Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year, and since my family is full of movie buffs, young and old, I decided to share a list of our favorite Halloween themed movies that are the best suited to children and families, ranked in order from good to great. Most of these movies have stood the test of time, and will offer countless hours of enjoyment for children and adults alike.
- Hocus Pocus(1993, PG)
This Halloween movie actually incorporates a mini U. S. history lesson into the entertainment: three witches were executed in the Salem witch trials for stealing the souls of the town’s children, and, upon their deaths, cursed the people of Salem for eternity. Cut to 300 years later and a lit candle resurrects their spirits and unleashes their wrath on the children of the town. Sounds a bit scary for family viewing, but the witches’ often harebrained pursuit of their goal makes for a fun-filled movie. Children will root for the gang of children who decide to put an end to the witches, once and for all. Plus, there is a boy trapped in the form of a black cat and the witches fly around on vacuums. Who doesn’t want to do that? Adults will get a kick out of viewing Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, and Bette Midler at their campy bests.
- Casper(1995; PG)
In this movie, a daughter inherits a mansion that houses a treasure, but ghostly spirits keep her from entering the property. Enter afterlife expert Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) and his daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci), responsible for exorcising the mansion. Kat befriends a friendly ghost, Casper, and together with her father, they must convince Casper’s haunting uncles to cease their evil activities and cross over. Children laugh it up at the names of the ghosts-Fatso, Stretch, Stinky-and Casper still has the appeal that he’s had for generations of children. Adults may not find much redeemable about the movie, but anything that keeps the children entertained is good Halloween fun.
- Coraline(2016, PG)
A well received movie released earlier this year, this film is essentially an updated version of Alice in Wonderland. A young girl discovers a door from her house leading to a seemingly perfect alternative reality. Fun at first, Coraline quickly discovers that she is better off in her real life, but must fight to get back home. Children will like the fact that the movie is animated, parents will enjoy the deeper meaning of the plot, and everyone will blown away by the beautiful renderings and artistry. Dakota Fanning, Ian McShane, and Keith David bring their considerable talents to this impressive movie that makes for perfect Halloween viewing.
- The Addams Family(1991, PG-13, though there are few scenes in violation)
There’s always a family creepier and kookier than yours, but that’s definitely The Addams Family. Children will delight in the exploits of the Addams’ son, Pugsley, and daughter, Wednesday, as they stop at nothing to determine if a stranger who mysteriously appears at the family mansion is their long-lost Uncle Fester. Children especially enjoy the odder members of the family: Thing, a detached hand that fingers about serving his masters; Lurch, a towering, grunting zombie of a butler; and my personal favorite, the hairball, Cousin It. Round out the fun with stellar performances by revered actors Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd, and Christina Ricci, and you’ve got a classic Halloween movie for the ages.
- Beetlejuice(1988, PG)
Whatever you do, don’t say the name three times this Halloween! Geena Davis and a blond Alec Baldwin star in this movie as an everyday couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, who are killed in a freak car crash and must learn to deal with being dead and invisible to the bizarre family that moves into their farmhouse. They solicit the assistance of “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a charismatic, unhygienic, and insane fellow ghost, to oust the interlopers, and wind up dealing with more than they bargained for. Children will love the zany designs, bright colors, and wonderful movie soundtrack they can (and will) dance to for days. Adults will enjoy Keaton’s over-the-top performance, as well as those by Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and Jeffrey Jones.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas(1993, PG)
Tim Burton is a genius and this animated Halloween movie classic is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. After a visit to Christmas Town, Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, decides that this year, his town will celebrate Christmas instead of its normal Halloween routine. However, he didn’t spend quite enough time in Christmas Town to really get the point, and his attempts to celebrate go laughably wrong. Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, and Catherine O’Hara voice the unforgettable characters. Parents should be warned that the movie’s animation used may be something of an acquired taste for young children.
- The Adventures of Ichabod Crane(1949, remastered; G)
I can’t even begin to describe how much family loves this Halloween movie. Based on Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this animated tale manages to induce a range of emotions in its audience, from belly laughs to gasps of fear. The delightfully goofy-looking schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, and his bumbling ways blunder into a tiny town gripped by the terror of a headless horseman. Ichabod, unaware of the potential danger he faces from the horseman and from the town bully, Brom, cheerfully finds himself in love with the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel. Jealous Brom does what he can to scare Ichabod out of town, until one night, the horseman gives Ichabod a reason to be truly scared. Children and adults will adore the slapstick nature of Ichabod, and you get to listen to the wonderful voice of Bing Crosby as he narrates the movie. Parents may need to be prepared for a couple of bad nights, though-I thought about flaming pumpkin scene for days after I first saw it.
- Harry Pottermovies (2016 – present; PG – PG-13)
I have included all six of the released Harry Potter movies for your Halloween movie consideration, but, in my opinion, only the first four are really appropriate for viewers under 10 as the fifth and sixth begin exploring themes that are a bit advanced for children. The movies follow the boy wizard from the moment he discovers his magical legacy until the point he must face his most powerful nemesis, including his forays into love and discovering the depths of his power. The appeal of Harry Potter is the fact that his very ordinary exterior and upbringing hides such an extraordinary inner strength and ability. J. K. Rowling created a world that is at once unknown and mysterious and familiar and realistic. Children are transported to this world where possibilities are limited only by imagination and where children can possess powers on par with adults.
- Ghostbusters(1984; PG)
Any movie that can combine elements including New York City, ghosts, giant, slobbering dogs, the Statue of Liberty, and a huge marshmallow man and still be endlessly watchable is more than deserving of the first runner-up spot on this Halloween movie list. When they are booted from their occult-focused research positions at a university, scientists Peter, Ray, and Egon (Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis) decide to go into the ghost-capturing business, a field made lucrative by the fact that there is a flood of evil energy flowing through NYC. They face opposition and disbelief at every turn until, at last, they are called upon to save the entire city and Peter’s girlfriend (Sigourney Weaver) from destruction by an ancient, powerful god. There are so many aspects of this movie that will keep the children enthralled, from Slimer, the gooey green ghost, to the super cool proton packs the guys use to capture the ghosts. Adults will be entertained by the one-liners and zingers continually delivered by Murray and Ramis. Sure, some of this Halloween movie’s special effects haven’t really aged well, but who really notices when the family is having such a good time?
- It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!(1966, G)
The one Halloween movie my family makes a point of watching every year. No matter which Peanuts character is your favorite, there is something here for you. Despite pressure from his friends, blanket sniffing Linus opts out of Halloween fun to sit in a pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to make an appearance. The other children go trick-or-treating before attending a party, and poor Charlie Brown receives nothing but a bag of rocks. Snoopy battles it out with the Red Baron in his dreams, before showing up at the pumpkin patch and scaring Linus into fainting. Revived, Linus is eventually persuaded to give up the ghost, though he still believes. Even if you’ve seen this movie every Halloween for the last 25 years, you still anxiously await a visit from the Great Pumpkin. I think that much of this movie’s attraction is due to the fact that many adults have grown up with the characters and watched year-after-year. Add in the creativity of Charles Schultz and the artistry of Bill Melendez, and there are ample reasons for you to make this movie one of your family’s Halloween traditions, too.