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

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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