Halloween is a time for horrors, haunts, and movies with a lot of blood. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the most terrifying films out there are the ones that are considered “safe” for all ages. Here are our picks of the 10 scariest G-rated movies in modern history.
For the most part, we stuck with films that came out after the PG-13 rating was established, as that solidified the modern General Audiences rating that we know today. However, there’s at least one exception to the rule—mostly because I couldn’t believe it was considered acceptable for little kids at the time it came out. Be sure to leave a note in the comments with other G-rated films that have scared you—either when you were a kid, or decades later.
The Secret of Nimh (1982)
This is Don Bluth at his finest, which also means his most terrifying. This simple story—based on Robert C. O’Brien’s 1971 children’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH—of a mother doing whatever it takes to save her son is filled with haunting imagery, near-death experiences, and a darkness that has stayed with me for years. It’s like if that one dream sequence from Rock a Doodle was stretched out for 90 minutes—with horrible animal experimentation thrown on top for good measure.
Monsters Inc. (2001)
This might be the charming tale of a couple of monsters who take care of a human toddler, but it also relies on the concept that the monsters under your bed are real. Not only that, but they terrify you in your sleep because it’s the sole thing that keeps their economy going. The worst of two evils: monsters and capitalism.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
Sometimes I can’t believe this movie isn’t rated R. It’s one of the most-traumatizing film experiences of my entire life. It’s about a group of derelict appliances who seek to find purpose by finding the person who abandoned them decades ago. Along the way, they almost get crushed at a scrap yard that we watch murder broken-down cars. Over and over and over and over and...
A Little Princess (1995)
When we think of A Little Princess, it’s easy to imagine two young girls frolicking happily in their adorable Victorian dresses—after all, that’s the image promoted on the poster. But it’s actually a 90-minute morality tale about a privileged girl named Sara who’s forced into a life of indentured service after her father dies in WWI. Those brief moments of happiness are figments of her imagination—or the machinations of a wealthy neighbor next door, which she actually gets punished for. In truth, Sara’s story is bleak and laden with trauma until, like, the last five minutes of the movie.
Speaking of morality tales, Pinocchio is one for the books. Who can forget the Pleasure Island sequence, where a bunch of young boys are transformed into donkeys and sold into slavery? And we’re made to believe they deserved it...for the crime of wanting to have fun!
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
You might be surprised how many animated films end with a villain being dragged to hell (there’s even another one on this list). However, The Princess and the Frog takes the cake for having one of the most traumatic villain deaths in Disney history. Dr. Facilier, having failed in his mission for his demonic masters, is dragged clawing and screaming to the depths of, well, something. The rest of the movie may be filled with jazz and Randy Newman, but that one moment makes it truly terrifying.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
There are plenty of older movies that have a G ratings (like Planet of the Apes) as the ratings system was still a bit murky. I’ve avoided most of them because they don’t fit the modern definition of a General Audiences movie. However, one that I couldn’t avoid for the WTF factor was The Andromeda Strain. Based on the Michael Crichton novel, this movie is about a biological weapon (with extraterrestrial origins) that kills everyone in its path. It hits especially close to home in 2020. And yeah, it’s rated G.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Don’t let the talking gargoyles fool you, this is one of the darkest animated films in history. Based on the classic French novel by Victor Hugo, it explores the evils of fanaticism, persecution, and obsession. In my eyes, “Hellfire” will always remain one of the best songs Disney ever made, because of how well it evokes the terror (and pleasure) of religious ideology gone wrong.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
The Toy Story series has always flirted with themes of morbidity, but nowhere was that more stark than in Toy Story 3. The whole movie is about a group of toys outgrowing their usefulness. Much like The Brave Little Toaster, Woody’s gut instinct is to return to the “good old days,” but eventually the toys find they can never go back. It comes to a point where they’re all on the brink of destruction, so they hold hands and welcome the end. Simply horrific.
The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
The scariest thing about this movie is that it exists in the first place.
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