Scary Movies -- But Not Too Scary -- for Kids

Horror Movies That Are Family-Friendly

There are a lot of horror- and Halloween-themed movies for kids, but this list explores horror and suspense movies that aren't necessarily aimed at kids but are nonetheless relatively acceptable for family viewing. These are movies that adults can enjoy that also happen to have a minimum amount of graphic violence, sexuality and profanity. Most are rated PG-13, so there is some mild naughtiness in view. 

A rare venomous South American spider hitches a ride to a small California town and spawns a deadly infestation around the house of a doctor who happens to be scared of spiders. From Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, producers of "E.T.," "Back to the Future" ​and "The Goonies," "Arachnophobia" captures the easygoing, family-friendly magic of those films while infusing a sense of creepy-crawly fun that will make you think twice about putting on your slippers, taking a shower or eating cereal without first checking the box.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)​​​
 

"The Bad Seed," even though it's filmed in black and white, should grab kids quickly with its young characters, theatrical performances and dark comedy. And when they realize how edgy the content is -- a seemingly perfect 8-year-old girl kills people to get what she wants -- they'll realize that black and white doesn't necessarily mean old and stuffy.

Rating: Released before MPAA ratings, but on par with a PG-rated film.
 

03
of 20

'Beautiful Creatures' (2013)

Beautiful Creatures
© Warner Bros.

If you're the parent of a tween and don't want to subject yourself to the "Twilight" movies, consider this superior adaptation of a young adult novel that also revolves around a relationship between a human teen and supernatural being -- in this case, a witch. Grown-ups who find themselves groaning over the melodrama of "Twilight" should relish this smartly written, well-acted, genuinely romantic film that unfortunately flopped at the box office.

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Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

In some ways the most child-friendly of Alfred Hitchcock's horror/suspense films, "The Birds" is shot in vivid color (granted, that makes the blood stand out all the more) and has a simple story that kids can follow: Basically, a bunch of birds attack a town for no good reason. It's a good way to introduce children to the mastery of Hitchcock; then they can complain alongside you when (and if) the long-delayed remake ever hits the big screen.

Rating: Released before MPAA ratings, but retroactively assigned a PG-13 rating. (Parental Guide)
 

It's several decades old, but "The Blob" is still an awfully attractive film, full of vintage studio sets, bright colors and superb special effects that will draw children into the story of an amorphous alien entity that consumes every living thing it touches, growing larger with each meal. Parents might get a kick out of seeing a 28-year-old Steve McQueen plays the "teen" hero.

Rating: Released before MPAA ratings, but on par with a PG-rated film. (Parental Guide)
 

06
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'The Conjuring' (2013)

The Conjuring ghost movie
© New Line

This is the lone R-rated film on this list, but the rating is only for "for sequences of disturbing violence and terror," so there's minimal gore, profanity and sex/nudity. It's scary, but older kids should be able to deal with this haunted house tale, which has a nice message reinforcing the value of faith and family.

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Rating: R (Parental Guide)
 

07
of 20

'Dark Skies' (2013)

Dark Skies alien movie
© Dimension

Sadly overshadowed by producer Jason Blum's other low-budget horror hits "Paranormal Activity," ​"Insidious" and ​"Sinister," ​"Dark Skies" has a similarly effective haunted house feel -- except this time, the "haunting" comes courtesy of aliens -- with less intensity and carnage and with young protagonists to whom kids can relate.

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Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

It's not officially a remake, but who are they kidding? This is Hitchcock's "Rear Window" for the 21st century, with a teenage lead (Shia LaBeouf) under house arrest who begins to suspect that his neighbor might be a killer. Older kids will eat up the high school drama and will stick around for the fast-moving thrills.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)​​
 

09
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'Ghost' (1990)

Ghost
© Paramount

Girls will melt into the romantic storyline between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, while boys can enjoy the supernatural thriller element of Swayze's recently deceased character trying to protect Moore from a killer. Both will laugh at Whoopi Goldberg's hilarious Oscar-winning role as a reluctant medium.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

A blockbuster-sized horror-comedy, "Ghostbusters" is fun for all ages, although a couple of scenes (library ghost) might freak out a small child. This tale of a group of scientists who form a ghost extermination service has become so ingrained in youthful popular culture -- with toys and a long-running cartoon -- that it's a no-brainer kid pleaser.

Rating: PG (Parental Guide)
 

"Gremlins" is a lighthearted monster movie that combines the talents of director Joe Dante (​"The Howling"), writer Chris Columbus (​"The Goonies" and director of ​"Home Alone" and the first two Harry Potter films) and producer ​​Steven Spielberg (um, well, you know) in the story of a teenage boy whose father gives him a mysterious creature called a mogwai as a Christmas present, only to have it spawn a horde of malevolent gremlins. Kids will coo over the cuddly Gizmo and laugh at the mischievous gremlins, although their pranks often turn deadly.

Rating: PG, although it's cited as one of the films responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. (Parental Guide)​​
 

Loaded with atmosphere and nostalgia, " The Lady in White" is part "Wonder Years," part ghost story and part murder mystery, as a 9-year-old boy (Lukas Haas) investigates the murder of a young girl whose ghost he's seen in his school in this story that takes place in 1962. However, the killer is still around and will do anything to avoid exposure. Dark and intense for smaller kids but very well made, tapping into children's fantasies about solving crimes.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

This haunted house tale has a mind-bending plot -- about a World War II-era British family dealing with spooky events in their mansion -- that might get a bit confusing for children, but older kids will find its ending twist "super keen" (that's what kids say today, right?). The scares are genuine but not overly extreme or explicit, taking full advantage of the classic, creepy haunted mansion setting.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

The opposite of "The Others," "Poltergeist" features a modern setting and a normal, everyday family who confront an in-your-face malevolent presence. The scares are potentially nightmare-inducing, feeding off of childhood fears of monsters under the bed and in the closet, but co-writer and producer Steven Spielberg ensures a level of playfulness, family-friendliness and overall quality unusual for a genre film.

Rating: PG (Parental Guide)
 

This mega-hit about a 9-year-old boy (Haley Joel Osment) who can see ghosts sustains intense suspense throughout, capped off by an ingenious -- and oft-copied -- twist ending. It's a bit much for smaller kids, but older ones should be able to relate to the child-in-peril plot.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

This adaptation of the Ray Bradbury book of the same name captures the lyrical beauty of the story of a devilish carnival owner who grants wishes at a price -- largely because Bradbury himself wrote the screenplay. Kids should find the two 13-year-old main characters appealing and their adventures intriguing but not too scary -- it's a Disney movie, after all. Older kids will appreciate that the dark, mystical tale doesn't speak down to children, delving into psychological thrills and the depth of familial love. Fans of the "Cirque du Freak" books in particular might find its supernatural carnival theme entertaining.

Rating: PG (Parental Guide)
 

17
of 20

'Twilight Zone: The Movie' (1983)

Twilight Zone: The Movie
© Warner Bros.

Directors John Landis (​"An ​American Werewolf in London"), Joe Dante, George Miller (​"The Witches of Eastwick," the Mad Max movies) and Steven Spielberg adapt the classic TV show for the big screen with four short stories -- two of them horror-themed -- that actually teach lessons about tolerance and selflessness. Kids with short attention spans won't have to stick with the stories for very long and should find the quick-moving supernatural tales involving. None of the scares is especially intense, and one of the two horror tales is told in a joking, cartoonish fashion.

Rating: PG (Parental Guide)
 

18
of 20

'The Village' (2004)

The Village
© Buena Vista

Because M. Night Shyamalan's film about a remote village's encounters with creatures the nearby woods has a period setting, there's little profanity to worry about, nor is there nudity, and the violence is fairly muted in what plays a bit like a dark fairy tale with a cool twist ending.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
 

The tale of two young sisters who experience otherworldly encounters after their family moves into a secluded country home, "The Watcher in the Woods" represents Disney's attempt to go toward more mature material in the early '80s (see also "Something Wicked This Way Comes"). However, despite initial desires to create an ​"Exorcist"-type phenomenon, studio execs diluted the film's content to remove overly dark content -- including a completely overhauled ending. Still, though the finale is a bit nonsensical, the journey is atmospheric and presents a not-too-scary mystery that should intrigue children -- particularly girls who identify with the young heroines.

Rating: PG (Parental Guide)
 

Like "Disturbia," this engrossing ghost story mines Hitchcockian roots to tell the tale of a housewife who suspects that her neighbor's ghost is haunting her house. The movie has genuine scares and a story involving sex and murder, but family-friendly director Robert Zemeckis (​"Back to the Future," ​"Forrest Gump") never allows it to become explicit or gratuitous. Older kids should find the plot's twists and turns thrilling to follow.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)​