Though most people associate the Halloween season with horror movies, there are movies in every genre from cartoons to comedies that take their inspiration from the spookiest time of year, either in a pivotal scene or as an overall theme. Here are 20 of our favorites.
1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
An adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel is the night Scout (Mary Badham) walks home in a clumsy ham costume after a Halloween party: She and brother Jem are saved by Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) after being attacked by a man looking for revenge on their father, attorney Atticus Finch. Trapped in the awkward ham costume, Scout is both defenseless and defended—the heavy exterior thwarts the man’s attack and saves her from serious injury.
2. IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (1966)
Though slightly less famous than its yuletide counterpart, this Halloween-themed Peanuts special is just as heartwarming, and introduces us to a whole new benevolent holiday figure: the Great Pumpkin. The 25-minute TV special—one of only three animated by Bill Melendez and featuring a classic score by Vince Guaraldi—follows Linus’s much-mocked Halloween traditions surrounding the Great Pumpkin, like writing him an annual letter and waiting patiently at the local pumpkin patch to try to catch a glimpse of him.
3. HALLOWEEN IS GRINCH NIGHT (1977)
The Grinch is well-known for his animated Christmas special, but in 1977 he made a second television appearance around Halloween. Halloween is Grinch Night takes place on a night when “the sour-sweet wind” is sweeping over Whoville, forcing the Whos indoors and giving the Grinch free rein to terrorize the town.
4. HALLOWEEN (1978)
John Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t the first slasher flick, but it did help solidify the genre for the next 40 years. The movie established the need for an iconic piece of big screen villainy, which it found in the lumbering, ghostly Michael Myers. Predictably, the movie takes place on Halloween and features all the staples: a knife-wielding maniac, some hysterical teenagers (a young Jamie Lee Curtis among them), and plenty of gruesome kills performed with machine-like precision. Whether you watch it with horrific enthusiasm or through the openings of your petrified fingers covering your face, Halloween is a slasher film that has to be seen by any self-respecting movie fan.
5. DARK KNIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981)
This little-seen TV movie stars Larry Drake (L.A Law) as Bubba Ritter, a man of impaired intellect who is wrongly accused of attacking a girl in their small southern town. After being murdered by an angry vigilante group, Ritter’s vengeful presence sends the offenders into a paranoid spiral. At a Halloween party, mob leader Otis (Charles Durning) menaces the young victim, who knows he was responsible for Ritter’s murder.
6. HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
Come for the catchy jingle, stay for the legitimately solid storytelling. Though the third entry in the Halloween franchise has been widely mocked for decades, strip away all the cheesiness of its early ’80s-ness and you’re actually left with a pretty interesting allegory about the power of corporate America.
7. E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL (1982)
In addition to making Reese’s Pieces a trick-or-treat staple, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial also gave us one of the most iconic Halloween sequences in cinema. On Halloween, Elliott dresses E.T.—the outer space visitor who has been crashing in his closet—as a bedsheet ghost to sneak him out of the house for the night. The plot device makes for some delightful scenes, like when E.T. tries to heal the fake knife wound on Elliott’s brother’s head, or when he bumps into a kid dressed as Yoda and confuses him for a fellow alien.
8. ONCE BITTEN (1985)
Ok, so it would probably be more accurate to call Once Bitten—the mid-1980s horror comedy that put Jim Carrey on the map—more of a guilty pleasure than a genuinely great flick. But the film, which features Lauren Hutton as a 400-year-old vampire who requires virgin blood to maintain her youthful glow, offers a genuinely interesting first glimpse at the actor (and huge box office star) Carrey would become in the decades that followed.
9. THE WORST WITCH (1986)
Before there was Harry Potter, there was Mildred Hubble (Fairuza Balk), a student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches whose greatest talent seems to be in turning everything she touches into a catastrophe (hence the title). But when Miss Cackle’s evil sister Agatha (both played by Charlotte Rae) makes a sneaky play to take over the school and turn its students into fellow evildoers, it’s Mildred who ends up saving the day.
10. GHOSTWATCH (1992)
This special was broadcast on Halloween night from a supposedly haunted residence in the UK, with the channel’s familiar on-air personalities lending credence to the prank. What starts off as a reality TV stunt quickly goes off the rails, as the ghost (nicknamed Pipes) causes a number of unsettling disturbances for both the family and viewers.
11. HOCUS POCUS (1993)
Roger Ebert may have given Hocus Pocus a one-star rating, but the campy film—starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and a pre- Sex and the city Sarah Jessica Parker—is now considered a Halloween cult classic, with an upcoming TV movie reboot (sans original cast) currently in the works.
12. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
The Nightmare Before Christmas could be billed as either a Halloween movie or a Christmas flick, depending on how macabre you like your holiday films. The 1993 claymation musical features Pumpkin King Jack Skellington—Halloween’s answer to figures like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny—who’s tired of always celebrating the same holiday in his native Halloween Town.
13. ED WOOD (1994)
Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994) stars the late Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, one of the most famous horror actors of all time, and Johnny Depp as Ed Wood, one of the most infamous directors of all time. Their chemistry is on full view during the film’s Halloween portion: Ed and Bela spend the night watching—what else?—Bela’s own acting when the latter tries to hypnotize the TV host Vampira through the screen, Dracula-style.
14. THE CROW (1994)
This comic book-inspired tale of revenge kicks off on the night before Halloween, which also happens to be the day before their wedding, as a young couple (Brandon Lee and Sofia Shinas) is brutally murdered as part of a blood-soaked Devil’s Night ritual. One year later, the would-be groom is resurrected via a mystical crow, turning him into a one-man army as he hunts down those responsible for his fiancée’s death.
15. CASPER (1995)
Not all ghosts have to be bad—and since his animated debut back in the 1940s, Casper has been advertised as being downright friendly. So a 1995 big-budget family film was a no-brainer for Sony. The movie stars Christina Ricci as a young girl Casper befriends as she prepares to throw a Halloween party at her house for her classmates. Despite being a movie for the family, Casper gets surprisingly dark, even going as far as to show that the friendly ghost was actually a friendly human kid before he got pneumonia and died.
16. HALLOWEENTOWN (1998)
This Disney Chanel Original Movie has turned into a bona fide hit. It follows a young girl named Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) whose mom has never allowed her to go trick or treating and who has forbidden her from going to a classmate’s costume party. Eventually, Marnie learns that her mom’s reluctance to let her indulge in the Halloween spirit is because her own mom (Debbie Reynolds) is a witch—which is a pretty big family secret to drop on a kid.
17. GINGER SNAPS (2000)
Teen sisters Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle) are having some issues slightly outside of the norm: Ginger was bitten by a werewolf, and a cure isn’t easy to come by.
18. DONNIE DARKO (2001)
Played by a young Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko’s titular character is a troubled high school student in Middlesex, Virginia, who’s dealing with school, love, and—oh yeah—the world’s pending demise. Donnie’s convinced that existence as he knows it will end in 28 days, as predicted by Frank, a mysterious nighttime visitor in a rabbit suit.
19. HALLOWEEN (2007)
Many fans of John Carpenter’s inimitable 1978 horror classic still have a chip on their shoulder about this 2007 remake, and understandably so. But if you separate the film from its source material, and go into it thinking of it as a semi-original piece of horror content, there’s actually a fair amount of pleasure to be derived from it by serious horror fans.
20. TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)
Despite being one of the more celebrated horror films of the last decade, 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat never got a full theatrical release. Instead, it amassed a sizable cult following through limited screenings and at film festivals.