Kids movies are supposed to be full of cuddly characters, genuine optimism and happy ending fairy tale like stories…right? Over the years the movies intended for kids have gotten lighter and lighter and now a high percentage of the children’s movies released deal with cute characters such as Minions from Despicable Me, Nemo from Finding Nemo and the adorable robot known as Wall-E. But take us back twenty or so years and history has a way of producing some pretty deep and disturbing movies for kids. From killer gremlins to evil villains to dogs that commit murder and owned casinos, there are moments in these films that will haunt us forever. Discover the hidden messages in the depressing films that take dark and broody to a new level. Uncover the disturbing signs you may have missed when you watched these films as a kid. And feel secure in knowing most of these movies are hidden in the back of the closet along with those VHS tapes you never watch. Here are 16 of the most disturbing and outright frightening kids movies ever produced. If scary is your thing then read on.
16. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland
This is a movie that most people loved to watch while growing up, many claim to have rented this film countless times, and some still own it today. But looking back, this film was pretty terrifying. The main character, Nemo, is tempted into opening a door which unleashes the terrifying Nightmare King, don’t worry because later on the king becomes engulfed in a huge pile of black slime and vanishes- if you watch it you will get why this is terrifying for a child. Not only is the Nightmare King scary but the whole premise of the movie can be a tad unsettling, Nemo is brought to Slumberland to be the forever playmate of Princess Camille- weird huh?
15. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
This was a film that started out as every kid’s fantasy, a grown adult who doesn’t have the responsibilities of most people his age. He doesn’t have a job and has a boatload of goodies, gadgets and a fantastic bike. The movie takes a turn for the dark when Herman gets left alone in the middle of nowhere and gets picked up by Large Marge in a transport truck. Large Marge sits unblinking in the driver’s seat and tells Herman a frightening story about an accident and a burning body. While telling the story her face transforms into a hideous big-eyed, tongue lashing out monster. Between that scene and the insane clown doctors that are haunting his dreams, this movie turns freaky fast and is not the happy film we thought it was going to be.
14. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This movie is one of Disney’s darkest plots filled with Catholic guilt, an evil villain and a distinct lack of cute and cuddly characters. Starting off with the evil villain that first kills a young mother and then is forced to look after a deformed baby (who he also wants to kill). Disney certainly sets the stage for this film that is dark in tone and visual appearance. The film goes onto have the villain wanting to slaughter all gypsies only to later lust after a young gypsy himself. At the end, the lead male doesn’t even get the girl and the so-called happy ending is not so happy.
This movie starts off with a teenage girl talking to a bunch of goblins; not the ideal setting for the beginning of a children’s movie. From there her wish is granted and an awful looking bunch of insane goblins come and steal her baby brother. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, in comes David Bowie aka the Goblin King with his crystal ball. The film features flaming demon creatures, a grueling maze full of booby traps, and The Goblin King’s infatuation with a 15yr old girl. This movie is so disturbing you may never let their children watch it.
12.Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
One of the most popular “disturbing” films on this list is Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory; particularly the scene where they ride the boat down the chocolate river. The chocolate river which looks suspiciously like blood is topped off with bizarre images projected onto the walls. The walls feature a man with a worm crawling on his face and a chicken getting it’s head chopped off. Wonka himself looks quite demonic as he works himself up into a frenzy while repeating a poem. Children disappear throughout this film, one into the river of chocolate and up a pipe to the boiler, one into a chute down to the furnace and one turns into a blueberry. It is no wonder kids have nightmares from this freakishly brilliant movie.
11. The NeverEnding Story
The creepy luckdragon that likes children, the murderous wolf and the rock eating giant rock man are all reasons enough to make this one disturbing film. But the most disturbing part of this entire movie is when the young Atreyu begs and pleads with his horse to get up out of the swamp of sadness; only to have the horse drown right before our very eyes. The depression and sadness in this movie is overwhelming from the ancient turtle who doesn’t care about anything to the “nothing”; a metaphor for clinical depression. The ending is uneventful, the plot is slow moving and the general theme of the film is sadness and depression; and happens to be one of the most disturbing children’s movies ever made.
10. All Dogs Go to Heaven
The disturbing parts of this movie can be summed up in five words; drinking, gambling, murder, kidnapping and nightmares. This was supposed to be a kids movie right? The movie starts off with dogs escaping from doggy death row only to be shot at and almost drowned. During the movie numerous references are made about the “dancing girls” aka strippers, dogs are getting absolutely wasted off booze and viewers lose track on how many times Carface tries to kill Charlie. Kidnapped orphans, burning buildings and one big alligator all round up the disturbing nature of this movie.
9. Return to Oz
The sequel to The Wizard of Oz was expected to be full of more munchkins, lollipops and friendly travelers but instead we were met with insane asylums, electro-shock therapy for children, severed heads and people that had wheels instead of hands and feet. The magical Land of Oz looked less colorful and more bombed out and sadistic. Things get even more bizarre with an array of sidekicks including a talking chicken who jokes about Dorothy’s choice of sandwich meat exclaiming “I am glad its ham and not chicken”. The Wheelies are perhaps the most frightening with their cracking laughs and elaborate face masks. A combination of so many disturbing things makes this a top pick for this list.
8. The Peanut Butter Solution
This terrifying movie came out in 1985 and is less known but just as disturbing and if not more than some of the other well known flicks on this list. Filled with odd twists and turns, the theme of the movie seems to be child labor. To sum up this highly horrific movie; a child (Michael) discovers a mansion full of ghosts, falls asleep and wakes up with no hair. The ghosts tell him about a magical peanut butter solution that will grow his hair back. This magic solution turns the main character into a hair growing machine and eventually he gets kidnapped for his “magic hair”. The movie then turns really dark as the kidnapper steals 50 children and puts them to work in pink scrubs in a sweatshop, using Michael’s hair to produce magic paintbrushes. At the end, one of his rescuers decides to try out the peanut butter solution on his private area to grow hair down ‘there’. Do we need to say more?
7. Little Monsters
At first glance this seems like a harmless movie for older kids, you know the ones who stopped thinking there were monsters under their bed because that is exactly where this movie takes place. Just as parents convinced their children that the space under their bed was safe; this movie tells them otherwise. The monster fantasy land is a cruel place where endless amounts of junk food and practical jokes are played. Severe curse words directed at people, the awful divorce of the parents and vulgar phrases make this film even difficult for adults to watch. A practical joke such as getting a kid to drink pee is just a minor example of what happens in monster land.
The disturbing part of this movie starts with the name itself; an elephant named Dumbo (who never does talk in the movie). Next up is the location; the entire movie is filmed in a circus where they obviously abuse the animals. The entire movie is disturbing from the time they lock Dumbo’s mother up for being mad, to the racism of the black crow quartet. Dumbo proceeds to get so drunk in the film that he hallucinates and ends up in a tree, not even knowing how he got up there. The moral of the story; if you are different you better hope you are special in a way that people can make money or you will never get to be with your mommy again. Not okay.
This beautiful stop-motion film has a rather dark sense of doom to it and parents should be aware that this film may not sit well with some children. Ghosts, predators, a little nudity and dark undertones are all present in this film. The “other world” that Coraline is transported to is full of ghost children that have been trapped and died there. Another freaky factor, her “other” mother and father have buttons for eyes and disturbing views on sin, morals and justice. With her “other” parents turning on her and wanting to murder her, combined with the notion that her very own real parents are too busy for her, Coraline is a film of darker material that may not be suited for the young ones.
4. Watership Down
What starts as a bunch of cute rabbits looking for a new home becomes a massacre of bloody murder and rabbits fighting till death in this film. This may not have been intended as a children’s movie but unfortunately in the television in the ’80s wasn’t quite as censored as it has become today. The plot of the movie begins with the rabbit “God” giving everyone power to kill the rabbits as they have become overpopulated. What follows is a blood bath of rabbits with attacks by rats, hawks and even humans. The black rabbit of death makes continued appearances and the long drawn out scene of the rabbit dying in the snare is enough to never let our children get ahold of this movie. Why are animals always surrounded by death in cartoon films?
3. The Dark Crystal
The terrifying puppets in this movie start the creepy factor off right away. This movie is set in a dangerous “other world” where human child like beings called ‘gelflings’ are tortured to no end. They are rounded up, strapped to chairs with gigantic needles and drained of their essence. All by the utterly terrifying Skeksis; a half vulture half reptile dinosaur looking thing that will literally scare the crap out of you and your child. The worst scene may be when the wicked Skeksis Empire dies, sputtering on his death bed and his corpse starts rotting and breaking into dozens of pieces.
2. The Witches.
It is rare that a kids movie is made in which the plot focuses entirely on killing all children in the movie, but low and behold The Witches is that kind of film. The plot of the movie is simple, an orphan and his grandmother travel to a hotel which happens to be hosting a large congregation of witches. What follows is highly disturbing and is why this movie is terrifying for children. The witches peel back their regular faces on a consistent basis throughout the movie, displaying their true disfigured, grotesque real faces underneath. Between forcing kids to eat a substance that turns them into mice, to threatening them, the theme of fear is consistent throughout the movie.
This may be a controversial movie but based on the amount of toys that were created and merchandise made for this movie, some kids must have liked it. Gremlins begins with these adorable little creatures that you instantly fall in love with, until they become these evil little monsters. A destructive rampage that leads to bodily harm and death, a decapitation and a microwaved gremlin is had by not only the little creatures but the humans themselves. Crossbows and even a chainsaw make up the final scene in this movie where a human is pitted against Gremlin.