The 20 Best Halloween Movies to Watch This Year

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

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)

One of the most iconic scenes in this 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. —Jake Rossen

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. You also get to see the whole Peanuts gang partying in their best Halloween costumes (well, most of them opt to be ghosts), including a brief diversion as Snoopy’s Flying Ace takes on the Red Baron. —Shaunacy Ferro

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. The special lacks the moral lessons and heartwarming ending of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it does feature some catchy songs and wordplay from script writer Dr. Seuss. And unlike his Christmas story, this special culminates with a trippy horror sequence that’s legitimately scary. —Michele Debczak

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. —Jay Serafino

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. All three meet their fates in the climactic chase through a pumpkin patch. —JR

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 (in this case, a popular Halloween mask-maker that has rigged its product to kill off the American population). —Jennifer M. Wood

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. (George Lucas returned Steven Spielberg’s shout-out 17 years later by including an E.T. cameo in The Phantom Menace.) —MD

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. —JMW

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. —JMW

10. GHOSTWATCH (1992)

This BBC 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. The program was so scary it was scolded by British broadcasting officials for not making it clear it was a work of fiction. —JR

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. For the uninitiated, the original 1993 flick is set in Salem, Massachusetts, where teen Max Dennison (Omri Haim Katz) accidentally resurrects a trio of murderous witches while trying to impress his crush. Max bands together with love interest Allison (Vinessa Shaw); Thackery Binx, an immortal black cat; and his little sister, Dani (played by a tiny Thora Burch) to thwart the witches' quest to suck out the souls of Salem's children. —KF

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. When Jack accidentally discovers a portal to Christmas Town, he learns about the unfamiliar holiday and decides to adopt some of its trademark cheer. Jack’s plans go awry, however, when he kidnaps Santa and tries to take over his job. —KF

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. Later in the night, a group of trick-or-treaters visits the house and Bela dons his cape to answer the door in full character. When one of the children isn’t scared by his antics, Ed shows up and removes his dentures, which sends the kid running. —MD

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. Lee’s sometimes sullen, sometimes wrathful performance anchors the movie in humanity, while director Alex Proyas’s stylish visuals rival those found in Tim Burton’s much more expensive Batman. Though Hollywood’s obsession with comic book properties was still a few years off, Proyas’s work on The Crow would certainly go on to influence the likes of the grim and gritty world of Blade and the rundown Narrows of Gotham City in Batman Begins. —JS

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. Though it’s a bit of a downer, Casper has retained a following over the years, spawning a handful of direct-to-video follow-ups that brightened the franchise up. —JS

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. With this newfound knowledge that she is part witch, Marnie and her siblings secretly follow their grandmother back to her home in Halloweentown, and are forced to take on a powerful demon. This is family-friendly Halloween-watching at its best. —JMW

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. As Brigitte scrambles for a solution, Ginger embraces her inner animal and makes their Halloween night one to remember. (And dismember.) —JR

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. Meanwhile, a jet engine has crashed into Donnie’s room, and authorities can’t figure out where it came from. Be prepared for a seriously trippy plot, and to finish the film with lots of lingering philosophical questions about time travel. —KF

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. Yes, it retreads some of what Carpenter already did, but it also works as more of an origin story for Michael Myers, depicting why he became the sadistic serial killer he did. Is it unnecessary? Sure. But Rob Zombie's dark deep dive into the psyche of such an infamous slasher is one of the more stylish and interesting entries in the classic-horror-movie-remake subgenre—even if it doesn't come close to being the masterpiece that the original was. —JMW

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. This is an anthology movie in the vein of 1982’s Creepshow and, like it, Trick ‘r Treat remembers to pack its share of black humor into each vignette. The movie is as much a love letter to horror as a genre as it is to the Halloween holiday, and it’s become required viewing for genre junkies every October 31. —JS

Peter Dinklage Can't Say Benevolent in This Game of Thrones Blooper Reel

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

There are many adjectives one might use to describe HBO's Game of Thrones. While hilarious isn't usually one of them (though the series certainly has its moments of levity), that's the best way to describe the Game of Thrones blooper reel below, in which some of your favorite throne-seekers momentarily break character—and Peter Dinklage has a problem pronouncing the word benevolent. (Warning: profanity ahead!)

Ralph Fiennes Almost Turned Down Voldemort Role in Harry Potter Movies

WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HARRY POTTER PUBLISHING RIGHTS (C) J.K.R.
WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HARRY POTTER PUBLISHING RIGHTS (C) J.K.R.

Ralph Fiennes has earned Oscar nominations for Schindler's List and The English Patient, but his best-known role might be his performance as He Who Must Not Be Named, otherwise known as Voldemort, in the Harry Potter film series. While the movies introduced Fiennes and his work to a new generation of moviegoers, he recently revealed that he almost said no to the project altogether.

We first saw Fiennes as Voldemort in the fourth film in the series, 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and he continued to play the Dark Lord of the Harry Potter universe until the series' conclusion in 2011.

Though fans would argue that it was the role Fiennes was born to play, saying "yes" was not an immediate decision for the celebrated actor.

"The truth is I was actually ignorant about the films and the books," the actor recently admitted while appearing on The Jonathan Ross Show when asked about his relationship to the Potterverse prior to taking on the role. "I was approached by the production. Mike Newell was directing the film that they wanted me to be in ... the first time Voldemort was going to appear physically."

"Out of ignorance I just sort of thought, this isn’t for me," Fiennes continued. "Quite stupidly I resisted, I was hesitant. I think the clincher was that my sister Martha—who has three children who were then probably about 12, 10, and 8—said, 'What do you mean? You’ve got to do it!' So then I rewound my thinking."

Potterheads everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Fiennes's sister—and her kids.

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