Halloween is rooted in a tradition of remembering the dead, so it's no wonder that October 31 involves a lot of spooky tales and costumes that revolve around supernatural beings. So while carving pumpkins, dressing up for costume parties, and passing out sweets to trick-or-treaters is fun, cozying up for a Halloween scary movie marathon is arguably the best way to get in the October spirit. Not to mention that this activity won't require us to leave the comfort of our sofas. So if you're looking for a thrill as we gear up for Friday the 13th, a scary movie will do the trick.
Whether you want to plan a family night and need a playful movie that won't spook the little ones too much or you love watching horror films (especially on date night), you'll find something in our watchlist of the 36 best Halloween movies. To help you better plan your own marathon, we broke down our list into three groups based upon fear factors of one to three, with one comprising family favorites and childhood throwbacks, two being filled with movies spooky enough to make you sleep with the light on but won't make jump out of your seat, and three being full-on horrifying even if you don't scare easily. Scroll through for the full list below (if you dare).
Fear Level 1
The Witches (PG): This Roald Dahl adaptation is an imaginative tale about a little boy whose vacation gets a dramatic twist when he finds out there's a witch convention happening at his hotel.
Ghostbusters (PG-13): You've got paranormal activity, comedy (hello, Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy), and plenty of action, making this playful Halloween movie a fun one for kids and parents alike. Watch the 1984 classic or the 2016 remake.
Halloweentown (NR): It's a quintessential early-2000s Disney movie about a town where it's Halloween all year. Witches, ghosts, skeletons, zombies… It's got all the usual suspects.
Beetlejuice (PG): Make a family tradition out of streaming this Winona Ryder cult classic about a haunted house. But make sure your child knows how to spot satire so they don't take the cast of eccentric ghosts too seriously.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (NR): A true Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen masterpiece, this is. Admittedly, it's a lot more fun to watch as a kid, but if you're feeling nostalgic, it's worth revisiting. Plus if you let your kids watch it, they'll learn all about the twin motif in the horror genre nice and young.
Practical Magic (PG-13): Cool and smart sisters portrayed by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman who also happen to be magical witches? That's the childhood dream right there. It's more a romantic comedy meets fantasy than a scary movie, but it's still on theme for the holiday.
Coraline (PG): Though meant for children, this animated film adapted from a young adult novel is pretty disturbing. You'll get something different out of it depending on your age, making it a good family flick as far as scary movies go.
The Addams Family (PG-13): Each family member will have a character to resonate with, making it a fun movie to watch with your kids.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (PG): Halloween isn't Halloween until you've enjoyed some candy while watching Tim Burton's classic movie where the king of Halloween finds Christmas town.
Hocus Pocus (PG): Here's another Disney classic starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker as the world's funniest witches complete with teen romance, drama, and some Massachusetts fall vibes.
Teen Witch (PG-13): Here's another fun Halloween throwback that could use a rewatch. It takes the whole Salem witch plotline and makes it empowering rather than sinister.
Fear Level 2
Mulholland Drive (R): Here's a David Lynch must-see about an actress and an amnesiac. It's also a Los Angeles noir comprised of a series of vignettes that create an interesting, temporally fragmented structure.
The Sixth Sense (PG-13): If you haven't seen this Bruce Willis classic about a child psychologist treating a creepy kid who sees dead people, stop everything you're doing, and watch it now.
The Neon Demon (R): Starring Elle Fanning, this visually stunning and sometimes campy movie is what you'd expect from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director who brought you Drive, in a horror-meets-fashion film. It's not Halloween-specific, but it's eerie enough to make the list.
Donnie Darko (R): This is a great Halloween movie for philosophy students, Jake Gyllenhaal die-hards, and anyone who loves slightly freaky movies that won't scar them.
Get Out (R): Perhaps the hardest-hitting horror film as of late, this is one everyone should add to the queue, regardless of the time of year. It breaks down stereotypical racialized film tropes and also successfully makes the argument that the racism of the past is not isolated in the past.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (R): Personally, I saw this when I was a pretty young kid and found it to be cool and funny as opposed to scary. It is a campy musical after all. Since there's some cannibalism, and it's rated R, we kept it out of the family-friendly section, though we'll let you make that call. Pro tip: It's best enjoyed when watching at a midnight theater showing.
Nosferatu (NR): An oldie but a goodie, this is the OG vampire film. If it isn't scary enough for you, try the 1979 remake.
Sleepy Hollow (R): This classic Halloween legend of the Headless Horseman is actualized onscreen and delivers all the spooky vibes you'd expect from a period piece starring Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane.
American Psycho (R): What does a serial-killing yuppie with a dry sense of humor yield? Patrick Bateman will make you laugh, cry, scream, and analyze consumer culture, although there are a few bloody scenes that may be hard to stomach for some viewers.
Blue Velvet (R): Kyle MacLachlan fans, this one is for you. It's sensual, mysterious, and spooky without being hard to watch, making it the perfect movie for a date night during October.
The Uninvited (PG-13): This one is about a young girl adjusting to life after a stay in a mental institution following her mother's death.
Disturbia (PG-13): A troubled but well-meaning Shia LeBoeuf develops a crush and becomes friends with the all-American girl next door as they discover the dark secrets of their other neighbor.
Only Lovers Left Alive (R): Naturally, an epic everlasting love story needs to involve vampires. Complete with a killer soundtrack of hypnotizing music, enchanting visuals, stunning sets, and sexy undertones, this is a great movie for anyone who feels lukewarm about fear.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (NR): Intelligent, artful, and thought-provoking, this film is a fresh take on the horror genre and offers audiences one of the strongest female leads around. There are some frightening elements, but overall, it also sheds light on contemporary power dynamics and gender inequality in an unconventional narrative.
Don't Forget the Snacks:
Fear Level 3
Goodnight Mommy (R): This is another slow-building horror film with subtitles, but if you stick with it, it's worth the terrifying wait. (I had to shut my eyes and ask my seatmate to narrate the last 15 minutes for me.) There's a mom-turned-monster from plastic surgery, twin motifs, and torture scenes.
Psycho (R): This Alfred Hitchcock movie is famous for its shower scene when a woman is stabbed with a butcher knife. You know the one.
The Shining (R): A haunted hotel in the middle of nowhere, a snowstorm, a family torn apart, "redrum" written on the mirror in blood… If you want to enjoy all the horror archetypes in one movie, this is your best bet.
The Invitation (NR): Nobody likes dinner parties that require awkward mingling and bad food, but I'd prefer that to murder, cults, and a crazy ex-partner. The whole film takes place within a single night, and the viewer isn't quite sure who to trust. It has a slow build.
Mother! (NR): A dark allegorical film that takes a critical look at religion, narcissism, and the destruction of our environment, Darren Aronofsky's latest film is not for the faint of heart. It's also filled with intellectual references (as well as Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jennifer Lawrence), so if you like your movies with a healthy dose of pretention, look no further.
It Follows (R): Now here's a movie that will convince you to take sex ed seriously. In addition to STDs, the protagonists have contracted a sexually transmitted curse. The plot sounds silly, but the film is impressive.
Halloween (R): Don't think Halloween masks and costumes can be scary? Think again. You can't miss this one if you love this holiday and this genre. It's a classic (as far as sadistic films go), and it never gets less disturbing no matter how many times you watch it.
The Witch (R): As the title implies, it's about a witch. Beyond that, it's a period piece portraying early America and a young woman as she witnesses her family fall apart because of something lurking in the woods.
The Babadook (NR): How is the terrifying (and very talented) little boy in this movie not Shelley Duvall from The Shining? Similar to The Sixth Sense, in that the mother and son are both afraid of each other and the supernatural and empirical become indistinguishable, this film is unique in that it revolves around a chilling storybook.
A Tale of Two Sisters (R): Inspired by a South Korean folktale, this horror film about two sisters coping with an evil stepmother makes the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales look mild. If you like a suspenseful slow build, this movie won't let you down.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (R): Haunted in their sleep, you will be dreading the moment you close your eyes after watching this. Oh, and don't expect the good guys to win in this one.
What's your favorite Halloween movie? Share with us in the comments below.