From Gremlins to The Witches, from The Nightmare Before Christmas to Goosebumps, there are plenty of children's movies that have done kid-friendly scares exceptionally well. But there are also terrifying family movies not intended to be that way at all. These films, like The Secret of NIMH, somehow turned out to be nightmare fuel for countless kids. What's more, most of them presented as innocent stories with life lessons for young viewers. Instead, the result was creepy imagery, doom and gloom, and, in one notable case, existential fright. Even a classic like The Wizard of Oz - despite the presence of Judy Garland and a happy witch in a floating bubble - still brings up one frightening memory for many people: the flying monkeys.
Not all children's movies ended up being as innocuous and approachable as the filmmakers thought they were - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is perhaps the most notable example of this, but it's not the only one.
For those kids who weren't scared by cartoonish villainy, The NeverEnding Story managed to inject a whole new concept: existential dread. What is supposed to be a child's adventure gets overshadowed by the peril of the world consumed by pure nothingness.
Plus, there is the tragedy of Artax, the endearing horse who sinks in The Swamp of Sadness as Atreyu desperately tries to get him to care enough to survive. Thankfully, The NeverEnding Story does eventually end, but the philosophical issues introduced linger for years.
Actors: Gerald McRaney, Limahl, Moses Gunn, Deep Roy, Alan Oppenheimer, + more
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
For a kid's movie about a lovable elephant who finds his purpose, Disney's original animated version of Dumbo had some genuinely unsettling moments. First, there was a whole scene involving dancing pink elephants; there were also clowns. They knock poor Dumbo off the ledge of a burning building, so he lands in a tub of water for an adoring crowd. Shortly after that, the clowns go backstage and plot their next move in silhouette.
Hopefully, Tim Burton's 2019 remake will be less creepy... and less clown-y.
Actors: Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards, Verna Felton, Herman Bing, Ken Darby, + more
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, Samuel Armstrong, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen, Norman Ferguson, + more
The rodent fantasy The Secret of NIMH always had a morbid tinge, but it was likely way darker than the filmmakers realized. There was mice misery, attempts to hold children down in mud, and decrepit rodents with warty hands.
Even those characters who were supposed to be good, or at least moral, turned out to have sinister designs with a lack of eyes as one of the main issues.
Actors: Shannen Doherty, Wil Wheaton, Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise, John Carradine, + more
Directed by: Don Bluth
The shoe-dipping scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit stuck in the minds of many heartbroken children. Judge Doom, in an effort "to make toons respect the law," picks up an innocent, sweetly-squeaking little animated shoe.
Then, he drops the little shoe into a vat of bubbling acetone, benzene, and turpentine. As if that wasn't bad enough, we have to listen to the whimpers of the shoe as it slowly de-animates.
Actors: Kathleen Turner, Christopher Lloyd, Bob Hoskins, Mel Blanc, Frank Welker, + more
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis