When films fans want to find the scariest horror movies of all time, they typically go straight for the most visceral and graphic choices. But the best PG-13 horror movies not only deliver many of the same kind of jump scares and horrific monsters of R-rated movies, some of them are even counted as the most iconic examples of the genre.
Updated on October 31st, 2022 by Mark Birrell: Genuinely scary PG-13 movies aren’t as rare as some may think they are, so much so that some film fans’ favorite horror movies ever might have significantly lower ratings than they had assumed. The best PG-13 horror movies prove that terrifying scenes are the product of skillful direction and great acting, not gore and vulgarity.
An intimate sci-fi horror film about one family’s experiences on a secluded farm as the world begins to realize that an alien invasion is coming, Signs is packed full of jump scares and monstrous frights but all of them work because the audience is able to invest themselves in the characters.
Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan slowly raises the tension throughout until the invasion begins in the third act, bringing every simmering plot point to a boil before tying it all together beautifully in the final scene.
Chris Pine shines in this post-apocalyptic road movie about a small group of survivors trying to evade a deadly virus that has already wiped out most of civilization.
As the panic exposes the darkness lurking within humanity, the plot of Carriers becomes an interesting PG-13 vehicle for the conventions of zombie movies, delivering a lot of the kind of social commentary and survival scenes that the genre is famous for but with significantly less blood.
Just as enigmatic as its subject, The Mothman Prophecies revolves around sightings of a mysterious figure known only as the Mothman as a reporter is drawn into the inexplicable events that surround his chilling appearances.
Elevated by its central performance from veteran dramatic actors Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and Will Patton, the film is a haunting meditation on the uncertainty that surrounds death, with its brazen lack of answers making the experience feel all the richer.
Movie fans shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that The Woman in Black skimps on the darkest aspects of ghost stories just because of its theatrical roots and the inclusion of Daniel Radcliffe, in the lead role, fresh off of his run as fantasy hero Harry Potter.
The Woman in Black may not reinvent the ghost story but its plays all the hits and goes for maximum creepiness in its scares without shame or hesitation, dealing with some dark ideas in its story of Radcliffe’s struggling lawyer and the haunted house that he’s sent to put in order.
One of the most criminally underrated horror-comedies ever has to be 1990’s Arachnophobia. There are definite notes of Joe Dante in this creepy-crawly creature feature. If the title wasn’t enough to give it away, this movie concerns a rather sinister spider species that overruns a sleepy little town.
When a deadly Amazon spider crossbreeds with a brown recluse, the spawn makes a town full of unsuspecting citizens their prey. Soon, there are more webs and nests than houses, and it becomes a battle of the species. Good thing John Goodman arrives with a flamethrower to even the score.
Guillermo del Toro is the undisputed champion when it comes to modern monster movies, and there are few better PG-13 monster movies than this adaptation of Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, which he produced. Based on the children’s books of the same name, the movie takes more than just the monsters from the page, but the horrifying illustrations as well.
Think of this film as the bridge between mediums. It’s scarier than the books, but it barely spills a drop of blood. Although many of the movie’s kills are worse than a bloody mess.
When movie fans hear the word exorcism, they immediately think of one of the best horror films of all time, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. So any horror movie featuring the word in the title automatically has a high standard to live up to, and Scott Derrickson’s horror drama has cultivated quite a fan base over the years despite an initially lukewarm response from critics.
The film is based on the real-life of Annelise Michel who was diagnosed with Epilepsy due to a series of visions and episodes. The family was not successful in the attempts to treat her, so they turned to the church for an exorcism that ended her life. The movie follows both a more traditionally horror-like narrative thread of the exorcism itself and a more thoughtful legal drama thread of the trial of the priest involved. When woven together, they make for a uniquely interesting approach to the genre.
A group of people is trapped in an elevator and the devil is one of them. During intense and terrifying events, viewers have to guess who in the group is the unholy killer picking them off, murder mystery style.
The story of Devil has a very interesting concept that encourages engagement from the audience and also carries a fairly uncommon degree of theological depth for what is, for the most part, a claustrophobic thriller.
Before David F. Sandberg directed the hit superhero movie, Shazam!, he directed Lights Out based on his highly popular short film of the same name. The central concept revolves around a deadly specter that can only exist and be seen in the dark.
Dealing with themes of chronic illness, both physical and psychological, it’s proven to be a more conceptually complex story than it may initially seem for film fans, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular horror movies of recent years.
Much more a comedy movie than a horror movie in terms of tone, but pure horror in terms of setting and subject matter, The Final Girls sees a young woman, still emotionally processing the sudden death of her mother, sucked into an old 80s slasher movie that her mother starred in.
It’s a fun deconstruction of the frequently-picked-apart subgenre in the spirit of Wes Craven, but its emphasis on emotional catharsis has also pleasantly surprised many a weary horror fan too.
James Wan created his second successful horror movie franchise, after Saw but still before The Conjuring, with this supernatural chiller.
Patrick Wilson, who plays Ed Warren in the Conjuring movies, and Rose Byrne are excellent as the afraid but determined parents of a young boy beset by evil spirits in this proto-version of the interconnected supernatural universe of the Conjuring movies. With the suspense and gradually ramped-up intensity, this movie has the feel of an R-rated classic without the gore.
Another stepping stone to greater financial success within the more modern R-rated side of the genre, It director Andy Muschietti struck a chord with another gothic coming-of-age story spun around a deadly supernatural force.
The story follows a musician who embraces an uncharacteristic maternal role after her partner’s nieces are discovered alive after being presumed dead and having lived feral in the woods for some time. The girls claim that a protective presence that they call “mama” saved them, and it follows the pair back to their new lives. The family drama makes for an interesting dynamic between the characters and the horror strikes an interesting balance between modern ghost stories and Tim Burton-esque fantasy.
Adapted from a Stephen King short story, 1408 is one of the more underrated movies made from the author’s work and delivers a huge amount of variety from what may initially seem like a very limited setting.
The plot follows a skeptical writer who, after checking into the titular New York hotel room, finds himself trapped in an endless realm of ghosts and ghoulish tricks, with the movie extracting smorgasbord of scary scenarios as the history of the room comes to life, and it plays with his own guilt and regret.
One of the most underrated supernatural horror movies of the 21st century so far, The Skeleton Key has a story that may seem conventional enough at first but incorporates complex historical subtext.
The Southern Gothic story follows a care nurse who takes work at a secluded former plantation in Louisiana to care for a man paralyzed by a stroke. A hidden room within the house reveals a history of hoodoo ritualism, however, and themes of aging and guilt blend with deeper plays on identity, mortality, and transformation. It’s a much richer experience than it was given credit for at the time of its release by critics and has found better appreciation over the years thanks to multiple viewings. It’s certainly a prime example of a movie that needs to be seen twice to fully appreciate all of the nuances.