35 Movies That Scarred Us for Life As Kids, According to Lifehacker Readers

35 Movies That Scarred Us for Life As Kids, According to Lifehacker Readers
Screenshot: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory/HBO Max

A few days ago I asked Lifehacker readers to share with me the trauma inflicted by the films they saw as children — the disturbing scenes they witnessed well before they were ready to handle the horrors they contained.

I wasn’t looking to hear about the time dad let you watch A Nightmare on Elm Street. Obviously that’s not going to go well. What’s more interesting are those instances where seemingly innocuous movies — in many cases, movies made solely to entertain children! — nevertheless scarred a child for life. And boy, did you not let me down.

I pored through the more than 200 comments on that post to bring you the following gallery of childhood terrors: 35 movies you definitely don’t want to watch with your kids anytime soon. Proceed with caution. We have so much time and so little to do.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

I know I used this film’s gut-wrenching “Swamps of Sadness” scene as a prompt in my post earlier this week, but it turns out there are yet more reasons to be disturbed by this classic ‘80s starter fantasy — including the funny feelings generated by nude statues that want to roast you in your armour like baked beans cooked in the tin.

“For me, while the swamp scene in Never Ending Story was sad, it was the Sphinxes’ Gate that scared the shit out of me for some reason. I remember having nightmares about them lol.” — Inhert

“Yes! Can’t explain it, just something terrifying about those. zzzzzap” — Drips

“I hate this movie to this day.” — AtomicSnowman

And that’s not all! Some fears run deeper…

“Atrax dying sucked, but what really got me about that movie was ‘The Nothing,’ which caused me to experience existential dread for the first time. In a movie for kids.” — Pennsyltucky Dreams of America

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

I knew the original adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was going to show up (it was the first comment, actually). The Johnny Depp/Tim Burton remake can only dream of giving kids nightmares like the OG trippy “children’s” film.

“The fucking paddle boat scene in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory…” — Fritz O’ The Ham

“I refused to chew gum for years because of Willy Wonka” — VodkaRocks&aPieceofToast

“That’s not even the only scene in that movie that terrified me. They should warn parents that it’s not meant for young kids.” — Silverwing548

“That movie is a fucking horror film to me” — phephe

Willow (1988)

I rewatched this recently to see if my kids might like it, as I remembered seeing it in the theatre myself at age 6. Around the time a baby’s nursemaid got mauled by demon dogs, I decided…no.

Willow. Don’t even remember why.” — HighLikeAnEagle

“The morph scene from the troll to the dragon was disgusting to me as a kid. Also the dragon had these weird jowls that very much reminded me of my great grandmother.” — AtomicSnowman

Gremlins (1985)

I vastly prefer Gremlins 2, either because I appreciate its subversive meta-humour, or because I am a big baby and the original is too intense. (Not for nothing was it one of the films that inspired the creation of the PG-13 rating.)

“I don’t know if it was meant to be a horror movie or a comedy, but my mum took me to see Gremlins when I was 6 [and] I still have (probably irrational) reservations about watching it again as an adult. It’s probably nowhere near as disturbing as I remember, but that wound just doesn’t heal.” — Xious

“Gremlins F*CKED me up when I was a kid. I was maybe 8 or 9, and my dad took me to see it. I literally didn’t sleep for 3 days, I was so scared. Huddled on the floor of my parents’ bedroom just terrified.” — Strossus

The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

Animated by a team that included many who would go on to found Pixar, this movie about anthropomorphic appliances hunting for their master was giving kids the existential feels long before that trash compactor scene in Toy Story 3.

“Google ‘brave little toaster scary’ and you’ll find a long list of videos commenting on the shocking degree of darkness present in an animated feature.” — Kent Allard

“The Air Conditioner from The Brave Little Toaster. I was quite young and loved that movie, but that guy built into the wall scared the hell out of me.” — SpudsMcKenzie

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Give Dorothy a break. It was the 1930s. Hollywood hadn’t yet figured out how not to make a children’s movie absolutely horrifying.

“The Wizard of Oz. I couldn’t watch it all the way through till high school. Between constantly being worried about where Toto was to the monkeys, I couldn’t cope.” — frizzlieadams

“The wicked witch in general, and her summoning flying monkeys scenes in particular were too much for my child brain to handle. The gloomy setting, her screaming “Fly! Fly!”, the monkeys howling, the music screeching…me crying.” — Gin and Panic

Return to Oz (1985)

This 1985 followup to that Warner Bros.’ classic looked back across generations of crying, terrified children and said, “hold my beer.” Still probably one of the only kids’ movies with a scene in which a child is forced to undergo electroshock therapy, and even that part isn’t half as unsettling as the appearance of the Wheelers.

“Return to Oz. So many visuals in that movie are unsettling.” — Kamakazie

“[I]t’s mostly the fucking Wheelers, with a heavy assist from Mombi. I realised recently that the reason the movie is SO creepy is because the director made his way up in sound. It’s the sound design that really pushes it over the edge.” — HeathMaiden

“I haven’t read the comments yet, but I’m just here to scroll through all the Return to Oz mentions. Those damn wheelers, man.” — Son of Spam

“The Wheelers. *shudders*” — FuzzHawke

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Being a kid is already confusing enough. Do cartoons really need to throw hallucinations into the mix?

“The Heffalumps and Woozles song was definitely horror.” — Jagerbomber9

“Oh my gosh. That song is most certainly on loop in the devil’s waiting room.” — Schneetown

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

That part where the goofy, kid-friendly road movie pauses for a live-action adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Tim Burton has been chasing this dragon ever since.

“The Large Marge scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure scared the fuck out of me when I was 5.” — 50DrunksInABar

“Large. Fucking. Marge.” — HeathMaiden

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

I have never seen this movie — an adaptation of a popular British kids’ book by Ian Fleming, of all people — and after watching the scene above, I’m glad.

“The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Fucking terrifying for a little kid. I’ve read over 100 comments here and nobody has brought this up?” — 6thtimearound

“YEP! The Child Catcher!…That was too much! The way he would peer down into the windows in the basement while they hid……Thanks for bringing back THAT memory!” — captainhardcrabs1

The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Judging by The Black Hole, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and this one, the Walt Disney Company was apparently going through some stuff in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“My parents only let us watch Disney movies as a kid. It’s about a damn poltergeist that terrorizes a kid….I’ve never been able to rewatch it.” — FuzzHawke

“’It’s a Disney movie, it can’t be too scary’ said 6 year old me.” — hredacre

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Speaking of terrifying Disney movies, there’s this much older — and therefore far more unsettling — fable about terrifying gnomes. (Most of the clips of this film on YouTube have titles like “Darby O’Gill and the Little People – WTF fiddle scene.”)

“Darby O’Gill and the Little People caused WeeGus so many nightmares, especially the Banshee. That movie is freaky as hell.” — GlitsierGus

“THAT FUCKING BANSHEE.” — goddessoftransitoryrisesagain

The Land Before Time (1988)

Some movies scare you as a kid. Others force you to experience your worst fear: You mum being killed by a Tyrannosaurus rex before your very eyes.

“It traumatized me in the sense that it was sad and made me cry, and that was bad because in my kid mind boys weren’t supposed to cry. And thus began a life of suppressed emotions & gender woes!” — Kate F

All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

Unsurprisingly, many young children were distressed by this movie, in which we visit animal hell, which is presumably where cats go. Just look at that thumbnail. This movie is fucked up.

“All Dogs Go to Heaven. That damn pocket watch… If you’ve seen it nothing more needs to be said. I still cry to this day.” — deano44

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)

This is one of those movies that everyone who grew up in the ‘80s saw on cable and thought was a fever dream, until the internet came around and provided evidence that yes, it did exist, and no, we weren’t crazy.

“I have no idea why the movie is so horrifying as a child. It just is.” — Nilotec

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

What the hell, Don Bluth. This is your third movie on this list.

“Secret of NIMH. The owl. The house slipping into the mud.” — DukeManphiso

“OMG, the rats from The Secret of Nimh, and Nicodemus. Freaked me out!” — Stormy Weather

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

I love this movie. I saw it in the theatre at age 7. I still won’t show it to my own kids though.

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This effing guy, and what he did to that poor shoe!” — kyoshizen

“Oh god, I think I had repressed the scene with the innocent shoe being lowered into the Dip while pleading for its life.” — Min

“My friend didn’t even want the movie mentioned around her when she was little, because the Count Doom reveal with the squeaky voice and freaky eyes scared the snot out of her” — Kieroni

The Hobbit (1977)

Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of The Hobbit will test your kids’ endurance, but nothing in its nine-hour runtime is half as freaky as any given scene in the 78-minute animated version.

“My first memory of a nightmare I had were of the Goblins in the Rankin/Bass Hobbit cartoon. There is something uncanny about the animation style in general for that movie.” — watcher_b

“Same film but it was the giant spiders that got me.” — Bishbah

“The elves were scary as well. Man! What an interpretation of that book!” — watcher_b

The Last Unicorn (1982)

A decade or so ago I made the (poor) decision to rewatch this movie while under the influence. As my memories suggest, there’s not a great amount of difference between watching a movie as a kid and watching a movie while high…sorry to 8-year-old me.

“Along the Rankin/Bass line, The Last Unicorn had so many horror moments. Top 3 being the three-boobed harpy murdering Mummy Fortuna, the red bull of course, and that damned talking skeleton when his eyes go red. Nightmares for weeks!” — fignootin4

“I don’t think this movie was supposed to have been a children’s movie, but I think the idea of non-children oriented animated films was kind of new to the industry at the time. So it was marketed as a family movie, despite having way too many dark and creepy elements to be young child appropriate. The Red Bull especially terrified me, but there are a lot of aspects that freaked me out. I’ve rewatched the movie as an adult and have more appreciation of it now, but I still can’t embrace it.” — HeathMaiden

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980)

It’s all fun and games until someone gets their face melted off. (Honorable mention: Large swaths of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

“Good ol’ Raiders of the Lost Ark is 95% Nazi-punching fun times, 5% GOD AND HIS MURDER GHOSTS ARE GONNA MELT YOU.” — cgo2370

“Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was 6 years old. Melting faces. Enough said.” — pourspelang

Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Apparently no one told screenwriter Ron Friedman that it’s a bad idea to kill off most of the heroes in a kids’ cartoon. A generation was traumatized by the loss, and G.I. Joe: The Movie was hastily recut to correct a similar misstep (as if anyone cared about Duke).

“Nothing like being 8 years old and watching most of your favourite transformers get violently killed off one by one in the first 20 minutes.” — X.Warlock

“The death of Optimus Prime, Transformers The Movie. It traumatised a generation, and led to a complete reversal of the plans of the largest toy company on the planet. To this day you can elicit anxiety and genuine sadness in millions just by mentioning that scene. It signalled the end of the era of real heroes, followed by the rise of the cynical anti-hero.” — JForce

“Traumatized as a child; still angry as an adult.” — Comboman

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

When Steven Spielberg rereleased his director’s cut of E.T., he edited out the guns because he thought they were too scary for kids, apparently not noticing that the entire film is filled with terror, trauma, and tears.

“With ET it was the scene at the beginning, where he’s running through the woods screaming. For some reason, it BROKE MY TODDLER BRAIN and sent me into a hysterical panic. My parents had to start the tape up like 30 minutes in for YEARS or I’d leave the room.” — Lena

“I had a nightmare about ET when I was a kid and it fucked me up for years….when Elliot finds him in the cornfield in the light of the flashlight and the thing is just wide eyed and screaming? Fucking traumatising to the point where my whole family harassed and terrorised me over it for so many years, constantly finding new ways to fuck me up over it. It wasn’t until I was around 30 that I finally was able to sit down and watch it again and not almost have a panic attack.” — Rex Sheldon

“I’m old enough to have watched it in the theatre. I was so scared, I hid behind the seat in front of me for most of the movie.” — Stormy Weather

Spaceballs (1987)

Like the commenter below, I saw this movie years and years before I saw Alien, and I found the chestburster parody scene more confusing than scary. Pizza the Hut eating himself, on the other hand — repulsive.

“I was quite resilient to horrific moments in films as a kid…However what did finally get to me was when I watched Spaceballs for the first time when I was 7. I didn’t watch Alien until I was an adult, so I had no idea what to expect…when John Hurt is in the diner and suddenly a creature is bursting out of him. I don’t care if the creature did a song and dance afterwards, I was not sleeping that night.” — Vyers

“When I hear that song I still get chills. That and Pizza the Hut’s dripping face make me unable to enjoy that movie.” — mvt82820

Watership Down (1978)

Some movies might have decided not to show the scene of an entire colony of rabbits getting devoured by a threshing machine. Not this one though.

“Watership Down. My mum thought it would be cute, because bunnies. It was a blood filled nightmare.” — Islandkiwi

“Watership Down. OMG.” — Cindy-Lou-Hooha

Powder (1995)

There are plenty of reasons to be disturbed by Powder.

“I don’t remember anything else about the movie but Powder when he gets blasted by lightening wasn’t the greatest to watch on a plane as a young child.” — chrisconsin

Follow That Bird (1985)

If Dumbo can make generations of kids weep at the sight of a circus cage, why not a Sesame Street movie?

Follow That Bird, the movie where they kidnap Big Bird, paint him blue, and throw him in a cage.” — Vintage Original 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop

Superman III (1983)

As a kid I was silly enough to enjoy notorious bomb Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but I somehow never saw Superman III. It seems that was for the best.

“Superman 3, in the final battle where the computer assimilates the non attractive henchwoman was very freaky as a kid.” — Don Ricciardi

“I still get nervous when I am around too many wires at once. That scene imprinted HARD.” — fanburner

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982)

You don’t have to be a kid to be terrified of the idea of a bug burrowing into your ear.

“[F]or months and months and months I had to sleep with the blankets over my ears because I was convinced something was going to crawl in there.” — PrettyGirlMyers

Old Yeller (1957)

The quintessential dog trauma movie — without it, the website Does the Dog Die? is never created.

“If you are too young to have seen it count your doggo blessings.” — KumaGC

The Witches (1990)

If this adaptation had included the scene above and kept the book’s original, extremely depressing ending, it would have deserved an R rating. As it stands, who decided it was a good idea to let Nicholas Roeg direct a children’s movie?

“Kids painfully being transformed into mice as terrifying witches watched? How did adults think this was great entertainment for five year olds?” — jarrett989

Pinocchio (1940)

Attentive viewers will note that we never see Lampwick and the other boys turned back into children; presumably they die shortly after the film ends, worked to death in the mines.

“A bunch of bad kids being irreversibly turned into donkeys and used for slave labour. (Again, WHAT?)” — jarrett989

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

This movie was originally released as part of a double bill with My Neighbour Totoro. That’s messed up.

“High School Kid – getting into anime, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, Princess Mononoke then…boom Grave of the Fireflies, I was never the same.” — HighPIng0

The Incredible Journey (1963)

Kids love it when a movie sparks their imaginations. Like this one, which forces them to imagine what it would be like if their cat drowned.

“DAMN YOU WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY. Of course the cat survived but my young tear ducts were inside out by then.” — Rainbucket

Aracnophobia (1990)

This one was marketed as “Ghostbusters, but with spiders.” No. (There’s a reason I don’t and will never wear slippers.)

“I was too young at the time to realise it was a comedy with suspense/horror elements, took me YEARS to get ok-ish around spiders.” — Arr2Pew2

Arachnophobia fucked me up. I used to love spiders. Caught them in jars, checked out books about them from the library, all the weird things a 6 year old kid would do. Then it came on TV one night, and my dad let me watch it because spiders. Now I can’t stand the sight of their creepy eyes and their gross mouth parts.” — S

The Care Bears Movie (1985)

I’ll see your The Care Bears Movie, and raise you The Care Bears Movie II.

“A lot of people have already mentioned many of the scenes that stuck with me, but I see no one mentioning The Care Bears Movie. The witch and her book creeped me out so much as a child.” — Ubiqui-Cat

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