30 Kids' Movies That Probably Still Scare You

As a kid, I loved watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990). All of those bright colors and loud, funny noises distracted young viewers from what was actually a maniacal man talking to furniture and singing about tequila. When I heard there was a movie called Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, I couldn’t understand why my parents hadn’t rented it from the video store (I know...how quaint) for my brother and me to watch. Surely it would just involve more Pee Wee’s Playhouse hijinks, but on a larger scale.
Oh, how misguided I was. When I finally wore my mother down and got my hands on Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, it was straight-up nightmare city. The bike scene with the demonic clowns…Large Marge…how is that movie rated PG?
In honor of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’s 30th anniversary, we rounded up a whole slew of movies that are ostensibly for children — but are so NSFK (not suitable for kids). It should go without saying, but childhood-ruining, loss-of-innocence-inducing, disturbing, and emotionally scarring spoilers ahead.
1 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)

I’m still terrified of quicksand. And, regular sand. Thanks a lot, Swamp of Sadness.
2 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
Dumbo (1941)

First of all, in the beginning when all of the other animals are making fun of Dumbo for his big ears, it’s straight-up, PSA-worthy bullying. The big tears that well up in those adorable baby elephant eyes are just too much pain to handle. Then, when Dumbo's mother tries to defend him, she gets put in jail.

After a series of even more unfortunate events (failed pyramids and clowning), Dumbo accidentally gets drunk — in a children's movie — and has this crazy, LSD-esque dream about pink elephants on parade after his mom sings to him from jail. What is with the butt wiggling? It’s weird, right?
3 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
Return to Oz (1985)

One of the most frequently mentioned films during discussions of traumatizing children’s movies is this now-cult classic that finds Dorothy back in Oz with a talking chicken named Billina. Emerald City is in ruins, terrifying Wheelers are skating about, and Dorothy just barely escapes electroshock therapy. She also gets imprisoned by Princess Mombi, a witch who collects heads.
4 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
Fantasia (1941)

You remember the dancing elephants and Mickey as the sorcerer's apprentice. But, do you recall the presence of Satan? He was there for Fantasia's final act, "Night on Bald Mountain."

"Bald Mountain, according to tradition, is the gathering place of Satan and his followers," the intro text tells us. What follows is the animated embodiment of every child's nightmare. Satan reaches his shadowy fingers down from Bald Mountain and causes the dead to rise up from the cemetery in the sleepy village below. We then go on a rollicking, fire and brimstone-filled journey to the depths of hell. By morning, the dead have returned to their graves and Satan has vanished, leaving viewers to believe this process occurs every night. Wee!
5 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

I have four words for you: evil bicycle clown dream. See also: Large Marge.
6 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of New World Pictures.
The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)

An 11-year-old named Michael see two ghosts, loses his hair because of something called “The Fright,” and then his soccer teammates taunt him mercilessly when his wig gets blown off during a game. With the help of the aforementioned ghosts, who implement something called the “peanut butter solution,” Michael’s hair starts growing back...and it doesn’t stop. This leads to him getting kidnapped and put in a sort of magical paintbrush-making sweatshop.

The trailer contains basically everything you need to know about just how off-tone this French-Canadian film, which fancies itself a family comedy, is.
7 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Eon Productions.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Oh, nothing to fear here, kiddos; just a character called the Child Catcher.
8 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Sullivan Bluth Studios.
All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)

Except, the title is a total lie, and some dogs go to hell. Also, the main character is murdered in the very beginning of the movie. And, your childhood dog probably didn’t get sent away to a big farm in the country where he could chase squirrels to his heart’s content. Hate to be the bearer of bad news.
9 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
Pinocchio (1940)

What is the opposite of Pleasure Island, because that’s what is being depicted here.
10 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Gremlins (1984)

While not technically a kids’ movie, there’s no point in making Gizmo look like such a fuzzy, adorable creature if he’s going to turn into a friggin’ reptilian nightmare.
11 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The Dark Crystal (1982)

Jim Henson’s trip into New Age-mysticism terrified us all with vulture-like creatures called Skeksis who are going to suck out our life essence.
12 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of MGM.
The Secret of NIMH (1982)

First of all, any non-rodent person can tell you that movies about rats with advanced intelligence are extra terrifying. The Secret of NIMH is also the first place many kids will learn about the horrors of scientific experiments on animals and the mass extermination of said animals. Beyond that, there are murder plots, magical amulets, and scary creatures with glowing eyes.
13 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
An American Tail (1986)

Remember how Fievel and the Mousekewitzes jubilantly sang “There are no cats in America, and the streets are made of cheese?” Well, that’s because the cats here represented Cossacks who would raid Jewish shtetls during horrible pogroms in the late 19th century. So, as exciting as the prospect of a life filled with cheese was in America, the Mousekewitzes were really fleeing from their home in Russia because of religious persecution and the peril of death.
14 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
The Witches (1990)

The Witches want to rid the world of children by turning them into mice and stomping on them. Cool beans, Roald Dahl.
15 of 30
PHoto: Courtesy of Lucasfilm.
Labyrinth (1986)

David Bowie is the evil goblin king, and there’s just a lot of bulge happening in those white leggings for a children’s movie.
16 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

A group of adorable, anthropomorphized appliances go on an incredible journey. Sounds cute, right? It would all be fun and toasty games except for the fact that Lampy almost loses his life when he acts as a lightning rod for the rest of the group's dead batteries. Then, when the appliances reach their owner's new apartment, they discover they've been replaced by more up-to-date technology and end up in a junkyard. In the film's climactic moment, Toaster almost dies when he tries to save the rest of the toys from a car crusher.
17 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Studios.
Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

To a teeny, tiny child, there’s no such thing as a friendly sasquatch — no matter how gentle a giant, hairy beast he’s proclaimed to be.
18 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures.
Jumanji (1995)

A board game brings the jungle to suburbia and also traps people inside. At least Clue just pretends to murder people.
19 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Nelvana Limited.
The Care Bears Movie (1985)

Nothing encourages kids to crack open a book like seeing one in a movie that has an evil green spirit living inside.
20 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
Bambi (1942)

Have you watched Bambi recently? It’s actually kind of boring until BAM...mom gets shot and a zillion young viewers are forever emotionally scarred.
21 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

You know what’s even less cool than your dad shrinking you down to the size where attempting to cross your backyard is basically The Odyssey? Encountering gigantic ants, sprinklers, and deadly lawnmowers on said trek. [Shudder.]
22 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Pixar.
Toy Story 3 (2010)

That incinerator inferno at the end? Nightmares. Also: How did the plastic toys not melt?
23 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Williams Productions.
The Thief and the Cobbler (1993)

Per R29 Social Media Director Lexi Nisita: “Richard Williams' trippy graphics would make a person who'd never even heard of LSD feel like they're on another planet. When they go visit the Mighty One-Eyes, we'd challenge any viewer not to suffer a stomach flip.”
24 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Gather round, children, and try to win one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets. Then, make sure to be on your best behavior to avoid being turned into a blueberry, falling down a garbage chute, being shrunk by a Wonkavision beam, or getting sucked into the chocolate river. Actually, why even have a chocolate river if it’s just a metaphor for childhood gluttony and the setting of psychedelic boat trips?
25 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Sure, we know that he’s a kind alien who comes in peace, but just imagine coming across E.T. in a dark, wooded area one night as a child. Tell us how totally copacetic you’d be with the extra terrestrial being. It’s also quite nightmare-inducing when E.T. is dying and scientists wearing biohazard suits swarm Elliott’s house.
26 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

We’ve discussed some of Mrs. Doubtfire’s less-than-suitable for children, scatological humor in the past. When you take a deep dive into the basic plot of the movie, however, Robin Williams’ character comes across as conniving, sociopathic, and way too willing to violate the terms of his child visitation privileges that were mandated by a court of law.

Helpful hint: The U.S. Justice System doesn’t look kindly on parents who violate their divorce agreements, no matter how beloved the elderly English woman persona a father adopts to spend extra time with his kids.
27 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
My Girl (1991)

This one errs more on the traumatizing side because how sad it is. Why does Thomas J. have to DIE? And, where are his glasses? He can’t see without his glasses!
28 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Rankin/Bass ITC.
The Last Unicorn (1982)

As a child, there was no mythical creature I wanted to be real more than unicorns. So, you'd think a movie about the last unicorn alive searching for more members of her kind would be an inspiring tale of magisterial, mythical joy.

Nope. There's a witch named Mommy Fortuna, Red Bull (the demonic animal responsible for banishing unicorns in the first place), and an immortal harpy who bears the name Celaeno. Yes, an actual harpy.
29 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
The Polar Express (2004)

It was supposed to be revolutionary for its performance-capture technology. Instead, it's remembered for the mannequin-like renderings of actors such as Tom Hanks, which give a lot of viewers the creeps.
30 of 30
Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)

The villain in this film is Trantor, a demonic troll who kidnaps children and turns them into trees to harvest their life forces.

More from Movies


R29 Original Series