A friendly ghost falls for the daughter of a paranormal therapist and tries to figure out a way to take her to the school’s Halloween dance.
Starring: Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, Eric Idle
Most people know Casper the Friendly Ghost, but they haven’t seen this early CGI movie where Casper and his troublemaking ghost uncles interact with real people. Surprisingly, it actually looks pretty good. The story is solid, even if it is a bit weird for a cartoon ghost to pine for a real girl, and it’s pretty funny, too (the girl’s father refers to the ghosts as “the living impaired”). There’s adventure and ghosts and mystery and even death, but none of it is actually scary, so it’s perfect for kids.
On Halloween, a trio of kids follow their grandmother into the magical land of Halloweentown to learn witchcraft and help defeat a demon who is making people disappear.
Starring: Kimberly J. Brown, Joey Zimmerman, Debbie Reynolds
This is a Disney movie, so it’s about as non-threatening as you can get and still be a Halloween movie. It hits all the usual Disney points – a harried mom, grown-ups underestimating children, kids saving the day – but with a Halloween flavor, so kids will love it. It’s cutesy and it was originally a TV movie, so the special effects aren’t exactly stunning, but it was popular enough to spawn three sequels: Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge, Halloweentown High, and Return to Halloweentown.
#3. Spaced Invaders
A little girl is the only one who believe a gaggle of moronic aliens when they arrive on Halloween wanting to take over the Earth – everyone else thinks they’re kids in Halloween costumes.
Starring: Ariana Richards, Douglas Barr
Spaced Invaders is a rare breed among Halloween movies in that it belongs in the science fiction genre rather than the fantasy genre. The aliens are tiny and silly and the whole movie has a goofy air about it, but it’s actually funny as opposed to eye-rollingly lame. The many callbacks to staples of the sci-fi genre, from War of the Worlds to Star Trek, speak to the writer’s intelligence, and the little girl in this movie has the best Alien inspired costume I’ve ever seen.
#2. The Addams Family
Unscrupulous accountants deliver a fake long-lost uncle to an eccentrically morbid family in order to trick them out of their enormous fortune.
Starring: Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci
The Addamses are quite possibly the world’s weirdest family. They live in an enormous, creepy old mansion where dad Gomez enjoys crashing toy trains, mom Morticia cuts the heads off roses, and children Wednesday and Pugsley play with an electric chair. Yet their ghoulish exploits are funny rather than scary and they’re a happy, functional family in their own special way. The Addams Family is well written and adventurous and it ends with a rather unusual Halloween party. It has a direct sequel called The Addams Family Values.
#1. Hocus Pocus
A teenage boy who doesn’t believe in magic accidentally unleashes a trio of evil witches on Halloween and must team up with a girl from school and a boy-turned-cat to defeat them before they prey on his little sister.
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz
Usually when you put witches, magic, death, and Halloween together, you get a horror movie, but not when you give it to Kenny Ortega (the director of High School Musical). Instead, you get a funny story about 300 year old witches who want to eat kids trying to deal with modern day things like cars and vacuum cleaners and eventually getting beaten by bullied kids who need to learn to appreciate their little sisters more. It’s a fun movie full of big names (the witches are played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) that’s developed quite a cult following among both kids and adults.