Scariest PG-13 Horror Movies, From ‘The Ring’ to ‘Poltergiest’

Movies


The natural response to hearing “horror movie” and “PG-13” in the same breath is, most likely, skepticism. How scary can a movie honestly be when its rating is a mere step away from Scooby-Doo? There’s not much blood. Minimal swearing. No severed limbs. Teenagers exchanging friendship bracelets instead of bodily fluids. Yet, there’s a treasure trove of films that make up for what they lack in R-rated horror tropes by upping the ante with effective jump scares, eerie atmospheres, and some genuinely frightening scenes. You see, PG-13 is not a death knell for a horror film, as the recent success of Five Nights at Freddy’s would attest to. In fact, it opens up a wide berth of creativity in order to deliver scares without resorting to the tried and true of the slice and dice. Here are some of the best.


1 Signs (2002)

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Image via Buena Vista Pictures

It’s Mel Gibson in a film that’s scarier than his real-life antics — if you can believe it. Gibson plays Graham Hess, a widowed former man of the cloth who lives in a farm house with his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), son Morgan (Rory Culkin), and daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin). One day the Hess’ find large crop circles in their cornfield, which they first attribute to local vandals, but learn the truth is much scarier. Crop circles have been appearing globally, and with them visitors that appear to be aliens. Director M. Night Shyamalan is exceptional at wringing terror out of tension, with the claustrophobic feeling of the family in the basement, barricaded against the aliens, a master class in fearing the unseen. The ending is a little convenient (unless you subscribe to the theory that the aliens are actually demons), but the movie delivers a good jump or two.

Signs Poster

Signs

A widowed former reverend living with his children and brother on a Pennsylvania farm finds mysterious crop circles in their fields, which suggests something more frightening to come.

Release Date
August 2, 2002

Director
M. Night Shyamalan

Cast
Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones, M. Night Shyamalan

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Drama

Watch on Max

2 Arachnophobia (1990)

Directed by Frank Marshall

Spiders from 1990's 'Arachnophobia'
Image via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Jeff Daniels as Dr. Ross Jennings. John Goodman as exterminator Delbert McClintock. A whole spitload of a new breed of deadly spider, with an unknown, fatal toxin, that has taken root in the town of Canaima, California, killing a number of townspeople and ready to take out more. Be honest — you were convinced at “deadly spider”, weren’t you?

arachnophobia poster

Arachnophobia

A new species of South American killer spider hitches a lift to a small California town in a coffin and starts to breed, leaving a trail of deaths that puzzle and terrify the young doctor newly arrived in town with his family.

Release Date
July 20, 1990

Director
Frank Marshall

Cast
Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Stuart Pankin, Brian McNamara

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
103

Main Genre
Comedy

Writers
Don Jakoby, Al Williams, Wesley Strick

Tagline
Eight legs, two fangs and an attitude.

Watch on AppleTV+

3 The Ring (2002)

Directed by Gore Verbinski

The Ring (2002)
Image via DreamWorks Pictures

To be fair, The Ring is not the scariest of the films on this list. The film focuses on journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), who is investigating a mysterious videotape that kills anyone who watches it after seven days, one of which was her niece. Convinced that the video, which has ties to young Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase), a girl with psychic abilities who was killed by her mother, is indeed cursed, Rachel races against time to find a way to stop her impending death. Cerebral, haunting, dreary, and a metaphor for the dangers of media? You bet. Scary? For the most part, no, but the final scene, where (SPOILER) Samara crawls out of the television, is one of the scariest, most haunting, and memorable moments in horror movie history, legitimizing The Ring‘s place on this list.

The Ring movie poster (2002)

The Ring

A journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape that seems to cause the death of anyone one week to the day after they view it.

Release Date
October 18, 2002

Director
Gore Verbinski

Cast
Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on Prime Video

4 Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Directed by André Øvredal

Harold in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie
Image via Lionsgate

An anthology film based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, with four tales weaved into the story of a girl, Stella (Zoe Colletti), who finds a book of horror stories written by a Sarah Bellows, who committed suicide years ago after being accused of witchcraft and using it to kill the town’s children. It would seem, however, that Sarah is still writing stories, as the four tales are new stories that are appearing on formerly blank pages… and being used to take out Stella’s friends one by one. It’s a stunningly chilling film, unsurprising given Guillermo del Toro‘s involvement as writer and producer.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Film Poster

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

On Halloween 1968, Stella and her two friends meet a mysterious drifter, Ramón, and uncover a sinister notebook of stories.

Release Date
August 9, 2019

Director
André Øvredal

Cast
Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on Prime Video

5 The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) screaming in 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'
Image via Screen Gems

What happens when an exorcism results in the death of the one being exorcised? That’s what happens in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a horror film that rises above the genre to include thought-provoking questions about faith and the powers of darkness. Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) performs an exorcism on a young girl, Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), which tragically ends in her death. The priest is arrested for murder, with lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) defending her client in the face of his seemingly unbelievable claims of the truth.

Exorcism of Emily Rose Poster

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

A lawyer takes on a negligent homicide case involving a priest who performed an exorcism on a young girl.

Release Date
September 9, 2005

Director
Scott Derrickson

Cast
Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Carpenter, Colm Feore, Joshua Close

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Crime

Watch on Hulu

6 Lights Out (2016)

Directed by David F. Sandberg

Teresa Palmer in Lights Out (2016)
Image Via Warner Bros.

Lights Out was first released in 2013 as a three-minute short film, one that used its time effectively to a genuinely terrifying ending. The short went viral on Vimeo and YouTube, which caught Hollywood’s attention, with Warner Bros. and horror-auteur producer James Wan winning the battle for film rights. The fact a film was made based on a short, viral clip isn’t surprising – this is the Hollywood that made Machete off of a fake trailer in Grindhouse, after all – but the fact that the film is excellent most certainly is, with a vengeful spirit, somehow linked to their mother, terrorizing a young woman and her brother. She can only be seen when the lights are out, by the way, hence the name, and if you’re thinking “why don’t they just have the lights on then?” they did think of that, only “Diana” cut the power to their house. No plot holes here, just move along.

Lights Out Film Poster

Lights Out

Rebecca must unlock the terror behind her little brother’s experiences that once tested her sanity, bringing her face to face with a supernatural spirit attached to their mother.

Release Date
July 22, 2016

Director
David F. Sandberg

Cast
Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Emily Alyn Lind, Gabriel Bateman

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on Netflix

7 Insidious (2010)

Directed by James Wan

The Lipstick Face Demon behind Patrick Wilson's character in Insidious.
Image via FilmDistrict

Speaking of James Wan, Insidious is a testament to just how talented the filmmaker is. It is a horror film that’s truly unique and undeniably scary, as good as Wan’s The Conjuring. Young Dalton Lambert (Ty Simpkins) falls into a coma after seeing an evil entity, with no explanation as to why. Shortly afterwards, supernatural things start happening around the house, prompting the Lamberts to move to a new home. Guess what else was in the moving van? Yep, the move doesn’t stop the paranormal activities so psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is brought in to help, and she informs the parents that Dalton has the ability to astral travel, only now he is trapped in “The Further,” another dimension where a number of tortured souls walk aimlessly. This prompts dad Josh (Patrick Wilson) to use his own forgotten abilities to astral travel to save Dalton. Just a great film, with a terrific closer that sets up the slightly better (in the opinion of the author) Insidious 2.

Insidious Film Poster

Insidious

A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.

Release Date
April 1, 2011

Director
James Wan

Cast
Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on Max

8 Mama (2013)

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau and Jessica Chastain protecting their family in Mama
Image via Universal Pictures

When even the radio spots promoting the film send chills down one’s spine upon hearing a child’s voice simply say “mama,” you know it has to be good… and Mama is. Five years after his brother kills a number of people, including his ex-wife, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) takes in his two nieces, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), who spent that time alone in a secluded cabin in the woods. Well, “alone” may not be the right word. How about spent that time with a long-time deceased mother’s creepy spirit in a secluded cabin in the woods. Even in death, Mama’s looking after the kids she claimed as her own, and isn’t all that keen about Victoria growing closer with Annabel, with fun and frolic falling closely behind.

Rent on AppleTV+

9 A Quiet Place (2018)

Directed by John Krasinski

Lee covering his scared son's mouth while out in the woods in A Quiet Place
Image via Paramount Pictures

A Quiet Place succeeds on a number of levels. It’s the film that proved John Krasinski is more than just Jim from The Office. It’s yet another example of the exceptionally talented Emily Blunt‘s undeniable skill as an actress. It’s a film with little dialogue, and a knockout performance by deaf actress MIllicent Simmonds. Most importantly, it’s scary as all hell. Krasinski pulls out all the stops and more here, with every creak or whisper fraught with the terror of a monster hearing it. Two scenes in particular make the movie an absolute must-see, both with Blunt’s Evelyn Abbott front and center: the first is where Abbott has the misfortune of stepping directly onto a rusted nail, barefoot, while the second is Abbott giving birth in the bathtub while monsters are in the house. Blunt shows the pain and the terror through her face and eyes, desperately needing to scream but knowing she can’t. It’s an amazing performance that should have garnered Blunt more awards than the lone Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting actor she got.

A Quiet Place Poster

A Quiet Place

A family struggles for survival in a world where most humans have been killed by blind but noise-sensitive creatures. They are forced to communicate in sign language to keep the creatures at bay.

Release Date
April 3, 2018

Director
John Krasinski

Cast
Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millie Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Leon Russom

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Rent on AppleTV+

10 Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by Tobe Hooper

JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist during the infamous pool scene
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

“They’re here.” Two simple words, spoken by young Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne, signaling the evil spirits have arrived in the Freeling home. If you thought hearing “mama” was creepy (see above), then you’ll dirty your drawers with these words. The paranormal antics are innocent at first, but slowly grow into something much more sinister, culminating in Carol Anne being taken into a spiritual realm. Poltergeist had home buyers insisting on background checks to make sure there wasn’t a burial site on the property, and, paired with the IT miniseries of 1990, led to the ostracization of clowns for thousands of children. And adults.

poltergeist poster

Poltergeist

Release Date
June 4, 1982

Director
Tobe Hooper

Cast
Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O’Rourke

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Horror

Rent on Apple TV+

11 The Boogeyman (2023)

Directed by Rob Savage

Sophie Thatcher as Sadie Harper holding a lighter in 'The Boogeyman'
Image via 20th Century Studios

The Boogeyman is based on a 1973 short story by horror auteur Stephen King, which may be scary enough for most. Thankfully, it’s more on the 1408 side of the scale, not the my-God-this-is-awful Maximum Overdrive end. It’s pretty straightforward: a malevolent force, “The Boogeyman,” that killed a family’s three children has now come to the home of Will Harper (Chris Messina) and his two daughters, because the loss of the matriarch in a car crash isn’t crappy enough, and starts terrorizing them. The film probably shouldn’t be as effective as it is, but, damn, it’s pretty effective, thanks to some solid performances, great atmosphere, and a bunch of legit jump scares.

The Boogeyman 2023 Poster

The Boogeyman (2023)

Release Date
June 2, 2023

Director
Rob Savage

Cast
Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, David Dastmalchian, Vivien Lyra Blair

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on Hulu

12 Cloverfield (2008)

Directed by Matt Reeves

Cloverfield’ (2008) (1)

Armed with a revolutionary, game-changing promotional campaign, Cloverfield roared – literally – onto the scene in 2008, a film that took advantage of the found-footage craze of the time. It was akin to watching a Godzilla film from the viewpoint of a citizen in the city Godzilla was ripping apart. Okay, a Tokyo citizen, happy? The found-footage element works incredibly well, adding a sense of realism to the events of the film that isn’t often found in the horror movie genre. And seeing the Statue of Liberty’s head rolling down the street is worth the price of admission alone.

Cloverfield Poster

Cloverfield

A group of friends venture deep into the streets of New York on a rescue mission during a rampaging monster attack.

Release Date
January 15, 2008

Director
Matt Reeves

Cast
Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Annable

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Action

Watch on DirecTV

13 1408 (2007)

Directed by Mikael Håfström

John Cusack plays as Mike Enslin standing under a noose in 1408
Image via Paramount

Gee, a cynical, skeptical writer who goes around debunking so-called supernatural phenomena travels from L.A. to New York to spend one night in room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel, which is reportedly cursed. There’s no way that can go sideways for writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack)! Imagine his surprise when there is no “reportedly” about the room at all, and the horror in realizing that he may not even make it through to the morning. Based on a short story from Stephen King, 1408 delivers the scares.

1408 Movie Poster

1408

A man who specialises in debunking paranormal occurrences checks into the fabled room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. Soon after settling in, he confronts genuine terror.

Release Date
June 22, 2007

Director
Mikael Håfström

Cast
John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub, Len Cariou, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on AMC+

14 Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Old woman in Drag Me to Hell
Image Via Universal

Sam Raimi sure does love the dead dragging around the living, eh? In Drag Me to Hell, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer at a bank who refuses a time extension on a loan to old Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), placing her with the prospect of losing her home. Bad call, Christine. Now the old lady’s placed a curse on her that will see Christine dragged to the very depths of hell in a few days, days filled with terror as she waits. Seems a little excessive. Couldn’t Ganush just write a sternly worded letter?

Drag Me to Hell Poster

Drag Me To Hell

A loan officer who evicts an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.

Release Date
March 15, 2009

Director
Sam Raimi

Cast
Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Horror

Watch on Netflix

15 The Others (2001)

Directed by Alejandro Amenábar

Nicole Kidman and James Bentley in The Others (2001)
Image via WBDiscovery

It’s 1945, and in a remote country house lives (?) Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman), a devout Catholic and loving mother to her two children, both of whom have a severe light sensitivity. As a result, the home is kept dark. A trio of servants arrive at the home, looking for employment, and Grace obliges. However, others also arrive at the home, only they are more the spooky, supernatural, unseen type who have eerie voices and play the piano. Grace isn’t too keen on these visitors, supernatural entities that are freaking her and her children out. But who are these entities? Victims of a fatal tuberculosis outbreak? A family, murdered in the home, that refuses to leave, or are they something else? The Others is deftly made, ratcheting up the tension and fear throughout the film before dropping its stunner of a twist, one that no one could see coming.

Rent on Google Play



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