Twenty PG-13 Horror Movies That Might Actually Scare You

Hardcore horror movies fans and the mainstream Hollywood studios don’t always see eye-to-eye. The people who love horror movies, and we mean REALLY love them, want to be challenged, shocked and disturbed. But Hollywood seems to keep churning out films like Ouija, which squeak by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) with a family friendly PG-13 rating. And everyone knows that PG-13 horror movies suck, right? Right?

Well, wrong. Many PG-13 horror movies suck, but so do most movies in any genre. By now there are more than enough solidly scary horror movies with a PG-13 rating that we think we can disprove that notion altogether, at least as an altruism. You can hold onto your opinions all you want – that’s your right – but when there are this many exceptions to a so-called “rule,” it may be time to finally admit that it’s not much of a rule anymore.

What’s Wrong with PG-13 Anyway?

Depending on who you talk to, and which movie you’re talking about, an MPAA rating can either be a blessing or a curse. Hardcore horror fans tend to like their movies uncensored, R-rated (or higher), and shocking. Studios often prefer to release horror movies with a PG-13 rating, because teenagers are usually in the target demographic and it’s easier for them to see the films if they don’t have to drag their more discerning parents along for the ride.

But although the MPAA is famously flawed (some might even say outright corrupt), in principle their ratings aren’t supposed to be a judgment. They’re supposed to simply watch a movie and come to a conclusion about how most parents would feel about their children watching it unsupervised. So if they see a horror movie and decide that a 13-year-old could watch it without their parents getting angry about the material they were just exposed to, that’s not necessarily the Mark of Cain.

Then again, the very fact that a horror film can be safely viewed by 13-year-olds is, to some horror fans, is a sign of very low quality. Just how scary can it be if children can leave the theater without permanent scars?

But an MPAA rating, like any other label, should never been taken at face value. There are lots of PG-13 horror movies that are genuinely scary or horrifying (we’ll explain the difference in a moment), and there are lots of R-rated horror movies that aren’t frightening in any way. It’s easy to judge a book by its cover. But reading it is the only way to know for sure if it has any value.


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The Difference Between ‘Scary’ and ‘Horrifying’

Not all scares are created equal. There are different kinds of fright, just like there a different kinds of love and different kinds of anger. The way you’re scared when a cat jumps out of the shadows is nothing at all like the terror that comes from being pursued by a madman with an axe.

So it makes sense that different horror movies will attempt to elicit different responses. Some horror movies are content to startle you – an effect that usually dissipates by the time you leave the theater – and some want to get under your skin and linger, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep for days.

Depending on what the filmmakers are going for, it may not be necessary to embrace enough violence and sensuality to shatter your nerves. Many PG-13 movies are going for the “fun” kind of terror, which briefly scares you before you go away reassured, while others shoot for genuine, long-lasting horror. Our list reflects the existence and validity of “scary” movies and “horrifying” movies alike, although PG-13 horror movies that achieve actual horror are given even more credit.

The Examples

What follows is our list of twenty films in the horror genre that we here at CraveOnline think are pretty damned good. And when you call a horror movie “good,” you usually mean that it’s scary.

But what’s scary to someone might not be all that scary to someone else, and sometimes just dallying in horror iconography isn’t all that frightening even if it results in a great movie. So we’re not ranking these PG-13 horror movies from “best” to “worst,” we’re just going to list them in order of how scary we think they are, and give you their percentage of horror (as opposed to PG-13ness) in order to clarify what we mean. The first few films will only terrify you if you have a very fragile constitution. By the end, we think you’ll appreciate just how frightening PG-13 movies can get.

If you think we missed a PG-13 horror movie classic, let us know in the comments. If current trends in the film industry continue, we’ll probably come back to this subject sooner than later.


Slideshow: Twenty PG-13 Horror Movies That Might Actually Scare You

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.