The 13 Scariest Animated Movies

scariest animated movies

(Welcome to Let’s Get Animated!, a column that spotlights the best of film animation. In this edition: the scariest animated movies.)

Too often, animated movies are written off as silly children’s fare, but the medium is more than capable of scaring even the most hardened adult. From Disney classics to anime horror fests, animated films have been responsible for plenty of nightmare fuel. So as we count down the days to Halloween, let’s count down the scariest animated movies (using that unlucky number 13, of course).

Here are the scariest animated films, which include some familiar childhood horrors, some harrowing horror movies targeted at adults, and a surprising amount of John Hurt.

13. The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron is probably one of the films that Disney wished audiences could forget, mostly because it literally scared audiences away from theaters. Released in 1985 as part of Disney’s push toward darker material, The Black Cauldron was a massive box office bomb that nearly toppled the House of Mouse’s entire animation wing. But I say that this deeply weird movie is unfairly reviled.

Loosely based on the first two books in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron is nothing at all like its source material, but it’s also nothing like what Disney had done before. The film follows a young pig keeper named Taran who teams up with the princess Eilonwy, a bard Fflewddur Fflam, and a wild creature named Gurgi to stop the Horned King from raising an army of the undead and conquering the world. To do this, they must destroy the titular black cauldron, which only Taran’s prophetic pig can locate. The movie is kind of a mish-mash of tones and animation styles — the latter of which a young Tim Burton contributed to — and features a nonsensical plot, but there’s no denying just how eerie The Black Cauldron is. The majority of the horror comes from the creepy design of the Horned King who, despite looking like a scarier version of Skeletor, is a genuinely chilling villain thanks to the performance of John Hurt (who will be showing up a lot on this list).

12. The Nightmare Before Christmas

You knew this would be on the list. The Nightmare Before Christmas is the movie that you quote endlessly as an adult, but probably won’t admit gave you nightmares as a kid. I’ve featured this ghoulish stop-motion movie on this column before, but I’d be remiss to not feature it again.

Remember Tim Burton from the last entry? Well, after the disastrous failure of The Black Cauldron, Burton was so traumatized that he nearly fled animation altogether, heading to the live-action realm where he made his name with acclaimed films such as Beetlejuice and Batman. But the call of animation was too strong for the idiosyncratic filmmaker, and he ended up finding his way back to the medium — and back to Disney, no less. But not as the director. Burton produced and conceived of 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, with the directorial duties going to stop-motion visionary Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, Coraline). Together, they created the bane of our childhood memories. (Though I was personally too scared of it that I didn’t dare watch it until I was an adult. But the commercials terrified me!) The Nightmare Before Christmas follows the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, as he kidnaps Santa Claus and tries to bring the two holidays together, resulting in chaos around the world. To have a skeleton as the protagonist is frightening enough, but the unnerving body horror that occupies every frame of this movie — Sally’s stitches, the Mayor’s gaping smile, Barrel’s bulging eyes — is enough to send any kid screaming.

11. The Last Unicorn

Two words: The Red Bull. Nothing makes a scary movie like a good monster, and The Last Unicorn has one of the most terrifying animated monsters of all. At first glimpse, the fantasy epic doesn’t seem outright scary though it is a little weird. Released in 1982, The Last Unicorn was a Japanese-American production based off the novel by Peter S. Beagle that told the story of a unicorn who discovers that she is the last of her kind as the others have all vanished. She sets off on a quest to get them back, but her road is beset by all sorts of dangers, each more threatening than the last. She gets kidnapped by a hag who forces her to become a carnival curiosity, she meets a harpy whose horrific character design and screeching dialogue would be enough to get this movie on the list. Oh, and there’s a tree with heaving breasts — though I guess that’s a little more on the disturbing side than the straight-up scary.

But it’s all leading up to the Red Bull, who was pure evil made manifest. With its deep blood-red color and surrounding cloud of smoke, the Red Bull is simultaneously ethereal and tactile — an unstoppable force for which there are no immovable objects. But fascinatingly, the Red Bull’s master, King Haggard, is just as terrifying in a drastically and innately human way. King Haggard and his motivation evoke a feeling of existential dread that is unusual for a fantasy film, and even more so for a children’s film.

10. Fantasia

If you weren’t traumatized as a kid by the Chernabog in the 1940 Fantasia, then you can get the fuck out of here. Sorry for the language, but that demonic creature in the final segment of Disney’s experimental musical film is terrifying enough to provoke a primal response from anybody — okay maybe just from me. Even to this day, watching this segment (I swear, I got war flashbacks when I so much as searched the above clip) will reduce me to a blubbering mess. It’s astonishing that the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment, as well as all the other animated segments set to classical music that comprise Fantasia, came so early in the Walt Disney Company’s life span. Disney’s third animated feature film was also one of its scariest (though shout-out to Pinocchio‘s donkey boys for laying the foundation).

I single out “Night on Bald Mountain” — which centers on the devil Chernabog summoning hordes of evil spirits and ghosts from their graves to Bald Mountain, set to a live orchestra playing “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert — but each of the animated segments in Fantasia are dark in their own ways. “Rite of Spring” shows the birth of the universe as well as the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs, while the much-beloved “Sorceror’s Apprentice” starring Mickey Mouse features some very scary brooms.

Continue Reading The 13 Scariest Animated Movies

Pages: 1 2 3Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: