20 Movies That Traumatized Us When We Were Kids

Martha Sorren | Feb 27, 2020 Movies
20 Movies That Traumatized Us When We Were Kids
Image: Warner Bros.

Noah Hathaway in The Neverending Story
Warner Bros.

As children, we absorb so much of the world around us through what we see, and some of what we saw as kids was downright disturbing. We're talking about movies that traumatized us as children, and yes, some of us were distressed by movies that are supposed to be distressing -- like horror films and the like. But a great deal of G or PG-rated films that we consumed as kids had pretty messed-up plots. Yes, even beloved Disney animated films.

Sometimes, we can forget about those more scary scenes when we grow up -- and maybe accidentally show them to our kids before remembering the creepy plots -- but other films basically have burned themselves in our memories, because they were so traumatizing.

These movies may have been so sad that we have a hard time thinking about them even to this day, or maybe they were so scary that certain scenes still pop up in our nightmares. Whatever the case, they made a lasting memory. Recently, Twitter user Ashley Bower asked her followers what movie traumatized them as children. She started with one of her own, Jumanji, and soon other responses came pouring in. 

It turns out that the film industry has wreaked a lot of havoc on young minds -- perhaps unintentionally.

It's worth noting that many of us grew up in a different time when a G or PG rating didn't always mean the movie was actually safe for children to watch. And because movies for kids also need to entice an adult audience to be interested in bringing their children to the theater, many movies had more adult themes underneath layers of pretty colorful animated animals. Some of that stuff was probably intended to go over kids' heads, but these 20 movies have stuck with us for always.

  • 'Poltergeist'

    1

    In the '80s, film ratings were much different than they are now. For example, the 1982 version of Poltergeist is rated PG, which is almost laughable. Too many kids were traumatized by this horror film -- especially its terrifying use of clowns. But all of the movie was pretty freaky. If it were re-rated today, it would have to be at least a PG-13, right? 

  • 'Gremlins'

    2

    Gremlins is all fun and games and cute fluffy creatures until they eat food after midnight and turn into evil little chaotic monsters. This is another PG-rated '80s movie, but it definitely scared us as kids. The evil gremlins were just so creepy looking -- and don't even get us started on when the movie suggests that there may be gremlins in our own houses! As kids, that was the scariest thing to think about.

  • 'Coraline'

    3

    Those button eyes will haunt us until the end of time. Coraline follows a young girl who stumbles into an alternate reality that is almost exactly like her real life -- only things are a little off, and sinister secrets are bubbling beneath the surface. Oh, and everyone in this other world has buttons for eyes, which is truly the creepiest thing ever. If we never watch this one again, it might still be too soon.

  • 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'

    4

    Most of this movie is a fun, musical delight. Dick Van Dyke sings about candy, there's a flying car, and it's all great. But midway through the film we meet the Child Catcher, who has haunted many of our nightmares for decades. He skulks around the city looking for stray children to capture and imprison, and he has greasy black hair and a long, long scary nose, and he's truly the epitome of evil. And really scary as kids to watch a man basically kidnap children.

  • 'Pinocchio'

    5

    A lot of old Disney movies are much darker than we'd expect, but Pinocchio is one of the creepiest. It has a whole plot line about young boys being kidnapped and taken to a place called Pleasure Island, where they're turned into donkeys and forced into labor. Then Pinocchio's dad gets eaten by a whale while trying to save his son. 

    Like, um, what was Walt Disney thinking? 

  • 'The Land Before Time'

    6

    Kids easily bond with the small longneck dinosaur Littlefoot in The Land Before Time, which makes it even more traumatizing when his mother dies right in front of him. She saved him and his friend, Cera, from a T-Rex, but she sustained fatal injuries in the process. In her parting words to her son, she says, "I'll be with you, even if you can't see me." Don't mind us; we're just over here sobbing over a movie that's three decades old.

  • 'The Exorcist'

    7
    Linda Blair in The Exorcist
    Bettmann/Getty Images

    This movie was rated R, so really no child should have been seeing it. But many of us did, anyway, because we were children of another era -- when people paid less attention to that sort of thing. A ton of people have listed this film as the one that scared them the most as children, particularly because of the part when Linda Blair's head spins all the way around. That scene will haunt our nightmares forever.

  • 'Jaws'

    8

    The animatronics on Bruce the shark look a little outdated today, but it still managed to terrify many children at the time. Kids were afraid to take baths, swim in pools, go near lakes, or have anything to do with the ocean lest they be attacked by a shark. The movie's haunting two-note theme song for the shark made things even creepier. Good thing in real life that the odds of getting killed by a shark are pretty low.

  • 'The Wizard of Oz'

    9
    Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland, and Margaret Hamilton in Wizard of Oz
    Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

    There are a few scary moments in The Wizard of Oz. Who can forget when Dorothy's house landed on the witch and her feet curled up? Or when the flying monkeys popped up? Or anything the Wicked Witch said or did? Plus, the bike riding scene with that spooky music is etched in our minds forever. It makes a lot of sense that the film is considered a cursed movie, because it was pretty creepy. 

  • 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory'

    10
    Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
    Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

    The Johnny Depp version of this movie has its creepy moments too, but the original takes the cake. There's a strange man following kids around and giving them gobstoppers, and children get turned into blueberries and sucked up into chocolate vacuums. But the scariest moment of all is the trippy boat ride through the tunnel that features horrific imagery on the walls -- including a chicken getting its head cut off. 

    Just why???

  • 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'

    11

    How this movie is rated PG, we'll never know. The strange combination of real actors and animated characters made for an other-worldly viewing experience and some straight-up terrifying moments. One of the human actors has cartoon eyes that turned into daggers, someone got run over by a steamroller, and the most sweet, innocent animated shoe character was murdered. This film was definitely not for children.  

  • 'The Birds'

    12
    Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, and Tippi Hedren from The Birds
    Universal Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

    Alfred Hitchcock's movies were always pretty scary, and this movie is rightfully rated PG-13. But for all of us who saw it as children, it was beyond spooky. For one, we never find out why the birds were attacking, which leaves viewers with this sort of existential dread that maybe the birds in their own town will turn on them at some point. Additionally, some of the bird attacks were quite graphic, including a scene of man who had his eyes gouged out. 

    No thanks.

  • 'Bambi'

    13

    Many Disney movies kill off the moms, but one of the saddest depictions of this trope came in the film Bambi. When his mother gets shot by a hunter, it's truly so tragic -- especially because we know that this does actually happen in real life to real deer. Even the happy-go-lucky rabbit Thumper can't take away the emotional pain this movie wreaked on all the children watching.

  • 'E.T.'

    14
    E.T.
    Universal/Getty Images

    The E.T. puppet was actually pretty freaky to us when we were kids. One Twitter user who was particularly scarred by the film wrote, "I remember I was three or four the first time I was exposed to this movie. I hid behind the couch the entire time. Have always struggled to watch it all the way through. Mortified of the woods at night or most alien related things to this day." 

  • 'My Girl'

    15

    What starts out as a sweet story of young love quickly takes a turn for the absolutely devastating. Vada and Thomas were out playing one day when Vada lost her mood ring nearby a fallen bee's nest. Determined to get it back for her, Thomas braves the bees. The only problem is he's deathly allergic, and the beestings quickly kill him. There's a super sad funeral and everything! As a kid, watching another child die and then have a funeral is a uniquely disturbing experience, and it has stuck with many viewers.

  • 'The Neverending Story'

    16

    A lot of those older movies featuring puppets and animatronics are actually kind of creepy, but The Neverending Story was mostly traumatic for its super depressing moments. The movie deals a lot with existential dread and has an entire place, The Nothing, that can take characters away to dark nothingness. Plus, we will never get over Artax the horse's death in the Deadly Swamps of Sadness.

  • 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'

    17

    Why did Disney think kids wanted to see a cartoon about a guy with no head who rides around on a horse carrying a flaming jack-o'-lantern? This was more like an animated horror movie than a children's film -- and it just hammers home that point that not all Disney movies are necessarily automatically for children to watch, especially the older ones. This traumatized a lot of people over the years.

  • 'Chicken Run'

    18

    This stop-animation film followed a bunch of chickens on a farm desperate to escape before they're turned into meat pies. (Talk about dark!) Despite this gruesome plotline, this movie was rated G for kids of all ages. Two decades later, a sequel to the film is due out in 2020. Here's hoping it doesn't scar a whole new generation of children like it did us. 

  • 'Watership Down'

    19

    Watership Down is beautifully animated that tells a haunting story and was somehow rated PG, which means a lot of children saw it. This film gets all too real about natural life, featuring scenes of rabbits getting buried alive when humans start building houses, creatures caught in traps, and attacks on fellow animals. Even the director didn't think it should have been a children's movie, saying, "Nature is very tough ... I did not make this picture for kids at all."

  • 'The Witches'

    20

    This image alone should be enough to explain why The Witches was scary. The movie followed a group of witches who want to turn all human children into mice. That's totally freaky enough all on its own to young viewers. Things are made even worse when the head witch peels off her normal-looking exterior to reveal ... this. 

    Pure nightmare fuel.

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