John Carpenter and Debra Hill crafted a perennial holiday banger back in 1978, a movie that you can pull out every year during spooky season — it’s called Halloween, and it’s set on Halloween, so there’s really no confusion. Even if it weren’t such a great movie, it would be rewatchable just for so clearly stating its intentions. If that’s not quite enough, there are twelve others, all set on the night itself or during the holiday run-up.
It’s certainly not the only one: Lots and lots (and lots) of horror movies are set on and around Halloween; it’s just a convenient date for for spookiness. There are plenty of less obvious movies, though, set around the holiday — some of them spooky-adjacent, others a bit more surprising. These movies all have connections to the season: They’re either set on Halloween, or have pivotal scenes involving seasonal festivities.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Halloween is the perfect excuse for Elliott and co. to show E.T. around town, dressed as an entirely unconvincing ghost. The holiday sequence is relatively brief, but builds to the most memorable (and recreated) scene in the movie.
The Batman (2022)
Based, in part, on The Long Halloween graphic novel/miniseries, The Batman kicks off, appropriately, on Halloween night, during which the Riddler murders Gotham’s mayor. For this and other reasons, the appeal of Halloween in Gotham eludes me entirely.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
With some of the same cosy vibe that he brought to It’s a Wonderful Life, director Frank Capra created a movie that probably deserves to be seen on Halloween as much that slightly later film is on Christmas. Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a famously marriage-hating playwright who is embarrassed to have fallen in love with and married a minister’s daughter — on Halloween. Stopping by the home of the aunts who raised him on the way to his honeymoon, he finds a dead body stuffed in a box under the window. Things only get weirder from there.
Ed Wood (1994)
Can you imagine a better way to spend Halloween than watching scary old movies (and Vampira) on TV while entertaining trick-or-treaters with Bela Lugosi? Certainly Ed Wood couldn’t.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Arguably the key scene in the entire series, the Halloween dance sequence in Karate Kid sees Daniel, looking to avoid trouble with Johnny and his karate-obsessed friends, dressed in a shower curtain. Which all works fine until he decides to soak Johnny with a hose while the poor guys is on the toilet rolling a joint. Love-interest Ali is (very) briefly impressed by his stand, but that’s before the guys catch up to him in their matching skeleton costumes. Fortunately, Mr. Miyagi wasn’t far.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
Not just an impressive and entertaining Cowboy Bebop adventure (one that captures everything that’s great about the series in a standalone package), but it’s a solid (if unconventional) Halloween movie, taking place throughout spooky season, with plenty of pumpkin imagery, and climaxing during a Halloween parade.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
It’s often thought of as a Christmas movie, in large part because of Judy Garland’s heartrending “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but Meet Me in St. Louis takes place over the course of a year. The Halloween bit is memorable for the way it spotlights death-obsessed little sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien): She already maintains a graveyard of dead and undead dolls, so Halloween is when she shines.
American Splendor (2003)
American Splendor opens on Halloween and, while it’s not an extended sequence, it establishes everything you need to know about Harvey Pekar: While the other kids are dressed as superheroes, he’s not interested in dressing up, and doesn’t even see the point — he won’t fit in, but he also can’t fit in.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
It’s on Halloween night when we learn, with certainty, that one of the most feared and distrusted (white) members of the local community, Boo Radley, is, in fact, cruelly misunderstood.
The Skeleton Twins (2014)
The title’s twins, long-estranged, reconnect following two near-tragedies. The local Halloween parade makes for a great opportunity, even if things don’t go as planned.
A Cinderella Story (2004)
While often described as a “cult classic,” A Cinderella Story did solid business back in the early aughts (and I’ve already seen a couples’ costume recreating the poster art this year). The film involves two internet pen pals (Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray) who arrange to (climactically) meet at their school’s Halloween dance.
Donnie Darko (2001)
While also providing inspiration for the perennial “jacked-up rabbit” Halloween costume, the movie takes place during the month of October (1988, specifically), and all of the weird visions and premonitions that Donnie has had since the beginning of the film become clear(-ish) on Halloween night.
Mean Girls (2004)
Halloween, we learn from Mean Girls, is the time of the year when slutty attire is not only fine, but expected. New girl Cody (Lindsay Lohan) shows up at the Halloween party as a corpse bride with jacked teeth, placing her even further outside of the cool clique, even though her costume is pretty fetch.
Batman Forever (1995)
Though way too old for Halloween antics, The Riddler and Two-Face manage to gain entry to Wayne manor, and to the Batcave itself, by ingeniously asking for candy. Surprisingly lax security down there in Gotham.
The Predator (2018)
Rory finds a Predator mask that he thinks will help him avoid being bullied on Halloween…which, it does. Not because it’s so sweet looking, but because it’s an actual helmet from an actual Predator.
The Crow (1994)
It’s probably not terribly surprising that the movie that brought goth into the mainstream takes place around Halloween, but the whole movie is centered on the holiday. Eric Draven was to be married on Halloween, instead being murdered on Devil’s Night (aka, Halloween Eve) only so that he can rise from the dead one year later to take revenge and/or reunite with his love.
A crucial — and heartbreaking scene — in the movie involves the lead, Auggie, a boy with Treacher Collins syndrome who loves Halloween because he can wear a mask in order to fit in. Fitting in, though, means that he’s able to overhear other kids mocking him for his appearance.
St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
The Halloween party scene in St. Elmo’s Fire has it all: public domain costumes, a relatively bloodless fistfight, and Rob Lowe doing a sweaty saxophone solo (director Joe Schumacher would revisit the “sweaty sax solo” trope in The Lost Boys to greater effect, but he practiced here).
Practical Magic (1998)
The cutesy witch romance involves the Owens sisters, two women with very different views on their family’s history of magic and witchcraft. By the final act, the two are reconciled and join together to participate in the Halloween tradition of jumping off the roof (which: Do not emulate).
The Guest (2014)
In stylish thriller The Guest, a couple grieving the loss of their son to the war in Afghanistan are visited by David, his best friend. Things get creepy, and then bloody, with a major set piece occurring at the unexpectedly violent Halloween dance.