We have all watched a family movie or a fantasy book adaption and thought, ‘how did they get away with that?’ or started choking on our popcorn during the big summer blockbuster because a jump-scare has hit us out of nowhere.
Below are 10 unexpectedly scary scenes from non-horror movies.
We have also discounted thrillers and crime films with comic book movies as the only exception because most people still have a perception of comic book movies as family or teen viewing.
10 Beethoven – Needles
Beethoven (Lavant, 1992, USA) is a charming, funny kids’ film written by John Hughes about a big, friendly St. Bernard.
However, during the dramatic climax, cruel dognapping vet Dr.Varnick (Dean Jones) has a painful accident.
Varnick has been illegally testing experimental drugs on stolen dogs. When the Newton children attempt to drive the family car into his warehouse to rescue their parents they crash, knocking over a tray of medication, and sending lots of hypodermic needles flying into Varnick’s chest.
The effect on Varnick is unclear but the brightly coloured liquids in the needles make this scene look like something out of Re-Animator.
9 Spirited Away – Pigs for parents
On the way to their new house in Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001, JP), Chihiro and her parents stop to explore the local area.
Chihiro’s parents eat some food at an unattended stall without permission, angering the spirits and causing them to be transformed into hungry pigs.
Miyazaki’s films often explore ideas about the unseen spirit world that exists side by side with the world of the living.
For the most part, even the more unusual looking spirits are benevolent, however, for a child the feeling of being lost is one of pure terror.
Seeing your parents transformed into mute pigs that no longer recognise you is the stuff of nightmares.
8 Ghost – The Subway Ghost
Most people remember Ghost (Zucker, 1990, USA) as simply a romantic movie but in actual fact, it is filled with many edgier moments.
For starters, Sam Wheat only becomes a Ghost due to his untimely murder but it is the ‘Subway Ghost’ who is most memorably scary.
Vincent Schiavelli plays the extremely angry spirit who doesn’t like to share his train.
Sam convinces the Subway Ghost to teach him how to move objects in the physical world.
When Sam asks him how he died, the Subway Ghost flies into a paranoid rage and jumps off the platform into an oncoming train, in a re-enactment of his death.
7 The Muppet Christmas Carol – The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Henson, 1992, USA) is one of the all-time greatest family Christmas movies filled with singing, wise-cracks, and furry puppets — but it also has a darker side.
After the joyful and generous Ghost of Christmas Present leaves, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Scrooge is led through a vision of his future by a towering, faceless ghost wearing what looks like a dirty grey bed sheet, who does not speak.
The scene is insanely creepy, and enough to scare kids around the world into being good at Christmas.
6 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Bilbo wants to hold the ring
Remember back at the turn of the millennium when movie studios started making unusually dark family fantasy movies?
Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001, USA/NZ) features wizards, elves, and teeny tiny Hobbits but it also contains one major jump scare.
Frodo discovers that Bilbo is now living in Rivendell. Kindly, old Uncle Bilbo gives Frodo his sword and vest to help him during his quest to destroy the ring.
However, when Bilbo notices the ring around Frodo’s neck, his whole face becomes demonic and he makes a grab for the ring. Well, Peter Jackson did start out in horror movies.
5 Independence Day – The alien autopsy goes wrong
The world’s capitals are destroyed by an invading alien force, but sci-fi classic Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996, USA) mostly consisted of harmless family fun thanks to wise-cracks from Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum keeping the tone light-hearted.
But there was also one seriously scary scene.
Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) is performing an operation to investigate the physiology of the unconscious alien when it wakes up and attacks the medical team.
The President’s entourage arrive in the viewing room but they can’t see what is inside the smoky theatre.
As the camera pans in close, the face of the doctor smashes against the glass.
4 Batman Begins – Scarecrow
Everything about Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is chilling but, in particular, the scene in Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005, USA/UK) where Dr.Crane ‘introduces’ his Scarecrow alter ego to Carmine Falcone in prison is surprisingly terrifying.
Dr. Crane offers to show Falcone his mask, sprays him in the face with a hallucinogenic drug and then we see a horrific vision of Scarecrow from Falcone’s perspective.
Audiences were wondering what they could expect from Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot.
The introduction of Scarecrow was a calling card, letting everyone know that his Batman was not going to be just another kitsch, child-friendly comic book series.
3 Jurassic Park – Nedry loses his glasses
Spielberg’s family classic, Jurassic Park, (1993, USA) edges perilously close to horror on several occasions (Muldoon’s Raptors, Sam Jackson’s arm…).
But JP really lets us know what we’re in for at the start when Nedry gets his just desserts.
Nedry steals dinosaur DNA by knocking out the security system during a storm.
He has a small window of time to make it to the last boat, but his car crashes off the road. He falls and loses his glasses.
A cute Dilophosaurus spits venom into his eyes, a second Dilophosaurus eats him. Actor Wayne Knight made Nedry extremely likable, so his demise was a shock.
2 Batman Returns – Curiosity killed the Cat
Tim Burton’s Batman sequel Batman Returns (Burton, 1992, USA/UK) was a childhood staple for many but the murder of Selina Kyle seemed particularly brutal for a comic book movie.
Timid secretary, Selina is pushed from a window by her evil boss Max Shrek to protect his secrets.
She is dead when she hits the ground but is revived by the city’s stray cat population nibbling on her bloodied limbs.
The trauma of her assault prompts her to transform into Cat Woman.
Brilliant acting from Michelle Pfeiffer and the ever-terrifying Christopher Walken added a genuine level of threat and realism to the attack and brought new meaning to the phrase ‘scary cat lady’.
1 Sin City – Marv’s revenge
Sin City (Miller/Rodrigues/Tarantino, 2005, USA) is no kid’s movie. It’s a big screen adaption of an adult graphic novel series, so graphic (no pun intended) that violence is expected.
But it also contains the fear factor with the unsettling antics of a killer cannibal; Kevin. Even more terrifying is the revenge Marv has in-store for him.
Kevin killed Goldy, the love of Marv’s life. So Marv, with the help of Goldy’s sister, captures Kevin and takes revenge by tying him to a tree and letting a wolf eat him.
Kevin, played by Elijah Wood, stares silently until the end. As Marv says: “It’s the stuff of nightmares.”