Halloween-themed movies: 13+ films set on or around Halloween.

halloween movies shareable

FRESHLY UPDATED FOR THE 2015 SEASON

JUST TO BE CLEAR: This is a list of movies in which Halloween itself is featured – either a little or a lot. These are NOT my recommendations for best over-all horror movies. For great movies that are just generally scary, check out the other themed lists available in the Courting Creepy section of the blog.

The main part of this post presents my 13 favorite Halloween-themed movies, in an order meant to gradually lead viewers into the Halloween spirit over time. I should, perhaps, warn you that I have quirky taste in movies, so follow along at your own risk.

I am on a quest to develop THE comprehensive list of main-stream* movies set on or around Halloween, and/or featuring Halloween elements. In the second half of this post, there is a list of movies in which I’ve been able to confirm at least a bit of of the theme.

  • NOTE: There are dozens of Halloween-themed slashers and B-movies, most of which went straight to video. I don’t watch such films, except on a dare. (I consider most of the Halloween sequels to be in that same, don’t-bother category.) To find such fodder, just type Halloween into the search at Netflix. If you run into a surprisingly good one, let me know about it … in fact, dare me to watch it myself. Maybe it will get added to this list.

Please give me a heads-up in the comments if you know of any film that should be listed. I’m working through watching the suggestions I’ve already received as quickly as my spare time allows.

Be aware that most of the movies below are NOT available (at the time of this post) from Netflix streaming. Almost all, however, are available on DVD.

NOT ABOUT HALLOWEEN. ALSO NOT HORROR. BUT THESE ARE SOME DAMN FINE FILMS:

13.  To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– A perfect movie to begin the journey to Halloween, as it starts in high-summer and moves beautifully through the season as it wanes. Eventually, a spookier-than-you-remember scene unfolds as Scout and Jem trek through the woods toward a harvest pageant at Halloweentime.

12.  Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) marries his childhood sweetheart, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), on Halloween day. The two visit his eccentric maiden aunts. Hijinks ensue. Not super halloween-y, but great fun.

11. NEW: The Skeleton Twins (2014) 
~ Netflix: available on streaming.
Bill Hader and  Kristen Wiig star as twins who escape death on the same day. This is a drama with some lovely flashes of the kind of comedy we have come to expect from these two actors. The story does not revolve around Halloween, but the visuals are everywhere, all through the film, and an important scene takes place on Halloween night.

 

WHEN HALLOWEEN IS ALL ABOUT KIDS WHO BELIEVE IN MONSTERS:

10.  Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Long after Labor Day, a mysterious carnival comes to town. A beautiful movie that evokes the way we feel about Halloween.

09.  Silver Bullet (1985)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Nostalgia for the 80s is the best reason to watch this movie, because there’s very little Halloween in it. (The last full moon of the film falls on Halloween. There is a Jack-O-Lantern and a paper skeleton visible for a moment.) That said, there’s a fair bit of autumnal atmosphere, and Gary Busey turns in a fun performance. 

08.  ET (1982)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– An iconic night of trick-or-treating leaves you yearning to be able to go out like that again.

MOVIES THAT ROMP THROUGH HALLOWEEN LIKE AN EXCITED SIX-YEAR-OLD:

07.  Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.

– Yes, I know it’s also a Christmas movie but who doesn’t want to hear the song “This is Halloween” in the weeks leading up to the grand day?

06.  Hocus Pocus (1993)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– The confusion suffered by the witches in this story, when confronted with a modern Halloween celebration, is a joy to watch.

05.  Halloweentown (1998)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
So Rated G that your teeth will ache. Great for kids but there’s fun for adults too. No gore. No real scares. Lots of Halloween atmosphere (of the admittedly bright & sugary kind.) There’s a whole series of these made-for-cable movies. I’ve seen them all. Don’t judge me.

MOVIES FOR GROWNUPS:

04.  Lady in White (1988)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– A boy spends Halloween night, 1963, locked in a haunted cloakroom.

03.  Ed Wood (1994)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) & Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) spend Halloween night, 1953, together.

02.  Sleepy Hollow (1999)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– No one mentions Halloween because it’s 1799, but the atmosphere is perfect and the movie is just beautiful. (Because Johnny Depp & Christina Ricci.) That’s a good thing, because this film has a confusing, so-so plot and some completely unnecessary Tim Burton-style special effects. 

Watch Oct 24th - 30th

13

01.  Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– This bloody, over the top homage to Halloween is gorgeous. Every scene oozes Halloween.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that you watch anything but Halloween (1978) on Halloween night. But I have to admit Trick ‘r Treat is a good option if you’ve just seen Halloween too many times.

That said, I’ll be watching the classic — which I own, of course — come Halloween night, because I’m old school that way.

MUST SEE: Halloween (1978)
~ Netflix: DVD only.

Watch on Halloween Night

Watch on Halloween Night

*****

Alternatives to the above listings:

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
~ Netflix: not available.
– A serviceable movie that can appeal to the completionist in you. Jamie Lee is back – so that’s worth something. Not a bad option if you want to replace one of the kid-movies above.

Ginger Snaps (2000)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– “Two death-obsessed sisters, outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf.” A bloody, gruesome movie but its unique, weirdly realistic take on werewolves won me over. The film takes place during the month of October, and culminates on Halloween night.

Donnie Darko (2001)
~ Netflix: DVD only.

– I do not like Donnie Darko, and you can’t make me.  The plot is just too murky. It is, however, set around Halloween. And I know some of you would love it.

May (2002)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– May decides to actively improve her somewhat lacking social life on Halloween night. I would love this movie if it weren’t so darn gruesome. Depending on your mood, the ending is either depressing or strangely uplifting. 

Mean Girls (2004)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.

– If you’re looking for just a dash of Halloween in a non-horror comedy, you might enjoy this movie which features Halloween costumes we’re all familiar with: lingerie and animal ears.

Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
~ Netflix: not available.
– This episode of Masterpiece Mystery from PBS is a cozy movie to accompany a night of knitting. It’s interesting to see how the holiday is handled in this period piece. (This movie was available on Netflix DVD last year. I don’t know why it’s gone now.)

The Simian Line (2000)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– A fortune teller, ghosts from two different eras, a set of three couples with issues in their relationships … this is mostly a chick-flick, but it’s more intelligent than most rom-coms. I ended up really liking its quirkiness and its cast. (Especially the May/December romance between Lynn Redgrave and Harry Connick Jr.) The film starts on Halloween afternoon, and the themes that unspool from there are well within the scope of the season.

Frequency (2000)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– I found Frequency on several Halloween-themed movie lists when I was doing my research, but couldn’t remember any Halloween elements myself. We decided to watch it again to find out for sure. Upon this recent viewing, we decided there was NO Halloween in it all, and I edited this post to say so.

Days later, Ogre came to me to say, “Frequency? I think there was ONE mention of him dressing up as a cop when he was a kid.” He’s right. I stand corrected. There is a wee-tiny-bit of Halloween in it after all!

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
~ Netflix: not available.
– Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen star in this strange, disturbing tale of a girl who appears to be living alone, and the townspeople who want to know what’s going on. Halloween is mentioned ONLY briefly at the beginning and near the end of this movie. (In years past, this movie was in the top 13 list, above. Now that it is not available from Netflix, I’ve replaced it with The Skeleton Twins.)

As a child of the late 70s and early 80s there is much here that strikes a chord with me – in particular what it feels like to be precocious in a world of adults who want children to be seen and not heard, and who wield power carelessly and brutally. I love the beige palette of the film.

NEW: The Guest (2014)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.
– This is a cross between a thriller and and action movie. The movie itself is so-so (though there are some shining moments) but there’s plenty of Halloween around, mostly in the form of decorations through the film, but also in a maze toward the end.

NEW: The Houses October Built (2014)
~ Netflix: available on streaming.
– A fairly typical found footage movie. The protagonists are reasonably likeable, at least at first. The whole movie is about visiting haunted attractions in the week leading up to Halloween, so there’s plenty of holiday-specific imagery around. Some entertainment value can be found in deciding when you would STOP the progression of events … because you are not an idiot.

NEW: Casper (1995)
~ Netflix: available on DVD.
I watched it because of Bill Pullman & Christina Ricci. Sadly, I pretty much hated the movie. It’s too silly and not clever enough to interest me as an adult, and I think it would be kinda boring for a kid. It does, however feature a bunch of Halloween.

WAY OUT ON A LIMB HERE:

I am finding the following films on some Halloween-themed movie lists, I have not seen them (or, in some cases, I haven’t seen them recently) so I can’t yet tell you if they are appropriate for the list, nor exactly how much Halloween-y goodness they offer. This is the stuff I’ll be queueing up in the next few weeks.

Ghost Watch (1992) 
~ Netflix: not available, not even in list. (There is a vimeo account that has it in 3 parts. Watch at your own risk.)

– A BBC broadcast, aired on October 31st, 1992. A pseudo-documentary about a report from a reputedly haunted house.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
Reviews tell me it is not connected to the other movies. (Thus it is okay that Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t in it.) The premise sounds dumb to me, but folks I’m reading swear it’s a good Halloween setting. The cover looks promising. UPDATE: Lots of folks have messaged me to say this is a terrible movie. I still haven’t seen it … and the likelihood that I will is nil.

Ironweed (1987)
~ Netflix: DVD only.
– “A schizophrenic drifter (Jack Nicholson) spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.” (Also stars Meryl Streep.) 

NO HALLOWEEN:

movie poster the gift

The Gift (2000)
~ Netflix: available of streaming.
– I have no idea why this appears on most other Halloween-themed movie lists on the interwebs. No Halloween elements. Decent movie. (But I hate her cards and the depiction of The Gift itself.)

Did I forget any of your favorite Halloween-themed movies? 

Halloween Index

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