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Movies That Traumatized Us As Kids

If you're of a certain age, there are probably some pretty specific movies that define your childhood, whether you grew up with Disney's animated classics or came of age during Pixar's reign. So it can be extremely comforting to go back and watch movies you loved as a child. Whether you're putting on The Lion King, Wall-E, or The Princess Bride, you're sure to find new meaning in the films, as well as remember exactly why you loved them so much in the first place.

However, sometimes watching your favorite childhood movie might backfire, especially if it scarred you for life when you were a kid. Whether they had unintentionally creepy moments or were full-on horror movies, some movies meant for kids — or that kids watched anyway — left entire generations scared and shaken, and revisiting them as adults might well bring back some unpleasant memories. From real-life board games to horrors at the beach, here are the movies that absolutely traumatized us as kids.

Jumanji was more than just fun and games

At first, the plot of Jumanji might seem like any kid's dream. Who wouldn't want their sleepy New England town to suddenly become a massive, interactive jungle-themed playground? However, as the film makes pretty clear, living that fantasy isn't exactly fantastic. 

Released in 1995, Jumanji stars the late, great Robin Williams as Alan Parrish. When he was a boy, Alan discovered the titular game, and though it seemed fun at first, it was definitely more immersive than Alan anticipated, especially after he was sucked in and trapped in the game for two decades. Years later, Judy and Peter Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) reopen Jumanji and roll a five, setting Alan free ... as well as a crazed hunter and swarms of wild animals. After they reunite with Alan's childhood friend Sarah (Bonnie Hunt), the four work together to finish the game before the town is completely destroyed.

Jumanji might remain a childhood favorite for many, but from Alan's imprisonment in the game (which is terrifying in its own right) and Sarah's obvious post-traumatic stress disorder to man-eating vines and a full-on stampede, it's also pretty unsettling. All in all, while you might want to rewatch Jumanji, it seems like it would be absolutely horrifying to live it in real life.

Dumbo traumatized us all with those pink elephants

One of Disney's most beloved animated classics, Dumbo was released in 1941 and has apparently been frightening generations of children ever since. The film tells the story of a young elephant named Jumbo Jr. who earns the cruel name "Dumbo" from his peers thanks to his huge ears, despite the fact that they eventually help him fly. As he tries to earn respect from other elephants and reunite with his imprisoned mother, he's joined by his best friend, Timothy, a tiny mouse.

Dumbo might seem like a sweet story about an elephant who succeeds despite the odds, but there are several traumatizing moments scattered throughout this movie. For example, there's the scene where Dumbo and Timothy drink some water spiked with champagne, and as a result, they suffer some pretty intense hallucinations where they watch a bunch of pink elephants on parade. On the other end of the traumatizing spectrum, there's the utterly distressing scene where Dumbo finds his supposedly insane mother in a cage, and the tears will flow as she sings him a heartbreaking song. Whether it's scary or sad, Dumbo might be a little too disturbing for little kids.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit gave kids nightmares

Who Framed Roger Rabbit might not strike you as a scary watch, but one character reveal really pushes the film's fright factor into unexpected territory. Set in an alternate reality where cartoons live alongside humans, the film tells the story of private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) who must prove that Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) didn't kill prominent businessman Marvin Acme, who may have been carrying on an affair with Roger's estranged wife Jessica (an uncredited performance by Kathleen Turner).

Of course, the movie's main question has to be answered eventually, and the answer seems pretty obvious right off the bat. Toontown's most corrupt official, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), and his sinister Toon Patrol are guilty. To make matters worse, Doom is a toon masquerading as a man, and his reveal — between his high-pitched shriek and unblinking, unmoving red eyeballs — show just how disturbing animation can be. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is still an undeniable classic, but Doom remains the most unsettling part of the entire experience.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has one of the scariest movie characters ever

A film about the magic of a flying car might not seem particularly terrifying, but you'd be mistaken, thanks to one of the film's villains. Led by legendary comedian Dick Van Dyke, the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tells the story of an unusual car with special powers that attracts the attention of two young children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts (Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley) and their father, down on his luck inventor Caractacus Potts (Van Dyke). As they refurbish the car, they realize the vehicle can sprout wings and fly, which comes in handy when Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries) is accidentally kidnapped. However, there's one nemesis that Jeremy and Jemima can't defeat.

Aptly named the Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann), this villain works for the evil Baron and Baroness Bomburst, who hate all children and want all of them removed from their region of Vulgaria. The name alone definitely inspires terror in children, and when you see what he looks like — with his bulbous nose, greasy hair, and evil grin — the effect is even more unsettling. Though he's captured and brought to justice by the time the film ends, it's pretty easy to understand why children would have been traumatized by the mere idea of the Child Catcher.

Poltergeist traumatized an entire generation of kids

You might wonder why any kids would've even watched Poltergeist, a film about violent ghosts terrorizing a suburban neighborhood, in the first place, but when the film was originally released in 1982, it actually was only rated PG. After originally receiving an R rating, film studio MGM/UA lobbied for a lower rating. But since the PG-13 rating didn't exist in 1982, the film was somehow deemed appropriate for children.

While some of the films on this list only feature a scene or two that might've scarred younger audiences for life, Poltergeist is pretty much scary from start to finish. After all, it's a movie about frightening and mysterious happenings around a house, with a couple of terrified kids screaming for help. There's the infamous clown doll scene, the horrific Beast, and the moment where coffins start flying out of the ground. It's no wonder that any normal kid would've been scared watching such a horrifying ghost story. Whether you were freaked out by Poltergeist as a kid or as a fully grown adult, it's definitely easy to see why this film traumatized an entire generation of filmgoers.

Pinocchio is seriously messed up

You wouldn't think that the movie that gave the world the Oscar-winning song "When You Wish Upon a Star" — which has since become the anthem of the entire House of Mouse — would be one of its creepiest offerings, but it's hard to overlook some of the more unsettling scenes in Pinocchio. The story of a wooden puppet dying to become a real boy, Pinocchio, released in 1940, remains one of Disney's most beloved animated classics. But Pinocchio also features one particularly creepy moment that has remained in the collective consciousness for years.

The creepy scene in question takes place on Pleasure Island, where Pinocchio and his friend Jiminy Cricket end up after a series of misadventures and befriend a young boy named Lampwick. However, Pleasure Island definitely isn't as fun as it seems. Even though all the young boys there are allowed to freely drink and smoke, they're also turned into donkeys at the end of their stay and forced to work as slaves in mines until they die. Pinocchio escapes with just ears and a tail, but Lampwick isn't so lucky. When you add in a scene where Pinocchio dies and consider the fact that nobody ever rescues the wayward boys on Pleasure Island, it's easy to see why Pinocchio's journey is ultimately pretty disturbing.

Both The Wizard of Oz & Return to Oz are incredibly creepy

The Wizard of Oz — which was released in 1939 and stars Judy Garland as Dorothy, a simple and sweet Kansas girl trying to make her way home — has remained a classic throughout the years for so many reasons. From memorable characters like the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy's companions (the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man) to its incredible shift from black and white to stunning Technicolor, The Wizard of Oz remains a classic, though some kids may have been frightened by the flying monkeys, the Wicked Witch of the West's pure villainy, or the fact that Dorothy killed a woman as soon as she arrived in Oz. (To be fair, it wasn't really her fault.) However, the movie's sequel, Return to Oz, is much creepier.

Released in 1985, Return to Oz stars Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, who returns to Oz to find it in disarray and under the control of the evil Nome King. And things are disturbing from the get-go, when Aunt Em thinks Dorothy is insane and has her committed. Then there's Mombi, a headless witch who chases Dorothy, to say nothing of the horrifying Wheelers. As a result, the sequel is utterly terrifying. If you love The Wizard of Oz, you might not want to go back again for Return to Oz.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is extremely unsettling

Based on the beloved children's book by Roald Dahl, the 1978 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory brought every child's dream to life by imagining what would happen if you magically inherited a giant, fantastical candy factory. When the film begins, Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) is a simple, poor paperboy struggling to help his family survive, but when he finds a golden ticket in one of his Wonka candy bars, he earns the opportunity of a lifetime. Along with five other children, Charlie is invited to attend a tour at Willy Wonka's mysterious, guarded chocolate factory, but the tour turns out to be much more than he bargained for.

Most of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is pretty easygoing, but there are a few scenes that basically turn the film into a horror movie. When Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) brings the young golden ticket winners into his factory, he shepherds them onto a boat, sails them into a dark tunnel, and then starts singing a seriously creepy song. The eerie lyrics are accompanied by horrific images projected on the tunnel walls, including disgusting insects and a chicken's head getting cut off. Things only get eerier from there, as one kid turns into a blueberry and Charlie faces death from the blades of a terrifying fan. For the most part, Willy Wonka is a feel-good movie, but every so often, Gene Wilder gives the film an unsettling feeling.

Jaws scared kids away from the beach

Any child who's ever been afraid to go into the ocean has one movie to thank for that: Jaws. Steven Spielberg's story of the scariest summer ever was released in 1975, and it stars Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss as a police chief and marine biologist tasked with protecting Amity Island from vicious shark attacks during a busy summer at the beach. All these decades later, it's still regarded as one of the most exciting films ever made, but it's definitely a terrifying watch for any kid who likes to go swimming.

Jaws' opening scene — where a poor swimmer is brutally killed — is one of the most tense and traumatizing sequences in the history of cinema, thanks in large part to John Williams' incredible and iconic score. But there are plenty of frightening moments throughout Jaws that will definitely keep you out of the water all summer, from that underwater corpse to the iconic "bigger boat" scene. Even though Jaws defined the term "summer blockbuster," it's a terrifying watch for most kids, and it encouraged an entire generation to stay away from the ocean for years.

The Witches left us all totally traumatized

When it came time to choose a director for 1990's The Witches, an adaptation of one of Roald Dahl's charming adventures, the powers that be somehow decided on the late, great British director Nicolas Roeg. Roeg — who's known for his disorienting films, jarring editing choices, and disturbing work, including the 1973 psychological thriller Don't Look Now and the surreal 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth — seems like a pretty odd choice for this children's movie, and in the end, The Witches is just as unsettling as any of his other films.

The movie follows the same narrative as the book, introducing a coven of evil witches who dress up as normal human women in order to trap children and turn them into mice. There's also Luke Eveshim (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling), who set out to stop them. However, they have to contend with the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston), who masquerades as Ms. Eva Ernst. Between Huston's horrifying prosthetics, a distressing amount of latex work, and the part where Luke and his friends are turned into mice before our eyes, it's no wonder that Roeg's own son was scared of one of the earliest cuts of the films. But it's worth noting that Roeg, against Dahl's wishes, did at least give the movie a happy ending that greatly differs from the book.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a sweet film with some really disturbing scenes

Between its emotional depth and some very terrifying moments, Steven Spielberg's beloved 1982 classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial might have left some children scarred, despite the fact that it remains one of the most acclaimed films of all time. Generations across the world are likely familiar with the heartwarming story of Elliott (Henry Thomas) who meets and befriends E.T., a mysterious alien who's hiding out on Earth after his ship leaves him behind in California, but you might not remember some of E.T.'s most upsetting moments.

While there are some people who will happily argue that E.T. is a terrifying movie — and even some that present a theory that Spielberg intended E.T. to be a horror movie about a malicious alien — most audiences weren't frightened by E.T. With that said, the movie is definitely an intense emotional journey for any young child, from E.T. and Elliott's apparent shared death to the moment where E.T. leaves his human counterpart behind (probably forever). Even if you're not disturbed by E.T., it's easy to see how it could prove upsetting to kids.

My Girl had us all weeping

A movie doesn't have to be scary to leave a mark on a young viewer — some can traumatize through sheer sorrow. One perfect example is 1991's My Girl, which tells a heartwarming story of the close friendship between Vada Sultenfuss (future Veep star Anna Chlumsky) and her closest confidante, Thomas J. Sennett (Macauley Culkin), who suffers from a wide variety of ailments and allergies. Vada's hypochondria and unsettling obsession with death — made worse by the fact that her largely absent father (Dan Aykroyd) runs the town's funeral home out of their house — makes her unpopular with everyone except with Thomas J., who stays by her side no matter what.

Vada and Thomas J. are inseparable throughout the film ... that is, until Thomas J. gets stung by bees and dies while searching for Vada's beloved mood ring. His funeral scene, where Vada hysterically tells everyone that her late best friend needs his glasses in his coffin because he can't see without them, remains one of the most heart-wrenching moments in film history. Whether or not My Girl was intended as a complex coming-of-age story or meant to elicit extreme sadness, there's no denying that it left younger viewers traumatized for years.

The NeverEnding Story traumatized every kid who's ever watched it

A list about traumatizing children's movies likely wouldn't be complete without 1981's The NeverEnding Story. As the film opens, audiences are introduced to Bastian Balthazar Bux (Barret Oliver), a shy young boy who loves books and who promptly stumbles upon a mysterious tome called The NeverEnding Story, though a local bookseller warns him against opening it. Bastian does anyway and he's promptly drawn into the complicated and exciting tale of Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), a young hero who must protect his world of Fantasia from a malevolent force known as "the Nothing."

Right off the bat, Gmork, a wolfish monster sent by "the Nothing" to kill Atreyu, is horrifying at first sight, but young kids and adults alike were probably most scarred by the tragic moment where Atreyu's beloved horse, Artax, slowly drowns in the Swamps of Sadness, leaving Atreyu alone. However, when the film reveals that Bastian is a part of the story and is seemingly trapped in an endless narrative where he, like Atreyu, is watched by unseen viewers, the film takes on an even more horrifying bent, presenting a story from which Bastian can seemingly never escape. The NeverEnding Story might seem like a fun romp, but there's some seriously scary stuff lurking in this fantastical tale.