Halloween is the one night a year when you can scare the socks off of other people and even yourself. But what if you don’t want to scare you or the kids with bone-chilling horror movies? The answer is to watch, what I call, ‘not-so-scary’ scary movies. Luckily, there are a surprising number of great family-friendly Halloween movies to choose from that won’t give anyone nightmares.
What are ‘not-so-scary’ movies you might ask? Good question. Not-so-scary movies are films that are spooky, but not actually scary. Sure they might have the occasional jump scare or spooky character, but they aren’t going to keep you up all night clutching a baseball bat. Heck, some of the movies on this list are downright adorable.
You’re welcome to watch The Orphanage (2007) and scare the living crap out of yourself. I’ll be over here hanging out with Beetlejuice. If you can’t quite stomach classic horror movies like The Exorcist (1973) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) there are plenty of not-so-spooky Halloween alternatives. Here are ten of the best family-friendly Halloween movies that you can enjoy in the privacy (and protection!) of your own home, any night of the year.
10. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
So this is, admittedly, a Christmas movie as well as a Halloween film. But if you want a bit of a fright, you can watch it any time of the year. One of Tim Burton’s masterpieces, it takes on a Dr. Suess’ The Grinch kind of feel as Santa is blown into another land, and Christmas takes on a new form. The Nightmare Before Christmas is as fun as it is creepy, which is down to the naivety of the protagonist, Jack Skellington. After falling into ‘Christmas land’, he sings:
“There’s children throwing snowballs / instead of throwing heads / they’re busy building toys / and absolutely no one’s dead!”
Jack Skellington is a wonderful character, and great for the whole family. His child-like innocence wickedly contrasts with his spookiness, assisting the film in being hilarious, scary, and original. This is a classic ‘not-so-scary’ film for kids and adults alike.
9. Gremlins (1984)
Again, Gremlins is another Christmas film, (I’m noticing a theme!), but one which has a very sinister and scary edge to it that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Billy Peltzer gets a strange Christmas pet, along with three strict rules to follow: No water, no food after midnight, and no bright light. It is safe to say that all hell breaks loose when Billy breaks all three rules.
It’s still shocking how such a cute and cuddly Gizmo turns into such evil Gremlins! Filled with bizarre moments of violence — Billy’s mother Lynn microwaves one of the Gremlins to its death! — this film might not be great for really young kids. Still, it’s moments like these when you aren’t sure whether to laugh or be afraid. And that’s what makes Gremlins such a great movie to watch when you’re in the mood for something scary, but not too scary.
8. The Witches (1990)
As an eight-year-old watching The Witches, I can assure you that I was quite afraid. Anjelica Huston was the perfect Grand High Witch, domineering and evil as can be. Although Huston is generally typecast into ‘evil’ roles — the evil stepmother in Ever After (1998), the evil headteacher in Daddy Day Care (2003), the mother in The Addams Family (1991) — she plays an evil character well.
Not only did Huston absolutely embody this epic Roald Dahl character, but the cosmetics were mind-blowing for the time (and still hold up today). When she transforms into the Grand High Witch, revealing her ugly, creepy-looking face, I was floored.
The Witches isn’t (quite) as scary as an adult, but you can still appreciate the commitment that the film made to be a truly scary children’s film. That’s a tough needle to thread, but when you have Roald Dahl as your source material, it’s not too difficult to find the terror lurking just behind the smiles and Golden Tickets…
If you have an HBO Max subscription, keep your eyes peeled for the reboot of The Witches, starring Octavia Spencer and Ann Hathaway.
7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
If you want to stay in, snuggle up with your friends, and watch a ‘scary’ movie, what’s better than a bit of Harry Potter? Of the Harry Potter franchise, The Prisoner of Azkaban is the first movie that introduces much darker and sinister themes, best illustrated with the introduction of the Dementors. Their ability to suck happy memories away signifies a transition from wholesome family adventure to teen thriller/drama, much more like the Twilight series.
This installment also stands out because it’s the only film that doesn’t focus on the role of Voldemort. Voldemort is never seen or fought throughout the film. Instead, Harry deals with issues like revenge, truth, and family. All great themes for kids and adults alike. If you don’t want too much of a fright, this is a great Halloween movie for the whole family. Be warned, you might shed a tear or two.
6. The Addams Family (1991)
With one of the most well-known theme tunes known to man, The Addams Family takes a new spin on a dysfunctional family. And it’s great.
There are so many bizarre and lovely moments in this (now) classic film that really put what a “stereotypical” family really is. All of our routines are weird if you’re looking from the outside in. As a ‘not-so-scary’ film, this is one to watch with the family, laughing at the oddness yet normalcy of the relationships and story. No family is perfect, but this one is closer (and a little grosser) than most. A perfect ‘not-so-scary’ film.
5. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
This was the first feature-length Wallace and Gromit movie, and it delivered. Riddled with laughs and scares, at the heart of the film is a satirical comedy.
Instead of using the overused and stereotypical werewolf as their main sort-of villain, in Wallace and Gromit’s world, Wallace has inadvertently created a were-rabbit! If you want to avoid scares, the film pokes fun at its own British culture, for example, Wallace faffing over tea and Lady Tottington over the vegetable competition, which wonderfully balances the insane threat and mystery of the were-rabbit. It is a laugh out loud thriller, perfect for a family viewing or to enjoy by yourself.
4. Beetlejuice (1988)
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! Whoops, hopefully, he hasn’t come back.
Not just a film for Tim Burton lovers, Beetlejuice has a witty mix of comedy and slapstick horror which makes it an ideal not-so-scary Halloween movie to watch. Full of laughs (“six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot, punch!”), intriguing characters (shout out for Michael Keaton, who balances creepiness and narcissism perfectly), and bizarre creepy monsters (who can forget that man-eating snake?) Beetlejuice really is a fantastic film. And not just a horror film.
All the spookiness you expect from a Tim Burton classic, with a surprisingly heartwarming story. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, what are you waiting for?
3. Ghostbusters (1984)
Who ya’ gonna call? Ghostbusters! Ghostbusters is an absolute classic in the Halloween genre, with an unforgettable theme song. The storyline is hysterical, perhaps even occasionally crossing the line into the downright ridiculous, with moments like when the massive marshmallow man parades through the streets causing havoc. But this is part of its charm.
The cast is extremely strong, with the comic wit of Bill Murray leading the team and hot-stuff Sigourney Weaver being the main female presence in the film. The relationship between the two creates some of the funniest scenes, for example as Weaver moans as she is possessed “Do you want this body”, and Murray plainly replies “Is this a trick question?”
All of the hilarious comedy and bizarre ghost fighting is a recipe for laughs, twists, and silliness, making it a movie to enjoy any day, year after year – a perfect alternative to all of those Halloween horrors. And if you want to watch the updated version, starring even more SNL alums, treat yourself to the latest installment in a fantastic franchise.
2. Coraline (2009)
“Hello, I’m your other mother…”
Ok, so this movie, while animated might actually be the creepiest children’s films I have ever seen. Coraline uses powerful and beautifully detailed stop motion animation to suck you into a between place — literally — that plays on the fears of adults and children. It’s spooky stuff. The sequence where the Other Mother traps Coraline in a web, is one of the scariest sequences in an animation.
Coraline, our protagonist, wishes for a different life, and her wish comes true. Just not in the way she expects. Coraline infuses bizarre humor and artistic flair that will keep anyone engaged in this entirely original film.
A mother with buttons for eyes, two fat aging starlets, and a well-to-do talking cat. Need I say more? Watch it alone in the dark and you will feel a shiver or two up your spine. It is a wonderful ‘not-so-scary’ movie.
1. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Boo! Not so scary after all, eh? Although the theme of monsters under the bed rings familiar Halloween bells, it can be watched any night of the year. It might scare the really little ones, but at the heart is a tale of love and friendship.
This movie flips the horror theme on its head, making you wish you had a monster under your bed! As always, Pixar beautifully inverts typical representations of monsters, questioning other stereotypes we live with. The mixture of colorful characters and emotional storylines make Monsters, Inc. the perfect not-so-scary Halloween movie, especially for young ones.
10 Best family-friendly Halloween movies
Halloween movies don’t have to give you the night terrors to be entertaining. In fact, some of the best spooky films are suitable for all ages. If you want to enjoy the lighter side of Halloween, or you’ve got young ones that want to get in the mod before trick-or-treating,
And if you’ve written a family-friendly Halloween film, our friends at ScreenCraft would love to read it. Submit your family-friendly script to their Family Screenwriting Competition and get your story in front of judges from Hello Sunshine, Sony, and more.