There's a big difference between playing peek-a-boo with kids and truly scaring them. Identifying the level of scariness associated with an activity, particularly when selecting movies to watch with kids for Halloween, is critical.
Betsy Bozdech, editorial director of Common Sense Media, an organization that rates and curates content for children, tells TODAY.com in a statement that finding age-appropriate scary movies is key for a family night in.
"Everyone gets excited to watch a spooky movie or two (or 10!) in the lead-up to Halloween, but it’s important to choose age-appropriate scares, especially for younger kids," she says. "Children under 7 can’t easily distinguish between fantasy and reality, even if you tell them it’s not real — meaning that something that’s not too scary for a tween could be terrifying for a kindergartner."
For younger kids, Bozdech recommends sticking with animated movies to help remind them that it's not real, plus limiting the scary movies to mysteries as opposed to monsters. Tweens can handle edgier monsters, suspense and psychological thrillers, but avoid "gory and slasher-style" movies.
Bozdech says these guidelines add to the fun of watching scary movies, but should be adjusted as needed depending on the child.
"The fun part of watching something scary but not too scary this time of year is the opportunity for kids to experience the thrill of being scared while knowing they’re in a safe, supportive environment," she says. "But if any of it ever feels like too much, don’t be afraid to pause or stop what you’re watching and try again another time."
Below, find scary movies appropriate for all age groups, whether your kiddo is an adventurous 8-year-old or on a cinephile teenager ready for the really scary stuff.
Ages 3 and up
'Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest' (2013)
Adorable monkey George has a lot going on for Halloween: He wants to win his local costume contest and investigate a headless scarecrow kicking hats off people's head. He's a little scared though. Over the course of the movie, "Curious George" becomes courageous George.
'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Monster Musical' (2015)
Mickey, Minnie and Pluto are having a little adventure on the road until their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere near a haunted mansion that has scary versions of themselves or their friends. The mansion's resident, Count Mikula (a nefarious version of Mickey), strikes a deal with his unexpected visitors: If they help him solve a mystery that has stumped him, he will fix their car so they can return home.
'Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie' (2005)
Winnie the Pooh eats up all the trick-or-treating candy and tries to make it up to his friends, Lumpy and Roo, by getting some more from a magical wish granter named Gobloon. They venture out to where Gobloon resides, set a trap for him but end up accidentally separating from each other in the process. They each overcome their fears while out in spookiness by themselves.
'Eloise's Rawther Unusual Halloween' (2008)
The Plaza's favorite 6-year-old guest, Eloise, tries to convince people in the hotel that a departed guest, Diamond Jim Johnson, has returned from the dead and is haunting them. The guests she tells dismiss her and say she is the one scaring them with her ghost tale. Eloise has no choice but to face the presence herself. She does so with curiosity. What's it like to meet a ghost, anyway?
'A Go! Go! Cory Carson Halloween' (2020)
Cory, Chrissy and Freddie are willing to go to great lengths to get king-sized candy on Halloween. They start in their neighborhood, but every house gives them regular-sized candy. They learn a spooky mansion across town has the king-sized candy bars they deserve. Now, they just have to muster up the courage to go!
Ages 7 and up
Halloween Town (1998)
Siblings Marnie, Dylan and Sophie think their grandmother Aggie is a witch (she is!) and follow her to Halloweentown, where most witches, ghosts, vampires and the like live. Aggie then enlists their help to solve a mystery, filled with twist and turns. But Gwen, the kid's mom and Aggie's daughter, thwarts their plan once she gets wind of it.
'Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo!' (2020)
The gang is back together in "Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo!" to solve yet another mystery. This time, they face layered attacks from the Haunted Scarecrow and Jackal Lanterns, or pumpkins that became newly villainous due to exposure to toxic waste. Scooby and friends try to stop them while working through some interpersonal drama amongst themselves.
'Hotel Transylvania' (2012)
Dracula throws his daughter, Mavis, a celebration for her 118th birthday at Hotel Transylvania, a human-proof, untraceable oasis he created to keep monsters away from humans. It only works so well, though, as human Jonathan stumbles upon the hotel. Dracula, not wanting to ruin Mavis' party with all their monster friends, dresses Jonathan up and tells everyone that he's Frankenstein's younger cousin. That's perfect for Mavis, who ends up falling for him as Jonathan falls for her. Dracula can't stand it!
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993)
Halloween's leader, according to this movie, is the Pumpkin King. Jack Skellington has the role — but it's not enough. After visiting nearby Christmas Town, he tries to bring Christmas cheer and spirit to Halloween. The holidays aren't exactly a one-to-one correlation though, so Pumpkin King has his work cut out for him.
Inspired by the best-selling books, five high school students in "Goosebumps" uncover dusty, old manuscripts that supposedly release monsters if opened. OK, they really do release monsters and now the friends and a helpful parent have to spend the rest of the movie getting them back into the correct book.
Can zombies and humans live harmoniously together? Meg and Milo in "Zombies" sure think so. Their love is up against a "perfect" town with "perfect" people, so it'll take a lot to break through that deeply ingrained uniformity.
Ages 10 and up
'Monster House' (2006)
Old Man Nebbercracker, who is just as mean as his names makes him sound, prides himself in never interacting with people and confiscating any toys that land on his lawn. Turns out, his house is sentient and equally cruel, and is bent on crushing the neighborhood kids who keep bothering the old man.
Two worlds collide in "Coraline" when the titular character discovers a secret door that leads to a different version of her world. The version of her family beyond the door tries to keep her on their side while she tries to get back to hers.
'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
The Sanderson sisters — Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) — are awakened from their 300-year slumber after young Max Dennison (Omri Katz) lights the black flame candle. They intend to become immortal before sunrise, while Max, his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) and his new crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) try to stop them.
‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ (2018)
Based on John Bellair's 1955 children's novel, "The House With The Clock In Its Walls" shows Lewis Barnavelt's (Owen Vaccaro) experience of living with a witch and warlock, played by Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, and then starting to learn their ways.
Comedy powerhouses Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis team up to expunge ghosts and ghouls from New York City under the guise of run-of-the-mill sanitation workers just doing their job.
Ages 13 and up
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) become ghosts only visible to their teen daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder), who tries to help them as they spook unwanted new residents into moving out. Lydia enlists Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), an undead being himself, to aid in their efforts. But things get worse before they get better.
'The Strange House' (2021)
A widow moves her and her two kids from a buzzing city to a small, rural town in Austria following the death of her husband. The house in haunted, of course. Local legend has it that a mother previously poisoned her two sons in the house before taking her own life. The kids band together with some teens in the neighborhood to pin down why the ghosts are still present and solve the murder.
'Mr. Harrigan's Phone' (2022)
Craig works for an elderly man, reading books to him on a weekly basis. Before he dies, John buys Craig a newly released iPhone. Craig puts the phone in his pocket at the funeral service. He occasionally calls the phone and leaves voicemails as a part of his grieving process and is shocked when his messages are answered.
'We Have A Ghost' (2023)
A huge house is on sale for far below market value? Something's up. A family of four, Kevin (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), Frank (Anthony Mackie), Fulton (Niles Fitch) and Melanie (Erica Ash) move into the haunted house and discover there's a ghost in the attic. Everyone wants to befriend him, causing a tug-of-war.
In classic film, local officials run damage control after a missing girl's remains float to shore. The officials believe it was a shark attack and they work with community members to catch which shark in the great big ocean it was and they figure out how to best it.
'The Birds' (1963)
Mitch and Melanie take off for a last-minute weekend trip to Mitch's spooky hometown of Bodega Bay, where swarms of birds are attacking and even killing residents there. The birds go after Mitch's little sister and mother, so Mitch and Melanie spring into action to solve the mystery.