20 Beloved Family Movies That Are Actually Way Darker Than People Realize

Everyone has their favorite go-to childhood movie they could watch over and over again—even well into adulthood! Whether it’s a Disney classic or a DreamWorks original, there’s just something so comforting about each time you watch it. At least, that’s what you’d expect, right?

Not really. Some of our favorite family-friendly films feature rather dark and tragic plot points, but we’re often too young and naive to pick up on them when we see them. Just take these 20 examples of classic movies that, on another watch, were found to actually be pretty twisted.

1. The Santa Clause

It’d be pretty awesome if your dad was Santa, right? Well, not if he earned the spot the way Tim Allen did—by potentially committing manslaughter and then stealing the previous Kris Kringle’s clothes. To make it even more eerie, none of Santa’s workers think anything of it when he shows up to his first day on the job.

2. The Lion King

Sure, it’s dark when Mufasa is trampled to death, but that’s obvious. What’s even creepier is when Simba returns after his time away; notice how there are no other male lions his age? Some believe this is because male lions often kill their competitors’ offspring in the wild. Knowing Scar, it’s definitely a possibility!

3. Mighty Ducks

You’ll remember Gordon Bombay arrives to coach the local D-5 peewee hockey team in order to fulfill his community service. But why did he have community service in the first place? Well, at the beginning of the film, he’s arrested for drinking and driving. Sheesh!

4. Power Rangers

In the 2017 film, the Rangers all meet in detention. It’s there that we learn the reasons why they’ve all gotten into trouble; for instance, Billy brought a bomb to school and it accidentally blew up in his locker. Uh, it’s great that he defeated the bad guys and all, but that little detail seemed to get glossed over just a bit.

5. Shrek

Shrek helped to teach children to accept others for who they are on the inside. But under that theme, there’s a dark revelation. When Shrek was a child, his parents were abusive—his own father even tried to eat him! Shrek then admits in the third installment that he’s worried he’ll repeat the abuse with his own family. Yikes!

6. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Just about everyone would love to win an all-access pass to a chocolate factory. Still, would you want to experience the nightmarish LSD trip that was the chocolate river boat tour? Yeah, not so much.

7. Fantasia

This one is often regarded as one of the worst bait-and-switch films in history. Of course, audiences loved when Mickey Mouse appeared on the screen as a wizard. But that seven minute-long demonic sequence might’ve been a little too terrifying for kids.

8. The Sound of Music

In this film, the Von Trapp family accepted Maria Rainer into their home and worked with her to evade capture by the Nazis. But did you remember the point in the film where the young, likable mail worker actually became a Nazi?

9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

While this beloved story is full of happy moments, it’s pretty awful the way Harry’s aunt and uncle treat him. Come on! Forcing him to live in the closet under the stairs while his cousin lives like royalty is downright cruel.

10. Peter Pan

Apparently, in 1953, it was perfectly okay to insert overtly racist songs like “What Makes the Red Man Red?” into Disney classics. Of course, that wouldn’t fly today. Not to mention, in the same scene, Peter and the Lost Boys all take a puff from a peace pipe. How did this ever make it past the editing room?

11. Dumbo

Sure, this movie is a beloved classic, but if you recall the insane pink elephant scene, it’s pretty mind-bending and frightening. Some say that the scene is pretty similar to a bad LSD trip! Oh, the poor children…

12. Matilda

Yes, the titular character is blessed with telekinetic powers, and that’s all fun and whatnot. But remember: all the other students still have to worry about the horrifying principal, Miss Trunchbull, and her “chokey” device that was designed to hold naughty students. It’s even filled with long nails and broken glass…

13. The Brave Little Toaster

A film about sentient home appliances attempting to reunite with their rightful owner is harmless enough. But amidst the family-friendly plot is a scene featuring this eerie, evil clown. Can you say “nightmares for life?”

14. Labyrinth

It’s admittedly easy to become distracted by David Bowie’s insane hair, makeup, and tights. But lest you forget the premise of the movie is that a pack of eerie goblins kidnap a child in the middle of the night and attempt to hide him from his family in a labyrinth. Eek!

15. Return to Oz

Presented as an unofficial sequel to The Wizard of Oz, this family movie is full of spooks. From the woman who recently received electric shock therapy to the infamous wheelers—people with wheels for hands and feet—be prepared to be freaked out!

16. Cars

Hey, anthropomorphic automobiles are pretty cool, especially when they’re funny! But have you ever noticed the lack of humans in this movie? The cars were obviously built to be driven, yet there’s no sign of anyone around. It certainly begs the question: was humanity overthrown by these wise-cracking cars?

17. Spy Kids

In theory, teaming up with your family to become secret agents is pretty fun, but when you learn that the Uncle Machete in this film is confirmed to be the same murderous uncle from the R-rated Machete films, it takes on a different tone.

18. Pinnochio

Everyone remembers the tale of the wooden puppet who wants to become a real boy. Yet, few recall that during the film, he is briefly turned into a donkey and forced to work long and hard hours at some place called Pleasure Island.

19. Forrest Gump

If Forrest is actually the inspiration for John Lennon’s “Imagine,” as the movie suggests, then that means Mark David Chapman—Lennon’s assassin—was also inspired to kill Lennon by “Forrest Gump’s” lyric about having no world possessions. In other words, he’d be consequentially responsible for the ex-Beatle’s murder.

20. Gremlins

This seemingly family-friendly movie starts out just fine, but nothing could’ve prepared children for the horrific scene where the villain, Stripe, is brutally killed on screen. How horrifying!

It’s so creepy to think that many of our favorite family movies actually had dark undertones. Who knows what other kind of scary themes are hiding in films we adore?

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