Top 10 Scary Movies I’d Actually Show Teenagers

Tis the season to be… scary?

First, let me come right out and admit that I’m not against dressing up on the 31st of this month, collecting candy and bobbing for apples. If you’re offended by this stuff, I’m sorry (I’ll try not to eat from my bowl full of Snickers bars in front of you).

Yes, there are a few frustrating things about this holiday, probably the biggest being the incredible shrinking size of young girls’ costumes (as a dad of two teenage daughters that really bugs me). It’s also intriguing to see the curiosity young people have toward things paranormal. But those elements aside, I still think that young people, families and youth ministries can have good clean fun on Halloween. For me personally… I love popping some popcorn and sitting down to a fun, scary movie.

The question is, are there any quality scary movies that don’t include gratuitous shots of naked teenagers getting slashed up at a slumber party? In other words… any appropriate scary movies that we can actually show to teenagers?

Top 5 Scary Movies I’d Actually Show Teenagers
(I’ll list the next 5 tomorrow)

(WARNING: Please don’t just read the titles below, rent the film and show it at youth group. You will be fired! There are several of these that I would not show at youth group- but I would co-watch with certain teenagers. So read my description and my linked review carefully, then view the film yourself, using your discernment.)

Signs— (directed by M. Night Shyamalan) This is one of my favorite films overall, so it’s a cinch to nab a spot on my top 10 scary list. This movie, starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix is about a small farming family that wakes up to discover 500 foot crop circles in their backyard. After these crop circles begin appearing all over the globe, the world soon fears invasion from another world. Don’t let the premise mislead you, the film is anything but corny. In fact, it’s quite deep, with some scenes that will springboard some fantastic discussion. We actually provide an entire curriculum with small group discussion questions and a Bible passage on our web site.

Jaws—(directed by Stephen Spielberg)  Another of my film favorites. I always find it funny to see the expression on someone’s face when I tell them it’s one of my favorites. I can tell when it’s someone who either hasn’t seen it, or hasn’t seen it in a couple decades and remembers that phony looking mechanical shark from Universal Studios and the sequels, which pale by comparison. Do not be fooled, the first film is amazing, hardly showing the shark at all. Spielberg probably scared more people with this film than almost any film in history. I think of the film every time I get in the ocean. If you haven’t seen it in a while, you should turn out the lights, turn up the volume so you can hear John Williams Oscar-winning score, and be ready to be pleasantly intrigued. The best scene is without a doubt Quint’s story about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. I still show that scene to illustrate good storytelling in my 10-Minute Talks workshop. I like to show this film to teenagers on what I call a “Dive-in Movie Night” where they all watch the film… in a pool!

The Exorcism of Emily Rose—(directed by Scott Derickson) I debated including this on my list simply because, I wouldn’t show this to all teenagers. So give me a moment to plead my case. First, this is a film directed by a Christian filmmaker who loves to use his films to provoke discussion (Here’s my interview with him about the film). The film is really about a court case that eventually argues, does God exist? The premise, based on a true story, uses the scary events of an exorcism gone wrong to stimulate questions about the afterlife. I wouldn’t show this film to my daughters because it would be too frightening. The film is terrifying. But for those parents and youth workers whose kids are the type that frequent movies like the current Paranormal Activity 3 that just raked in $54 million at the box office last weekend, this film would be perfect. It’s clean, it’s grounded in truth, and asks all the right questions.

Super 8—(directed by JJ Abrams) Maybe it’s because I’m 41-years-old and I remember watching films like Goonies and E.T. in the theatres as a young boy, maybe it’s just because I like good film making… but Super 8 delivered a great story, lovable characters and plenty of jumps in this nostalgic film about a group of friends in 1979 who witness a catastrophic train crash and begin to notice inexplicable events in their small town. Great film, totally clean (except for the language that was pretty realistic for the kids of that time), only PG-13 for the sci-fi action and violence.

Ghost and the Darkness—(directed by Stephen Hopkins) This film (which has nothing to do with ghosts) is based on the chilling true story of two lions in Africa that killed 130 people in a nine month period. In the spirit of Jaws, and Alien, the director cleverly chose to not show the lions for much of the film, instead, just the horror of surprise and the fear of what lurks in the dark. Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Tom Wilkinson… not too shabby. This 1996 film delivers all around! (Completely appropriate for teenagers. I’d show this film to youth group kids with no hesitation.)

5 More Tomorrow

What about you? Any scary films you like to show your teenagers? Any films you showed…and then regretted?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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15 Responses to Top 10 Scary Movies I’d Actually Show Teenagers

  1. Love this, totally agree with Signs. Have you ever seen The Last Exorcism (I haven’t)? Curious what you’re take on it is. I know it’s about a preacher – but perhaps I should just go watch it myself :)

    • Actually, I haven’t seen that one. Probably won’t. I try not to watch the ‘demonic’ stuff… way too real! (What can I say… I’m a wimp!) :) I watched the Scott Derickson one above because I knew he was a believer and the story presented the Gospel… but it scared the living snot out of me!!!

  2. Marc Buwalda says:

    The Ring. Paranormal plot, really creepy visuals, decent acting, all without overabundance of swearing or sex. Def some jump in your seat moments. Recently watched this with part of our Sr High group and had a good time.

    • Marc, funny you put this on the list, I almost did. It’s VERY scary. I showed it to my own kids with no regrets. It’s actually probably one of the most frightening films I’ve seen. Good one!

  3. Adam says:

    Fireproof. The acting in that gave me nightmares for days.

  4. Bryan says:

    I actually regretted showing Jaws, mainly because I forgot there was a naked woman in the opening scene!! It’s dark, but some teens made sure to point out that they saw some of the more “significant” parts of the woman. Whoops! If I showed it again (and I would), I’d probably try to edit out some of the opening scene.

  5. Are you saying that these are movies you would sit down and watch with YOUR teenagers (your offspring), or ones you would show at a youth event? I gotta tell you, Jaws is so laden with profanity, that I wouldn’t put my stamp of approval on it. (I think there are at least 15 misuses of Jesus’ name in it!) Actually, there are 17, I just checked on IMDB. Perhaps you are using “clean” edited versions of these films? In Super 8, IMDB lists over 60 uses of profanity (including 2 f-bombs) but then you say, “totally clean (except for the language that was pretty realistic for the kids of that time)”. Seriously? As a youth culture guy, surely you can’t be saying that because it’s halloween, we should overlook the gore, sexuality and profanity in order to give our kids a good time. I hate to be the ‘holiness guy’, but some of these choices are pretty brutal. Some of my teens might definitely go out and watch some of these on their own, but there’s no way I’m going to the one pressing ‘play’ (even though watching Jaws while in a pool is a pretty cool idea). That said, I’ve shown ‘SIGNS’ before. Another good choice not listed is MONSTER HOUSE. It’s an animated film which reminds me a lot of classics like The Burbs and The Goonies.

    • Benjamin… easy there buddy. Relax a little. Especially when you’re calling a movie like Goonies a classic and criticizing Jaws. Which is it… are you against cursing, or not (because maybe you should rewatch Goonies and take note of the language).

      • Hey Jonathan.
        Totally relaxed. I’m not arguing that Jaws isn’t a classic film. I’m simply suggesting that, considering the content, it might not be the best film to show in someone’s youth ministry. If you’re down with it (and recommending it), that’s totally your prerogative, but don’t you feel it’s kind of double-standardy to bemoan the content of something on tv or in popular music, but then give the greenlight to Jaws? Incidentally, I wouldn’t show Goonies or The Burbs to a room full of teens either, I was just comparing those films to Monster House.

        • Alright… glad you are relaxed. You sounded a little bit foaming in the mouth accusative when you’re calling me the youth culture guy who is saying that you should “overlook gore, sexuality and profanity.” (which, by the way, I never said).

          So to answer your question- Jaws is sooooooooo tame. On a scale of 1 to 10 it’s like a 1 in sexuality, where your average episode of Jersey Shore on MTV is like a 7, porn being 10. In gore, it’s about as gory as shark week on Discovery channel. Very intense, yes. It’s a story about shark attacks. Very intense subject matter. Very scary. But so tame compared to the type of senseless violence you find in so many horror films today. (and please, someone don’t say, “just because it’s more tame than now, does that make it right?” No. But I don’t think Jaws was even inappropriate in the 70’s.) And now that leaves language. Yes, he says sh*t, just like I did in my Homecoming blog last week. (ooops) And they drop a few other curse words, far fewer than you’d hear on ANY fishing boat. Far fewer than you’d hear on any H.S. school locker room (especially that Christian campus down the street). Does that make it right? Personally, I don’t think we should all talk like that. But come on… I’m not asking you to show your youth group Goodfellas. Do you really think that homeschool kid in your youth group is going to start saying “damn it” because he heard it in Jaws when a shark was biting a guys leg off?

          I’ve shown Jaws to youth group kids in pools for years. I’ll continue to do so. And at the same time, I’ll continue to speak out against shows that are lying to our kids, shows that show no consequences, and shows with imitatable behavior– shows like Jersey Shore, Two and a Half Men (which has no cussing and no gore), etc. I’ll show Jaws 10 times before I show any 22 minutes of Tow and a Half Men.

          Clear?

          • Thanks for your clarification Jonathan. I totally apologize for sounding accusatory– it wasn’t my intention in the slightest.
            I agree with you that watching Jaws isn’t as horribly detrimental as some other choices…and certainly there’s a lot on TV that’s worse. To tell you the truth, I watched Jaws myself so many times as a kid that we wore out our Beta cassette!
            That said, as a Jesus follower today, in my own movie watching (and certainly anything that I would greenlight in youth ministry), I would consider the misuse of God’s name to be a deal breaker. I would much rather hear 20 f-bombs than 20 misuses of ‘Jesus ‘ (well, truthfully, I would much rather hear neither). After all, in the ‘Big 10′, it’s not ‘sh*t’ that God seems to have a problem with.
            Now, the reality is, it’s nearly impossible to find a movie today that doesn’t drag God’s name through the mud (it’s not really even considered swearing on TV anymore!)– but I don’t think that means that, as people who bear His name, we should treat it nonchalantly. While I can certainly overlook a handful of swear words in a movie and even enjoy that movie in spite of the profanity, that doesn’t mean the film would be appropriate to show in a church/youth ministry setting.
            How many youth pastors/leaders would get called in front of their church boards for showing a movie that misuses God’s name even half as much as Jaws? I would suspect almost all of us. And for good reason.

          • Lane Reinke says:

            I just wanted to comment, I realize that this is a past conversation, but reading through it kinda of shook me up the wrong way. As followers of the Lamb, wouldn’t you wanna take into account Colossians 3:8? Talking of keeping filthy language out of the mouth? How about Matthew 5 where Christ is saying adultery comes from the heart, making a much broader point with a specific example?
            I am not commenting in a harsh, mean, or aggressive way, simply a caring way in hopes that we can rethink how easily it can be to be conformed to the world, rather than having our minds renewed.

          • Thanks Lane. I actually recently posted a blog about this very subject- discernment with movies. Check out my post on 10/10/12 about dissecting R-rated movies like Looper: http://www.jonathanmckeewrites.com/archive/2012/10/10/dissecting-r-rated-movies-looper.aspx

          • Lane says:

            Well, I read that blog.
            I just don’t see where any immoral entertainment is okay for us by God’s standard. There are no Scriptural ways to say that a show that holds sin in it should entertain us in any way! We ought to abhor it just as God Himself does. That is, if we truly are sons of Light.

  6. J.D. says:

    The Ghost and the Darkness is one of my favorite movies of all time. Honestly, I was surprised that you mentioned it because no one I know has seen it! Great film on Africa with Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas.