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.
- Photo: Buena Vista Distribution
There's a reason you don't hear much about Return to Oz, the 1985 sequel to the classic Wizard of Oz: It's a creepy film that likely scarred more than one viewer. It puts the flying monkeys of the original to shame.
There are scenes of children receiving electroshock therapy, characters literally losing their heads, and everyone in the Emerald City, including the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man, turning to stone.
- Actors: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Matt Clark
- Released: 1985
- Directed by: Walter Murch
- Photo: Warner Bros.
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
- Released: 1984
- Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
- Photo: United Artists
In All Dogs Go to Heaven, the heroic pooch, Charlie, has a dream nightmare about hell. It's complete with green lightning strikes, tornados, fiery pits, rivers of molten lava, and a towering beast. Throughout the scene, an ominous voice is saying, "You can never go back... "
Watching this, viewers instantly feel sad for Charlie before realizing they will never forget anything about this scene.
- Actors: Dom DeLuise, Burt Reynolds, Daryl Gilley, Candy Devine, Charles Nelson Reilly
- Released: 1989
- 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: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern
- Released: 1988
- Directed by: Robert Zemeckis