A movie set in the heart of suburbia with an uninvited extraterrestrial would never leave out America’s weirdest holiday. Fortunately, the 1982 hit wasn’t Steven Spielberg’s first rodeo. Dressed as a ghost for Halloween, E.T. is more than a little confused by the alien-like creatures he sees roaming the streets. But then, aren’t we all?
2. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’
Anyone who doesn’t like Tim Burton’s 1993 classic The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween Grinch. Shot fully in stop-action animation, the movie tells the story of Jack Skellington and his aching desire to be a part of Christmas. The strange and haunting—not to mention completely unrecognizable—world of Halloween Town is a glimpse inside the mind of one of this era’s greatest directors.
3. ‘Donnie Darko’
Richard Kelly’s 2001 debut captivated audiences with its dark, bewildering, and sometimes hilarious plot of a troubled teenage boy (Jake Gyllenhaal) who begins receiving messages about the future from a demonic rabbit named Frank. Halloween, while not central to Donnie Darko, provides a perfect backdrop for its climax. As a Halloween party at Donnie’s house commences, the unraveling of his world begins.
What began as a low-budget independent film in 1978 would come to be known as the horror movie of the century. Set in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Ill., the movie has an opening scene—Halloween night in 1963—that is pivotal. The screams of Jamie Lee Curtis were the backdrop of many nightmares to come. Watch the rest, if you dare.
5. ‘Mean Girls’
It’s Lindsay Lohan in her prime and Amy Poehler in her Juicys. What better group to expose the not-so-secret motivations behind “sexy” girl Halloween costumes than the mean girls themselves? Lohan’s arrival at the party as a creepy zombie bride is epic—and a reminder of the LiLo we once knew. If only we could turn back time to 2004.
6. ‘The Karate Kid’
A bullying saga may have been less severe when The Karate Kid made its debut in 1984—but it was no less relevant. It’s no surprise, then, that when new kid Daniel’s prank on Mr. Popular, Johnny, at the Halloween dance goes awry, we’re rooting for the little guy, with a little help from our friend Miyagi.
7. ‘The Crow’
Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, The Crow (1994) tells the haunting tale of a brutally murdered musician who comes back from the dead to avenge his own death and that of his fiancée. An already horrifying film took an even darker turn when the lead actor, Brandon Lee, was killed in an accident on set. A real-life horror from a critically acclaimed horror film—that’s a Halloween story if ever there was one.
8. ‘Hocus Pocus’
Before Carrie Bradshaw and her shoes came Sarah Sanderson and her witchcraft. In an almost-too-odd-to-be-real scene in a mixed-review Halloween movie from 1993, Sarah Jessica Parker attempts to woo trick-or-treaters in Salem, Mass. Bradshaw might not have approved of the bizarre singalong, but the outfit would probably have been just weird enough to pass muster.
9. ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where magic, ghosts, and goblins abound, is the stuff Halloween dreams are made of. Although it only makes an appearance in the first movie adapted from J.K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Hogwarts’ Hallowe’en Feast is no small affair. From floating jack-o’-lanterns to a cauldron of lollipops, it’s a celebration of the holiday only real ghouls could put on.
10. ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’
In this 1979 Best Picture Oscar winner, workaholic Ted (Dustin Hoffman) learns that his wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep), is leaving him to raise their young son, Billy, alone. In the boy’s lovable opening speech at his Halloween pageant, we begin to take a side in this purposefully neutral film—Billy’s.