences but still appropriately holds hands. Laika’s stop-motion talents are displayed as monsters and ghouls invade Blithe Hollow, exceptionally crafted down to the tiniest undead appendage. The kind of introductory horror that assures audiences there’s warmth and a beating heart available in the otherwise stereotyped genre, but not without plenty of bumps in the night.
The Fear Street Saga
Over three films, Leigh Janiak ties together a slasher that honors the 90s, 70s/80s, and 1660s, all with distinct period elements. 1994 delivers raw Scream vibes, 1978 gets back to Friday the 13th basics, and 1666 ushers in the season of the witch. A strong cast, tremendous kills, and all-out supernatural warfare make Netflix’s trilogy a can’t-miss horror event that executes its concept — and characters — so well. I’m a 1994 lover, but that’s the glory of Janiak’s films. As much as I adore 1994, there’s still much to enjoy in the other two entries. What’s your favorite?
Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice drips with gothic extravagance that’s been immortalized by Hot Topic because it’s so irresistible. Michael Keaton stars as the striped-suited, green-haired spirit hired to drive humans out of their home, which becomes an onslaught of haunted mischief. From extra-dimensional worm creatures to shrimp cocktail hands or Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis’ outstretched facial forms, Beetlejuice spares no expense honoring freakshow imaginations. Some scenes might rattle the youngins, but nothing bad enough to send them screaming. It’s top-notch Burton, staying as weird as ever.
Alright, Henry Selick — leave some selections for other directors! Although, you can’t talk about Halloween titles for the whole family without including the Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline. A young girl finds a door to an idealized version of her home life, where her parents appear more attentive and caring…at a price. When the button-eyed versions of mommy and daddy prove to be more sinister doppelgangers than perceived, Coraline learns the dangers of escaping reality for the fantasies we dream. Selick once more tells a heartfelt childhood tale that gets supremely spooky in “Other World,” but never enough to frighten youngsters. Another heartstrings tugger, as Selick’s been known to create.
Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark
Chances are your childhood was haunted by the illustrations for Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Well, André Øvredal does a pretty stellar job bringing ghouls like Jangly Man and Pale Lady to life on screen in the movie adaptation. It’s one of those gateway horror films that’s of a more advanced level, when Nightmare Before Christmas turns from creepy to only fun. Øvredal doesn’t hold back when endangering children with haunted tales pulled from Schwartz’s source material, complete with crawlies bursting out of wounds and big toes in food. Don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you; Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark brings the scary.
The Haunted Mansion
Remember when Eddie Murphy starred in that early 2000s Disney movie about its Haunted Mansion attraction? Murphy plays a realtor whose summoned alongside his family to a mansion, which turns out – as per the film’s title – to be haunted. It’s said the film is inspired mainly by Disney Paris’ Phantom Manor, which features a clearer storyline about a bride, her lost lover, and the hauntings that follow. Disney fanatics will recognize the ride’s staples, from singing busts to dancing ballroom spirits to the ride’s narration of “Welcome, foolish mortals.” While it’s not exactly beloved, it’s still a spooky choice for the family to enjoy together that gets the Halloween vibes flowing — it’s Eddie Murphy doing his “dad with lessons to learn” schtick, after all.
The Ghostbusters have experienced quite the pop-culture run, starting with 1984’s original and continuing as recently as Ghostbusters: Afterlife — which will expand its canon with an upcoming video game. Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore exist in ghost-hunting infamy. From megaton marshmallow mascots to pink ooze rivers — without mentioning cartoon spinoffs and other media appearances — make the series a Halloween staple that the whole family can enjoy (sans some lewd humor). There’s so much to appreciate between Slimer’s antics and the killer ghost designs — as long as the levitating librarian doesn’t give you nightmares like this author!
The Monster Squad
Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad can be credited with many a novice horror fan’s first introductions, where they learned to fear and love their favorite villains. Classic creatures from Dracula to Gillman square off against young monster fanatics who must protect their hometown from their greatest obsession. They’ll learn lessons about friendship and Wolfman anatomy — they do, indeed, have nards — like any 80s adventure riff like The Goonies. It’s packed with horror reverence and storytelling love, bordering on slapstick with great creature effects. It’s got everything any horror newbie could ask for, ready to show audiences everything that scary movies have to offer. All that with an 80s coat of paint? The Monster Squad is an essential horror starting point.
Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play witchy women who make midnight margaritas and search for love despite prejudice against their kind. Broomsticks and levitation strengthen the bonds of sisterhood as Bullock and Kidman have a blast using their powers. It’s mostly a sunshiny take on being better than our ancestors until some exorcism thrills occur in the film’s latter half. Otherwise, expect something sweeter, less diabolical, and to be shared by covens at sleepovers as watchers giddily kick their feet in the air.
Tim Burton makes another appearance with the stop-motion Frankenweenie, a story about a boy and his undead dog. It’s more gateway horror for the lil’ ones, but does well as a Frankenstein riff about overcoming grief and dealing with loss. The dubbed “Frankenweenie” is resurrected because he’s missed, which becomes a story about moving on instead of trying to change the past. Or? It’s just a sweet-and-silly homage to old Hollywood horror about loving pets, monster science experiments, and letting the past stay dead but not forgotten.
The Addams Family
Has there ever been better casting than Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams and Raul Julia as Gomez Addams? The first Addams Family live-action film is dripping with macabre, as Christopher Lloyd poses as Uncle Fester in an attempt to steal Addams treasure. It’s filled with cemeteries, severed hands, and all the decadently gothic touches that made the Addams family so famous in the first place, bringing a delightful authenticity to Barry Sonnenfeld’s big-screen adaptation. It screams “Halloween” in presentation alone and brings all the creepy and kooky vibes horror fans crave — a true October treat.
Whichever version of The Witches you watch, have some fun. You’re better served by the original 90s film starring Anjelica Huston that has way more grotesque-but-gorgeous fun with practical effects, although Anne Hathaway is having a blast in the remake. It’s more of that gateway vibe about entry witchcraft content, with a darker bend based on Roald Dahl’s literature. Children have had it coming for a while — let The Witches fulfill a momentary catharsis as witchy women enact their sinister-but-playful plans.
Scooby-Doo has been delighting families as an animated character for decades, but that’s not at a loss in years. There are fan favorites like Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost or Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, but also a host of other subgenre explorations around the horror genre. Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase does digital terror, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness goes to space, and Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery features multiple WWE stars. Break out the Scooby Snacks and settle in for a marathon if you’ve got the time because there’s plenty of Scooby-Doo love to go around.
In yet another collaboration between Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter, a wedding is shared by the living and the dead. It’s Burton’s first foray into stop-motion, which he co-directs with Mike Johnson. There’s a lot of Victorian gothic charm that feels reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas, down to the underworld aesthetic of the Land of the Dead. You can still find plenty of Carter’s revenant “Emily” in Spencer’s and Hot Topic shops as a testament to its pop culture standing – maybe not on the level of Jack Skellington, but still prolific enough for a reason.
Remember this gateway horror mummy rom-com? Or, I don’t know, maybe centuries-old meet cute? Teenagers join forces with a mummy out of his element to engage in risky adventures, trying to reunite the mummy with his lover from over 4,000 years ago. It’s not particularly high-brow or revolutionary, but why not. It’s Halloween and you’ve got little ones around — you can do infinitely better, but also astoundingly worse. Wacky mummy hijinks ensue as goofballs try to help their dusty friend find love, it’s a tale as old as time.