Classic Halloween movies are an absolute must for spooky season, whether you watch bravely from the sofa or peek out from behind a cushion.
The reasons why we celebrate Halloween aren't known to everyone, but what we do know is that we love scaring ourselves silly with slasher films and psychological horrors. And while so many new award-winning blockbusters have hit our screens in recent years, like Nope and Midsommar, there’s something about watching a real old-school, iconic movie that makes for the best Halloween tradition.
Curled up on the sofa with some themed Halloween food, we can’t imagine a better way to spend an evening, so here’s our list of the best classic Halloween movies with ratings - so you know whether they’re family-friendly or adults-only.
Best Halloween movies for kids
1. Hocus Pocus (1993)
With Hocus Pocus 2 landing on Disney+ this autumn, it's only right that you refresh you memory of Sanderson sisters by watching the original film. A great option for younger viewers, this Halloween movie stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, and has gone down in history for its witty humour, classic Halloween fantasy, and unbeatable campy style.
Three hundred years after the Salem witch trials, a curious teenager moves to the area with his family. Unable to fit in with his peers and looking for something to do, he unknowingly awakens a trio of fiendish witches executed for their crimes.
Critics have slammed the film over the years with Entertainment Weekly’s film reviewer Ty Burr calling it an “acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting”. Rotten Tomatoes has given it an overall rating of just 39% but there’s no denying the lasting impact Hocus Pocus has had on the Halloween movie genre.
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! After losing their academic standings at a prestigious university in the States, a team of parapsychologists goes into business together as 'Ghostbusters', tackling paranormal happenings around New York City.
This film was so popular and now has such an iconic status in the Halloween movie genre that it was re-made and re-vamped in 2016 - with an all-female cast. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, we recommend opting for this version if you’re up for some modern jokes and a dose of girl power.
The original 1984 film stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, and when this classic Halloween movie came out, it received a host of solid reviews. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert gave it a solid three-and-a-half stars, calling it a “rare” example of a film where big special effects didn’t ruin the plot.
3. The Addams Family (1991)
If you want the Halloween vibe without the gore and jump scares, The Addams Family is the classic to go for. Starring Angelica Huston as the iconic Morticia Addams, it’s a film with traditional Halloween style that wouldn’t look out of place at a costume party - in the best way.
But there’s a plot to go along with it too. Con artists and their accomplice plan to fleece an eccentric family by claiming to be their long-lost uncle - with a hilariously macabre outcome.
While it didn’t win any Oscars, critic Angie Errigo at Empire Magazine said it’s “deliciously sick and delightfully cast”. And there’s also enough innuendos to keep adults giggling away and enough Halloween boxes ticked for kids to feel like they’ve had the true spooky experience.
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
It’s a Tim Burton classic! Great for Halloween (and surprisingly, also for Christmas). Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town discovers Christmas Town, but doesn’t quite understand the concept.
Bored of doing the same thing every year for Halloween, Jack is so mesmerized by Christmas goings-on that he persuades his resident ghouls, bats, and goblins to throw a Christmas party of their own. But surprise, surprise, it doesn’t quite go to plan.
Renowned critic Rober Ebert called it “a feast for the eyes and the imagination”. He also noted, “the movie is rated PG, maybe because some of the Halloween creatures might be a tad scary for smaller children, but this is the kind of movie older kids will eat up; it has the kind of offbeat, subversive energy that tells them wonderful things are likely to happen.” And for adults who are “not particularly scared by the abduction of Santa”, it’s a winner.
5. Goosebumps (2015)
This flick is based on R.L. Stine’s children’s books of the same name. The movie follows a young boy and his haphazard comrades as they fight deadly creatures that have escaped some spooky books.
It’s a real nail-biter of a film, perfect for Halloween.
If you’ve binged your way through Tim Burton’s collection of films, this is one of the classic Halloween movies to go for next. As Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian says, “There’s a streak of old-fashioned B-movie spooky playfulness here.”
6. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
If you’re going vintage this Halloween, check out The Creature from the Black Lagoon - one of the oldest films on our list. Shot in black and white, it's one of the earliest 3D films made in Hollywood.
This film is about a prehistoric creature that lurks in the Amazonian jungle. To try and bring it back to civilization for studies, scientists attempt to capture the beast - with a few casualties along the way. Inventively named Gill-man, this beast is part-fish and part-human and wriggles free with the help of its unique features.
It was critically acclaimed on release in the 1950s, with revered film critic Leonard Matlin saying; “The archetypal ‘50s monster movie has been copied so often that some of the edge is gone, but...is still entertaining, with juicy atmosphere and luminous underwater photography sequences.”
7. Coraline (2009)
Don’t let the lighthearted animation of this film fool you. It’s definitely not one for anyone easily creeped out.
This sinister film is about a young girl called Coraline who finds her way to a parallel universe where an alternative version of her family tries to tempt her away with big promises. Naturally, the reality of the situation turns out to be a lot more dangerous than expected.
A great one for kids at that in-between stage, where they’re ready for more of a scare but not quite ready to dive deep into the Saw films.
8. Spirited Away (2002)
Where to watch: Netflix | Suitable for: Ages 8+
As the only anime film on our list, we have to give this one all the credit it deserves. You might not initially think it’s a good Halloween film, but it’s destined to become a classic in the years to come.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, this film is about a girl who travels into a world of witches, spirits, and other ghouls to try and save her parents.
All animated in the traditional anime style, it’s in the British Film Institute’s Top 50 films for children up to the age of 14. And in 2016, it was voted the 4th-best film of the 21st century by the BBC.
9. Scooby Doo (2002)
This is a live-action version of everyone’s favourite cartoon! And it stars some of Hollywood’s favourite faces, including Linda Cardellini, Isla Fisher, Rowan Atkinson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Freddie Prinze. Jr.
Scooby and the gang visit a young people’s holiday island in this film, looking for a chance to sit back and relax from their normal villain-busting antics. But the gang finds that some of their new friends aren’t quite who they claim to be... So in true Mystery Machine style, they set out to unmask the bad guys.
This is an incredible noughties spin on a programme that’s seen nearly five decades worth of kids through their childhoods - so it’s set to be a winner for everyone on the sofa.
10. The Corpse Bride (2005)
Another spooky tale to add to your must-watch list of classic Halloween movies from the mind of Tim Burton.
In this one, Victor goes out to practice his wedding vows in the woods. But a deceased woman lies beneath him as he does so. And just as he gets them right, she rises - assuming he’s marrying her! The unsuspecting Victor finds himself with a corpse bride and a bride-to-be.
But despite the macabre setting, this dark cartoon is actually a comedy - and a heart-warming one at that. The combination of classic Burton animation and storytelling has firmly put this one in the line-up for must-watch Halloween films.
Best Halloween movies for adults
Let’s start with an old school hit; the very first Halloween film, starring Nick Castle in the role of the terrifying Mike Myers and featuring Jamie Lee Curtis’ very first big-screen performance as Laurie Strode.
The film tells the story of Mike Myers, who was committed to a sanitarium in 1963 for murdering his teenage sister on Halloween - at just six years old. 15 years later, he escapes and returns to his hometown. While a psychiatrist attempts to track him down, Mike stalks another female babysitter and her friends - but who will run into him first?
It’s a must-watch for anyone who wants a classic slasher film to kick start their Halloween festivities. When it was released in the 70s, reviewers slammed the film - but high-profile film critic for The New Yorker, Pauline Kael, admitted that “it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do.” And in 2006, this film was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Now, that’s what you call a real classic.
12. Gremlins (1984)
Complete with all the hilarity of early CGI, Gremlins is one of director Christopher Colombus’ early films and is truly one of the most iconic classic Halloween movies out there.
The plot involves a young man who accidentally breaks three very important rules concerning his new reptile-like pet (1. Don’t feed the gremlins after midnight) and inadvertently releases a world of mischief on his small town.
Pulitzer prize-winning critic Roger Ebert was one of the many who praised the film when it came out in the 80s. He said not only was it a “fun” watch but had a “sly series of send-ups” that would have viewers hanging onto the final credits. It also won three prestigious awards at the time (Goldene Leinwand, Saturn Award, and a Young Artist Award), firmly putting it into the canon of classic Halloween films.
13. Scream (1996)
How could we not mention Scream? If you’ve never been creeped out by one of those long white masks, then you’ve never truly experienced Halloween. In the film, a killer targets and terrorizes a teenage girl - one year after the murder of her mother - and her friends with references to other classic horror films in a deadly game.
This classic Halloween film definitely isn’t one for the faint-hearted but it’s a real scream (pardon the pun) and an essential on the viewing list for horror fans.
“I liked the in-jokes and the self-aware characters,” critic Rober Ebert said of Scream back in the 1990s. “At the same time, I was aware of the incredible level of gore in this film. It is *really* violent.”
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
14. Beetlejuice (1998)
Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, and Schitt’s Creek star Catherine O’Hara star in this colourful Halloween flick.
Another great one if you want to get caught up in the tradition of Halloween without the blood and guts. In this film, the spirits of a deceased couple are hounded by an annoying family that has moved into their old home. So, they hire a malicious spirit to try and drive them out.
Pauline Kael, a hard-won critic for The New Yorker, praised the film when it came out in the late 1980s and called it a “comedy classic”. In 1989, it won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and the award for Best Visual Effects and Makeup at the 42nd British Academy Film Awards.
15. Sweeney Todd (2007)
Looking for a dose of theatrics with your spooky-themed evening? This adaption of Stephen Sondheim’s musical follows the life of a murderous barber and his downstairs neighbour, a meat-pie shop owner.
Starring the iconic duo of Johnny Depp as the barber and Helena Bonham Carter as the shop owner, we reckon you won’t be able to get the musical numbers out of your head until at least Christmas time.
In 2008, Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian said the film was “lively” with a “tremendous fantasy sequence, brilliantly lit with hyperreal sunshine”. And while the film has a high age rating, he said it was an “entertaining, unscary digital ride through the London Dungeon, accompanied by classy music”.
16. Paranormal Activity (2009)
Paranormal Activity hasn’t been out for as long as some of these other classic Halloween movies, but it’s certainly made a splash in the genre.
For all those who love jump scare, being generally completely freaked out and afraid to shut their eyes at night, this is the film to go for to celebrate Halloween. It’s a mockumentary - or mocku-nightmare more like - based around the idea of video footage that’s been found.
Film critic for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw, called it an “ingenious and often genuinely frightening film” - one that’s a refresher after years of predictable horror films.
17. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
There are no slashers, ghosts, or things that go bump in the night in this iconic movie. While it’s rated a 15, there’s not much in this film that a 12-year-old would be shocked by - apart from some super chiseled ab muscles, perhaps.
The story centres on a young, engaged couple who find themselves stranded and looking for help after their car breaks down. Seeking a telephone for help, they stumble across a lavish country home occupied by strange people in elaborate costumes celebrating an annual convention. Dr. Frank N.Furter is the mad scientist and head of the house, who they find is creating a real-life man - called Rocky.
Packed full of unforgettable dance numbers, catchy tunes, and incredible camp costumes, this is a classic Halloween film for those who want fantasy - something bright and happy with a sprinkle of devilishness.
18. The Shining (1980)
It wouldn’t be Halloween without “Here comes Johnny!” The Shining is one of the most recognised Halloween movies of all time, starring Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, the writer-turned-hotel-caretaker, eventual madman, and father of Danny Torrance, who possesses “the shining” abilities that allow him to see the hotel’s deadly past. As a winter snowstorm leaves Jack, his son, and wife trapped in the hotel, the supernatural forces inside put Jack’s sanity in danger.
Anyone looking to watch The Shining probably knows that some time has passed since its creation. So while critics at the time tore the movie to shreds, those looking back at it retrospectively have an entirely different view. “The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them,” wrote Robert Ebert.
Without a doubt, it’s one of the real classic Halloween movies. A must-watch for anyone looking to kick the season off with a psychological thriller and slasher film rolled into one.
19. Carrie (1976)
Pigs’ blood, curses, and crucifixion - what more could you want from classic Halloween movies?
Carrie White is a shy teenage girl without friends, protected by a domineering mother. Humiliated at school by her peers and bullied relentlessly. But there’s one thing people don’t know about Carrie - she’s got telekinetic powers and isn’t afraid to use them.
The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael described the film as a “perverse mixture of comedy and horror and tension”, while Empire’s Andrew Collins called it a film full of “morbid, vicarious, popcorn-munching fun”.
20. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Don’t want your horror all at once? Mia Farrow plays young Rosemary in this slow-burn, chilling picture.
It follows a young couple in New York who are trying for a baby. Once pregnant, Rosemary begins to suspect that her elderly neighbours are members of a Satanic cult - and the threat is coming closer to home.
Based on Ira Levin’s famous 1967 book of the same name, it’s a film full of suspense that will leave you hanging onto the edge of your seat.
21. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
A dark, creaky cabin in the woods and five teenagers all alone. What could possibly go wrong?
The film, which is a revitalisation of the slasher movie genre, follows a group of students who go away to a remote cabin in the forest for a holiday. Here, they fall victim to zombies while technicians control their lives from an underground facility.
Certainly not one of the classic Halloween movies to watch home alone or if you’re scared of things that go bump in the night - but a classic, nonetheless.
22. Friday the 13th (1980)
There’s a reason why Friday the 13th is supposed to be the unluckiest day of the year - and most of those reasons come from this film.
The plot of this movie revolves around a group of camp counsellors who are stalked and one-by-one murdered by an unknown assailant as they try to reopen a summer camp that was shut down years before after a drowning and grisly double murder.
There are three chapters to this film franchise. So if you haven’t bailed by the end of the first one, you can keep going with Friday the 13th II and Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter.
23. Saw (2004)
Slasher movie fans assemble. If you love gore turned up to the max on fright night, then chances are you’ve already seen this classic Halloween movie.
Two men wake up in dimly lit surroundings and soon realise they are the human toys of “Jigsaw”, a sadistic and crazed puppeteer killer who forces his victims to commit horrific acts of violence. Each man has until 6pm to kill the other one or face a terrifying death of their own.
Haven’t seen this blood bath of a film? Be prepared for torture, mystery, and phobias to the extreme.
24. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
It doesn’t get more Halloween-y than Dracula. While there are versions of this film that seem to come out every other year, this is the only one worth watching if you’ve got a real taste for horror.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola - the man behind The Godfather - this 1992 adaptation of Dracula stars Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves. But while there are no horse's heads in the bed this time around, there are plenty of other hellish findings.
The film follows centuries-old Count Dracula, a vampire who travels to England to seduce his barrister Johnathan Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray and cause spooky mayhem across the country.
25. The Purge (2013)
Technically, a film should have at least a decade to gain a fanbase big enough to be considered a ‘classic’. Still, we’re only one year out of that time frame with The Purge franchise. This film - and the four that come after it - are seriously scary. They’re sure to become horror classics in their own right soon enough.
The film begins in modern America - a utopia version that’s normal and crime-free. However, it’s only this way because every year there’s a national holiday known as The Purge. That's when all crime, including murder, becomes legal for a 12-hour period.
It’s definitely one of the classic Halloween movies to queue if you’re up for a horror film marathon this Halloween. Available to watch on both Amazon Prime and Netflix.
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Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for womanandhome.com and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.
- Ellie HutchingsFamily News Editor
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