Top 5 most harrowing kids’ films


On Tuesday just passed, I went to see Toy Story 3 with my boyfriend. I’d heard that the film could move you to tears. And I cried all right!


Please don’t read ahead if you don’t want to know what happens in Toy Story 3.

At one point in the film, Andy’s toys have mistakenly been taken to the local dump. A series of unfortunate events ensues, until they find themselves just moments away from death. As a huge pile of rubbish slides unerringly towards a massive pit of fire, the toys accept their fate and stop struggling. They all reach to hold hands with one another, seeking comfort in their last moments from the people they love the most.

Out of all the films I’ve ever seen (especially kids films I might add), this was one of the most harrowing moments I’ve encountered. To put yourself in the shoes of those toys is to feel the terror of your impending death, and accepting that you can’t do anything about it.

Picture from Toy Story 3

Also, THIS:

Picture of Big Baby from Toy Story 3


This got me to thinking about what other movie moments in kids films have stuck with me due to their harrowing nature.

The Labyrinth

An incredibly popular kids film in the 80’s, The Labrinyth (for me) was a film I couldn’t watch again until I was 20 years old. And I didn’t like it much then. This is the reason:

Picture from the Labrinyth

Sorry for the small picture but it’s the best I could find. If you don’t recognise it, this is the scene were the main protagonist, Sarah, enters a door to then find herself falling through thousands of grabbing-hands coming out of the walls. Even looking at that picture now makes me shudder.

The Never Ending Story

I love this film. I think it’s incredible – but also, not so great for kids. Here are the most harrowing moments for me:

  1. Artex (the horse) drowns in the Swamp of Despair. Atreyu cries and begs the horse to move as he sinks deeper into the mud, until he slips away. His best friend. DEAD.  Even looking at the picture chokes me up!
    Picture of Artex drowning in the Never Ending Story
  2. Gmork – a vicious wolf-like creature sent to kill Atreyu. I’m just going to post the picture; I think you’ll get it.
    Picture of Gmork from the Never Ending Story
  3. ‘The Nothing’. A storm that is gradually eating away at this other plane of reality, as a result of young people’s imaginations no longer being active enough. Pretty scary stuff. (See example of ‘The Nothing’ behind the Rock Biter.)
    Picture of 'The Nothing' from The Never Ending Story
  4. Topless blue Sphynxes that laser you when you run between them. While their FACES FALL OFF.
    Two blue sphynxes from the Never Ending Story
  5. As some light relief, I came across this picture on Google Images, which made me lol.
    The luck dragon from the Never Ending Story

The Goonies

As far as I’m aware, lots of people love this film. I do not. This is why:

A picture of Sloth from The Goonies

This picture makes me feel physically unwell. That is all.


I don’t know about any of you, but as a young child, my ultimate worst (and possibly only) fear, was that my Mum would die. So, to make sure I didn’t have to imagine too hard about how that might feel, Disney put it into a cartoon for me! Thanks, Bambi.

A picture of bambi, all alone

These, in my experience, are some of the films that I know had a profound effect on me. I’d love to hear about yours, and maybe you’ll spark my memory so I can add some more to the list!


11 Responses to “Top 5 most harrowing kids’ films”

  1. 1 Caroline

    An interesting blog, Jen, although some of your observations are inaccurate.

    These are some of my favourite films from my childhood, and, i believe, were partly formative in the development of myself as an adult. I think the storyline in ‘TS3’ heralds back to this era when storytellers weren’t so afraid of sugaring the pill of humanity, by saying that not everything is rosy, happy, and sweet and that you have to learn to accept and deal with the consequences of one’s actions.

    I remember being scared of the Skeksis and the Garthim from ‘The Dark Crystal’ and bawling my eyes out during ‘Watership Down’; although distressing at the time, and with possibly a few nightmares, these films allowed me to use my imagination and explore what my reactions were and why I felt them – it was only after a later viewing of ‘Watership Down’ that I understood the allegory.

    Children’s films (and other forms of media) of ‘today’ offer far too much ‘fun and adventure’ and suggest that kids will always outsmart the adults/bad guys, get what they want, or hairless cats wearing puppy-dog skin overalls, for example, all with the guise of ‘entertaining children’ – but could this not be now partly responsible to the recent generations of some youths who think they can demand what they want without putting in the effort?

    While I understand that an individual’s opinion is formed from their own unique experiences, I used to relish in the opportunity of being able to ‘escape’ into these movies, knowing that they were only elaborate stories and not a true reflection of real-life. Even now I like a good cry at an emotive storyline (much to the amusement of the boyf).

    That said, I never saw this as a child, but it disturbed me as an adult – check out Disney’s ‘The Black Cauldron’.

    • Hi Caroline,

      Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your insight!

      I hope I didn’t make it sound like I thought these films were ‘bad for kids’ or that I thought they were bad in general, although I can see how it might have sounded that way (when I said Never Ending Story probably wasn’t great for kids!).

      I will try and say alternatively, that I found these films very difficult to watch as a child, and sometimes even now as an adult. I wouldn’t like to suggest that films should ‘sugar coat’ life for children. In fact, I think that the film industry in general provides a terribly skewed perception of life that’s damaging not only to children, but to women who expect their knights in shining armour, gangsters who expect bitches and bling, teenage girls who want their own Edward Cullen, and so the list goes on.

      Also, the things that children find disturbing will obviously be different. I don’t expect many children found the part of Toy Story that upset me, anywhere near as upsetting as I did. Most likely because they’re not old enough to have developed such a refined fear of death or dying as we (as adults) might have. As such, you could be right in saying that a sequence such as this could teach children valuable lessons in acceptance and consequences (until they are ultimately rescued by ‘the claw’ and the cute trio of aliens.)

      I, like you, am sure that films like these helped shape me into the person I have become. But the very pertinent lessons that can be found in a film like ‘The Never Ending Story’ (on re-watching as an adult) I fear were largely lost on me as a child. Imagery is a powerful thing, and I think my post was more a reflection on why I found these films disturbing when I was young. I’ve been fascinated to hear from others what films/images in their childhoods had a similar effect.

      As an adult, ‘Pan’s Labrinyth’ certainly had my skin crawling!

  2. 3 Tessa

    The Dark Crysal. Preceding The Labyrinth and the scariest kids film ever with big vulture like monsters. Pure wrong.

    • 4 Caroline

      the dark crystal was a piece of brilliant fantasy story-telling. what makes it wrong?

  3. 5 Larry Davis

    Loved your bit on childrens films, especially the bit about Bambi. At 57 it is a bit difficult to recall early memories of being upset watching films. In fact I can only remember one film that left me hiding under my sheets at night or waking up in a sweat; it was ‘Quatermass and the pit’ (not even sure if that is the correct title), anyway it showed an fortunate chappie who had managed to fall into a vat of corrosive gunge and had time to climb out and stagger down a ladder screaming as he melted away. Watching it now of course it is almost laughable.

    This serves to illustrate what a responsibility it is to ensure that children are not exposed to shocking images. It makes me wonder how much disturbed behavior amongst children is due to such exposure.
    I can’t even bring myself to even think about watching any film with the word ‘chainsaw’ in the title. It makes me shudder.

    • Thanks Dad! The man being melted by corrosive gunge definitely sounds like the stuff of childhood nightmares. You were right, the film was called ‘Quatermass and the pit’ (I can’t say that title inspires me!). Here is a trailer if you feel like you want to relieve the drama!

      You made a point that we shouldn’t be exposing children to such shocking images, whereas Caroline above alternatively says that maybe we shouldn’t sugar-coat films for children. I suppose the difficulty comes in actually defining what is shocking, and deciding how much responsibility lies with the parents and what they let their children see.

      After all, you and mum would never have considered keeping ‘Bambi’ from me, it was simply my personal childhood fears that made the film so harrowing.

  4. 7 Heps

    I’m sure I am just reiterating comments from above, but what the hey.

    I remember watching these films as a child and I remember being terrified at the skeksies, distraught by the horse and the quicksand, and my skin crawls when i see all those hands grabbing out, But these are still some of my favourite films even now.

    I feel a bit sorry for younger generations, occasionally something entertaining is made (i quite like the pixar films-finding nemo etc) but I think they are sorely missing out on some brilliantly interesting and imaginative stuff (even if its just for the tactile imagery – sets costumes, puppets). They just don’t make them like they used to!

    Return to OZ was another brilliant but scary one. I watched this recently and still hid behind the pillow – the bit with all the heads chanting mambi!

  5. OMG. I took my soon-to-be 7 year old – as I am reminded every day, ad nauseum – to see this movie. I could not understand why such sad creatures had to be in it. I was literally trying not to cry at the end when Andy is giving his toys away. What an utterly moving scene. And I come out of the theatre and what do I see, Mums consoling other sobbing children, teary eyed parents, dads trying to look like it was all .. child’s play. But was it really? That’s my question.

  6. sorry I meant to say to see Toy story 3.

  7. Hi Jen. I haven’t seen many of the films you mentioned. I watched mostly young adult or teen films when I was a child, rather than films specifically aimed at children. I did see things that disturbed or frightened me, but they weren’t necessarily designed to do so – there’s just no knowing what a kid will latch onto and over-think, I suppose.

    I have seen the Goonies, and that bloke in the picture didn’t bother me too much. But I was completely scared by the bit when they make a boy run along next to a car at increasing speed! Just cruel and too much for my little brain to deal with!

    • I think that the main thing this post has highlighted (and conversations in the office) is exactly what you said – children latch on to different things – even things that aren’t designed to be scary.

      I don’t remember the part of the Goonies you’re referring to with the car – but I can understand why that might be upsetting!

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