10 Surprisingly Dark Children's Movies From The 80s

Your childhood, but not as you remember it.

Return To Oz
Buena Vista

When it comes to parenting, the popular opinion seems to be that children should be sheltered from the realities of the world, at least temporarily. With that being said, filmmakers seem to be of the adverse opinion, the vast majority of children’s movies employing darker themes with sinister undertones in the process of their construction.

In most cases, children’s movies can be particularly nightmarish because they’re presumed to be entirely innocent, meaning any discrepancy whatsoever is that much more unsettling, or downright terrifying. Disney in particular have never shied away from dealing with more mature concepts. In fact, everything from Finding Dory to Inside Out has engaged with the notion of personal loss, as well as death, and even the coming to terms with sadness.

In the 1980s in particular, children’s movies were unexpectedly disturbing, employing shocking imagery in order to provoke a psychological response. Even in 2016, these films are surprisingly dark, making me wonder how anyone was allowed to see them in the first place, let alone watch them through at such a young age.

With that said, here are ten children’s movies from your own childhood that will give you nightmares…

10. The Dark Crystal (1982)

Return To Oz Jack
Universal Pictures

Released in 1982, The Dark Crystal was directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and starred Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, and Percy Edwards. Interesting, the film was actually banned in Iran due to its depiction of ceremonial imagery, which authorities suggested was distasteful, and even blasphemous.

Receiving a mixed reception upon release, the film was praised for its gothic designs, practical effects and stunning visuals, but was criticised for its darker subject matter.

The primary antagonists in the movie are the Skeksis – a scary race of reptilian birds, sporting curved fangs and large robes – who deteriorate throughout the movie, their bodies becoming frail and decomposed like rotting corpses.

Besides Skeksis, there are some genuinely disturbing scenes scattered throughout the movie, the banquet scene standing out as especially horrific. The whole experience is rendered particular unnerving by Jim Henson’s puppetry, which is strangely realistic and detailed, making even the playful aspects of the film strangely uncanny.


Formerly an assistant editor, Richard's interests include detective fiction and Japanese horror movies.