The Best Halloween Movies on Disney+

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The Best Halloween Movies on Disney+

When it comes to our ranking of all the major streamers, in terms of their horror movie libraries, perhaps it’s no surprise that the family-focused Disney+ falls at the bottom of the list. After all, it’s the only one of the major forces in the streaming world with a philosophy that fundamentally puts it at odds with intensely scary or disturbing horror content.

At the same time, though, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a decent selection of more wholesome, family friendly Halloween fare to be found streaming on Disney’s service. The company has a long tradition, in fact, of supplying scares in a more gentle and welcoming way, as in the famed Haunted Mansion of the Disney parks. And you can even visit said mansion via your TV screen, with the Muppets as your guide! Who could say no to that?

Here, then, are an unlucky 13 selections representing the best of the Halloween-appropriate titles on Disney+. Bonus: Marvel’s Werewolf by Night is about to arrive as well!


1. The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Year: 1993
Director: Henry Selick
Stars: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara
Rating: PG
Runtime: 76 minutes

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On simply a shot-by-shot basis, The Nightmare Before Christmas ranks as one of the most visually splendid films ever made. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to hijack the holiday. Often presented under the title Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film echoes many of the hit director’s pet themes, with Jack being one of Burton’s many brooding artistic protagonists. The film’s actual director was Henry Selick, who oversees an ingenious design and a cast of endearing monsters. The film doesn’t quite have the narrative fuel and graceful song lyrics to match Disney’s best animated musicals, but every year the film looks better and better. —Curt Holman


2. Hocus Pocus

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Year: 1993
Director: Kenny Ortega
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw
Rating: PG
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Hocus Pocus feels almost like a sister story at times to Roald Dahl’s The Witches—not quite as vicious, by any means, but its trio of Sanderson Sisters do still want to murder a bunch of kids, which is pretty hardcore as Disney goes. Largely ignored by both critics and audiences upon its initial release, the film proved to be one of those later bloomers that thrived in the nostalgic mind’s eye in the 2000s, when it became a cable Halloween season staple—the Halloween equivalent of It’s a Wonderful Life, if you will. The delightful viciousness of Bette Midler’s Winifred is a prime reason for why we’re still talking about the film today, as she found a way to combine her larger-than-life screen presence with a just a tinge of authentic menace. That the film simultaneously treats its witches as both antagonists and fish-out-of-water viewpoint characters serves to make them a loveable troupe of villains—how can you really hate these ladies after seeing them mistake an uncredited Garry Marshall for their demonic master? Thanks to the still-growing fervor for ’90s nostalgia, Hocus Pocus arguably feels more popular and relevant today than it ever has before. —Jim Vorel


3. Hocus Pocus 2

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Year: 2022
Director: Anne Fletcher
Stars: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo
Rating: PG
Runtime: 103 minutes

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The good news is if you liked Hocus Pocus, you will definitely like Hocus Pocus 2...because it’s basically the exact same movie except with cell phones, better special effects and a cameo from Hannah Waddingham. Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery. The bad news is…it’s the exact same movie. Hocus Pocus 2 gets a jolt of energy when the Sanderson sisters finally arrive about a half-hour into the film. Midler, Parker and Najimy are clearly having so much fun it’s hard to not go along with their hijinks a little bit. All the beats of the first movie are there, including a big Halloween party where the sisters perform. “I bet you’re looking for the stage,” one resident asks. “Always,” replies Winifred. Parker is hilarious as the daft younger sister. “I delighted in luring,” she laments. “‘Twas my only job.” (And suffice to say by default, this is a much better sequel than Parker’s And Just Like That…) —Amy Amatangelo


4. Bedknobs and Broomsticks

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Year: 1971
Director: Robert Stevenson
Stars: Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, John Ericson, Ian Weighill, Cindy O’Callaghan, Roy Snart
Rating: G
Runtime: 139 minutes

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The easiest way to sum up Bedknobs and Broomsticks is basically to say it’s Mary Poppins, except on half the budget and double the LSD. What the folks at Disney were thinking when they conceived of a tale that involved witchcraft, hijinks and the Nazis invading England it’s impossible to say, but Angela Lansbury makes for a fine, matronly witch in training. Like Mary Poppins, the film can boast an animated interlude involving an island of anthropomorphized animals, their designs all suspiciously similar to Disney’s own Robin Hood, which would be released two years later in 1973. And did we mention this is all in service of finding a spell that Angela Lansbury can use to repel the Nazi invaders? Truly, the ’70s were a bizarre time for Disney. —Jim Vorel


5. Maleficent

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Year: 2014
Director: Robert Stromberg
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Rating: PG
Runtime: 97 minutes

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What little curiosity value Maleficent provides arrives mostly in the extravagant visual design. It’s not a patch on the landmark work in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty—still one of the most striking animated films ever made—but something to behold nevertheless. Consider it both a strength and a weakness that Stromberg clearly put so much effort into the film’s visual design (largely, it seems, at the expense of story), and his top-notch collaborators include makeup whiz Rick Baker (who designed Angelina Jolie’s witchy nose, horns and severe cheekbones), costume designer Anna B. Sheppard and production designers Gary Freeman and Dylan Cole. Their efforts vividly bring the fairy tale settings to life, updating one of Disney’s original witchy antagonists for the modern age. —Geoff Berkshire


6. Coco

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Year: 2017
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Stars: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Alfonso Arau, Edward James Olmos
Rating: PG
Runtime: 109 minutes

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Thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco may count as one of Pixar’s clearest successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams could prove the studio’s most meaningful yet. The implicit contract between films like Coco and the audience is a simple one: Sit back and let us immerse you in a world you haven’t seen before, or one you’ve only imagined. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do just that. Coco’s underworld is richly textured and imagined, but so is the “real world” where we start and end up. Sure, by now it’s what we expect from Pixar, but it’s notable nonetheless. And the lasting accomplishment of Coco lies in the reverence and joy with which it depicts another culture’s celebration. Dia de los Muertos isn’t used as some convenient, exotic setting or explored through the eyes of someone from the United States (though early iterations of the script did just that, apparently). Instead, the film represents a full embrace of a culture and its people, as well as a celebration of family, both present and past. As such, it’s difficult to imagine healthier holiday fare. —Michael Burgin


7. Frankenweenie

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Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder
Rating: PG
Runtime: 87 minutes

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When Victor Frankenstein’s beloved bull terrier, Sparky, is hit by a car and killed, his mission is clear: Bring Sparky back to life! Now Sparky’s good as new—except that he leaks water and anything he eats. And when the poodle he loves next door, Persephone, sniffs his new neck bolts, she gets an electric shock that adds Bride of Frankenstein-like streaks of white to her beehive hairdo. Sparky might be a re-animated dog made out of clay, but he’s also one of the most expressive cinema dogs of all time, one whose pain we feel when his resurrection is discovered and he runs away from Victor’s freaked-out parents. He finds himself in the pet cemetery, where he lies down mournfully on his own grave—after turning around in a circle several times like any dog. He heroically saves the day when other resurrected pets run amok, and we cheer when the formerly terrified townspeople all pitch in to bring Sparky back to life once more. —Sharon Knolle


8. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

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Year: 1949
Director: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Stars: Eric Blore, J. Pat O’Malley, Colin Campbell, John McLeish, Campbell Grant, Claude Allister, Leslie Denison, Edmond Stevens
Rating: G
Runtime: 68 minutes

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Disney’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is one half of a great film. After Bambi came out in 1942, Disney didn’t release a full-length animated film for almost eight years. Throughout the ‘40s they released a series of pictures that packaged together various shorter films, both animated and live-action, under names like Make Mine Music and Fun and Fancy Free. (This is also the era that brought us Song of the South, which is partially animated, partially live action, and almost entirely indefensible.) The last of these package films was called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and combined two half-hour short features based on The Wind in the Willows and Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. After that initial theatrical run Disney split the two featurettes, with Sleepy Hollow becoming a genuine Disney classic and Halloween staple, and The Wind in the Willows best being known for inspiring the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction at Disney parks and the evil weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Despite the budgetary and staffing issues that persisted at Disney during and immediately after the war, it’s a beautiful example of classic Disney animation from Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” with a crazed lead character perfectly suited for cartoons. Neither a short nor a full-length film, the half-hour Wind in the Willows and its erstwhile companion helped prepare theaters and audiences for Disney’s triumphant feature-length return Cinderella just four months later. —Garrett Martin


9. The Black Cauldron

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Year: 1985
Director: Ted Berman, Richard Rich
Stars: Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, Arthur Malet, John Byner, Phil Fondacaro, John Hurt
Rating:
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Perhaps Disney’s most notorious failure, The Black Cauldron is better than its reputation. It’s not necessarily good, though. This adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series is simultaneously too ambitious and not ambitious enough, trying to squeeze two books into 80 minutes by simply skipping over large parts of the story. Whole chunks of narrative are clearly missing, making this one of those bad movies that maybe would’ve been better if there was more of it. Part of the problem is that Disney itself didn’t believe in it—Jeffrey Katzenberg, who joined the company under Michael Eisner and Frank Wells in 1984, when the film was basically done, infamously tried to edit it like a traditional film, something that really doesn’t work in animation. Despite its flaws, The Black Cauldron features some of Disney’s creepiest and most unforgettable images, from the design of the villain the Horned King, to the climactic scene when he raises an army of the undead with the titular Cauldron. It was such a failure at the box office that it took 13 years for it to eventually get released on VHS, and still has never been released on Blu-ray. —Garrett Martin


10. Into the Woods

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Year: 2014
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Film adaptations of beloved musicals are almost always polarizing; to succeed, the movie must simultaneously capture the magic of the stage while bringing something visually new to the proceedings. Movie stars take the parts of talented stage actors, sometimes to the detriment of the music. But the fantastical nature of Disney’s Into the Woods leads to a visual spectacle, and the cast—including James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick—does a fine job with the songs. Streep is especially enjoyable as the story’s vindictive witch. The real joy here is seeing a Disney fairytale that satirizes Disney fairytales, but with half an eye on its tween-set base, it’s never quite as wickedly dark as Stephen Sondheim’s original. Still, it’s a refreshing twist to see the princesses taking control of their own destinies, and the humor of princes just a little too in love with their own charm won’t be lost on even the youngest audiences. —Josh Jackson


11. Muppets Haunted Mansion

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Year: 2021
Director: Kirk Thatcher
Stars: Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz
Rating: PG
Runtime: 49 minutes

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The Muppets have a long and glorious history of taking nothing seriously. Muppets Haunted Mansion is a first, though: this time they’re not mocking TV genres, pop culture cliches or a beloved piece of literature, but a classic Disney theme park attraction. It’s been a long time coming; the Muppets made their Disney parks debut over 30 years ago, and have been outright owned by the Mouse since 2004. Fans of Jim Henson’s creations and Walt Disney’s theme parks can rest easy—this one-off special is a loving homage to both Kermit’s crew and Disney’s grim grinning ghosts. Muppets Haunted Mansion feels like a special episode of the classic Muppet Show. It’s a cameo-filled goof that roughly follows the structure of the ride, but with a story that sees Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn visiting an infamous haunted house on the 100th anniversary of a legendary stage magician’s disappearance within. (Shades of Abracadabar, the swanky magic-themed bar at Disney World with a similar backstory.) Gonzo hopes to find out what happened to the magician, while Pepe just hopes to meet some celebrities at what he assumes is a high-end Hollywood party. Along the way they’re haunted by the house’s large lineup of ghosts, characters from the ride played by classic Muppets and the occasional guest celebrity. A valuable lesson about confronting your fears is learned, and the fourth wall isn’t just broken but jumped through again and again like the Kool Aid Man blasting through walls on a bender. Most importantly, laughs are had by all, with the combination of intentionally cornball Vaudeville schtick and genuine irreverence that the Muppets have long been known for. —Garrett Martin


12. Halloweentown

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Year: 1998
Directors: Duwayne Dunham
Stars: Debbie Reynolds, Judith Hoag, Kimberly J. Brown, Joey Zimmerman, Emily Roeske
Rating: NR
Runtime: 84 minutes

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At the end of the ’90s, still a few years before Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone adaptation would hit theaters (but well into the Harry Potter craze that was casting spells upon children all over the world), Disney tried their luck at the witches and wizards game. But this was no wide release, where children would drag their parents to the theaters and beg for snacks and soda. This was Halloweentown, one of three DCOMs (Disney Channel Original Movies) to be released on the network in 1998. There’s absolutely no competing with J.K. Rolling when it comes to the magic genre in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but Disney’s low-budget stab at the idea is actually positively delightful. If you grew up watching Disney Channel in the 2000s and 2010s, you eagerly awaited October every year so you could catch back up with teenage witch Marnie Piper and her dysfunctional, at times displaced, family. The first movie in the trilogy (we don’t speak of the so-called fourth movie in the series, Return to Halloweentown—a true DCOM tragedy), Halloweentown introduces us to Marnie, her mom and siblings and her grandmother, adorably portrayed by the dearly departed Debbie Reynolds. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to hop on that flying bus to Halloweentown and go broom-shopping with my grandma. Halloweentown is absolutely a Halloween classic, one that does a fine job teaching children about acceptance and inclusion, that can easily still be enjoyed today. —Ellen Johnson


13. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

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Year: 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Marvel still has a lot to figure out with how it handles its women, but it’s getting the multiverse idea under its feet. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness starts its fast-paced but forgettable first act with dialogue that could be improved by a middle schooler before giving way to an emotional Elizabeth Olsen performance that holds down some eye-roll-inducing lines about motherhood, ridiculous cameos as plot conduits, and horror cinematography, sound and direction bouncing captivatingly between the grotesque and comical. Despite boring opening salvos that reminded me why so many people have grown hateful of the Marvel movies, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness eventually becomes very fun to watch. It’s weird that so many Sam Raimi fans were hoping for a return to his horror auteur form considering (1) we’ve seen a bunch of skilled indie filmmakers squish their vision into the Marvel frame for a big paycheck and (2) Raimi is known to the wider film-watching public as the guy that made the original Spider-Man trilogy. It’s weirder still that the horror fans were kinda right to be hopeful: The second and third acts are full of horror imagery, jump scares and a Bruce Campbell cameo (and fellow Raimi collaborator Danny Elfman does the score). One of my favorite things about the first Doctor Strange was that the introduction of magic into the MCU meant exciting psychedelic visuals. Multiverse of Madness alternates between being comparatively rudimentary and going past the original into the macabre. Unfortunately, as with all Marvel movies, the director must square their vision with the circle of Kevin Feige’s machine. There are a lot of cool moments, but a lot of the flaws are derived from needing to set up a new superhero and connect to two or three or 20 movies. Opening with heavy CG that the actors aren’t interacting with in a way that’s legible as any kind of tangible space makes it hard to accept the movie. It’s less interesting. Too much time and money was spent on designing those FX monsters for me to come away thinking about how they could have gotten more out of the opening scenes by instead setting them in a series of dark rooms. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will surely be a commercial success, but it could have been more artistically satisfying if it wasn’t weighed down by the need to remind people of its outward connections. It stands better on its own than No Way Home but it’s still relying on early ‘00s Fox movies and internet fan castings for theatrical audience pops. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is everything you could reasonably expect from a Sam Raimi-Kevin Feige collaboration, but not much more.—Kevin Fox, Jr.