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Top 10 Terrifying Children’s Movies

by John Munoz
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Just because a movie is made for children doesn’t mean it can’t still manage to give you nightmares. Look no further than the films on this list for children and adults seeking a hair-raising entertaining experience at home. (Or for those wondering how to scare your little cousin.)

Whether they be animated or live-action, old or new, turning off the light and switching on any of these movies is guaranteed to not only thrill but outright chill. So, though funny and lighthearted they may appear to be on the surface, here are ten absolutely terrifying children’s movies capable of frightening anyone no matter their age. 

Are you ready?

10 Ghostbusters (1984)

Who’re you gonna call?

While abundant with the quirky horrors of ghouls like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and accompanied by the dry wit of comedian Bill Murry, Ghostbusters is just as filled with its own share of terrifyingly memorable moments. 

Monstrous arms rip and tear through armchairs, a decaying ghost haunts a library, and an unsuspecting couple gets morphed into hounds from hell. This movie about a group of guys struggling to start a ghost-busting business in New York takes a more humorous approach to horror. But don’t let that discount its chilling use of special and practical effects, which are still more than capable of spooking viewers today.

9 9 (2009)

9 – Official Trailer

The ninth movie on this list is none other than Tim Burton’s 2009 animated post-apocalyptic adventure film, 9. Animated in Burton’s familiarly unnerving stop-motion art style, 9 follows a small part-ragdoll, part-robot being who awakens shortly after mankind’s mysterious destruction. 

The ragdoll robot scours a decimated world filled with vicious beings created by a giant soul-stealing machine. Alone, it searches for eight others of its kind to unravel the mystery behind the world’s end. 

The movie features freaky fabricated machines. There are spider-bots, pterodactyl-like winged beasts with knives and scissors for a mouth, and plenty more ghastly creations. Kids will never look at a piece of fabric or machinery the same way again.

8 Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)

Scooby Doo On Zombie Island (1998) Official Trailer – Scooby Doo, Shaggy Movie HD

Scooby-Doo has long been known for its tame frights and colorful mysteries. But Zombie Island cranks up the horror by introducing the Mystery Inc. gang to perhaps their most seriously scary supernatural threat yet. 

Set in the thick of the Louisiana bayou, Zombie Island drops into a terrifying tone right from the start. Pitting them up against the likes of the undead, ghost pirates, demons, and voodoo magic, Scooby and the gang find no makeshift masks to rip off of greedy businessmen this time. 

In fact, death plays a significant role in the story. Cranking up the scares even further, Zombie Island surprisingly does away with the series’ usual antics in favor of an absolutely frightening departure from traditional Scooby-Doo adventures. Little kids will need more than a Scooby Snack to get through this one. 

7 Beetlejuice (1988)

It’s Showtime! – Beetlejuice (8/9) Movie CLIP (1988) HD

Directed by the connoisseur of creepy himself, Tim Burton, Beetlejuice may have its fair share of comedy from actor Michael Keaton. Keaton, as we know, plays the insidious, eccentric ghoul of the movie’s namesake. But don’t let comedy distract you from several legitimately scary scenes sprawled throughout the film. 

Meaty hands burst out of bowls grabbing onto diners’ horrified faces. Bodies are mutilated, hanged in closets, and disappear into smoke while monstrous snakes roam the haunted house at night and sandworms with razor-sharp teeth lurk within the depths of the sandbox. 

And if that wasn’t enough to send a shiver down your spine, Beetlejuice, as the skin-crawling name implies, is quite literally crawling with every sort of creepy-crawly you can imagine. And maybe even some you can’t.

It makes me wonder how parents ever allowed their kids to watch the movie, honestly. I’m still afraid to say “Beetlejuice” three times!

6 Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

While this movie adaptation of the original book series may lean too heavily into comedy for some, comedian Jim Carey as the sinister Count Olaf manages to become a terrifying sight to behold in the character’s excessive and downright disturbing makeup. 

After a fire destroys their home, three siblings are orphaned into the care of a series of relatives. All the while, Count Olaf plots to obtain the children’s family fortune. And so, the Baudelaire children are forced to move from relative to relative as each dies in a mysterious and thoroughly disturbing series of unfortunate events. 

We’re talking a giant deadly viper, leech-filled waters, heights to make your stomach churn. By the end, you’ll be left wondering, “Was that really a children’s movie?”

5 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl – Skeletons and Lady

Although the only scary thing about Johnny Depp’s iconic swashbuckler Jack Sparrow may be the amount of rum he can put back, this first installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series has perhaps more frights in-store than any others. 

Indeed, The Curse of the Black Pearl boasts boat-fulls of grisly undead pirates, a blood sacrifice, and even a zombie monkey! So, if you and your kids are looking for a live-action adventure at sea complete with curses, skeletons, and treasure-hungry pirates, then look no further than this spooky swashbuckling escapade.

4 Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Monsters inc Scare floor

This Pixar classic may come as a surprise since it’s so beloved. But if you really think about it, the movie is kind of terrifying.

Ever wonder where those monsters hiding in your closet or under your bed come from? No? Well, whether you like to or not, Monsters, Inc. pulls back the curtain on such children’s nightmares all without losing an ounce of eeriness. 

Though animated in Pixar’s family-friendly style and written with plenty of gags in mind, Monsters, Inc. still manages to spook viewers with hair-raising creature designs and dark, shadowy lighting. There is even one scene in particular that will make it so you or your kids never look at your closets the same way again. Now, how’s that for scary?

3 Monster House (2006)

Monster House (8/10) Movie CLIP – The House is Alive! (2006) HD

More monsters? More monsters! Except this one’s the size of a house… Unlike the gentle art style of Pixar in Monsters, Inc., Monster House’s gritty textures and harsh, dark tones make it downright disturbing just to look at. 

Then comes the house.

Using teeth of splintered wood to devour people whole, the monster house is a demon unto itself as a trio of kids set out to confront what everybody else in the suburban neighborhood believes to be just another myth. The movie has adventure, comedy, and a whole lot of danger – making Monster House as frighting and nightmare-inducing as any haunted house out there for parents and kids alike.

2 Coraline (2009)

What do you get when you mix Neil Gaiman and children’s stories? A bit of a surreal, poetic nightmare. Make it a movie, and well, let’s say that putting images to words, in this case, makes for a pretty disturbing children’s film.

“Coraline” is the cult film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella of the same name. The story asks what happens when you find a secret portal to a reality where your parents appear perfect? Where everything seems as it should be? Well, you’d never want to leave, of course. That is, assuming you could. 

Coraline tells the twisted tale of a young girl finding herself trapped in the Other World where the people have pitch-black buttons sewn over their eyes. 

This stop-motion animated film clashes together ragdoll-style characters and a creepy color palette that switches between bleak reality and the bizarrely bright Other World. The frights ramp up as the movie progresses, revealing the true nature for Coraline’s spine-chilling Other Mother. Anyone scared of creepy-crawlies, beware! 

1 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS Movie Clip – This is Halloween (1993) Jack Skellington Animation HD

At number one on this list of the top 10 terrifying children’s movies is none other than Tim Burton’s (yes, him again) The Nightmare Before Christmas. Presenting the most unusual – and therefore, horrifying – holiday combination, this animated movie follows the King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, who finds himself stumbling into Christmas Town and becoming obsessed with celebrating the winter holiday. 

Wishing to bring the celebration back to his people in Halloween Town, Jack takes it upon himself to abduct Santa Claus and take over the role. However, when Santa ends up in the hands of Oogie Boogie the Boogieman, Jack quickly finds his version of Christmas is descending into a nightmare.

However, the movie manages to keep the tone relatively light with several musical numbers and the awfully charismatic Jack Skeleton. Yet, whenever Oogie steps on screen, the chills are bound to return.  

The Nightmare Before Christmas thrusts viewers into a stunningly spooky fantasy where each holiday has its own world. Meanwhile, the movie’s stop-motion animation brings a disturbing, realistic quality to the characters and environments as the nightmarish designs of the Halloween Town denizens clash with the soft, friendly Christmas Town residents – making for unforgettable visuals that will haunt you for holidays to come. 

fact checked by Rachel Jones