Halloween movie hit-list: 13 spooky flicks for the season

Culver City, CA - August 16, 2020 - Screening of the original GHOSTBUSTERS, at the Sony Pictures drive-in on the historic Sony Pictures lot. Photo by Eric Charbonneau

Halloween’s just around the corner, and with the need to socially distance this fall, it seems like a better idea than ever to have a Halloween movie marathon to celebrate this spooky day. Whether you’re a die-hard horror fan, prefer comedy or want to add a little sci-fi to the mix, here are 13 movies that you can’t miss this Oct. 31.

Classic Horror: You can’t beat the classics. This Halloween, go old-school with these vintage horror movies that have left a lasting impression through the decades.

  • Carrie” (1976) – This adaptation of Stephen King’s premier horror novel is a narrative masterpiece from start to finish. The story of a young woman’s difficulty to balance her abusive home life and the telekinetic power she has developed to cope is beautifully crafted through slow-burn narration, leading the viewer to believe in the inevitability of the horrors to come. Although the 2013 adaptation has been cleverly recrafted for a more modern appeal, there is an undeniable charm and eloquence about Brain De Palma’s original. Add that to the creepy Christian iconography and Sissy Spacek’s incredible acting, and you get one excellent spooky addition to your Halloween watchlist.
  • The Shining” (1980) – Stanley Kubrick’s epochal adaptation of the Stephen King novel is a staple of Halloween horror. Cinematically inventive, Kubrick’s directing is killer as the viewer comes to genuinely fear the haunting corridors of the Overlook Hotel. Jack Nicholson as writer’s-block-stricken novelist Jack Torrance is iconic, commanding every scene he graces. Opposite Nicholson is the wide-eyed Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance, who embodies the tortured character most believably. In all, “The Shining” is a horror mainstay deserving of its many praises.


Stop-Motion Animated: Animated movies aren’t just for kids. Viewers of all ages have loved these incredible pieces of art for their ingenious use of lighting, color, music, dialogue and more.

  • Coraline” (2009) – The movie “Coraline” seems almost legendary. Henry Selick’s narrative has marked — perhaps “scarred” is the better word — the childhoods of this current college generation. You and many of your peers will probably recall an image of button eyes at the title’s mention, a sight you might have repressed for good reason. The story of “Coraline,” though written for a younger audience, is surprisingly mature in its themes of family and duality. The film goes from idyllic to twisted at the drop of a hat and the jagged stop-motion animation complements this shift perfectly. I encourage you to revisit “Coraline” this Halloween and excite a more uncanny kind of fear.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) – One of the most famous Halloween films of all time, Tim Burton’s creative vision and Danny Elfman’s musical magic combine under Henry Selick’s direction to make this a true tour-de-force that has persisted as a fan-favorite for over 25 years. This movie makes good use of traditional Halloween tropes and characters without being overly disturbing or frightening, which makes this classic a favorite among all age groups. With its whimsical story idea and beloved characters, including the Pumpkin King himself, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a trip to Halloween Town this Oct. 31.


Sci-Fi: “Sci-fi” and “spooky” have long been two sides of the same coin. The fear of the unknown is an almost universal feeling, and these movies pull no punches when taking full advantage of that fear.

  • Alien” (1979) – After the arthouse epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the iconic space opera “Star Wars,” there was director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror “Alien.” Notable for its inventive approach to suspense, “Alien” will keep you on your toes throughout its comfortably brief runtime. The shadowy corridors of the starship Nostromo are haunting and perfectly set the stage for the trappings of a most terrifying creature feature. Once the titular alien makes its first kill, the sensation of being watched becomes almost overwhelming, allowing the film and its actors to impress until the very end.
  • Us” (2019) – This horrifying concept plays with the idea of cloning and the viewer’s head from start to finish. In this freaky flick, Adelaide and her family struggle to survive while their doppelgangers attempt to kill them and take over their lives, forcing each family member to collectively deal with Adelaide’s childhood trauma. The vision of this movie lies in its use of vibrant color and cyclical imagery that sticks with you long after the credits roll. With Lupita Nyong’o’s incredible acting and just the right amount of gore, this horror flick toes the line between sci-fi gone wrong and truly terrifying. Indeed, this psychological thriller will leave you thinking for days.


Satire: A movie that can make a point about the world or genre that it lives within provides a sense of meta-awareness that is appealing to almost any viewer. Whether pointing out societal flaws or flaws within the genre to which they belong, these films are enjoyable for their wit alone, but stand out for other reasons, too.

  • Get Out” (2017) – Jordan Peele’s first directorial venture, “Get Out,” is a socially important film and already regarded as a classic by some. The movie proves to be steeped in symbolism that tackles racial issues. Accompanying this commentary is often effective cinematography and acting chops, especially from Daniel Kaluuya as main character Chris and Allison Williams as his girlfriend Rose. Though often serious, a comedic edge seeps out every now and again, suggestive of Peele’s respected background in comedy. “Get Out” might not be overtly scary, but if you’re looking for a far more thoughtful film than usual, it’s undeniably for you.
  • Scream” (1996) – This horror classic is a go-to for your Halloween celebration, and as the source of one of the most popular costume choices, it goes without saying that “Scream” makes a statement during spooky season. With plot twists and potential suspects in spades, this is one horror film that withstands the test of time. Admittedly, the idea of a small-town girl who is being targeted by a masked murderer a year after her mother was murdered seems familiar. However, “Scream” is nothing if not self-aware and critical; the true ingenuity of the film is its constant callbacks to other horror movies. Director Wes Craven is quick to point out when these plot elements are put in motion in his film, which makes this completely honest satire the perfect addition to your Halloween watchlist. 


Modern Horror: Halloween isn’t called “spooky” for nothing; these films are true horror masterpieces that will leave you screaming. 

  • The Conjuring” (2013) – When “The Conjuring” was released in 2013, it felt like a breath of fresh air for the horror genre with director James Wan at the helm. At the time, horror was losing respect among fans and critics alike. Then, along came Wan, creator of the 2004 gorefest “Saw,” with a low-budget picture that chooses genuine terror over grisly violence. A sense of real dread dominates “The Conjuring.” The pacing is breathless, the acting impressive and the scares abundant.
  • Hereditary” (2018) – Director Ari Aster’s first entry into the horror genre is his best. Easily one of the most terrifying pieces of cinema, “Hereditary” is ruthless in its narrative of loss and the consequences it harbors. Expertly shot to elicit the most primal fear from the viewer, Aster is truly a master of cinematic framing and lighting. Alex Wolff as Peter is consistently great, while Toni Collette showcases an Oscar-worthy performance as his mother Annie, a character who, through the course of the film, is emotionally stretched to her absolute limit. A perfect fit for Halloween; just don’t expect to sleep too soundly.


Comedy: The terms “spooky season” and “comedy” are far from exclusive; it’s possible to get a few chuckles out of creepy crawly story ideas. Prepare for a ghoulishly good time with these films. 

  • Beetlejuice” (1988) – It’s not often that a Halloween story is told from the perspective of the ghosts and ghouls, and “Beetlejuice” capitalizes on this rarity to create a gem of a film that persists today as a spooky-season favorite. The special effects might be a little too over-the-top, but with its persistent energy, archetypal antagonists and kooky villain, you can’t help but love everything “Beetlejuice” has to offer. Just be sure to only type his name into your search bar once.
  • Hocus Pocus” (1993) – Shakespeare’s infamous witches have nothing on these leading ladies. Hocus Pocus takes a plethora of Halloween tropes and introduces them to the 20th century for a wickedly humorous effect. From talking cats to shambling zombies, this movie about a group of witches intent on luring children to their deaths manages to be funny, even with a dark underlying conflict. If comedy is your genre, this movie is a go-to, but be sure you bring your listening ears, or you might just miss some iconic one-liners that have made this movie a fan-favorite.
  • Ghostbusters” (1984) – If you love the 80s, cheesy humor and some of the most iconic ghost-catching apparatuses in modern history, you better call the Ghostbusters for a good time this Halloween. With low-budget, dated special effects and quippy dialogue that many of us could probably quote in our sleep, this movie refuses to take itself seriously. A classic flick about a quartet of wacky scientists who have finally found their calling in the paranormal brings both humor and nostalgia to your Halloween movie marathon, and with a catchy titular theme song that has become synonymous with the holiday, it’s impossible to resist. Anyone up for marshmallows?