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20 Great Family-Friendly Horror Movies

Horror Movies That Kids and Parents Alike Can Enjoy


There are a lot of horror- and Halloween-themed kids movies, 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. (Granted, most are rated PG-13, so there is some mild naughtiness to go around.)

Arachnophobia (1990)

© Buena Vista
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 mortified of spiders. From Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, producers of E.T., Back to the Future, The Goonies and more, 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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of spiders.

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The Bad Seed (1956)

The Bad Seed
© Warner Bros.
This is the only black-and-white film on the list because I know that when I was a kid, it took a straight jacket to get me to sit down and watch anything that wasn't in color. The Bad Seed, though, 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.
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of little girls.

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The Birds (1963)

The Birds
© Universal
In some ways, the most child-friendly of 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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of birds.

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The Blob (1958)

The Blob
© Criterion
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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of amorphous blobs.

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Critters (1986)

© New Line
Escaped alien prisoners running from intergalactic bounty hunters land on Earth and trap a rural family inside their farm house. The porcupine-like "critters" are maneaters who have the ability to shoot their spines at people, but they're portrayed with a slapstick comedic edge -- one jumps into the toilet when he's set on fire, another eats a stuffed E.T. doll -- that should appeal to kids.

Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guide)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of hedgehogs.

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Disturbia (2007)

© DreamWorks
It's not officially a remake, but who are we 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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of neighbors.

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The Gate (1987)

The Gate: Special Edition DVD
© Lionsgate
Pre-teen boys in particular will relate to this absorbing tale of a boy (a young Stephen Dorff) whose parents have gone out of town, leaving him at home under the iron thumb of his older sister. Ever the adventure-seeker, he and a friend uncover a hole in his back yard that contains pint-sized demons looking to unleash Hell on Earth. Prepubescent kids to the rescue!

Rating: PG-13
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of accidentally opening the gates of Hell.

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Ghost (1990)

© 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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of Patrick Swayze.

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Ghostbusters (1984)

© Columbia
A summer blockbuster-sized comedy with horror elements, 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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of libraries.

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Gremlins (1984)

© Warner Bros.
Gremlins is a lighthearted monster movie that combines the talents of director Joe Dante (The Howling), writer Chris Columbus (The Goonies, 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)
Potential Negative Side Effect: Fear of family pets.

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