5. Jaws (1975)
The trick that makes Jaws a great horror movie for kids is also the trick that makes it so iconic in the first place: you don’t actually see all that much. Sure, there’s a decent amount of blood, and the implied deaths are enough to keep anyone out of the water for good. But the violence is effective, not extreme. It offers us just enough to let our imagination fill in the rest. And luckily, if you want to entice kids into the thrilling promises of the horror genre, you can always rely on their imaginations to run wild. (Anna Swanson)
4. Alien (1979)
Of all the films on this list, Alien might be the one that pushes the limits of kid-friendly horror the most, but that’s exactly why it had to be included. Ridley Scott’s legendary sci-fi film is the movie that launched a thousand young horror fans. It’s instantly memorable, with some grisly touches of extraterrestrial violence that you feel in your gut, and it has some scares that are still incredibly effective for adults. So sure, this one might push the envelope and maybe it warrants treading lightly depending on the kid, but for those who find that Alien works for them, a lifetime of horror adoration awaits. (Anna Swanson)
3. The Mummy (1999)
The selections on this list offer up a wide range of films that you *could* show the underage horror fans in your life. Some are likely to truly entertain the rugrats (Tremors) while others just might bore today’s short attention span generation (Gremlins, which I watched a few years ago with preteens who were wholly uninvested because its pacing is so much slower than what these entitled little shits are used to, but I digress). To that point, I’d argue that Stephen Sommers‘ The Mummy is one of the rare guarantees to make the cut.
Brendan Fraser stars, and say what you will about some of his film choices in the 90s, but the guy exudes a playful charisma that young folks find irresistible. He turns up those charms even higher as Rick O’Connell, an adventure-loving goofball who’s just as at home acting the hero as he is causing accidental mayhem and showing discomfort at the horrors before him. He’s an everyman, a funny guy, and a capable dude, and he leads viewers through an adventure featuring all manner of spooky, life-threatening encounters. Sommers pairs well with the material and star as he’s equally playful in his approach and keeps the pace, energy, and entertainment high throughout. (Rob Hunter)
2. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Kids love music and puppets, right? That’s why the 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect bridge between the world of traditional kids media and the horror genre. Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is a shy recluse who works at a flower shop in Skidrow with the girl of his dreams, Audrey (Ellen Greene). One day, he discovers a strange alien plant he dubs Audrey II. He quickly discovers the plant needs human blood to survive, launching Seymour into a hellish spiral as he kills to feed the rapidly growing Audrey II. Interspersed with Seymour’s journey are musical numbers that make this strange story feel even more fantastical; this is not meant to feel like our world.
Directed by Frank Oz, a puppeteer and frequent collaborator with Jim Henson, it feels like a dark spin-off of The Muppet Show as Oz is able to imbue the film with just enough whimsy that it isn’t completely horrific. That is, unless you see the alternate ending. The theatrical cut is much more positive and hopeful, while the original ending, which was more loyal to the ending of the Broadway musical, shows Audrey II and his progeny taking over the world. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
1. Gremlins (1984)
What could have taken the top spot on a list of kid-friendly horror if not Gremlins? The iconic Joe Dante-helmed horror-comedy is an absolute blast that’s beloved as a favorite for the whole family. But don’t let that imply it doesn’t hold its own as a true horror movie. The Gremlins — creatures that spring from the far more innocent Mogwai — are delightfully vicious. And, considering the film has a reputation for being so kid-friendly, there’s a surprising amount of indulgence to the violence. All around, Gremlins is a fun-as-hell horror movie, a sly parody of Americana, and effectively scary entertainment for genre fans of any age. (Anna Swanson)