Five PG and PG-13 Horror Classics

What’s your reaction when you hear that an upcoming horror movie is going to be rated PG-13? If you’re like most genre fans, that kind of news most likely makes your anticipation for the film plummet. You probably start to think that the studio has watered down the violence and the scares just so they can make an extra buck or two, and that suspicion isn’t entirely unfounded.

A lot of PG-13 horror movies are mediocre at best, so it’s understandable that we’d be wary of titles that carry this rating. Just look at the big PG-13 horror films that have already come out this year. Night Swim, Lisa Frankenstein, and Imaginary have all been fairly disappointing, so the common consensus isn’t wrong.

However, I wouldn’t quite say it’s entirely right either. Sure, a chunk of PG-13 horror movies are pretty bad, but there have also been several amazing exceptions to that general rule. In fact, some of the best genre films of all time are PG-13 (or even PG!). We can’t always judge a movie by its rating alone. We need to be open-minded and give PG-13 horror a bit more respect than it currently gets, and to prove that, I’ve compiled a list of five stone-cold genre classics that don’t need a ton of blood, boobs, and F-bombs to be great.


A man looking concerned

Let’s get this list started with a real heavy hitter. Jaws isn’t just one of the best horror movies of all time. It’s one of the best films ever made in any genre, and to the surprise of many, it’s not rated R. It’s not even PG-13. It was released about a decade before the PG-13 rating was created, meaning this legendary horror classic is actually rated PG.

Sure, Jaws has a few bloody scenes (including one where we actually see a man slowly descend into the shark’s mouth!), but by and large, it’s not about the gore. Instead, this movie focuses primarily on the characters and the story, and it’s utterly fascinating. It’s essentially a study in the varying ways people might respond to the news of a shark stalking their waters, and it makes for a timeless reminder about the value of human life.

That being said, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking this is just a drama. Jaws is a legit horror film, but unlike a lot of modern genre fare, it understands that what we don’t see is usually scarier than what we do. For most of its runtime, we only get a few brief glimpses of the shark, and it’s only in the third act we finally get to see this man-eating monster in all its glory.

Up until then, the movie just lets us stew in the juices of our own imagination, and as any seasoned horror fan will tell you, that’s way scarier than blood and guts could ever be. Jaws is so effective that it gave an entire culture a severe case of galeophobia (the fear of sharks)! It proves without a doubt that horror films don’t have to go all-out on the gore and violence to scare audiences silly.


A family sitting at a table

Next up, we have Poltergeist, another movie that came out before the PG-13 rating was introduced, and just like Jaws, this all-time horror classic is also PG. Don’t let that tame rating fool you! Poltergeist may not be as brutal as Tobe Hooper’s other big claim to fame, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it still packs quite the punch.

Poltergeist understands something that second-rate genre movies usually forget: horror is at its most effective when you care about the people going through it. In other words, if you’re afraid for the characters, that will make the scares infinitely more effective, even if you’re not particularly afraid of the things you’re seeing on screen.

And Poltergeist is a masterclass in that kind of horror. It takes its time to craft a truly likable family and show us just how much these people love each other, so when the ghosts make their presence known, you can’t help but feel for their victims. In particular, when Carol Anne, the family’s young daughter, goes missing, her parents’ anguish becomes almost palpable. This well-crafted emotional connection makes you more distraught than any amount of blood and guts could ever do.

That emotional resonance more than makes up for the film’s lack of gore, so once again, it’s clear that PG-13 (or, in the case of older movies like this one, PG) horror is nothing to scoff at. These films can be just as effective as their R-rated brethren, and sometimes, like Poltergeist, they’re even better.


A gremlin causing mischief

With Gremlins, we’re going to change gears a bit. The first two entries on this list are nearly perfect combinations of great stories, likable characters, and terrifying horror, but this movie is different. It’s not particularly scary, and the plot isn’t going to keep you on the edge of your seat. Instead, Gremlins is all about having fun, and on that count, it absolutely shines.

Unlike more traditional gremlins, these creatures don’t just attack people and ruin their electronics. They also do a lot of the same things humans do, and their anthropomorphic antics are a total blast. For example, they pack themselves into a movie theater and watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they go around town ringing people’s doorbells and singing Christmas carols, and they even hang out in a bar and trash the place.

The whole thing is just a hoot and a half, and it shows that PG and PG-13 horror films don’t even need to be scary. Instead, they can just be fun, and that’s totally okay. They’ll get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from fans as long as they entertain the hell out of us, and to do that, they definitely don’t need to feature a ton of blood or gore.

The Sixth Sense

A boy in a bed looking scared

After that brief foray into the sillier side of horror, The Sixth Sense is here to remind us that there’s more to the genre than just having a good time. This movie is about a kid named Cole who sees ghosts all around him, and many of them died brutally violent deaths. Naturally, those spirits scare the absolute crap out of him, and they make for some truly terrifying horror.

But as good as those scares are, they’re not what the film is really about. These days, most people remember The Sixth Sense for Haley Joel Osment’s amazing performance and the shocking twist at the end, but at its core, this is just the story of a lonely boy who wants to feel normal.

And if we’re being honest, I think we can all relate to that sentiment. All of us, especially horror fans, have felt like misfits or outcasts at one point or another in our lives, and that relatability is what makes The Sixth Sense an all-time classic. Everybody can see a bit of themselves in Cole, which makes it more natural to get invested in his journey towards peace and self-acceptance.

Because of that, this movie works on a deeply human level; it doesn’t need heaps of blood or violence. It doesn’t need any horror at all, so the terrifying scares are just a bonus. They’re the cherry on top of this already-perfect story, and that combination proves yet again that PG-13 horror deserves a lot more respect than fans normally give it.

The Others

Two women and a man

It’s hard to believe that The Others is old enough to be a classic. I remember seeing this film when it first came out in theaters, so I guess that makes me a classic as well, right? But enough about my not-quite-midlife crisis. The Others is probably the least-known movie on this list, so if you’re not a hardcore horror fan, you might not be familiar with it. But trust me, it’s awesome. This is a haunted house film with a brilliant twist you won’t see coming, and it excels on just about every level.

For starters, the acting is amazing, so the characters are an absolute joy to watch from beginning to end. On top of that, just about the entire movie is saturated with a darkly oppressive gothic atmosphere. It feels utterly horrific even when nothing particularly spooky is happening on screen.

Last but not least, we have the scares. This film uses sound more effectively than almost any haunted house film since The Haunting (and I mean the 1963 original, not the 1990s remake). When some of the characters take a creepy turn in the third act, they’re genuinely terrifying.

In a word, The Others is a perfect example of just how effective PG-13 horror can be. It features old-school frights that will unsettle you and get under your skin in a way blood and guts only wish they could. If you’re trying to keep yourself awake at night, ditch the caffeine and just watch this movie instead.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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