Post-'Goosebumps': Terrify Your Beloved Spawn With These Kid-Friendly Horror Movies

This weekend sees the release of Goosebumps, the big-screen adaptation of the book series that introduced countless kids to the horror genre. I should know – I'm one of them. The movie may be good and it may be bad (we shall seen soon enough), but the books will always be nestled away in the warm folds of my nostalgia. They allowed me, a young coward, to dip my toe into the horror genre and realize that I liked it. I won't defend them as great (or even decent) literature, but they did what they set out to do: entertain and scare children.

And now, several decades after the fact, I'd like to contribute to the scaring of future children. After all, every kid needs a jolt or two in their life. Every kid needs that one scary story or movie that sticks with them, shapes their dreams and nightmares, and helps make them who they are. So how about we talk about what horror films you can show your kids if they like Goosebumps movie?

Peruse our list of great horror movies for kids after the jump.

This list was constructed by combining the horror movies that defined my childhood with suggestions from horror-loving parents who threw out their best recommendations. I received a ton of good feedback from parents all over my social circle and beyond, but I had to trim the list down to a 15. Not an easy task, but here we are.

There were only two solid rules that went into constructing this thing:

1. In order to qualify, the movie had to be a proper horror movie. This list isn't about "kids' horror movies," it is a list of horror movies that will also appeal to the younger set. This list is intended for people looking for serious suggestions about how to broaden the genre horizons of their kids.

2. Yes, we know you saw Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street when you were six. Good for you. This list focuses on kindler and gentler movies for more cautious watching.

Oh, and the unofficial third rule is that this list isn't gospel. You know your spawn better than the good folks at /Film. Proceed with all necessary caution.

horror movies for kids

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

The early Universal monster movies are masterpieces. Evocative, creepy, and full of creatures who are all too human, they are the cornerstone of all modern horror movies and should be seen by everyone with an interest in film. But if you want to introduce a young 'un to these characters, you may consider starting with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the surprisingly good (and surprisingly scary!) comedy spinoff that teams the iconic comedy duo of the title with the entire Universal monsters line-up. The film achieves a tricky balance, with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's silly, inspired bits coexisting right alongside the vampires, werewolves, and walking corpses that mean them harm. Although the film does mine comedy from the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, it is rarely at the expense of these great characters, who are treated with unexpected level of respect. They are portrayed as an actual threat to our bumbling heroes, who create laughs out of being legitimately terrified.

horror movies for kids

The Thing From Another World

John Carpenter's The Thing is a great film. The film that inspired it, 1951's The Thing From Another World, isn't quite as good, but it's a gentler alternative to Carpenter's visceral masterpiece of gore and paranoia. In other words, this is the first baby step toward a whole new world of horror filmmaking. Still, underestimate the original at your own risk. This is a surprisingly tough and creepy movie, powered by a confidence that is often lacking in '50s horror. The set-up is the same: a remote arctic research outpost discovers an alien creature frozen in ice, which reanimates and proceeds to make life very difficult for the fleshy human meat bags that stand in its way. The alien is ultimately pretty silly (it's literally a walking vegetable), but the film makes use of its isolated location and increasingly desperate cast of characters to ratchet up the tension. The monster itself isn't too scary, but the idea of that monster, in this place, is undeniably effective.

horror movies for kids

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

If you want to ease a kid into the world of the Universal monsters, you can't do much better than The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Although it arrived 20 years after the Universal horror heyday, it captures the flavor of those original classics thanks to its truly unique (and just plain cool) main monster. Although the Creature/the Gill Man ultimately becomes a figure as tragic and empathetic as Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man by his third movie, the wildly underrated The Creature Walks Among Us, he's just a great big pile of awesome in his debut appearance. That super-cool lead monster is supported by a direct, simple adventure plot. Fast-paced and easy to follow, this is one of the more accessible classic horror movies. Kids will immediately latch onto the excitement of a remote expedition... and then the scary fish-man can show up and change everything.

horror movies for kids

Them!

The years after the detonation of the first atomic bombs saw the creation of a new sub-genre. These movies explored the fear that accompanied the thought of nuclear war and the unknown threats that radiation presented to the world. Thus, the giant monster movie was born. Some are classy, elegant and unsettling (the original Japanese Godzilla), others are just an excuse to place a terrified animal on a model town and watch it scramble around, creating a vague sense of destruction. This genre has a lot of entertaining schlock that kids will eat right up, but you might as well start them off with one of the absolute best, a movie that has all of the usual tropes but is actually good. Them! (the exclamation point is required) finds the American Southwest besieged by ants who have grown to the size of trucks thanks to, you guessed it, radiation. After a chilling, no-punches-pulled prologue that establishes these insects as credible villains that totally deserve to be flamethrower-ed to death, the film launches into a breathless plot filled with non-stop action, surprisingly great ant puppets, and an actual sense of scope. Unlike most B-movies of this ilk, Them! feels larger than the desert it was shot in. This is the high water mark of American "giant animals stomp cities" movie.

horror movies for kids

The Fly

Kids (or at least the kids of people who spend way too much time reading movie websites) like monsters. Imaginative children can't help but have a little sympathy for the devils of cinema. It's easy to fall in love with a giant lizard or a vampire who makes that cape look real good. Eventually, all little monster fans need to confront The Fly. Just as good – but not as widely respected – as David Cronenberg's 1986 remake, the 1958 original is a deeply personal, powerfully emotional film disguised as B-movie junk. The monster of the title may look like a threat, but he's just a pathetic thing, the result of an experiment gone wrong. What goes down between this former scientist and his traumatized wife is gruesome, icky stuff. It's just gnarly enough to get youngsters on board with more unpleasant horror movies. Even if the subtext goes over their heads, it's still a movie featuring a wild-looking fly-man and the shocking ending ("Help meeee!") will leave a lasting impression on any young mind. Plus, this will be the first Vincent Price movie for many kids, which means that it is one of the most important moments in the life of any burgeoning horror fan.

horror movies for kids

The Birds

Every kid with an appetite for film is eventually going to come face-to-face with Alfred Hitchcock. It is up to you, vital pop culture influencer in this hypothetical child's life, to make their first meeting run smoothly. So start with The Birds, which has the most approachable and direct hook of all of Hitch's horror movies. After its deliberately paced first 45 minutes (encourage patience!), the film quickly becomes the great man vs. nature movie. Evocative and tense and just plain scary, The Birds may require a little extra effort for a younger viewer to fully appreciate, but there is no better introduction to one of the best filmmakers of all time. Plus, that scene where Tippi Hedren finds the body (you know the one) is the kind of consciousness-scarring moment that every kid needs. It's just extreme enough.

horror movies for kids

Jaws

Jaws is so ingrained into the larger fabric of popular culture, so widely seen and discussed, so popular and parodied, that it can be easy to forget what a terrifying movie it really is. And, at the same time, it's the perfect level of terrifying for the younger set, earning that PG-rating even by modern standards. Much has been written about how most of Jaws exists outside of the frame and deep inside the imagination. When that shark does eventually show up on camera deep into the movie, it's a full-body-impact moment. It's a defining moment. The kind of moment that everyone deserves to have happen to them and the younger, the better. Everyone eventually sees Jaws, but there's a reason this film remains a phenomenon to this day – it knows its audience and its audience is literally everyone.

horror movies for kids

Poltergeist

Every kid needs a scary movie that kicks them right in the teeth, kicks them right in the ass, rules their nightmares for the foreseeable future, etc. It sticks with them and leaves psychic scars that define their tastes for years to come. For many people – and that includes yours truly – Poltergeist is that movie. A perfectly measured mixture of sheer terror (courtesy of director Tobe Hooper) and genuine awe (courtesy of producer Steven Spielberg), this is the rare haunted house movie that manages to feel like an actual adventure. Having a malevolent ghost in the house is upsetting for sure, but it's also kind of exciting, isn't it? The film's sense of curiosity, its desire to observe and to learn, is the perfect antidote for its legitimately frightening scares. Still, Hooper and Spielberg (the true mastermind of the movie is a debate for the ages) recognize that the best horror movies, even those intended for a family audience, can't pull their punches. So Poltergeist places a totally relatable suburban family at the center of the action... and they punish them. After all, ever kid needs a good scare now and again. The best horror movies for kids attack them with what they know and there is nothing an average kid knows or trusts more than his or her own home.

horror movies for kids

Gremlins

Joe Dante's Gremlins is fueled by the same maniac energy that powers the best of Looney Tunes – it just takes that unreal slapstick and vicious comedy and transfers it directly into live-action. And it turns out that a live-action cartoon actually looks pretty terrifying. The film's slow and steady escalation of mayhem is darkly funny for adults, but Gremlins can play like the Scariest Movie Ever Made for the younger set, especially since it deals with some of the cutest creatures ever committed to film transforming into some of the nastiest. Still, this is a top-notch creature feature that manages to stay within the right margins. It's just funny enough and just scary enough and just wild enough. It also features one of the coolest, most badass moms in any horror movie, so take note, parents. This could be a new avenue for earning your kid's respect.

horror movies for kids

The Monster Squad

Here's the truth: The Monster Squad isn't quite as good as you remember it. It's fine! It's fun! It's charming! It's quotable! Nostalgia tends to give this one a Goonies-esque boost, bumping your internal grade up a letter or adding another star to your rating. But while The Monster Squad is pretty good for cynical adults like you and me, it's an outstanding kids' movie and, in many ways, the perfect thing to show a kid who has already devoured the classics. Watching a crew of smart, plucky kids face down icons like Dracula and the Mummy and emerge triumphant is empowering. It helps that the film film has a light touch with its scares and its monsters, while brilliantly brought to life, are rarely too scary. It meets its young audience halfway. It gives them the opportunity to be brave. Fred Dekker and Shane Black's screenplay is pitched toward a very specific audience: the burgeoning young horror fan with a familiarity with horror icons. This is a movie that suggests that movie-loving kids can save the day. That's inspiring! That's just cool.

horror movies for kids

Arachnophobia

Frank Marshall's Arachnophobia is one silly movie and its goofy sense of humor permeates every frame. That's probably a good thing, since this is a movie whose scares are actually grounded enough to be genuinely unsettling for many people, young and old. This is a "killer spider" movie where the killer spiders are the size of normal spiders. And look like normal spiders. And pretty much act like normal spiders. They just kill and multiply with the speed and efficiency of the spiders that live in your nightmares. And while Arachnophobia can be pretty chilling, the gung-ho cast (including Jeff Daniels and John Goodman) chew into the witty screenplay, playing the whole thing with a deadpan that's juuust comedic enough to lighten the mood. This is a great sleepover movie. Put it on and watch everyone squirm.

horror movies for kids

Tremors

Tremors is a minor miracle of a monster movie, combining laughs, scares, great monsters, terrific actors, and a one-of-a-kind tone into a massively entertaining concoction so bulletproof that the four direct-to-video sequels have managed to leech off it to surprisingly strong effect. Still, the first is easily the best, following a team of lovable characters as they battle a group of underground-dwelling giant worms that are terrorizing their small Nevada town. Conceptually, the movie feels like a throwback to the B-movie monster flicks of the 1950s, but Tremors elegantly updates that model for its time with tongue-in-cheek humor and actors who totally understand the material surrounding them. Tremors isn't scary (even with its bodycount), but it's exciting, fist-pumping stuff and a great gateway to more intense monster movies.

horror movies for kids

The Sixth Sense

It may be cool to hate on M. Night Shyamalan these days, but The Sixth Sense is one of the most confident and most well-constructed mainstream horror movies of the past two decades. More than that, it's accessible. It's the rare horror movie that can be enjoyed by a veteran horror fan and his or her grandmother. It's a class act of a film whose scares service the plot and characters. There is nothing scary for the sake of being scary – everything is here for a reason. The Sixth Sense being so straightforward and approachable makes it an excellent choice for younger viewers. The fact that it's also about a young kid who learns that his apparent weaknesses give him strength is also a plus. Come for the twists and ghosts, stay for the tearjerking scenes where Cole and his mother find common ground.

horror movies for kids

Coraline

Although it is the only film on this list to actually be a proper "kids movie," Coraline is actually more viscerally terrifying than everything else surrounding it. It's a nightmare dressed up in family movie clothing, an animated journey through a colorful, musical, twisted hell. It's pretty much a 90-minute adaptation of the "Large Marge" scene from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Just when you think you're safe, something traumatizing happens. Henry Selick may have more famously combined horror, whimsy, and stop-motion animation in The Nightmare Before Christmas, but Coraline is a proper horror fantasia. It's like Clive Barker filtered through a PG-rating – there isn't a drop of gore to be found, but the movie itself is razor sharp and ready to draw blood. This is a must-see for all brave kids.

horror movies for kids

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Unlike every other movie on this list, the recommendation of Rare Exports comes packaged with a few caveats. First of all, the movie is rated R. Second, that R-rating doesn't refer to the film's violence (it's mild stuff), but the, uh, large amount of non-sexual senior citizen nudity. Third, this movie should only be viewed by kids who know that Santa Claus isn't real and can enjoy a movie that transforms that symbol of yuletide fun into a literal monster. And finally, it's mostly in Finnish. These aren't dealbreakers? You know a kid that specific? Good, because this is one of the best, strangest, and most fun kid-centric genre movies to come out of any nation in a long time. Director Jalmari Helander channels the spirit of Joe Dante and John Carpenter to tell this brisk, funny, and truly unpredictable little movie, which follows the citizens of a small village who must react accordingly when a nearby archaeology dig unearths the long-buried Santa Claus. Spoiler: he's not a nice guy. Mayhem of all kinds ensues and it's ultimately up to the young, Santa-fearing boy to save the adults from certain death. Here are some big words: this is the best Christmas horror movie ever made.