These Weren’t Supposed To Be Scary Movies But Still Scared Audiences

Movies don’t always have to have an axe-wielding murderer or angry supernatural entity to make it scary. There are also movies that aren’t designed to be scary, but still make people uncomfortable for various reason. Whether it’s the boat scene from Willy Wonka or the creepy stop motion of The Polar Express, some films have unexpectedly scary elements. Here’s a list of scary films that don’t fall under the genre of horror. Do any of them give you the creeps? Take a look to find out!

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – 1985

Man on a bike
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

A 1985 American comedy film, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, is an American comedy film directed by Tim Burton that can be seen by many as a comedy film, but slightly disturbing to many others.

Inherently, the film is meant is to be a comedy for children, but when you look at it as an adult, it can easily be seen as scary. Very few people find a grown man in a bowtie with a strange voice funny, which is why he definitely makes the list.

The Golden Child – 1986

Picture of Eddie Murphy
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

The Golden Child, released in 1986, is a dark comedy fantasy film directed by Michael Ritchie. The film stars Eddie Murphy as Chandler Jarrell, who is notified that he’s the “Chosen One” who has been selected to save “The Golden Child,” who would save all of humankind.

The movie came on the heel of Trading Places, and featured a villain who turns himself into a giant demon bat. His henchmen are also uncomfortably disfigured. Anyone child who saw this movie in theaters probably left a little scarred.

Georgia Rule – 2007

Cast of Georgia Rule
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Directed by Garry Marshall and written by Mark Andrus, Georgia Rule is a comedy-drama starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, and Lindsay Lohan. Although the cast was noted for their performances, the film was overall unsuccessful.

The film shocked audiences for false advertising. Sold as a feel-good film about women bonding, audiences were actually given a film about living through traumatic experiences more often discussed in dark thrillers or horror films.

The Cat In The Hat – 2003

Picture of the cast
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Based on Dr. Seuss’s 1957 children’s book of the same name, The Cat in the Hat features Mike Meyers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Alex Baldwin, Kelly Preston, and Amy Hill.

The film grossed $134 million worldwide off of a $109 million budget and was torn apart by critics for its screenplay, crude humor, and lack of respect for the source material. Furthermore, Mike Meyers’ portrayal of the “Cat” has been described as unnerving and creepy, along with several other aspects of the film.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – 1982

Picture of ET
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extraterrestrial is a seminal science fiction film originally released in 1982. The story follows a young boy named Elliot that befriends a rather strange looking extraterrestrial that goes by “E.T.”

The concept came from an imaginary friend that Spielberg created for himself during his parent’s divorce in 1960. Hailed as one of the greatest films of all time, there’s no denying that the friendship between an alien and a young boy is a bit creepy.

Little Children – 2006

Picture of Kate Winslet
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

Based on a 2004 novel by Tom Perrotta, Little Children is an American drama starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, among others. The film earned three nominations at the 79th Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Although the movie was well-received, its strong themes based in passion, jealousy, and death can make it a bit overly uncomfortable for the casual viewer. The New York Times commented on the film that its “A movie that’s challenging, accessible, and hard to stop thinking about.”

The Polar Express – 2007

Picture from the movie
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Polar Express is a 2004 computer-animated Christmas film. It is based by the 1985 book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, who also worked as one of the film’s executive producers.

The film was made with a production budget of $165 million, a record at the same, although it also managed to gross $311.3 million worldwide and broke a record for being the first all-digital capture film at the time. Nevertheless, a train that picks up random kids to take them to the North Pole is still pretty questionable.

The Rugrats Movie – 1998

Birthing scene
Nickelodeon
Nickelodeon

Based on the Nickelodeon animated series Rugrats, The Rugrats Movie introduces Tommy Pickle’s little brother, Dil Pickles, who appears on the original series the following years. Released on November 20, 1998, the film received mixed reviews from critics, but was an overall success, grossing $141 million, making it the first non-Disney film to make more than $100 million.

However, Entertainment Weekly reviewer Ty Burr noted that some of the scenes began “going into scary territory.” Also, some of the plot points, including a birthing scene, weren’t always appropriate for the young audiences.

Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland – 1989

Scene from the movie
Hemdale Film Corporation
Hemdale Film Corporation

Released in 1989, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is a Japanese-American musical-comedy adventure film based on the comic strip by Winsor McCay. Although the film was well received in the United States, it follows the story of a young boy who travels on his flying bed to a magical kingdom known as Slumberland.

There, he must defend the kingdom’s inhabitants from the Nightmare King. Surely, younger audiences had a harder time going to sleep after watching this film.

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory – 1971

Willy Wonk and the dwarves
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

An American musical fantasy film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971. The film follows a poor child named Charlie who is given the opportunity with four other children to tour a chocolate factory.

Yet, as the film goes on, the children meet their fates based on their negative attributes one by one. And, of course, who could forget when Wonka takes the kids with their parents on a boat, the lighting changes, and he recites a poem that turns him into more a horror villain that children’s film hero.

James And The Giant Peach – 1966

Characters In The Movie
Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

Based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach is a combination of both live-action and stop-motion animation. The movie starts with an orphan who’s parents are eaten by a rhinoceros who is then forced to go live with his abusive aunts.

Eventually, the boy finds himself with a group of human-sized anthropomorphic bugs that are, although friendly, aren’t the nicest-looking creatures. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote about the film describing it as “a strenuously artful film with a macabre twist.”

Return To Oz – 1985

Characters in the film
Buena Vista Distribution
Buena Vista Distribution

Return to Oz is a dark fantasy film that is supposed to be the unofficial sequel to the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz, after it has been taken over by the evil Nome King, an must restore order with her friends Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Princess Ozma.

Released on June 21, 1985, it was met with mixed reviews with critics nodding at the special effects but criticized some of the darker aspects of the film.

Pinocchio – 1940

Picture of Pinocchio
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Based on the 1883 children’s novel, The Adventure of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, the 1940 animated film was the second feature film made by Disney. The film follows a puppet of a boy named Pinocchio that is brought to life by a fairy and can become a real boy when he proves himself to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish.”

Although it is considered to be one of the greatest animated films of all time, a movie that shows little boys drinking, smoking, gambling, and eventually being turned into donkeys for slave labor, isn’t the most light-hearted subject.

The Muppets Take Manhattan – 1984

Muppets characters
TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Directed by Frank Oz, The Muppets Take Manhattan is a 1984 American musical comedy-drama and is the third of a series of live-action features starring Jim Henson’s Muppets. The movie went on to introduce the Muppet Babies – toddler versions of the Muppet characters.

The film was also well received by critics, although some people aren’t very comfortable with the Muppet characters, with some finding them being off-putting to some audiences. It went on to be the highest-grossing G-rated film of 1984.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame – 1996

Picture of Quasimodo
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Released in 1996 by Disney, it’s no surprise that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is widely considered to be one of Disney’s darker releases. Essentially, it’s about a deformed man that’s locked away in a tower, while his deranged stepfather lusts after a young gypsy.

Some of the film’s central themes are more mature in nature, which resulted in many parents holding off on showing their kid this particular Disney film. It was still successful, grossing $325 million, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of the year.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – 2016

Picture of the children
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

The 2016 dark fantasy film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was directed by Tim Burton, so you know it’s going to be creepy. Aimed for pre-teens, anyone younger was probably best left at home to avoid Butron induced nightmares.

The film received mixed reviews, with Justin Chang of Los Angeles Times noting that “Easily the director’s finest work since his masterful 2007 screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd and a striking reminder of what an unfettered gothic imagination can achieve with the right focus and an infusion of discipline.”

Spirited Away – 2001

Characters on a train
Toho
Toho

Spirited Away is a 2001 Japanese-animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli. The film tells the story of a ten-year-old girl, who after moving to a new neighborhood, finds herself in a new world of Kami spirits, which come from Japanese folklore.

After her parents are turned into pigs by a witch, she must work in a bathhouse in order to set and her parents free. The movie grossed more than $352 million and is widely considered to be one of the greatest animated films ever, winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.

Watership Down -1978

Animated rabbits
Nepenthe Productions
Nepenthe Productions

Watership Down is a 1978 animated film written based on the 1972 noel by Richard Adams. Although it is an animated film, unlike many films of its kind, it remains faithful to the dark aspects of the novel with many parents warning others that their children might find much of the material to be highly disturbing.

Although the British Board of Film Classification rated the film “U’ as appropriate for all ages, they have received complaints about the rating every year since.

Jesus Camp – 2006

Picture of a girl
Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia Pictures

Jesus Camp is a 2006 documentary film directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about a Christian summer camp. In the film, children spend their summers being taught that they have “prophetic gifts” and are encouraged to “take back America for Christ.”

According to the filmmakers, it’s an attempt to show “an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community.” While it may not be all that horrifying, many viewers were concerned that such a camp exists.

The Princess Bride – 1987

Characters in the film
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

The Princess Bride is considered to be a classic by many. An adaptation of William Goldman’s 1973 novel of the same name, it tells the story of a farmhand and his experiences as he travels to save his true love from the evil Prince Humperdink.

While the film is widely considered to be a fantasy comedy, there were still several scenes such as the Rodents of Unusual Size that gave quite a number of people a scare.