The holidays are time for family and friends to spend together, and despite its spooky underpinnings, Halloween is no different.
There are two Halloweens, the one for people with kids and the one for people without. The latter is a drunken affair, with offensive and skimpy costumes, and the only candy garnishes cocktails. The former, however, is a different event entirely. Halloween means pumpkin carving, costume-making, and going door-to-door collecting all the free candy you can carry. To make your household a place where Halloween is a high-level holiday, you need the works. Decorations, spooky sounds, creepy songs, and of course the best Halloween movies for kids.
Just like Christmas with It’s a Wonderful Life or Easter and Ben-Hur, certain movies can help define a holiday for kids. Watching movies together is a nice, passive activity, whether stitching up costumes, checking candy after the haul, or just relaxing together. The best Halloween movies for the whole family can cap off a great holiday. Tradition is important in family life, but as the world changes so must they. Yet, no matter what changes come in the future, families have been sitting down to watch movies for almost a hundred years.
Aren’t the Best Halloween Movies for Kids Just Scary Movies?
Halloween is, without a doubt, the spookiest holiday going. Naturally, some might think that the best Halloween movies would also be the best horror movies. This is not the case, but if that’s what you want we have you covered. No, the best Halloween movies for the whole family don’t have to be horror. They can be scary, but they don’t have to be. They can be cute or funny or not even really related to Halloween at all. For example, even with all the Christmas movies out there, some families watch the Star Wars movies every year at Christmas. To them it’s a Christmas movie.
Done right, you and your family could end up watching a couple of these each year for the rest of your life. (That’s why we offer up so many, for variety and parental sanity’s sake!) These movies could partly be your kids’ introduction to Halloween in the first place. You can terrify them, but the smart move is to first make it fun. Once kids get excited about Halloween as a time of their favorite things, movies and candy, you can slowly introduce horror movies if that’s what you like.
What Makes These Films the Best Halloween Movies?
When it comes to subjective ideas like “best” and “worst,” it’s all a manner of taste. One person might think Sesame Street’s Elmo is just the cutest thing while another will think it’s a hideous red mop with an annoying voice. Still, when we talk about the best Halloween movies for the whole family, there are some universal elements. A Halloween movie should have some element of the supernatural involved, even if it’s only a suspicion of it. In fact, Halloween is a kind of celebration meant to scare away our fear of the supernatural. So, the best Halloween movies for kids, at least, conclude by showing that what everyone was afraid of was something easily explained.
The other element essential to “Halloween” as a concept is pretending to be something you are not. Sometimes we mask ourselves in what scares us most, like Batman does. But other times, we just want to dress up like Batman. Wearing a costume or pretending to be someone or something the characters aren’t is also key to making the best Halloween movies. You’ll see what we mean as you go through the list. Also, feel free to use these rules to make your arguments for your favorite movies as part of the Halloween tradition.
Are These Really the Best Halloween Movies for the Whole Family?
There is no accounting for taste, but all of the selections you will find below are both mega-hits and cult favorites. Not every selection is great for all ages, of course. We are including selections for very, very young kids and films for older kids. Some have violence in them, so be aware of that. However, as long as it is a family affair, most school-age children should be able to watch all of the films listed. Naturally, you have to decide as a family what is appropriate for your kids. That’s up to you. All we’re doing is letting you know that should you decide your kids are allowed to see these films, it won’t be time wasted.
If you have really young kids or are just planning for the future, bookmark this page because these are films your family could grow up with. Show a teenager Dora the Explorer’s Halloween special, and she will fall asleep faster than you can say “Swiper, no swiping.” But, if it was something she watched as a youngster? Well that’s something she might end up watching at all ages, instantly transported to those late October evenings on the couch with her family. It might even be something she would pass on to her own children one day, another family tradition that includes the best Halloween movies.
The 25 Best Halloween Movies for Kids and the Whole Family
The following list is no particular order. The suggested ages for the individual films will vary, but there is nothing rated higher than PG-13 listed below. Those without ratings are films that were shown on network television or were made before such ratings existed. There are comedies, soft horror, and cartoons below, so there’s definitely something for everyone.
The original Ghostbusters film premiered in the summer and had little to do with Halloween. Yet, the film and its eponymous theme song by Ray Parker, Jr. are indelibly linked with the holiday today. And it’s one of the best Halloween films for the whole family. This is one of those comedies where there are jokes for kids and jokes for adults, which the kids tend to miss. The film is the right combination of creepy and silly, Stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and the late Harold Ramis are effortlessly funny, and Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, and Sigourney Weaver are perfect in their supporting roles. This movie is many things. It’s a comedy, but it’s also a supernatural thriller. It’s silly nonsense, but it also spawned a media franchise. All of this combined makes for a great Halloween movie.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas
This is not the only Tim Burton film on our list of best Halloween movies for kids. However, this one stands alone from the others. Both a Halloween and a Christmas movie, this stop-motion musical is perfect for any season. The story of lovelorn Jack Skellington standing up for Halloween in the face of Christmas seems silly. But it’s a story anyone who has ever felt unappreciated or like an outsider can understand. It’s a film with a lot of heart, and a classic. The version linked above also comes with a bonus movie, Hocus Pocus, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Another Disney film, this is about a trio of witches. It stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Critically-panned, it went on to become a classic for kids who grew up with it.
3. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Kids today may not be as familiar with Charlie Brown as they were when he was a fixture in newspaper funny pages. Some grew up loving this fun-filled Halloween special when it originally aired on television. Others don’t know Charlie Brown from Snoopy. Either way, this brilliant special will make anyone a fan after just one viewing. From Vince Guaraldi’s iconic score to Linus’s wait for the Great Pumpkin, it’s a timeless family classic. Originally premiering in 1966, this is hand-drawn animation. Nonetheless, it’s been given an upgrade and is presented in 4K. It looks great, and remains one of the best Halloween movies for kids of any age (including grown-up ones!).
4. Boo! A Madea Halloween
Filmmaker and actor Tyler Perry built an empire on the back of his Madea character. Perry portrays the much older grandmotherly character in a series of musical stageplays and films. While Madea is an acquired taste, the best entry is this Halloween film. It’s a simple premise, Madea is left to watch her teenage niece on Halloween, and the girl goes to a party. It’s the ninth film in the series, and critics panned it. However, audience scores are all rate the film highly. It’s a comedy first but has a family-friendly message throughout. It’s a silly film but a fun one. If you are already a fan of Madea, you will like this film. If you’ve not seen these movies before, it’s as good an introduction as any.
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This film, written by Joss Whedon, eventually led to the multi-season television series of the same name. Yet, whether you were a fan or not, this movie is great for parents and older kids. It’s a violent movie, as the titular character has to fight a number of vampires and stake them through the heart. Still, it’s PG-13 violence not R-rated violence. While most people remember the series, the film is a good story as well. Often fans focus on the differences between it and Whedon’s original script. Nonetheless, this film is not without charm, action, and humor. Featuring appearances from stars like Donald Sutherland, Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens, and Rutger Hauer, what could have been a very silly movie is played straight. It’s a silly, fun concept that works way better than it should, making it the perfect Halloween movie.
6. Elmo Says “Boo!”
Perhaps while the rest of the family is watching Buffy, the younger kiddos could spend some time with their pal Elmo. This movie for kids features Elmo going to visit Sesame Street’s Count at his very spooky castle. Yet, even though it has the trappings of a “scary” story, there is nothing scary about it. Every creature Elmo meets is lovely and friendly, and they always have a song for him. The kids will likely be singing “The Batty Bat” until you think you’ll be driven batty. While it’s not all that long, any parent whose kids love Elmo know that they can watch him over and over again.
7. The Worst Witch (1986)
The Worst Witch books series by Jill Murphy has been adapted into two television series, the latest on Netflix. However, in 1986, HBO wanted to adapt the first book for an original film they produced with Central Independent Television. With a plot remarkably similar to the first Harry Potter film, a young Fairuza Balk plays Mildred, the titular worst witch. The film also features Diana Rigg of The Avengers fame and the late Charlotte Rae. However the most notable appearance comes from Tim Curry who literally swoops into the film for an insane 1980s special-effect laden song. Airing on HBO and The Disney Channel for the next decade, this is nostalgic favorite for adults of a certain age. For everyone else its one of those so-bad-it’s-good movies.
8. Universal Classic Monsters Collection
Of course, just because a movie is old doesn’t mean it’s not good. This next selection isn’t one but six films from Universal studios featuring their classic monsters. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster are just two of the classic films in this collection. These films are suitable for kids of any age but be sure to watch it with them. For those of us who’ve grown up seeing these characters everywhere, they’ve lost some of their mystery and danger. But for kids who are still young, these films are just as scary as they were to audiences when they were first released. It will also be a great lesson for them about cinema of the past.
9. The Corpse Bride
A kind of visual sequel to A Nightmare Before Christmas, the only thing this movie has in common with it is Tim Burton. This film is a charming tale about a taken to the Land of the Dead, and helping the titular bride find peace. It’s spooky and silly, making it a classic Tim Burton story. In fact, the Blu Ray linked above also features two other Burton classics. There is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which Burton and Depp worked on at the same time they were filming The Corpse Bride. Also included is Beetlejuice, the film that put Burton on the cultural map. Be warned, though, Beetlejuice’s language is not the best for younger kids.
10. Stephen King’s It
The two-part film series based on Stephen King’s best-selling book It is an R-rated, scarefest. If your kids are still too little for that movie, but not too little for scary spider clowns, consider the 1990 television miniseries. Marking Tim Curry’s second (and not final) appearance on our list, this version is family-friendly but still very scary. It’s a star-studded cast, too featuring Tim Reid, Annette O’Toole, and Richard Thomas. The series also features performances from the late actors, John Ritter, Jonathan Brandis, and Harry Anderson. While the modern film is full of jump scares and bloody violence, this miniseries managed to tell the same story on network TV without losing much of what makes it so scary.
11. Haunted Mansion
After Johnny Depp became Jack Sparrow, Eddie Murphy starred in a 2003 film based on a Disney World ride called the Haunted Mansion. The film was critically panned, mostly compared to the action thrills and scary effects of that pirates movie. Yet, this is a much different sort of film, and one that audiences (especially kids) have grown to love. In this film the ghosts (well, most of them, anyway) aren’t the villains. It’s over-the-top cartoonishness is deliberate, making what is a somewhat spooky ride into a silly movie for kids.
Okay, this is the best Halloween movie for the whole family that isn’t really a movie about Halloween at all. There’s no holiday element in the film, but it does meet our criteria. There is a supernatural element in that the main character is transformed into an adult overnight. Also, the main character has to pretend to be an adult in order to get a job and live as his “big” self. It’s also a great family movie because it’s all about how we forget what it’s like to be a child when we grow up. There is no better time than Halloween to remember that. This one may be a stretch, but we still think it’s one of the best Halloween movies.
Some movies that were controversial on release tend to seem less so in hindsight. Gremlins is not one of these films. A horror comedy released in 1984, set during Christmas time, it is much darker and more violent than others in this genre. In fact, this film was one of the inspirations for the Motion Picture Association of America to create the PG-13 rating. Still, it’s a classic film that expertly mixes cuteness and grotesquerie, fear and laughs, and somehow finds a way to perfectly skirt the line between prat-fall-style violence and genuine horror-movie bloodshed. The linked Blu Ray above also features the much more lighthearted sequel Gremlins 2, and another classic 1980s film The Goonies.
14. Nick Jr. Happy Halloween
If your kids are still Sesame Street age, then consider this collection of Halloween episodes from their favorite Nick Jr. shows. This DVD comes with more than three hours of entertainment for your kids. However, since they are broken down into 30-minute episodes, it’s a nice digestible size. They won’t lose interest, and the programs are eminently rewatchable. This disc comes with episodes of Dora the Explorer, Yo Gabba Gabba, Blue’s Clues, Wonder Pets, Go Diego Go, and Ni Hao Kai-Lan. These episodes are great to play in order to get the kids in the Halloween spirit without giving them any real scares.
15. Nicktoons Halloween – Tales of Fright
Keeping it in the Nickelodeon Studios family, this next collection of Halloween episodes comes from the Nicktoons kids of all ages love. From SpongeBob SquarePants to The Fairly Oddparents, there are a number of fan-favorite shows on here. Also comprised of half-hour episodes, this is another great choice for kids who get bored easily and parents who need a couple of hours to get the decorations up or the costumes ready. Of course, Nicktoons are shows that all ages can enjoy. Be careful, you might just end up watching the Rugrats or Hey Arnold! right along with them.
16. Something Wicked This Way Comes
This 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic horror novel is the definitive screen version of the story. The script was originally written by Bradbury in 1958 and then revised in the early 1980s by the acclaimed author once Disney purchased the rights. At the time of production, Disney wanted to produce darker, more mature films than their typical family and animated fare. The result is this deliciously creepy movie, packed to the gills with stars of the day. Jason Robards, Diane Ladd, and Pam Grier all play roles in the film. However, Jonathan Pryce, before becoming a mega-star, owns this movie as the spine-chilling Mr. Dark. If you want a good, family-friendly horror movie than you can’t do better than this.
Neither a horror film nor set during Halloween, Legend is an epic fantasy film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Cruise. A near-flop when first released, this film has since achieved critical and cultural success as a classic film. What makes this particularly good for Halloween, however, is also Tim Curry’s last appearance on this list. Nearly unrecognizable as red-skinned, horned demon named Darkness, he plays the personification of evil perfectly. If you’ve got younger kiddos, this film will likely scare them. But this is one of those good scares, where the story turns out all right in the end.
18. Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales
You can’t talk about the best Halloween movies for kids without talking about the original animated spooky comedy, Scooby-Doo. However you feel about the live-action films, no one can deny that cartoon series is a classic for a reason. This DVD features 12 episodes of the classic cartoon series, and one brand-new episode titled “Scooby-Doo! And the Beach Beastie.” Fans old and new alike rave about this collection, and it’s a must-have for any family collection, especially around Halloween.
19. The Bad Seed (1956)
This film, based on a novel and play of the same name, essentially defined the entire sub-genre of creepy or evil kid movies. The Good Son, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and even The Omen series all owe a debt to this story. There is no supernatural element present, save for the villain’s propensity for callous evil. Beautifully lit and shot, this film is the definitive version of this story. It was remade for television in 1985, 2000, and 2017, but all save for the latter were critically panned. Even the 2017 version doesn’t truly compare to this masterpiece of suspense cinema.
20. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
As if anyone ever needs an excuse to watch this masterful Steven Spielberg movie, this film actually takes place over Halloween. There is a very famous sequence where the characters take E.T. trick-or-treating. There’s also a fun moment when E.T. sees a child dressed up as Yoda from Star Wars and reacts with familiarity. In the Star Wars prequel films, George Lucas returned the favor by putting the E.T. alien species in his Galactic Senate. Still, this classic family film is perfect for the Halloween holidays or any time, really.
21. Bugs Bunny Howl-o-Ween
When it comes to the best Halloween movies for kids, you can’t ignore the classics, specifically Looney Tunes. This collection of three DVDs includes a number of spooky or Halloween-centric cartoon shorts. There are appearances by all your favorite characters. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, plus many more are all over these DVDs. This collection will be nostalgic for parents and grandparents. The characters will be instantly beloved by the next generation.
22. Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks’ comedy horror film isn’t just one of the best Halloween movies but maybe one of the best movies of all time. A kind of sequel to the Universal Frankenstein film starring Boris Karloff. The film used many of the same props from the original 1931 shoot. Brooks also shot the film entirely in black-and-white, not common for a big-budget comedy in the 1970s. He also edited the film in almost an exact copy of the style at the time of the original Frankenstein’s release. The credits appeared at the beginning, and the scene transitions were of the kind popular in that era. John Morris’s score is an original work, but at the same time it sounds as if was found in drawer not opened since 1930. Scary and funny, thrilling and sad, this is Mel Brooks’s best film. It may not be his funniest, by his own admission, but Young Frankenstein is a precious work of art.
23. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
One of the classic specials from the pre-Garfield & Friends era, this is one of the best Halloween movies for kids because it’s actually a little scary. It’s still Garfield, of course. The special most features jokes at the expense of Jon and Odie. There are catchy songs featuring the talents of the late voice actor Lorenzo Music and the late singer Lou Rawls. However, the last act features genuinely creepy animations of an old storyteller and the ghosts of pirates past. This is also a good one to show kids as a test before showing them some of the scarier things on the list.
24. Phantom of the Opera (1925)
It might seem strange to tell a story about opera in a silent film. However, the 1925 silent film starring the legendary Lon Chaney is one of the best Halloween films for the whole family. When people think of this story, they most likely think of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1986 musical. However, even with 12 other film versions of this story made, the silent film and Chaney’s take on the Phantom is the creepiest version. It’s also a testament to the power of good storytelling and filmmaking that a silent picture more than 80 years old still holds up.
The villain in Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty was terrifying, so when Angelina Jolie brought her to life in 2014 it was surprising to see was the “hero” of the story. An interesting twist on the classic fairy tale, this film mixes spooky and action elements like the best Halloween movies tend to do. There are masks and curses and comedy. Maleficient herself is something that, at first, seems worthy of fear but, in reality, is not. This movie asks us to reevaluate what we think of as heroes and villains. It’s a great film that the whole family can enjoy over and over again.
The best Halloween movies are the ones you watch with your whole family.
No film is able to please everyone, even the great stories we’ve listed here. Adults or older siblings may not want to watch the movies aimed at younger viewers and vice versa. But what’s really important isn’t so much what you watch, but that you took a few hours to just be together. If that means sitting through Yo Gabba Gabba or Scooby-Doo when you don’t want to, we do it anyway. Sharing stories is how human beings have bonded for as long we’ve been able to tell them. The best Halloween movies for the whole family aren’t really any different, they just have more jack-o-lanterns in them.
We hoped you enjoyed this list and found some titles that will work for your family. Tell us what your favorite family Halloween movies are in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you’ve enjoyed it!
Related Article: How to Pick a Halloween Costume You’ll Love Wearing All Night