A Fan's Guide to Halloween & Autumnal Films for the Family!

Family-friendly, horror-comedy, and films that simply evoke an autumnal feel!
Odin Odin (77)
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I love autumn, it’s always been my favorite time of year. It’s when leaves turn colors, when cool winds blow from the mysterious gray horizon, and when sweaters and pumpkin lattes become a deliciously commonplace experience. As a kid, celebrating Samhain (or Halloween as it’s commonly celebrated in the United States), one of my favorite things to do was watch Halloween films, and I’ve continued that tradition ever since.

Now, this list isn’t for the die-hard horror fans out there, for that, check out my friend Christina’s superb list of Halloween horror films. I’ve compiled a selection of films that fit an aesthetic vibe of autumn and fall, a few holiday classics for Halloween, and a few lighter horror and horror comedy films that older teens and adults will enjoy.

There are a few films here that touch on the scarier side of the season, but I’m of the mind that this is an important dimension for kids to explore. From age 9 to around age 13, kids are experiencing some huge upheavals in their inner lives, and the way that horror touches on such dark themes can be really helpful as they go about the experience of growing up. There are also a couple of comedies here that kids probably shouldn’t see, but I make a point to mention those outright.

Ultimately, there’s a little something here for everyone, offering a wide and eclectic film experience to capture the best of all your autumnal Halloween needs.

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The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

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The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is the two-part Disney extravaganza featuring both the terrifying tale of the Headless Horseman and the Wind in the Willows, both abridged and compacted for the style and necessities of the animated medium.

Hot take

Funny, silly, wacky, and sometimes frightening, this makes for a great classic-feeling movie night. I will say that all of the power and true magic of The Wind in the Willows is missing from this version. And, sadly, none of the animated films for it are very good at capturing the reverence of the book… so just read Kenneth Grahame’s original book, it’s superb. (And, maybe, some day, Guillermo del Toro will finally get to make his version).

The Trouble with Harry (1955)
The Trouble with Harry (1955)

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The Trouble with Harry is… that he’s dead. A comedy for the season, it takes place during a wonderful Vermont autumn, the idyllic atmosphere perfect for… murder, or maybe just a bit of romance.

Hot take

Alfred Hitchcock is not the first name one might associate with dark comedy, but that’s exactly what The Trouble with Harry is. Romantic and wonderful, this is probably one of the best-ever films for fall.

I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

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I Was a Teenage Werewolf is the twisted tale of teenager Tony Rivers, a young man with anger issues who falls prey to the scheme of a madman scientist drunk with power!

Hot take

Actually really superb and filled with wonderful classic scares, drama, and horror. It’s a great companion to Blood of Dracula for anyone who just can’t get enough of 1950s monster teens.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

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It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was the third Peanuts special to be released. It’s a glorious homage to all things wonderful about Halloween as well as a hilarious inspection of the unfortunate powers of belief.

Hot take

I really love this one, a classic for the holiday. It captures the vibe of the Charlie Brown comics perfectly, and the gentle jazz score accompanying the film makes it feel like you’re wrapped up inside the comic book world. It’s a autumn classic for a reason.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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You’ve never seen a film like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a wonderfully weird, a brilliantly bodacious, a fabulous trip to transsexual Transylvania. There’s nothing quite like this.

Hot take

Is it really Halloween if you’re not singing songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show? I think not! There are few works of cinema that pulled together so many random ideas, so much crazy energy, and turned out something as totally golden as this. So, quick, don’t leave me shivering with antici… … …pation, plan this for your next film night.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the tale of a being from another world and the young boy he encounters who helps show him the way home.

Hot take

E.T. is perfect for Halloween for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that part of the film takes place literally on Halloween. But the overall vibe of the show, the slightly alarming moments, the key-jangling government man, the cozy touches… it all adds up to be a perfect autumnal experience. Did you know that the 2002 remastered version added a ton of CGI (basically replacing all shots of E.T. with CGI, and also replacing guns seen in the film with walkie talkies?).

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

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Something Wicked This Way Comes is a film version of the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, about a small town that finds itself host to a mysterious carnival.

Hot take

There is no way that a Disney production could come close to the true surreal power of Ray Bradbury’s brilliant masterpiece, but this film does have its own unique vibe that too frequently gets forgotten. Disney didn’t really know how to climb into the horror market at the time, leaving Something Wicked This Way Comes in an odd place for advertisers and viewers. I recommend reading the book before watching this, but if you have the book already in your mind this is another fun way to engage.

Once Bitten (1985)
Once Bitten (1985)

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Once Bitten is the sexy 1980s horror comedy you didn’t know you needed to see. When Mark Kendall, a naïve high school student, is seduced by a 400-year old vampire, his whole life gets turned upside down.

Hot take

You’ll love it or hate it and, given how reviewers responded to it at the time… hate is probably the most likely reaction. But it also has some great comedic moments, Jim Carry doing his thing long before he reached fame, and Lauren Hutton as one of the most fabulous vampires you’ll ever meet. Look, if you’re wanting a sexy horror comedy, this will fill your need — just don’t expect too much in the script department.

The Worst Witch (1986)
The Worst Witch (1986)

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The Worst Witch is the story of one young witch attending Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches who just can’t stop getting in trouble. Based on the series of children's books written and illustrated by Jill Murphy, this is a delightfully fun and campy film perfect for families.

Hot take

In case you didn’t know, this is totally one of J.K. Rowling’s main inspirations for Harry Potter. But The Worst Witch has something that Harry Potter doesn’t: Tim Curry. It’s incredibly campy, making it perfect for slightly younger kids, but also perfectly enjoyable for adults who want to experience something magically silly.

The Lost Boys (1987)
The Lost Boys (1987)

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It’s the 1980s and The Lost Boys rule Santa Carla. There are vampires in southern California, and they’re hungry for action.

Hot take

I watched this when I was about twelve, and loved it. It hits all the right edges of horror, burgeoning interest in girls, and a sense of the strangeness of kid and adult reality blending into something different. It’s a bit scary for sensitive kids, for sure, but it’s one of the better introductions to the darker side of film for a kid just about to hit their teens.

Lady in White (1988)
Lady in White (1988)

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Lady in White concentrates on a town in 1962 where a number of child murders has taken place. A young boy witnesses a ghost of one of these children who tasks him with discovering killer before they can strike again.

Hot take

It’s a tiny atmospheric masterpiece that offers more style than weighty substance, but in such a way that it captures your attention the whole way through.

Beetlejuice (1988)
Beetlejuice (1988)

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Beetlejuice is the name you don’t want to say out loud… unless you’re a recently-deceased couple just trying to enjoy your afterlife when a bunch of yuppies move in and take over your home. In that case, there’s only one poltergeist for the job, and he’s the ghost with the most.

Hot take

Tim Burton at his peak was a powerful mad genius and Beetlejuice is one of the most iconic works of his oeuvre (his body of work). It’s zany, strange, scary, funny, and brilliant. If you somehow have survived this long without watching it don’t let this Halloween slip by without cuddling up with a hot cup of pumpkin-spiced something to give it a viewing. This is definitely Michael Keaton’s best role.

Dead Poets Society (1989)
Dead Poets Society (1989)

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Dead Poets Society takes the traditions of the past and turns them on their head. John Keating takes his role as English teacher at a prestigious prep school and helps his students understand what the purpose of life really is.

Hot take

It’s no secret that Robin Williams is one of my favorite comedic actors, but in Dead Poets Society his dramatic chops are at their best. He’s as funny as ever, but his comedy always serves the greater purpose of the story: inspiration, and this is truly one of the most inspirational films around. This one works well for autumn, mainly because of the glorious fall landscape captured in the cinematography.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

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Kiki's Delivery Service tells the tale of Kiki, a young witch in training who sets off in search of adventure and discovers what it means to be part of a community.

Hot take

Ghibli films are my bread and butter, my cocoa and marshmallow; Mr. Miyazaki has created some of the absolute best films that have ever been conceived. I honestly have a hard time being close friends with people who don’t share an appreciation for his works. The only challenging part is figuring out which of his films is my favorite. Kiki’s is such an iconic classing, though, that I have to include it on this list.

Hocus Pocus (1993)
Hocus Pocus (1993)

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Hocus Pocus is the tale of three witches who defy time to appear on the eve of Halloween hundreds of years after they supposedly died. Now they’re running amok in search of the secret to true immortality.

Hot take

One of the most classic silly Halloween films ever made, this is a fundamental film for the season, a film that everyone needs to watch. Bette Midler as Winifred has to be the best possible part of this film, her personality explodes in every scene. Also, the moment when Kathy Najimy as Mary rides the vacuum cleaner is iconic. This is the main Halloween film that my partner was able to introduce me to and I’m forever in her debt for that.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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The Nightmare Before Christmas is a world of Halloween magic, a story of a dream of something new, and a romance that transcends time. It’s a claymation masterpiece, a musical piece of gold, and one of the funniest films of the age.

Hot take

Okay, so some people believe that this is ultimately a Christmas film, while others say that it’s all about Halloween. Me, I say that it’s the perfect introduction to the season as a whole and it fits in nicely between Halloween and Christmas. Whatever your preference is on when to watch it, you have to admit that this is one of the absolute best films for the overall season—heck you might even want to watch it twice, once before Halloween and once before Christmas! It definitely features some of the best music of any Tim Burton film.

The Halloween Tree (1993)
The Halloween Tree (1993)

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The Halloween Tree is the animated film based on Ray BRadbury’s short novel of the same name. On the best night of the year (Halloween) four friends set off to meet with their best friend Joe Pipkin… but Joe doesn’t appear. As the mystery unfolds, a mysterious guide named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), shows them the true meaning of Halloween.

Hot take

This is just simply delightful. Written and narrated by Ray Bradbury himself, the Emmy Award winning animated film is shown every year around October. It’s one of my absolute favorite Halloween films and a tradition perfect for the whole family.

Addams Family Values (1993)
Addams Family Values (1993)

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Addams Family Values opens with the birth of a new Addams, a birth which upsets the tenuous balance in the Addams household. When a new babysitter appears on the scene, one with a mysterious past, things get stranger than anyone but the Addams family themselves could imagine.

Hot take

The one and only portrayal of Thanksgiving that my parents let me watch as a kid, and clearly the only one anyone else should be watching as well. Superbly acted by a brilliant cast, delightfully directed, and written with a perfect mixture of the earnest sincerity that makes the Addams Family what it is, and the acerbic wit of Wednesday Addams as she encounters all the normal kids. There are modern versions of the Addams Family, sure, but they’re pretty terrible — this is the definitive adaptation.

Casper (1995)
Casper (1995)

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When father and daughter (Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci) move into an old manor home in order to rid the place of a haunting for its greedy owner, the one spirit they never could have expected to meet was Casper, a friendly ghost.

Hot take

All Halloween lists need to include Casper, because obviously they do. This sweet kids film will delight those who are looking for exactly that, and it’s mid-1990s aesthetic will make millennial viewers feel right at home. It’s darker that earlier comic versions of the character, but that ultimately works in its favor, I think.

Fly Away Home (1996)
Fly Away Home (1996)

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Fly Away Home is the story of a young woman on the edge of adulthood who suffers the greatest loss imaginable: the death of a parent. But, in the wild nature of her eccentric father’s home, she discovers something that will give her a chance to fly free once more.

Hot take

Do you want to experience the feels? Because, if so, this is the film for you. I dare you to leave this film not having cried at least a little bit. Everything about this film works for me: it’s a perfect coming-of-age flick, moody and intense but filled with the sort of emotion that really captures what it’s like to be a young person dealing with trauma in their life. It’s heartfelt, and heartwarming, and at times surprisingly intense. For such a wonderful movie it doesn’t get as much love as it deserves.

The Craft (1996)
The Craft (1996)

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The Craft opens on a young woman with teenage troubles and supernatural abilities who encounters a group of likeminded outcast girls at her new school. When she befriends them, she encounters within herself an unimaginable power, but also discovers the darkness that power brings.

Hot take

Take a bowl of cheese sauce and mix it with a bowl of live spiders and you’ve got The Craft, a movie that’s become one of those trippy cult (ha!) success stories. At the time of its release The Craft received pretty poor reviews overall and didn’t manage to make much headway on ticket sales, but weirdly enough a huge number of the negative reviews took aim at the “garish” special effects… which seems like an odd thing to attack in a film about magic. Regardless, it’s become an iconic 90s film about female empowerment and the danger of cliques and it totally deserves a watch.

Practical Magic (1998)
Practical Magic (1998)

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Practical Magic opens a magical window into the life of the Owens women, whose line of witches is strong, and whose history of tragedy is even stronger. When their father dies and their mother is driven to heartbreak, the two youngest girls go to live with their witchy lesbian aunts, and grow into women who will have to face the trauma of their past even as they learn to command the powers they’ve inherited besides.

Hot take

One of my personal favorites, Practical Magic deviates from the book in plenty of ways, but wraps itself around a core arc of sibling-love and friendship that shines consistently the whole time. There are some legitimately scary moments in here, as well as some of Sandra Bullock’s best acting.

Idle Hands (1999)
Idle Hands (1999)

[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwKYRjynhX0]

In Idle Hands Anton Tobias is a lazy stoner teen who discovers that his hand has become possessed and forces him on a killing spree.

Hot take

Pure ridiculousness wrapped classic R-rated horror, this stoner-comedy-horror dumpster fire has 1999 splattered all over it. It’s not exactly good, not exactly terrible, and if you’re in the mood for something really mindless, fun, and gory this is probably exactly what you’re looking for. Obviously this is not a kid's film, or even a film for younger teens! Definitely post-17 viewing only.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Sleepy Hollow is the classic tale of Ichabod Crane experienced in revitalized form. When Ichabod, a police constable who dismisses the supernatural tales of the old ways for the methods of science, is sent to Sleepy Hollow to discover the truth of a series of brutal murders, he finds something from the old world that he cannot deny.

Hot take

Tim Burton pulled out all stops during the 1990s, churning out one incredible hit after another. This classic is one of his darker and less overtly thematic films (if we’re judging by things like Edward Scissorhands) but pulls out all the stops on the subtle horror vibes and historical aesthetic.

October Sky (1999)
October Sky (1999)

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October Sky tells the true story of Homer H. Hickam Jr., a coal miner's son inspired by Russia’s launch of Sputnik 1 to take control of his life and escape the small-minded world that surrounds him.

Hot take

What a superb film! Not all “based on a true story” films manage to hit the mark, but October Sky ticks all my buttons. It’s a stirring film that highlights some of the deepest problems in the United States, as well as some of the unlikely triumphs that can emerge from pure passion and dedication. Toby McGuire is really great (as is the whole cast) and it’s easy to see why he became a star after this one. Ultimately, it highlights how the deepest problems in society stem from a lack of free healthcare and college.

The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)

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The Sixth Sense crosses us over into the world of the dead. When a child psychologist is brought a new patient, a young boy who says he can see ghosts, and that those ghosts want him to do things for them, a dark and twisted exploration into the divide between life and death begins.

Hot take

After watching this you’re bound to be saying “I see dead people” to all your friends, and resurrecting one of the classic film memes seems okay in my book. M. Night Shyamalan has made some terrible films (as has Brice Willis), but this remains a superb and much loved film two decades after its release.

Autumn in New York (2000)
Autumn in New York (2000)

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Autumn in New York is the torturous romantic epic that some critics called the worst film of the year. When middle aged womanizer Will Keane falls in love with Charlotte Fielding, a woman less than half his age, who also happens to be dying from a rare heart condition, love blossoms.

Hot take

Let’s be real — this film shows up on plenty of autumnal film lists for one reason: it’s set during the fall. It’s a terrible movie, with a plot centering on a serial dater twice the age of the woman he supposedly falls for. But one right thing about this film is the gorgeous cinematography of the New York autumn. Honestly? Just turn off the volume and leave it on in the background for the vibe.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first in the epic story of the young Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Upon discovering that he is heir to a world of magic, the orphaned Harry Potter encounters more wonder than he can imagine, and terrors darker than he could have feared.

Hot take

The first of the Harry Potter films is arguably the best in the series, depending on how you choose to gage them. Many pick The Prisoner of Azkaban as the best and, while I think it’s possibly cinematically the best, it also influenced all the films that followed it in pretty negative ways. The Sorcerer’s Stone is simpler, quieter, and yet manages to capture the feeling of the books in a great way. Do I wish there was an extended director’s cut that added in all the random bits they cut out from the book? Sure, but otherwise it’s a grand and comfy autumn ride.

The Village (2004)
The Village (2004)

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The Village is a 19th century oasis that lives in fear of creatures living in the forest that marks the borders of their land.

Hot take

A splash of red in the startlingly empty woods, a sound outside the door; whispers of something seen at the edge of the village during the swell of the night… This is an atmospheric horror film that refuses to rely on gore to make its presence felt long after the TV’s off and the lights are out.

Secret Window (2004)
Secret Window (2004)

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What is Secret Window? It’s the tale of a writer named Mort Rainey who finds himself stalked by a mysterious stranger, a man who claims that Mort stole one of his stories… and who wants him to make things right, with deadly consequences for him and those he loves if he fails.

Hot take

This one is possibly Johnny Depp’s second-best role after Captain Jack Sparrow, and is absolutely a film that needs to be watched for its totally chilling fear factor. There are some legitimately horrifying moments, a number of points that are heavy on the jump-scares, too, but the film never goes where you expect it to. This makes sense since it was based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King. Note, this is another one that only adults and older teens should see.

Corpse Bride (2005)
Corpse Bride (2005)

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Corpse Bride tells the story of a young couple accidentally engaged… the only problems? She’s dead and he didn’t mean to propose. In usual Tim Burton style, it’s macabre, it’s beautiful, and by the contrast of death it helps paint a vivid picture of what it means to be alive.

Hot take

Can you put too many Tim Burton films on one list? No. Not when that list deals with the macabre and the strange, anyway! Halloween is the perfect time for all things Halloween, and Corpse Bride manages to be another winner for the season. Not as clean, perhaps, as some of Burton’s earlier work, it still shines. This is actually the first stop-motion film produced by Tim Burton that he actually directed (Henry Selick) did Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach).

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the feature-length extravaganza that returns audiences to the wonderfully wacky world of Wallace and Gromit everyone’s favorite claymation duo. This time, vegetables are going missing, and a mysterious rabbit’s tracks have been spied at the scene. Only, this isn’t an ordinary rabbit at all.

Hot take

Wallace and Gromit are a sensation that everyone needs to experience at some point in time, and the knowledge that this fantastic film exists to bridge the gap between the original work and a new generation of viewers is frankly grand. Honestly, though, everything Wallace and Gromit is timelessly superb and needs to be enjoyed.

Coraline (2009)
Coraline (2009)

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Coraline is a young girl who wishes that life wasn’t so dull. With her parents obsessed with their dreary adult lives and exhausting careers, she sets out to discover a different world, a world of adventure… a world on the Other side.

Hot take

Based on the wonderful Neil Gaiman short story, Coraline was a total work of love by a team that imbued their creation with their passion for the original. That passion shows through in every scene and makes this a truly unforgettable coming-of-age movie.

Coco (2017)
Coco (2017)

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Coco is the story of twelve-year-old Miguel who loves music even though it’s been banned by his family. When he finds himself accidentally cast into the Land of the Dead, he reconnects with his musical ancestors on a magical journey to return home and bring some music with him from the world beyond.

Hot take

It’s a sweet and enduring little tale, and one that specifically tried to capture the vibe and experience of the Mexican holiday, as well as a powerful introspection into life, death, and the way we experience family.

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