Earlier this week, I invited you to revisit your childhood trauma with me, and as expected, many of you were happy to go along for the ride, sharing the movies you saw way, way before you should’ve been exposed to them, thus scarring you for life. But in a fun way!
Now, far be it from me to judge the poor parenting decisions of others — I’m quite busy enough judging my own poor parenting decisions, thanks — but I think we are doing kids a disservice to let them watch adult content before they are old enough to really comprehend it in context. They grow up too fast already, and a big part of that process involves shedding their literally childlike illusion that the world is a wonderful and magical place, rather than a mostly terrible one. We probably shouldn’t use our own hazy memories of seeing a knife-fingered serial killer slicing teenagers open when we were 8 and being fine with it influence our decisions to let our kids do the same.
But I get it, parenting is hard, and kids are whiny, and sometimes really want to see that inappropriate movie. But if you let them, they’ll never forget it — as I will now demonstrate.
I’m a big Titanic defender, but I take that PG-13 rating seriously, even though it isn’t nearly as violent or gory as many others on this list. What it is, is intense — the tension builds and builds throughout the lengthy sinking sequence — and deeply sad, and also it mostly actually happened, which is haunting and depressing. There are also boobs.
“My parents let me watch Titanic when I was like 6 or 7 and the neighbour who loaned us the two-VHS boxed set (!) was really mad about it, but just because of the naked scene, not the mass death.” — Lindsey Ellefson, Lifehacker staff writer
“I remember being allowed to watch Titanic because my parents looked at each other right in front of me and went “Is she old enough to see a naked woman?” (I guess the answer was yes).” Meredith Dietz, Lifehacker staff writer
“I saw Titanic with a boy in theatres when I was 12. We both tensed up during the sex scene but the wilder aspect of this is that I was allowed to go on a date by myself when I was 12.” — Claire Lower, Lifehacker senior food editor
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the scariest movies ever made. I saw it in college and I have no desire to ever watch it again, because I don’t need a movie to remind me that the world is a cruel place and that no one else can ever really be trusted. But whatever, show it to your 9-year-old.
“Cable came out when I was just starting high school and only the kids in town had it. I remember about a dozen of us staying over at a friend’s house and watching The Thing in the pitch dark basement. Absolutely terrifying. Almost as bad as watching Poltergeist at the home of the kid who lived above the funeral parlor.” — midwesternmom
“Thanks to my step-dad’s expansive Betamax library though, there were plenty of movies at home I shouldn’t have seen. The Thing is the one that comes to mind first and foremost — that one horrified me, followed by Flesh Gordon but for entirely different reasons.” — Dake
Gremlins is one of the movies used as evidence that there needed to be a rating between PG and R; seems many parents didn’t quite understand the Christmas movie with the adorable teddy bear guy on the poster was going to include a scene of a monster being shoved into a blender.
“My parents took me to Gremlins when I was 3. Although, it was less taking me to see it and more taking me along so they could see it. They figured that since it was a PG movie, it would be tame. While, as an adult now, I think it is a fun film, I have no memory of seeing it, but my mother was mortified and I think I just repressed any memory of it.” — JRossA
“I literally didn’t sleep for 2 days after, and I am 45 years old and still refuse to see it.” — ExplosiveAmnesia
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Kids aren’t always the best judge of what they can handle.
“1979, The Amityville Horror. (Rated R). I was 12, but lived in a small town and it was easy to get into movies I wasn’t supposed to. I had already read the book, and was heavily into a cryptid / ghost stories phase, so I thought I was prepared. It didn’t bother me while I watched it, but the simplest things triggered me afterwards for about two weeks — the pattern of the tiles in my shower, the entry light at the end of the long, dark hallway. Just imagining that I might hear that raspy voice saying “GET OUT!” kept me up all night. I put tape over the little red light on the radio in my bedroom.” — MonkeyT
I’ve never heard of this movie, and the comment is kind of long, but I am going to include it mostly unedited as evidence that maybe things weren’t all better back in the good old days when kids could stay out alone until all hours.
“I was maybe 8 years old and went to a Halloween party at my elementary school. They were showing Asylum which was a 1972 film which covered 5 Creepfest style shorts which detailed a horror story.
I made it to the 2nd act, ‘Frozen Fear.’ A husband plots with his mistress to kill his wife, which he does. He chops up her body, wraps each part in butcher paper and puts them in the freezer in the basement. He then sits down for a drink to wait for his mistress. A short time later he hears noises coming from the basement, turns and sees the paper wrapped head at the top of the stairs, the paper moving in/out as the head breaths. It then rolls towards him, he throws his drink at the head and it disappears. He then of course has to check to see if the body is in the freezer, so he goes down to the basement, looks in the freezer and a paper wrapped hand grabs him by the throat.
A short time later his mistress shows up, sees the broken glass on the floor and goes to the basement. She looks in the freezer, and the husband is stuffed in there. The door to the basement slams closed, she turns around and sees the paper wrapped head rolling forward, upright, breathing at her. Then paper wrapped limbs start writhing towards her.
This was a time when parents did not hover when you trick-o-treated. There was no oversight on age appropriate movies. I was scared to death for years because of this movie. I called my mum to come get me, we did not have an answering machine. No cell phone to call, and she was out at a friend’s Halloween party. So I walked home at 9 pm, by myself, listening to every noise in the woods nearby. It’s comical now how bad horror was in 1972, but I was traumatized for years.” — Dano_Austin
In space, no one can hear you scream, but when you scream in your bedroom after awakening from your third nightmare of the night, your parents will definitely hear you. That’s what they get.
“Alien. I was seven. Nope, that didn’t traumatize me at all. No sir.” — bobetty
“I was nine. The support group meets on the first Thursday of every month.” — Christopher Morrison
“I was 5. My mother thought she was taking me and my friends to Battlestar Galactica the movie (yes I’m old). During the movie we kept telling her it wasn’t the right movie but she insisted that they had just changed the actors for the movie version. Only after the chest burster alien burst out of John Hurt and 4 kids went catatonic did she realise that maybe she did take us to the wrong film. My mother took us to Alien.” — 6web6devil6
Body Heat (1981)
Even when you are old enough to appreciate the nudity of the devastatingly attractive William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, Body Heat is still kind of dull.
“Apparently, when I was 3, my parents took me with them to see Body Heat, and really regretted it during a nude love scene when I decided to comment on the action in typical 3-year-old volume. (However, I have no memory of this incident.)“ — HeathMaiden
The Cell (2000)
I mentioned this in my earlier post, but I still think often of that 5-year-old whose parents took him to The Cell on opening night. I hope he’s OK.
“I’m fairly sure I saw The Cell in theatres and despite being a young teenager at that point, the scene where the Vincent D’Onofrio’s character winds another character’s entrails up on a spit certainly left an impression.” — ItsDeke
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982)
Star Trek is mostly a family friendly franchise, with two notable exceptions of bug-based body horror (the other being that one episode of The Next Generation).
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. In a theatre in the summer of 1982 I was 9 years old. After the whole mind control ear bug thing, I asked my parents to leave but after a few minutes of fresh air and a little convincing we went back in. That scene was in my dreams for weeks after that.” — Bennyhaha
The Bad News Bears (1976)
I’m pretty sure if you made The Bad News Bears in 2022, Fox News would accuse you of grooming. (It’s actually fine.)
“Bad News Bears. My mum dropped my brother and I off at the theatre while she went shopping. She thought the movie was about “the antics of a group of mischievous bears,” not “the antics of a group of foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, cigarette smoking adolescents”… once the movie started getting press and the truth came out (believe it or not it was pretty scandalous back then) we were in big trouble. I guess mostly b/c we didn’t fess up about the actual content once we got home from the theatre.” — SupersonicATX
Faces of Death (1978)
I’m including this one on a technicality, because this is a “movie” I think no one should see at any age. Some of it is fake, but a lot of it is real, and real death probably shouldn’t be classified as entertainment. Maybe that’s just me.
“Faces of Death — I saw it at a party at a friends house in 1990 I was 17. Traumatized me, I couldn’t comprehend what I was watching because all I was told was the movie was banned. If I could turn back time I would not watch this movie, do not recommend.” — Bennyhaha
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
“Saw Beverly Hills Cop 2 in the theatre at 10. Die Hard at 11. No issues. E.T. in the theatre at 5 fucked me up.” — bootska
“I was 7. Saw a movie that was thoroughly terrifying for young me. Truthfully, older me doesn’t like the movie either. The aliens. The bad government men. The scary situations. Sure…there were moments of levity, but then something would happen and the character you like is suddenly dying! E.T. is basically a small plot twist away from being horror.” — dolsh
Friday the 13th, Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan
This instalment of the long-running franchise is generally considered a poor effort by fans, lacking in memorably gruesome set-pieces, but tell that to the traumatized 10-year-old.
“The one that fucked me up wasn’t in the theatre, though. I spent a weekend with The Cool Aunt who let a ten year old pick out any movie he wanted in the video store, and for some unknown reason I chose Friday the 13th, Jason Takes Manhattan. The roof-top scene haunted me for years.” — ReasonablySober
Stir Crazy (1980)
I am a big proponent of the theory that you are never old enough to watch movies with a ton of sex in them alongside your parents. You can have a healthy and open and understanding dialogue about human sexuality, sure. You just don’t need to sit in the same room together watching people pretend to fuck.
“Stir Crazy in 1980 with my mother. I was going on thirteen and the first scene with in that strip club with the naked woman. I may have been a little confused gay boy, but being there with my mum and seeing that. Ick.” — radioout
RoboCop is the rare film that justifies its excessive violence by operating as a satire in which the excessive violence is intended to make a political point. But it’s also really excessively violent.
“The original ‘X rated’ theatrical release of Robocop. I was 9 years old. Begged my parents to see it. They thought — ‘well, its just about robots.’” — Dixie-Flatline
Quest for Fire (1981)
This highbrow (see what I did there?) French film about a tribe of pre-humans doubles as both a speculative science lesson and a sex-ed primer.
“Oh man. My parents took me to see Quest for Fire when I was 9. I no longer had questions about birds, bees, hominids, the value of a good blowjob, nothing.” — invisioner
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
I saw Leaving Las Vegas in my early 20s and all I remember of it are scenes of Nicholas Cage gagging down entire bottles of hard liquor. Perhaps it’s an effective anti-drinking movie for kids?
“Leaving Las Vegas the ripe age of, like, 7? My parents did NOT read the previews, evidently.” — stre
“I saw Videodrome at age ten. That didn’t scar me at all! To be fair, Videodrome is one of my favourites now, but the whole stomach-vagina-slit didn’t sit too well with me back then.” — Data Corruption
Note to today’s parents: Speaking of stomach-vagina-slits, don’t take your kids to see Crimes of the Future.
Pinball, you know, for kids!
“As a kid in the 70’s, I was a HUGE Elton John fan…So when Tommy came out in 1975 with Elton playing the Pinball Wizard, I BEGGED my parents to take me (I had no clue who The Who were or anyone else in the film).
I spent half the film cowering in the theatre chair with movie’s themes of murder, child abuse, drug abuse, etc all done in a form of the most whacked out musical (until Lisztomania the next year). Tina Turner’s unhinged (and awesome) performance as The Acid Queen had me terrified. But it was all worth it when Elton came on and sang Pinball Wizard. It took me years to rewatch it and have seen it since dozens of times…not because of Elton John, but because it is an awesomely weird movie.” — Chris Wilson
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)
I was 18 when the South Park movie came out and I loved it so much I saw it a second time and took my 89-year-old grandma to see it for some reason. She loved it.
“While babysitting us, my younger brother and I (ages 10 and 12 at the time) convinced my poor uncle to take us to see the South Park movie in 1999. I don’t think that was the 1st R-rated movie I had seen, but it is the one I remember seeing earlier than I should have. After we got out of the theatre, he just laughed and said he probably shouldn’t have done that. As for how it affected me, I have grown up with a deep love for musical comedy (I still have the whole soundtrack memorized).” — bskrabak
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
But really, what did parents expect from the sequel to the movie in which the Nazis got their faces melted off?
“I was one of those 80’s kids that got to see Temple of Doom in the theatre. My poor, unsuspecting parents were just trying to kill time while our car had an alarm installed. I was 6. My mother screamed out loud at the eyeball soup. Still stands as my favourite Indy film.” — Will Walsh
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Word of advice to parents: You can never assume they’re asleep.
“As a child I had vivid screaming nightmares of being impaled on a meathook. My parents always acted like it was my overactive imagination combined with the fact that my grandfather ran a meat locker.
In college a bunch of us had a horror movie marathon and watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And then it all flashed back to me — being maybe 3/4, watching the movie from the back of our old station wagon at a drive-in theatre. I called my mum and confronted her with her bad parenting choice and she wailed, ‘You were supposed to be asleep for the second movie!’” — midwesternmom
“At a sleepover at my cousins house (the cousins were younger than me) I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre. My aunt made French toast that she gave us while we watched it. I couldn’t finish it due to the nature of the movie. Actually, I couldn’t eat French toast for years after.” — Kirk R
Schindler’s List (1993)
Schindler’s List is an important film about a true and terrible tragedy, and while they should definitely learn about it, probably preteens don’t need to see it quite yet.
“I loved Jurassic Park and saw it 4 times the summer I turned 11. I realised the the director has also made ET and Jaws, and all of my beloved Indiana Jones movies. When his next movie came out, I rode my bike to the theatre near my grade school and got a ticket. I was not prepared for, first, a 3-hour film, and second, Schindler’s List. The crazy part was that they played it unedited on NBC in 1997 just after my younger brother turned 10 and we watched it thinking it would be a TV edit. Messed him up good for a while.” — Black B5
Jurassic Park (1993)
Dinosaurs? Spielberg? Must be for kids, right? (Man, there are a lot of Spielberg movies on this list.)
“I am the first child and my very young parents made the classic mistake of listening to friends without kids who assured them that their four-year old would love the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Immediately after the first scene where the guys gets pulled into the velociraptor pen I started asking ‘where did the man go?’ This all culminated in the scene when the T-rex is stomping on the car to get to the kids. I remember being picked up like a football and carried out of the theatre in tears.” — Spider_Dan
Animal House (1978)
This one was too disturbing not to include.
“It was 1978, I was ten. Animal House. That may not seem so bad, but I was on a family vacation with my Dad, my uncle, and his family. So, in the theatre I ended up sitting next to my new aunt (marriage number 3 for my uncle), who also was the topless actress that Belushi ogles from the ladder — Mary Louise Weller. Knowing the gratuitous nudity that I was seeing on screen belonged to the person sitting next to me was mind-blowing. I didn’t know how to react. Do I laugh with everyone else? Get aroused? Be ashamed? Honestly, it was pretty traumatic.” — Blakewriter
Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
“Star Wars Phantom Menace – doesn’t matter what age I was – no one should see that movie.” — ffejie