For a Family Movie Night in October, Josie Ortega suggests nine great movies that offer Halloween fun for both children and parents.

Halloween Family Movie Night Crowd Pleasers

Don’t make me watch scary movies; I just don’t get the appeal. When my husband showed me Friday the 13th while we were dating (I really liked him a lot at that point), I screamed and jumped across the room at the end. At the middle school slumber party where we watched I Know What You Did Last Summer, I hid under the covers.

I can’t handle super scary, and I don’t think my kids should either. But I’m convinced that we can find some great films that capture the fun—and some of the spookiness—of Halloween, that also appeal to the whole family.

After all, Halloween offers us a chance to bring fears out into the light, to practice facing them in a controlled way. More on that in this post.

Kids, not to mention parents, may find themselves quickly overstimulated from the candy, parades, class parties, and other parties (requiring multiple costumes, sheesh) that seem to lead up to October 31. A Family Movie Night provides just the excuse to forgo another outing in favor of an evening at home, while remaining festive.

Grab your candy corn and your roasted pumpkin seeds, and enjoy Halloween Family Movie Night!

Movies with Halloween Costume Inspiration

wizard of oz wicked witch Dorothy halloween movies for family

The Wizard of Oz. We’re sure to spot some Dorothys, Scarecrows, and green-faced witches this October. Sensitive kids may have trouble with the Wicked Witch of the West and her Flying Monkeys. When we watched this one with another family, their daughter was practicing strategies for scary scenes, like leaving the room when she felt overwhelmed or covering her eyes at unpleasant parts.

Afterward, the kids took it even further by allocating roles and reenacting the story. We were surprised to see the girl who had been most upset by the witch taking on that role. Play therapy for the win! If you watch this in advance of Halloween, your easily frightened kids can be ready to throw water (figuratively) on any bad witches they come across.

Peter Pan. Because JM Barrie stocked this classic full of characters from little boys’ imaginations, Peter Pan boasts plenty of costume options like pirates, fairies, mermaids, and crocodiles. In the Disney movie, I’d skip the “What Makes the Red Man Red” scene. (When my kids asked about it, I pointed out that they drew princess Tiger Lily with a lot of expression, etc. but all the other tribe members look very mean and cartoon-y—i.e. they’re caricatures—and I didn’t like that. Just a short conversation; one of a thousand!)

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (available on Amazon Prime). Our family has embraced our share of dressing up as various princesses for Halloween (along with, for the record, a jack o’lantern named Cinderpumpkin, with a second sparkly pumpkin as the carriage). It’s nice to watch another take on Cinderella, which we especially love because of the great music and hilarious stepsisters. The Prince’s initial meeting with Cinderella, where she offers him kindness and a drink of water, adds a layer of depth and substance to the relationship.

Magical Halloween Movies

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Owls, brooms, and the appeal of a magical British boarding school: perfect for this time of year. We haven’t watched this as a family yet; our friends with young children advised us to consider skipping the Forbidden Forest scene and the final scenes with Voldemort.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I grew up on this movie in which Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson (the dad from Mary Poppins) enchant a brass bed to fly wherever they ask. My kids loved the scene where they play soccer against a cartoon lion and the finale in which Ms. Price’s magical talent deters a Nazi invasion.

Coco. Even as someone who married into Mexican culture, I wasn’t prepared to enjoy this story that revolves around Día de Los Muertos as much as I did. The fantastic music and the heartfelt, charming plot are really all about family. I cried. “Music is my language and the world is mi familia!” So good!

Classic Halloween Movies

Arsenic and Old Lace. The truth is, I have a soft spot for Cary Grant, no matter what. You could watch him in a Hitchcock thriller for Halloween—North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief—but with kids, I’d go with the dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. Cary Grant brings his new wife home to meet the family (on Halloween!), and sees through her fresh eyes that his aunts may be poisoning tenants, and his uncle believes himself Teddy Roosevelt. It’s hilarious.

halloween movies ghostbusters family

credit: Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters. My husband advocated tenaciously for the 1984 classic Ghostbusters last year. He did his homework to skip a couple key scenes . . . and our kids loved it. Because special effects have come so far, most of the ghosts weren’t scary to them, just interesting. And Slimer was downright charming. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the final battle hits that sweet scary/not scary spot. Language and content-wise, there are several items to be warned about—and/or plenty of potential conversation topics! As always, do your homework and decide what’s going to work for your family.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. If I could offer only one Halloween family movie, it would probably be E.T. It’s funny, exciting, poignant; a key scene takes place on Halloween; AND you can eat on-theme Reese’s Pieces.

Halloween Family Bonding

If all goes well, a strategic Halloween family movie night will buy you a low-key evening at home, tasty movie snacks, some family bonding, and a common vocabulary for facing fears. I ain’t afraid of no ghost! If it doesn’t go so well . . . at least you didn’t watch Frozen again.

Remember you can screen ahead of time or visit Common Sense Media or PluggedIn to check a movie’s content. And if none of the above options take, there’s always Princess Bride.

Check out this post for more Fall Family Movies, and coordinate your Halloween plans on FamilyApp!

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