11 ‘Family’ Movies That Utterly Destroyed Us

11 ‘Family’ Movies That Utterly Destroyed Us

Do you prefer a “gloves off” approach to raising your offspring? Are you sick of modern entertainment mollycoddling kids? Here are 11 scenes from “family friendly” movies and TV shows that will help toughen the little blighters up. (Alternatively, if you’re an overprotective parent, here are eleven scenes that you absolutely must avoid at all costs.)

The Never Ending Story – Artax fails to float.

The demise of Artax the horse is easily one of the most distressing scenes in cinematic history. It actually caused one of my childhood friends to vomit from stress at the cinema. Adding to the heartbreak is a persistent rumour that the horse got caught in the submerged lift and actually drowned in real life. (Thankfully, this is just an urban legend – although the child actor was badly injured by the very same lift.)

Suur Tõll – the battle sequence.

Suur Tõll (AKA Toll the Great) is a heroic giant from Estonian folklore. In 1980, a Soviet film studio made an animated short about his exploits that shifts from grim, to trippy to shockingly blood-thirsty. Suur Tõll is badass. (The orgy of battlefield destruction kicks in at around the five-minute mark: but the whole thing is worth watching.)

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – the boat ride.

The 1971 musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fun family romp for the most part – but at around the halfway point, things take a briefly sinister turn. During a boat ride down the chocolate river, the titular Wonka’s playful malevolence morphs into something creepy and unhinged. Gene Wilder plays the sequence terrifyingly straight as grotesque projections glimmer in the darkness (including what appears to be a corpse covered in worms). It feels like we’re staring directly into the mind of a serial killer which probably isn’t what Roald Dahl had in mind.

Return To Oz – the screaming heads.

Most people who saw Return To Oz at the cinema were expecting a warm ‘n’ lovable sequel to the 1939 classic. Instead, they got a nightmarish tale of childhood insanity and isolation that included everything from electroshock therapy to magical mass-murder. There are many terrifying moments in this movie but when it comes to sheer nightmare stuff, nothing tops the above sequence. What on earth were they thinking?

Dumbo – Pink Elephants On Parade.

In 1938 Albert Hofmann created LSD. A year later Disney greenlit Dumbo. Just sayin’.

Coraline – Coraline meets her new parents.

Coraline is a stop-motion animated movie that slithered out of the twisted mind of Neil Gaiman. There are some truly terrifying sequences in the film, but the introduction of Coraline’s “other” parents is arguably the most disquieting. (Later, the mum rips out a child’s voice box and stiches his lips into a forced, rictus grin. Whoever green-lit this project must really hate kids.)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Jessica Rabbit sings.

Okay, so it’s not strictly a kids film, but Roger Rabbit is rated PG and was aggressively marketed to families at the time of release (I’m pretty sure there was even a McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in). When it comes to messed up moments, it’s hard to top the terrifying reveal of Judge Doom’s true identity. However, the sheer wrongness of Jessica Rabbit’s sexed up rendition of Why Don’t You Do Right? narrowly pipped it to the post. As a kid, I saw this flanked by my father and mother. Awkward doesn’t begin to cover it.

The Adventures of Mark Twain – Satan kills.

Gumby-style clamation is creepy enough without throwing Satan into the mix. Loosely based on Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, this 1985 short follows a trio of the author’s most famous characters as they hang out with a mysterious robed figure with a penchant for play-dough genocide. The mayhem starts at 3:05.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – The Child Catcher.

As an adult, this sequence is so farcically over the top that it can only be seen as hilarious. But to children in the 1960s, it was the stuff of nightmares.

Dark Crystal – Podling gets drained.

In 1982, Jim Henson decided to jump on the fantasy bandwagon with a bunch of Tolkien-esque puppets in tow. The end result was a surprisingly dark kiddie’s flick filled with nightmarish monsters and New Age mysticism. Despite clearly being made from bits of leather and fiberglass, the giant crab-like Garthim and murderous Skeksis are both terrifying creations. But by far the most distressing sequence is the lingering half-death suffered by a hapless Podling as he is drained of his life-essence in a Mengele-style laboratory. That Muppet’s eyes still haunt me to this day.

Watership Down – most of the movie.

Watership Down is based on a children’s book and stars a bunch of talking rabbits animated in the Disney style. And yet, you’d probably be better off showing your kids The Silence Of The Lambs. Seriously, this movie kills off more bunnies than myxomatosis, complete with gratuitous lashings of claret.

Which of the above sequences disturbed you most as a kid? Or is there something even more terrifying that we forgot to include? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

This story has been updated since its original publication.


    • Yeah, I’d actually forgotten the Artex scene. That freaked me out. Easily the most disturbing scene in a movie full of traumatic imagery.

      Thankyou, lifehacker, for bringing these forgotten memories back to me. Without this I might have had to go through the day feeling happy and carefree.

  • Artax dying never really got to me – but I have long-standing enmity towards horses. My feeling towards horses and that scene are the same as John Cleese’s towards his supposedly favourite criticism of A Fish Called Wanda – “should’ve killed more dogs”.

    Watership Down is a kid’s book in a similar way to South Park being a kid’s show – you can watch it with kids if you are prepared to discuss it with them afterwards.

    The only one that really got to me as a kid was that scene in The Dark Crystal, but I think that was because it gave me flashbacks to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (which I really should not have been allowed to see).

    I’d add to the list the scenes:
    The mind control devices being extracted from people in the 1986 version of Invaders from Mars – which was Tobe Hooper’s (awesome) attempt at a kids film. Was so scary my sister refused to watch the rest of the film (and apparently still does).
    Also, the execution of the Star League spy in The Last Starfighter (also induced flashbacks of Raiders) – the incredibly authentic screams really sell that scene as nightmare fodder
    Lastly, possibly also Number 5’s heroic sacrifice/bid-for-freedom at the end of Short Circuit*.

    *For those few that will actually admit to seeing Short Circuit:
    I know it’s a ruse, but there are a good few minutes between the duplicate’s fiery death and Number 5’s re-emergence

  • I remember being at school, and it being close to the end of term. The teachers herded all the 7 year olds up and put on Watership Down. They must have thought it was going to be a fun bunny movie….Then the fields of blood (literally) appeared on the screen. The exact moment the P.T.S.D installed itself. Every time i hear “bright eyes” I think of a rabbit impaled on barbed wire. Thanks Mrs S.

  • The Black Hole.

    Enslavement, torture, evisceration and a surreal depiction of hell that confused my childhood mind for years afterwards. And all of this was from Disney. Harden up parents.

    • The weirdest thing about that movie is that it came out after Star Wars but looks like it was made in the early ’60s. Its dated quality somehow makes it creepier.

  • The horse’s name is Artax.

    The scene is brutal. I basically avoid watching it when I can.

    I recently watched NeverEnding Story at a cinema and thus had to watch the scene. I’m 29 and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.

  • The Artax scene was distressing and sad but for sheer frightening it didn’t come close to when the Wolf meets Atreyu.

    The Dark Crystal scene was the most distressing for me as a child of those on the list. I loved the movie, but it really freaked me out.

    However none of the scenes listed was as scary for me as the assault on the Hoth base by the AT-ATs in the Empire Strikes back. Something about those unstoppable, unrelenting, remorseless machines completely freaked me out. I couldn’t watch that scene until I was about 8.

  • Good lord, why has no one mentioned Witches? We watched that at school in grade 5 and it scared almost all of us so badly the teacher had to write a mea culpa to all the parents.

  • Westley’s death in Princess Bride almost turned my stomach. Although it happened half-offscreen, both the machine’s design and his screams were enough to feed my child imagination with the most horrifying details.

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