The Best Halloween Movies for Kids and Families
10/20/2020 • 5 min read
It's the season for spooky and scary movies! But for those who don't know horror and Halloween inside-out, it can be difficult to choose a good movie that will fit the mood and also be appropriate for the whole family. Here are some suggestions for the very best Halloween favorites to watch with your kids and family. They’re scary good, but don’t worry, not too scary!
Hocus Pocus (1993)
After being released in the middle of summer (Disney executives wanted to take advantage of kids being out of school), HOCUS POCUS has evolved from a box-office bust into a holiday favorite. This witty tale of 17th-century witches transported to modern-day Salem is an absolute joy, led by three fierce, knowing performances from Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the witches. Director Kenny Ortega, who would later create the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL series, strikes just the right balance between goofy and creepy. There’s a reason it’s become a classic in the years since it was initially released – it’s that wonderful.
Back when Tim Burton was toiling away as an animator at Disney, he busied himself with "extracurricular" projects like a half-hour live-action featurette about a young boy who brings his dead dog back from the grave. Decades later, Burton returned to Disney and expanded upon the original idea, this time as an innovative black-and-white stop-motion animated feature. While not yet as ubiquitous as THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (which is totally a Christmas movie), FRANKENWEENIE is thoughtful and smart. It pays homage to the classic Universal Monster movies and tips its hat to Burton’s own macabre oeuvre. It’s the rare adaptation of a shorter work where the extended runtime doesn’t feel superfluous or unnecessary. Watch this one with your favorite pet.
The Addams Family (1991)
Last year’s computer-animated feature was a surprise smash, but we’d still recommend the live-action feature from 1991 for all your creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky needs. THE ADDAMS FAMILY is perfectly played by the cast, led by Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston, with a plot that is silly but fun nonetheless. The commitment that director Barry Sonnenfeld (originally a cinematographer — he shot the early Coen Brothers movies) and the rest of the team bring to material based on comic strips by Charles Addams is awe-inspiring. If you have fun with the first movie as a family, definitely indulge in the even-better sequel, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES. Snap snap.
Hotel Transylvania (2012)
With a concept this delicious, it naturally became a Halloween go-to. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, directed by "Samurai Jack" creator Genndy Tartakovsky, imagines a hotel run by Dracula (Adam Sandler) where monsters can take a vacation without fear of human prosecution. Things get complicated when Dracula’s daughter (played by Selena Gomez) falls in love with a human boy (Andy Samberg), threatening Dracula’s carefully-constructed environment while opening his sealed-off world to a new generation of more tolerant monsters – and humans! There are two sequels (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3, set on a cruise ship, is particularly fun) with another on the way next summer. If you haven’t already, it’s time to check the whole family into HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA.
Monster House (2006)
Overlooked when originally released, MONSTER HOUSE is a nifty performance-capture computer-animated feature about, yes, a monstrous abode. Produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, MONSTER HOUSE has the feeling of old-school Amblin projects like BACK TO THE FUTURE or the original version of "Amazing Stories," which gets a shout-out on the terrific MONSTER HOUSE musical score. It might be a little intense for some kids, but the movie’s extreme stylization should make the frights sit a little easier than they otherwise might. Plus, younger viewers might recognize Steve Buscemi from his equally iconic voice work in another monster-related franchise – MONSTERS, INC.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Only half of this Disney package film is truly Halloween-worthy, but that half is outrageously iconic. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” based on the classic Washington Irving story of the same name, follows awkward schoolteacher Ichabod Crane as he accepts a job in upstate New York and is terrorized by a (possibly) demonic ghoul. The story is narrated by Bing Crosby, who supplies the film with a kind of groovy sheen, and the animation, made before Walt Disney’s interests would be pulled towards theme parks and live-action features, is absolutely stunning. The sequence where Ichabod has to cross the bridge is still haunting and super-exciting. This is an animated classic.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
This one might take a little effort to track down but it’s very much worth it. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES is a perfect Halloween treat. Based on the novel by Walt Disney confederate, sci-fi visionary, and EPCOT advisor Ray Bradbury, who also wrote the screenplay, it’s a wicked little tale about what happens when people are granted their deepest desires, at a terrible cost. A sinister carnival arrives in a small New England town. Two boys are drawn to the strange sights of the midway, but one quickly realizes that something, well, wicked may be at work. Perhaps the first clue is the ringleader, whose name is Mr. Dark. He's played by a young Jonathan Pryce as a charismatic and ultimately evil figure. The rest of the cast, which features Jason Robards and Pam Grier among many others, is equally wonderful. With its unforgettable score, moody images, and fabulous effects, it’s an underrated classic from the Disney vault.
Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
A lovingly crafted homage to B-grade sci-fi movies from the 1950s and 60s, DreamWorks Animation’s MONSTERS VS. ALIENS imagines a secret organization of monsters that team up, with the help of some governmental oversight, to stop an even bigger threat to mankind. (This is really saying something, considering that one of the characters is a giant moth creature called Insectosaurus.) Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Hugh Laurie provide superb voice work for characters like a gill man and a 49-foot woman. The animation, directed in part by future GOOSEBUMPS and DETECTIVE PIKACHU filmmaker Rob Letterman, is energetic and colorful. This is an outrageously fun throwback.
Mad Monster Party? (1967)
If you have a beloved stop-motion Christmas special, there's a good chance it came from the Rankin/Bass production house. The same team also made a feature-length Halloween movie, and it is a hoot! MAD MONSTER PARTY? (that question mark is part of the title) features all of your favorite cinematic monsters as they come together for merriment and some musical numbers. Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller provide voices for this Technicolor romp, which wasn’t as widely revered as the Christmas specials when it was initially released but has become something of a cult favorite. Innocuous and charmingly old-fashioned, MAD MONSTER PARTY? is worth throwing into the Halloween rotation, especially if you’ve never seen it.
Had things gone differently this year, we would have already seen GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, a legacy sequel to GHOSTBUSTERS and GHOSTBUSTERS 2. That movie has been pushed to next year, so we’ll have to revisit the original GHOSTBUSTERS one more time instead! (As if you needed a reason.) GHOSTBUSTERS is still really, really funny. It feels as fresh and new as it did back in 1984. Few movies before or since have mixed comedy and horror so perfectly. The cast, with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson, is unstoppable, with every performer working at the peak of their respective powers. It might be a little intense or suggestive for younger viewers, but the references will probably go over their heads. The theme song is a must for any Halloween-time playlist.
Want to learn more about GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE?
All images courtesy of Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Embassy Pictures.