20 Movies We Should Never Have Been Allowed To Watch As Kids
As young boys and girls, a lot of the things that happened in the movies we watched went right over our heads. And as many of the movies were supposedly family-friendly, our parents didn’t pay too much attention either – but they really should have!
Because when you look with grown-up eyes at some of the ‘family’ movies we watched as children, it quickly becomes clear that some of them should not have been watched by such impressionable young 80s kids as ourselves. Here are a few of the supposedly kid-friendly films that left us a little bit scarred, even to this day.
20. Watership Down (1978)
“Look, a lovely animated movie about some gorgeous rabbits,” our parents must have thought, but little did they understand the horror that awaited us when we watched Watership Down. And, sure, to begin with there are happy scenes of cute bunnies frolicking in the fields. And then one has an apocalyptic vision of being mauled by a dog, and it’s all downhill from there.
Never has a movie about cartoon animals been so unsuitable for children to watch, taking us on a nightmarish journey that even as adults we’re still trying to process. In case you’ve forgotten, the film features a rabbit being gutted by a hawk, traumatically caught up in a snare, and two rabbits viciously scratching the ever-loving fluff out of each other.
Not only is the film full of rabbit-on-rabbit violence, but it even has a gut punch at the end when – spoiler alert – Hazel dies and follows the spirit of the Black Rabbit into the afterlife. Most films only have one emotive moment, but Watership Down has so many, as if they’ve been breeding like… whatever that expression is.
And, of course, we shouldn’t forget the haunting soundtrack to the film. Art Garfunkel was responsible for unsettling songs like The Sound of Silence, so of course he was the perfect choice to sing the wailing eulogy to a departed warrior.
This was meant to be a film for children! Still, the film captured some kind of lightning in a bottle, and became the sixth highest-grossing film at the UK box office.
19. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
A fun and fantastical journey it may have been, but The NeverEnding Story also contained some truly troubling moments that have stayed with us for many years.
For one thing – which will become a running theme in this list – the child in the film’s framing device comes from thoroughly traumatic circumstances, and seems to live an utterly miserable life. Bastian is being raised by his widowed father and is regularly bullied, and forced to take refuge in books like the titular NeverEnding Story.
Atreyu, the character within the book, is pursued by the wolf monster Gmork while attempting to fend off the destruction of his world by the Nothing. Here’s a question, reader: how is a child supposed to sleep when they’re imagining vicious wolves and a descent into a black void? Answer: they can’t. They still can’t.
And, of course, we have to mention the film’s most iconic moment – and it’s iconic for all the wrong, traumatic reasons. Atreyu leads his beautiful horse Artax into a swamp, and Artax drowns in the black goop, as much as he might struggle against it.
Thankfully, all is made right in the end, and the movie has an uplifting moral about the power of imagination, but it takes quite a while to get to that happy ending, and even longer to get over the NeverEnding nightmares this film inspired.
18. Labyrinth (1986)
Directed by Jim Henson (oh, that guy who did The Muppets, such as that charming green frog!) and produced by George Lucas (ah, the guy who did Star Wars, which is super fun and family-friendly besides the stabbing and dismemberment!), our parents should probably be forgiven for thinking Labyrinth was the ultimate film for kids.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s an amazing and iconic film, featuring a timeless performance from David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, but there are moments so creepy you’d never think they were brought to you by the same person who gave us Miss Piggy.
Everything that made The Muppets so charming is completely turned on its head on this film – namely, the strange and flexible proportions of the creatures. Sarah, the protagonist, is set upon by creatures with detachable limbs who attempt to pull her head off.
And let’s not forget about the ‘Helping Hands’ that imprison Sarah: horrible, scaly things that required a 40-foot rig and almost a hundred performers to operate. Imagine a 40-foot high wall of hands! It’s not exactly Paw Patrol, is it?
It’s worth remembering also that David Bowie’s costume was a piece of glam-rock wonder, but it was certainly flattering in areas you’d think would be off-limits in a kids’ film…
17. Ghostbusters (1984)
Wisecracking, slightly dorky scientists try to bust ever-so-spooky ghosts with ‘proton packs’ that spew out gloopy, golden rays. What’s not to like? Ghostbusters was, and still is, a cultural icon and – despite initial doubts over the budget required for its hi-tech special effects – it became one of the highest-grossing films of 1984, and the highest-grossing comedy ever at the time of release.
But while most of the ‘horror’ and supernatural elements are tongue in cheek, there are definitely parts of the film lodged in our brains that we’d rather not remember every time our mind wanders in the shower.
Whereas Slimer has become an integral part of the Ghostbusters pop culture canon, the first ghost the ‘busters encounter is a lot more disturbing. Eleanor Twitty was a librarian who was murdered in cold blood, and while she at first seems harmless she transforms into an utterly terrifying phantom.
When the demigod Zuul possesses Dana (played by Sigourney Weaver), her animalistic qualities really are scary. We’re confident that it’s the scariest film Sigourney Weaver has ever been in.
Remember, also, that the film includes a snippet of a larger sequence in which Dan Aykroyd has a sexual encounter with a female ghost. Maybe we didn’t fully process that scene at the time, but it’s inescapable now.
16. Gremlins (1984)
Then the latest film from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which had brought the family classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) to our screens, Gremlins seemed on the face of things to be a spooky but ultimately fun cinema excursion for kids. How wrong we were.
Sure, the mogwai seem cute enough – and furry, too, which is always a snuggly plus – and hijinx are an integral part of any family film. But what if those hijinx involved murder? What about a lot of murder?
‘Mogwai’ is actually Cantonese for ‘Devil’, and they certainly start acting that way. When Mr Hanson, the schoolteacher, is studying one, it kills him. The gremlins kill a helpless old lady. They spawn out of cocoons and murder several innocent townsfolk. And, don’t forget, by this point they’ve long since shed their furry exteriors and become horrible lizard creatures. One of which explodes in a microwave.
These less-than-suitable-for-kids elements didn’t pass the ratings board by, and Gremlins was in fact one of the films that led to the introduction of a PG-13 rating, establishing a mid-point between generally thrilling but acceptable films and the truly gory or sexually explicit R-rated movies.
You could, however, argue that the new rating system backfired a little, as producers flocked to market their films as PG-13: a rating that suggested films were pushing boundaries and being exciting, while still being accessible to younger viewers.
15. My Girl (1991)
Unlike many of the movies on this list, My Girl wasn’t unsuitable for being dark or scary. Instead it was the emotional impact it had on us that made it an extremely difficult watch when we were young.
As much as the poster makes it out that My Girl is a heartwarming story about two unlikely friends – which, to be fair, it generally is – the film is in fact obsessed with death and making small children cry at every turn.
Vada’s mother has died, her grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and she has no friends. She struggles without female guidance in her life, and constantly thinks she is on the verge of death.
Things start looking up when she befriends Thomas (Macauley Culkin), but then he goes and dies of a bee sting and then we all died from the heartbreak.
Do you remember the scene that features Vada crying over Thomas J’s casket? “Where are his glasses? He needs his glasses. He was gonna be an acrobat!” It gets us every time we watch it.
14. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has always been a dark and twisted masterpiece, but the Gene Wilder movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory went one step further when it came to the disturbing stakes.
It’s no secret that the main plot of both the book and the film involves dispatching ungrateful and greedy children in an eclectic mix of gruesome fashions. Augustus Gloop gets stuck in a tube and probably breaks his ribs in the process; Verruca Salt and her father are potentially thrown face-first into a furnace or garbage compactor, and Charlie Bucket is forced to wear a blue turtleneck the whole time, several decades before it was cool.
Wonka himself is cold and sociopathic, and treats his life with reckless abandon. When he’s ascending with Charlie and Grandpa Joe in the Great Glass Elevator, he seems resigned to the fact that he’ll probably be cut into tiny little pieces and is unconcerned that he’ll be taking a child and an OAP with him.
But we couldn’t mention Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory without talking about the notorious psychedelic tunnel sequence, featuring flashing lights, serial killer-esque singing from Wilder, and some gruesome background footage you might have forgotten. Do you remember a centipede crawling over a dead man’s face and a chicken having its head lopped off with a cleaver? Your subconscious does.
Wilder’s singing reportedly unnerved the cast, too, with Peter Ostrum (Charlie) saying “Gene just kind of went off and we had not seen that side of him,” Ostrum says. “I wouldn’t say it was disturbing – but it was, ‘Whoa, Gene is really getting into it today.’”
13. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
There’s nothing like that rousing theme, Harrison Ford’s roguish wit and charm, and a whole bunch of spectacular stunts to really glue kids to the screen. Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired a sense of adventure in entire generations of children, but there were certain parts that weren’t all that suitable for a younger audience.
We also could have put Temple of Doom on this list, with its eels, monkey brains, and ripping hearts out of people’s chests, but Raiders made the biggest impression on us.
Whether it was Toht burning an imprint of the medallion into his hand, or the Nazi giant being cut up by propellor blades, there’s plenty to be traumatised by in this otherwise hearty caper.
Interestingly, it’s possible that Indy’s professed fear of snakes directly led to an increase in ophidiophobia; as a learned behaviour, we develop these irrational fears through seeing other people being scared, even if they were mostly just cut up bits of hosepipe.
But the scene that’s really stayed with us is when the Nazis finally open the ark, releasing the angels of death that have been locked away inside. Toht’s face graphically melts off, and the other Nazis’ heads explode. This scene initially earned the film an R-rating, and extra CGI fire had to be added to obscure the goriest parts.
12. The Dark Crystal (1982)
Just like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal is a film full of monsters, many of whom look like they’ve just opened the Ark of the Covenant.
While the plot is relatively benign, featuring two heroes on a quest to restore a powerful crystal, the universe of The Dark Crystal is just that: dark, and definitely more on the unsettling side.
The Skeksis, who are seeking to rule over Thra, use the crystal to rejuvenate themselves, but still look like rotting vultures. Even worse, the Garthim are horrific crab-like creatures who act as violent enforcers.
Even the Gelflings, the heroes of the piece, have a distinctly Uncanny Valley look to them, having human enough hair and features, but overall looking like a combination of humans, cats, and little grey men.
And never forget Kira being stabbed to death. She comes back in the end, but watching puppets getting impaled is something we just don’t need to see.
11. Return to Oz (1985)
1939’s The Wizard of Oz is a classic so evergreen it’s practically Emerald City. While it wasn’t without its scary moments – such as a vicious green-skinned woman who melts into a puddle, and her flying monkey demons – the film’s tale of believing in yourself and being kind to others has made a lasting impression. Unfortunately, so did its spiritual successor.
Written and directed by Walter Murch, known – improbably -for working on Apocalypse Now (1979) and the Godfather series (1972, 1974, 1990), the film sees Dorothy Gale return to the land of Oz to depose the tyrannical Nome King.
The first thing you need to know is that the film opens with Dorothy being institutionalised and prepared for electroshock therapy. Her family believes Oz was a fantasy. Dorothy is freed from the asylum after a lightning strike and mysteriously finds herself back in Oz.
But it’s no longer a world full of yellow brick roads and tin men. Instead, the world is overcome by Wheelers – men with wheels instead of limbs – and Dorothy is captured by Princess Mombi.
Mombi, for those who weren’t traumatised by this particular film as children, swaps out her head like Worzel Gummidge. But unlike Jon Pertwee’s jaunty scarecrow, Mombi actively collects heads and wishes to relieve Dorothy of hers. Terrifying stuff!
10. Bambi (1942)
You might have noticed a theme so far in what was particularly effective in traumatising our childhood selves: cruelty to animals, and death. And, since Bambi has both in spades, it’s not surprising that it’s garnered a space on our list.
So famous is the traumatic moment of Bambi that it’s practically become synonymous with the film. The plot is actually about how Bambi grows up, falls in love and becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, but you wouldn’t know it from the pop culture conversation that exists around the film.
The moment we’re tiptoeing around – in part because the heartbreak still feels so fresh – is when Bambi’s mother is shot by an unnamed hunter. “Don’t look back, Bambi! Don’t look back!”
We never actually see Bambi’s mother get shot, but we hear it, and we watch Bambi wait mournfully for her return – but, of course, she never comes back.
The trauma of this moment is echoed in the film’s climax, when a wildfire spreads through the forest and the hunter returns with more men. Not only were we traumatised, but we became ashamed of the human race.
9. The Witches (1990)
The Witches is another Roald Dahl classic and, wouldn’t you know it, Jim Henson was brought on board to produce the book’s 1990 adaptation. While the film was well-liked by critics, and has since become a cult classic, it performed notoriously poorly at the box office.
You might have forgotten, but Luke (the protagonist of the film) stays with his grandmother Helga because his parents were killed in a car crash. Helga falls ill and is given doctor’s orders to convalesce by the sea. It just so happens, however, that this is exactly the hotel in which the witches of the world are holding their annual conference, led by the Grand High Witch, played brilliantly by Anjelica Huston.
Given that it’s a Henson production, there’s a fair amount of body horror trauma that you might have got from this film. For one thing, the witches’ plan to turn all of the world’s children into mice is demonstrated in the film, and watching a human face sprout murine features is fairly disturbing in and of itself.
But the most unsettling moment comes when the witches take off their disguises, revealing hunch-backed, hook-nosed, bald monsters with feet that have no toes. While they’re masquerading as a convention for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, they in fact hate the stench of them.
But The Witches was also psychologically traumatising – not only in the powerlessness you’d feel in being transformed into a mouse, but that almost any woman on the street could be a witch who wants you dead. Suddenly, playing outside in the evening didn’t feel quite so fun.
8. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
You might have thought literally putting the word ‘nightmare’ in the title might have dissuaded parents from showing off this Tim Burton classic to their children, but you’d be wrong. Yet again, the children of the world fall prey to a feature that’s animated, and therefore must be suitable for children.
Now don’t get us wrong: we love The Nightmare Before Christmas, but did it leave us with unresolved trauma of creepy-crawlies and soft-spoken skeletons? Unquestionably.
Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, tries to take over Christmas. But when he puts the residents of Halloween Town in charge of the festivities, they obviously enjoyed putting a whole bunch of severed hands into presents, and generally making Christmas a lot more spidery.
From the mayor’s creepy spinning head to Jack’s long limbs, even the disjointedness of the stop-motion animation made the whole thing so much creepier. But one character stands out in particular…
Oogie Boogie, the main antagonist of the film, is revealed at the film’s climax to just be a sack of bugs that unravels. While that’s highly relatable, it was also hugely disturbing for us as kids!
7. The Wizard (1989)
The Wizard was hugely negative reviewed when it released, and achieved only tepid box office success, mostly because it was basically one big product placement for the Nintendo Entertainment system and its short-lived peripheral, the Power Glove.
While it’s since become a cult classic, in part because of its overblown acting and coverage of classic video games, for many of us it’s seared into our memories as being quite an emotionally traumatic story.
In a detail you might not remember, Jimmy, the lead character, actually suffers from PTSD as a result of his sister having drowned two years earlier. He gets broken out of a mental institute, and sets about competing in a video game tournament, the prize for which is $50,000.
It’s a classic road trip movie, except for Jimmy hustling people out of their money by beating them at video games, and eluding a child bounty hunter.
But the children eventually drive off into the sunset, competition prize in hand, Jimmy first makes a stop at the Cabazon Dinosaurs to honour his sister. Don’t tell us you didn’t cry (and then immediately beg your parents for a Power Glove)!
6. Dumbo (1941)
Another Disney film, and another mother in peril. But, this time, she’s an elephant who’s being tortured by the circus in which she’s being forced to perform. Those cruel folks at Disney definitely know how to pull our heartstrings.
In fact, pretty much the entire film is a tragic tale. Dumbo is bullied; Dumbo’s mother is imprisoned for defending him. Dumbo is then dressed as a clown and forced to leap from a diving board.
There’s never a dry eye in the house during Baby Mine, the song that Mrs Jumbo sings to her son. “From your head down to your toes, you’re not much, goodness knows. But, you’re so precious to me, sweet as can be, baby of mine.”
But it isn’t just the emotional hardship we endured while watching Dumbo – we were also freaked out by the pink elephant sequence, which happens after Dumbo and Timothy (his mouse friend) accidentally get sozzled on champagne.
The hallucinogenic scene, in which elephants march, inflate and explode set to creepy music, scarred us for life. So you can see why they decided to remove the scene from the 2019 remake.
5. The Land Before Time (1988)
The Land Before Time is thoroughly underrated, and many think of it as a lesser-known Disney flick or knock-off. In fact, the film the directorial and production effort of Don Bluth, best known for creating the fully-animated Dragon’s Lair arcade phenomenon.
But just because we loved it, doesn’t mean that it traumatised us any less. The Land Before Time combines the cutthroat plot of Bambi with cute dinosaurs and natural disasters, making for the ultimate in child-scarring cinema.
The most affecting event happens towards the beginning of the film, when Littlefoot is attacked by a vicious Sharptooth (also known as a T-Rex). Littlefoot survives and is rescued by her mother, who is fatally wounded in the attempt. Not only that, but at that exact moment an earthquake strikes, separating Littlefoot from her herd. Most of the herd dies, including her mother – and, in contrast to Bambi, the moments are most definitely shown in the film.
Disaster nearly strikes later when Petrie the Pterodactyl is nearly dragged down to the watery depths with the Sharptooth in the film’s climactic battle, but thankfully survives the ordeal.
Littlefoot then follows a cloud that resembles her mother to her new home – yes, The Land Before Time did the deceased parent in the cloud thing before The Lion King (1994)!
4. Antz (1998)
You don’t hear very much about Antz anymore, even though it was fairly successful at the time of its release. If anything, the film is most famous for the public feud that erupted between Jeffrey Katzenberg and John Lasseter of Pixar over allegations that Katzenberg had plagiarised the ideas behind the film before he departed to launch Dreamworks.
The film in question was, of course, A Bug’s Life, which received a mixed critical reception but performed markedly better than its competitor. Making a comparison between the two, A Bug’s Life is more brightly coloured and peppy, whereas Antz is brown and stars Woody Allen in the lead as his usual griping self.
But it’s not just the Uncanny Valley aspects of the film – seeing Sharon Stone’s voice coming out of a human face on an ant’s body – that disturbed us as kids.
Lest you forget, these ants are at war, and at war in particular with acid-spraying termites, which leads to some seriously messed up death scenes, and horrific drownings towards the climax of the film.
“It’s so free, it turns visual cartwheels,” said Roger Ebert of the film. “It enters into a microscopic world–an ant colony beneath Central Park – and makes it into a world so vast and threatening that comparisons with “Star Wars” are not unjustified.”
3. Stand By Me (1986)
Alright, it’s not technically a kids’ film, but this was definitely a movie we ended up seeing as kids, since the marketing was focused on the boys being obsessed with Pez, and the title had been changed from the more direct Steven King original, The Body.
It’s an incredible film, and fully showcases River Phoenix’s star quality. But that doesn’t mean the whole thing isn’t terribly upsetting. It’s well worth a watch, so be wary of spoilers ahead.
The plot of the film involves a group of four boys searching for a body they’ve heard was discovered out of town. They get caught up with a gang, find leeches on their groins, and generally ruminate on death and the grief they’re experiencing.
The toughest moment of all, however, comes at the very end, when the older Gordie talks about how his friend, Chris, died trying to break up a fight.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
2. Hocus Pocus (1993)
On its release, Hocus Pocus was such a flop at the box office that it’s thought to have lost Disney as much as $16.5 million. Since then, however, it’s become a cult classic and a staple of the spooky season.
Starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, the film centres on three witches in Salem Massachusetts who absorb the souls of children in order to achieve immortality. You know, a typical Disney comedy.
Naturally, Midler and the rest of the cast are hamming it up for all they’re worth, and the protagonists are a bunch of misfits who are enjoying the Halloween season, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t creepy scenes aplenty.
For one thing, the witches survive being burned in a furnace, but as the sun rises they suffer some fairly gruesome fates. Two of the witches turn to dust, and Winifred (Midler) becomes a sharp-clawed stone statue.
At one point Winifred raises her former lover, Billy Butcherson, from the dead, and sets him upon the children who keep thwarting her plans. Butcherson is played by Doug Jones, who would go on to play the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and the creature from The Shape of Water (2017)
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
For the top place in our list, we had to go with the warped vision of a classic Disney film, and none are more disturbing than the studio’s earliest animated feature film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film is so early, in fact, that Hitler had been Führer for three years, and the dark shadow looming across Europe seems to have given the film a much darker tone.
As much as some might fondly remember the film as the adventures of a rag-tag gang of dwarfs and a beautiful princess, the evil queen certainly made an impression on our young minds.
Jealous of Snow White’s beauty, the queen demands her heart is ripped from her chest and placed in a jewelled box. When her huntsman fails to go through with the murder, she creates a demonic-looking poison apple and disguises herself as a hag. We’ll never forget the scene of Snow White fleeing in peril and encountering the horrifying faces on those trees.
The queen suffers something of a gruesome death, and falls to her death after the precipice she’s standing on is struck by lightning. At this point in the film, Snow White is dead – the princess actually dies! – and the dwarfs are all crying, and it’s all deeply disturbing.
She’s awoken a year later by a prince’s kiss (which is a bit creepy, if we’re honest), but a happy ending doesn’t excuse the emotional trauma the film put us through.