Disney has been prolific in the movie animation sphere for decades, and the film studio has produced some true family classics over the years. But it also has a track record of creating ill-judged pictures, particularly during the post-Walt period. These darker films were still aimed at children but nevertheless went overboard with their tightrope walking, horror-inspired themes. From made-for-television oddities to big-budget horror blunders, here are 20 terrifying Disney movies that you wouldn’t want your kids watching alone this Halloween.
20. The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Despite being critically panned upon release, The Haunted Mansion still provides something in the way of scares. The movie – which stars funnyman Eddie Murphy – was inspired by the haunted house attraction at Disney theme parks and finds the comedian journey through the cursed building, getting into all sorts of mischief along the way. And given its ghosts, a creepy mansion and tons of jump scares, the flick’s actually pretty spooky for kids.
19. Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
You know that when a horror movie director is chosen to direct a kids’ movie, the results are likely to be pretty disturbing. And that’s exactly what we got with this ahead-of-its-time motion picture, which follows siblings Tony and Tia on an adventure through time and space. But with scenes of flying saucers, creepy telekinesis and paranormal activity, Escape to Witch Mountain might be a tad too much for your little one.
18. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is mostly known for its inclusion of the Sleepy Hollow story, and it features a famous moment that Tim Burton would probably include in his own version of the tale. This spooky scene features a chase between the headless horseman and Ichabod Crane – and is still regarded as terrifying by many.
17. The Littlest Horse Thieves (1976)
This odd Disney movie from 1976 sees a group of children looking to free ponies from a slaughterhouse (yes, you read that right). And the early 1900s-set The Littlest Horse Thieves is as harrowing as it is terrifying. So much so, in fact, that the original title of Escape from the Dark had to be changed to the cutesy one that now graces it.
16. Maleficent (2014)
One look at Angelina Jolie in this recent Disney output is enough to give viewers the heebie-jeebies. The horned sorcerer is a frightening sight to behold, and that’s not to mention the added frights of dragons and living trees. Maleficent is magical, but it’s also devilish. It even features overtones of rape, which is quite alarming for a Disney movie. But then this isn’t your standard princess story – this is the story of an ice queen.
15. Frankenweenie (1984)
Although director Tim Burton later remade the kids’ horror animation Frankenweenie in 2012, his first stab at it actually produced much more frightening results. The original – released in 1984 – wasn’t animated, and it was all the more spooky for it. In this Frankenstein-inspired tale a young boy brings his dog back to life which, inevitably, also involves scenes of dark and Gothic imagery. Disney weren’t pleased, however: in fact, Burton was fired because it was too terrifying for the target audience.
14. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Although directed by Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas was Tim Burton’s baby for over a decade and was finally made ten years after Disney deemed it too scary for kids. They may have had a point, too: this festive classic features a dark cast of characters and locales, as well as Gothic themes that persist throughout. Spooky!
13. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
In case the title didn’t give it away, Something Wicked This Way Comes features some of the most eerie moments in the studio’s history. The plot revolves around a traveling carnival coming to town, and it’s nothing but sinister. Indeed, the villain of the piece comes in the form of Mr. Dark, whose name pretty much sums up everything you need to know about this unsettling movie.
12. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
There are many great things about the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but one of the best aspects lies in the spellbinding performance given by Geoffrey Rush. And his boisterous portrayal of Captain Barbossa takes a turn for the scary when his undead skeleton comes to life. Close your eyes, kids!
11. The Black Hole (1979)
Created off the back of the success that was Star Wars, The Black Hole attempted to cash in on the popularity of the space movie franchise of the time. This one is much scarier though, not least because of scenes featuring grim deaths, creepy robots and an epic finale located in the bowels of hell itself. And actually, with a plot that centers around flying a spaceship into a black hole, it’s really no surprise that this one turned out as dark as it did.
10. Tron (1982)
This mind-bending, futuristic spacer was so ahead of its time it’s startling. Indeed, the original 1982 Tron film pushed computer graphics to the forefront of its ambitious vision, creating a movie that is still highly regarded. It’s also worth mentioning, however, that the movie has its fair share of scary moments, most notably those involving the villain played by David Warner.
9. Tower of Terror (1997)
Never ones to turn down an opportunity to promote their theme parks, Disney once again devoted a movie to the that very thing. The Tower of Terror film, though, is probably even scarier than the ride itself. The 1997-released feature had plenty of supernatural jump scares, ensuring that kids were likely hiding behind the sofa by the time the credits rolled.
8. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)
Darby O’Gill and the Little People really shines in the freaky department; indeed, nearly 60 years after its release, this odd picture still emits a peculiar aura. That’s because it features scenes of fear-inducing banshees, floating death coaches and a terrifying ghost horse. And for adults, there’s also the horror of Sean Connery’s singing to endure. Yikes!
7. Child of Glass (1978)
While most of the movies on this list are dark, none are linked with death to the extent of this 1978 release. Child of Glass centers around a family who become entwined with the ghosts of their new residence. The main protagonist is Alexander, a boy who is tasked with finding the child of glass. But it’s the creepy voice of the ghost girl along with her chilling appearance that will linger in children’s minds.
6. Return from Witch Mountain (1978)
Thought things were all wrapped up on Witch Mountain? Think again. And this sequel to the 1975 original ups the ante when it comes to horror. It features acting giant Christopher Lee in the role of the villain – a role he knocks out of the park. And clearly suckers for abuse, Disney once again appointed director John Hough to deliver an even more frightening film than its predecessor.
5. Return to Oz (1985)
Forget kids being scared, even adults are sure to get the chills from this freaky children’s classic. From a headless witch to the frightening wheelers, Return to Oz was truly terrifying for kids of the ’80s – and it remains pretty terrifying three decades on.
4. The Black Cauldron (1985)
The Black Cauldron actually proved as frightening to its own movie execs as it did to kids. After all, the studio spent more money making than anyone had ever put into an animated film ever before. Not only that, but they were also forced to give it a PG rating, too, and for good reason. Still, its morbid themes and frightening villains proved a little too hard to swallow for many, leaving it languishing with barely a fraction of the budget made back at the box office.
3. Mr. Boogedy (1986)
In a long line of odd, straight-to-TV movie releases by Disney, the downright creepy Mr. Boogedy makes the rest look like child’s play. This movie focuses on a family that move into a house that, unbeknownst to them, is haunted. But the horror-comedy shifts more into the horror category whenever Mr. Boogedy appears. With his haunting glow and frightening features, the ghostly villain is sure to stay in kids’ minds long after the movie’s conclusion.
2. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
Spooky woods, haunted mansion, creepy old woman – this infamous 1980 Disney movie has it all when it comes to the scare department. And everything about the flick is odd. Yes, from bizarre premonitions to truly unsettling images, The Watcher In The Woods is genuinely scary. So yeah, the kids are almost certain to get nightmares from this misjudged motion picture.
1. Dragonslayer (1981)
1981’s Dragonslayer still stands as one of Disney’s boldest releases to date. Aside from featuring brief nudity and occasional violence, it was also dark in nature, with terrifying scenes of the movie’s dragon and some sacrificial rituals thrown in for good measure. And with all that taken into account, it’s easy to see why this one was slapped with a TV-14 rating in the mid ’90s.