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

15 Fascinating Facts About Schindler’s List

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the screen a story that had gone untold since the tragic events of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member, used his pull within the party to save the lives of more than 1000 Jewish individuals by recruiting them to work in his Polish factory. Here are some facts about Spielberg’s groundbreaking film on its 25th anniversary.

1. The story was relayed to author Thomas Keneally in a Beverly Hills leather goods shop.

In October 1980, Australian novelist Thomas Keneally had stopped into a leather goods shop off of Rodeo Drive after a book tour stopover from a film festival in Sorrento, Italy, where one of his books was adapted into a movie. When the owner of the shop, Leopold Page, learned that Keneally was a writer, he began telling him “the greatest story of humanity man to man.” That story was how Page, his wife, and thousands of other Jews were saved by a Nazi factory owner named Oskar Schindler during World War II.

Page gave Keneally photocopies of documents related to Schindler, including speeches, firsthand accounts, testimonies, and the actual list of names of the people he saved. It inspired Keneally to write the book Schindler’s Ark, on which the movie is based. Page (whose real name was Poldek Pfefferberg) ended up becoming a consultant on the film.

2. Keneally wasn't the first person Leopold Page told about Oskar Schindler.

The film rights to Page’s story were actually first purchased by MGM for $50,000 in the 1960s after Page had similarly ambushed the wife of film producer Marvin Gosch at his leather shop. Mrs. Gosch told the story to her husband, who agreed to produce a film version, even going so far as hiring Casablanca co-screenwriter Howard Koch to write the script. Koch and Gosch began interviewing Schindler Jews in and around the Los Angeles area, and even Schindler himself, before the project stalled, leaving the story unknown to the public at large.

3. Schindler made more than one list.

Liam Neeson, Agnieszka Krukówna, Krzysztof Luft, Friedrich von Thun, and Marta Bizon in Schindler's List (1993)
Universal Pictures

Seven lists in all were made by Oskar Schindler and his associates during the war, while four are known to still exist. Two are at the Yad Vashem in Israel, one is at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and one privately owned list was unsuccessfully auctioned off via eBay in 2013.

The movie refers to the first two lists created in 1944, otherwise known as “The Lists of Life.” The five subsequent lists were updates to the first two versions, which included the names of more than 1000 Jews who Schindler saved by recruiting them to work in his factory.

4. Steven Spielberg first learned of Schindler in the early 1980s.

Former MCA/Universal president Sid Sheinberg, a father figure to Spielberg, gave the director Keneally’s book when it was first published in 1982, to which Spielberg allegedly replied, “It’ll make a helluva story. Is it true?”

Eventually the studio bought the rights to the book, and when Page met with Spielberg to discuss the story, the director promised the Holocaust survivor that he would make the film adaptation within 10 years. The project languished for over a decade because Spielberg was reluctant to take on such serious subject matter. Spielberg’s hesitation actually stopped Hollywood veteran Billy Wilder from making Schindler’s List his final film. Wilder tried to buy the rights to Keneally’s book, but Spielberg and MCA/Universal scooped them up before he could.

5. Spielberg refused to accept a salary for making the movie.

Though Spielberg is already an extremely wealthy man as a result of the many big-budget movies that have made him one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, he decided that a story as important as Schindler’s List shouldn’t be made with an eye toward financial reward. The director relinquished his salary for the movie and any proceeds he would stand to make in perpetuity, calling any such personal gains “blood money.” Instead, Spielberg used the film’s profits to found the USC Shoah Foundation, which was established in 1994 to honor and remember the survivors of the Holocaust by collecting personal recollections and audio visual interviews.

6. Before Spielberg agreed to make the movie, he tried to get other directors to make it.

Part of Spielberg’s reluctance to make Schindler's List was that he didn’t feel that he was prepared or mature enough to tackle a film about the Holocaust. So he tried to recruit other directors to make the film. He first approached director Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor whose own mother was killed in Auschwitz. Polanski declined, but would go on to make his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist, which earned him a Best Director Oscar in 2003. Spielberg then offered the movie to director Sydney Pollack, who also passed.

The job was then offered to legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who accepted. Scorsese was set to put the film into production when Spielberg had an epiphany on the set of the revisionist Peter Pan story Hook and realized that he was finally prepared to make Schindler’s List. To make up for the change of heart, Spielberg traded Scorsese the rights to a movie he’d been developing that Scorsese would make into his next film: the remake of Cape Fear.

7. The movie was a gamble for Universal, so they made Spielberg a dino-sized deal.

When Spielberg finally decided to make Schindler’s List, it had taken him so long that Sheinberg and Universal balked. The relatively low-budget $23 million three-hour black-and-white Holocaust movie was too much of a risk, so they asked Spielberg to make another project that had been brewing at the studio: Jurassic Park. Make the lucrative summer movie first, they said, and then he could go and make his passion project. Spielberg agreed, and both movies were released in 1993; Jurassic Park in June and Schindler’s List in December.

8. Spielberg didn't want a movie star with Hollywood clout to portray Schindler.

Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson auditioned for the role of Oskar Schindler, and actor Warren Beatty was far enough along in the process that he even made it as far as a script reading. But according to Spielberg, Beatty was dropped because, “Warren would have played it like Oskar Schindler through Warren Beatty.”

For the role, Spielberg cast then relatively unknown Irish actor Liam Neeson, whom the director had seen in a Broadway play called Anna Christie. “Liam was the closest in my experience of what Schindler was like,” Spielberg told The New York Times. “His charm, the way women love him, his strength. He actually looks a little bit like Schindler, the same height, although Schindler was a rotund man,” he said. “If I had made the movie in 1964, I would have cast Gert Frobe, the late German actor. That’s what he looked like.”

Besides having Neeson listen to recordings of Schindler, the director also told him to study the gestures of former Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross, another of Spielberg’s mentors, and the man to whom he dedicated the film.

9. Spielberg did his own research.

In order to gain a more personal perspective on the film, Spielberg traveled to Poland before principal photography began to interview Holocaust survivors and visit the real-life locations that he planned to portray in the movie. While there, he visited the former Gestapo headquarters on Pomorska Street, Schindler’s actual apartment, and Amon Goeth’s villa.

Eventually the film shot on location for 92 days in Poland by recreating the Płaszów camp in a nearby abandoned rock quarry. The production was also allowed to shoot scenes outside the gates of Auschwitz.

10. The little girl in the red coat was real.

Promotional image for 25th anniversary rerelease of Schindler's List.
Universal Pictures

A symbol of innocence in the movie, the little girl in the red coat who appears during the liquidation of the ghetto in the movie was based on a real person. In the film, the little girl is played by actress Oliwia Dabrowska, who—at the age of three—promised Spielberg that she would not watch the film until she was 18 years old. She allegedly watched the movie when she was 11, breaking her promise, and spent years rejecting the experience. Later, she told the Daily Mail, “I realized I had been part of something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”

The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka; a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, she was known amongst the Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, later wrote a biography about surviving the Holocaust called The Girl in the Red Coat.

11. The movie wasn't supposed to be in English.

For a better sense of reality, Spielberg originally wanted to shoot the movie completely in Polish and German using subtitles, but he eventually decided against it because he felt that it would take away from the urgency and importance of the images onscreen. According to Spielberg, “I wanted people to watch the images, not read the subtitles. There’s too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else.”

12. The studio didn't want the movie to be in black and white.

The only person at MCA/Universal who agreed with Spielberg and director of cinematography Janusz Kaminski’s decision to shoot the movie in black and white was Sheinberg. Everyone else lobbied against the idea, saying that it would stylize the Holocaust. Spielberg and Kaminski chose to shoot the film in a grimy, unstylish fashion and format inspired by German Expressionist and Italian Neorealist films. Also, according to Spielberg, “It’s entirely appropriate because I’ve only experienced the Holocaust through other people’s testimonies and through archival footage which is, of course, all in black and white.”

13. Spielberg's passion project paid off in Oscars.

Schindler’s List was the big winner at the 66th Academy Awards. The film won a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director awards for Spielberg. Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were both nominated for their performances, and the film also received nods for Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.

14. Schindler's List is technically a student film.

Steven Spielberg gives a speech
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

Thirty-three years after dropping out of college, Spielberg finally received a BA in Film and Video Production from his newly minted alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, in 2002. The director re-enrolled in secret, and gained his remaining credits by writing essays and submitting projects under a pseudonym. In order to pass a film course, he submitted Schindler’s List as his student project. Spielberg describes the time gap between leaving school and earning his degree as his “longest post-production schedule.”

15. Spielberg thinks the film may be even more important to watch today.

In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, it's currently back in theaters. But Spielberg believes that the film may be even more important for today's audiences to see. "I think this is maybe the most important time to re-release this film," the director said in a recent interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News. Citing the spike in hate crimes targeting religious minorities since
2016, he said, "Hate's less parenthetical today, it's more a headline."

Additional Sources:
The Making of Schindler’s List: Behind the Scenes of an Epic Film, by Franciszek Palowski

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The Most-Searched Holiday Movie in Every State, Mapped

iStock.com/chrispecoraro
iStock.com/chrispecoraro

Do you live in a Gremlins state or a Home Alone state? StreamingObserver is here to tell you. The streaming-industry site recently used Rotten Tomatoes and other public data sources to figure out the most popular Christmas movies in each state. Spoiler: It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t quite the Christmas classic you thought it was.

The list takes some liberties with what might be considered a “Christmas” movie. Die Hard (a favorite in Missouri and Wisconsin) made the list, as did Batman Returns (California’s most-searched movie) and Edward Scissorhands (popular in Nevada and Arizona). They aren’t quite the traditional Hallmark holiday fare, but they each include at least some nod to the Christmas season.

Then there’s the more standard Yuletide entertainment, like A Christmas Carol (Tennessee’s favorite) and Frosty the Snowman (South Dakota's pick). Christmas in Connecticut, oddly enough, is Montana’s favorite (unclear whether that’s the 1945 film or the 1992 TV movie), while Connecticut’s favorite is the 1983 Eddie Murphy film Trading Places. The Apartment, The Snowman, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Best Man Holiday also make an appearance. Seven states list Gremlins as their favorite, while six chose Home Alone and three chose Scrooged.

The data is based on Google searches, rather than surveys, so it's possible that the movie at the top of each state's list isn't so much beloved as it is curiosity-inspiring. It's possible that all these people are Googling Gremlins, then deciding not to watch it. But we feel fairly confident saying a lot of people will be watching Die Hard this Christmas season. (Tip: You can't stream it on Netflix right now, but you can rent it on Amazon.)

The 2018 results are fairly different from StreamingObserver's 2016 data, which you can compare here. Do you agree with your state's preferences?

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