12 disturbing family movies to rethink before watching with your kids

Finding a movie that’s suitable for the whole family can be a challenge and often a movie preview may look appropriate for your 4-year-old but include some unexpected nasties along the way.

Other times you want to share a classic movie from your childhood or teenage years, but you’ve forgotten how violent or sexualised it is. Whoops!

Here are just a few examples of movies to think twice about before showing to your little ones.

*We recommend you screen all of these films first before watching with your child. We’ve also included a Babyology age recommendation, but these are just a guide. Go with your gut instinct and what you know of your child, and let your kids know they can discuss the film with you during or afterwards.

THE CULT CLASSICS

Grease

While you may remember this musical as a fun-loving, larger-than-life teenage love story, packed with catchy songs and coordinated dance numbers, it would be a good idea to give it a re-watch before showing it to your dance-obsessed 6-year-old. The movie features a lot of sexual innuendoes and sexist references, including comments like “chicks are only good for one thing”, “getting in her drawers” and references to breasts as “jugs” and “t*ts”. It also contains examples of irresponsible behaviour, eg. Rizzo and Kinecki have sex in a car, and continue even after the condom breaks.

Rated: PG 
We recommend: 15+
Parent’s guide

Return to Oz

While the Wizard of Oz is a childhood classic (with brief moments of fun scariness that will thrill 8+ year-olds), its dark 1985 Sequel ‘Return to Oz’ is disturbing and scary, with a misleading G rating. Just watch this freaky scene where young Dorothy is trapped in a dark, spooky room full of heads – including a headless corpse, which screams and chases her.

Rated: G
We recommend: 11+
More info

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is a heartwarming classic, with an epic, decades-spanning storyline that begins with the first love of a little boy who is bullied by everyone at school. Don’t be fooled by the quaintness of this early story-telling though and think it’s appropriate viewing for your 8- or 10-year-old. Forrest Gump is most definitely suited for a teenage audience, with swearing (f**k and s**t), realistic and bloody Vietnam war scenes, sexual scenes (foreplay and implied sex), drug abuse and suicide attempts. The underpinning story is a wonderful one of hope, and the Civil Rights issues throughout create a good platform for further discussion with your teenager.

Rated: M
We recommend: 13+
Parent’s guide

CARTOONS AND ANIMATION

Arthur and the Invisibles

While the YouTube trailer makes this movie look like a magical adventure of a young boy who saves his grandparents’ house from being repossessed by its evil landlord, the Australian Children and Media website cautions that it isn’t suitable for children aged 8 and younger due to the nature and frequency of violent scenes.

Examples include a mini creature being found beaten outside the gates of the city, a cave collapsing and crushing the soldiers inside, and the evil villain trying to annihilate the mini-kingdom by drowning everyone inside, saying: “The Minimoys will die in agony with his [Arthur’s] name on their lips”.

Rated: PG 
We recommend: 8+
Parent’s guide

Adventures of Tintin

While many of us grew up loving Hergé’s Tintin comics, it’s easy to forget how violent they were when the story was only images and captions on a page. The Tintin movie is a wonderful adaptation, and while it’s a good-old-fashioned adventure featuring Tintin fighting the bad guys, don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s appropriate for youngsters just because it’s animated. It’s made by Spielberg, after all!

Some scenes that may be disturbing for young ones include when Tintin is knocked unconscious, fighting with swords and guns, explosions, threats of torture, and a man who dies from gunshot wounds, with blood dripping from his hands.

Rated: PG 
We recommend: 10+
Parent’s guide

Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton 2010 version)

Tim Burton’s adaptation of the beloved fairy tale is very different to other more whimsical versions of Alice in Wonderland. The film carries dark undercurrents of war, mental illness, torturous mass violence, and animal cruelty. Moments that may concern young viewers include Alice being stabbed in the foot with a knife, a threatened execution, Alice crossing a stream with stepping stones (which are actually the faces of severed heads), the Red Queen’s Army setting fire to a village and destroying everything in their path, Alice decapitating the Jabberwocky in battle, and The Red Queen using a frightened hedgehog as a croquet ball, and a flamingo as the racquet.

Rated: PG
We recommend: 13+
Parent’s guide

 

THE FANTASTICAL

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

I recall loving this movie when I was a kid, but I don’t remember the terrifying scene in the underground tunnel. Perhaps it was so traumatic, I blocked out the memory?

Overall this film is a fantastical, visual delight, and Gene Wilder is wonderful with his playfulness and manic energy. But the scene that may disturb young viewers is reminiscent of mid-20th-century black and white horror films. Just watch the clip below to jog your memory.

Rated: G
Our recommendation: 8+
Parent’s guide

The Bridge to Terabithia

It’s easy to see why this film became a quick favourite with parents and children alike. It’s got all the elements: two unlikely heroes who find a fantasy world, fighting for good, and a heart-warming story of friendship. Parents should be aware that there are elements of bullying at the school, and fantasy-based violence, such as when the main characters are being attacked by huge birds and giant trolls. Also, the young girl dies after drowning in the creek (not shown), so this film is probably better suited to older children, who may be more capable of processing this grief and loss (a discussion afterwards will help them process this).

Rated: PG
We recommend: 10+
Parent’s guide

 

The Harry Potter series

With a film series that has a cult following like Harry Potter, it’s difficult to stem the tide once your kids watch the first one. J.K Rowling is an enthralling storyteller, but keep in mind that the movies follow the pattern of the books. While starting out as a film about a magical world where Harry is an innocent boy who fights evil with his good magic powers, the films get progressively dark as the series continues, and Harry is tempted to dabble with evil powers. When each film was first released, there was a gap of 1-2 years, providing a natural way for its young fans to grow in maturity in time for the next film’s release. But now, kids can watch all the films in a 24-hour Harry Potter marathon.

There is no hard and fast rule with Harry Potter, only you as a parent can decide what your child is ready for (always watch the film first). The Australian Children and Media guide is good food for thought, marking the first Harry Potter film as appropriate for children as young as 8 with adult supervision, though it is really aimed at children aged 13+. By the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban this age recommendation has been bumped up to 15+ and remains there for the rest of the series.

Rating: PG – M
Our recommendation: Go with your gut.
Parent’s Guide

 

THE ROLLICKING FAMILY COMEDY

Parenthood

It may have Steve Martin as the father, but Parenthood isn’t quite as innocent as Cheaper By The Dozen. The film is a light-hearted story about a midwestern American family dealing with the pressures of raising teenagers, finding skeletons in the closet, estranged relatives, adult children and marriage breakdown. It’s an honest look at family life with a good dose of humour, but it covers some racy topics, including today’s equivalent of sexting, porn and teen sexuality, and the dramatic appearance of a diaphragm and vibrator. There’s also some language, only going as far as bitch and “s**t”.

Rated: M
We recommend: 12+
Parent’s guide

Little Miss Sunshine

With a title like this and a big family on a cheery yellow DVD cover, it’s easy to see why a parent might think this is a family-friendly flick. The film includes an all-star cast (including Toni Colette, Steve Carell and the young talent Abigail Breslin) and is a funny, irreverent and surprisingly beautiful look at the complexities of family dysfunction, depression, suicide, drug abuse, death and coming of age. It’s a wonderful film, but much better watched with your kids when they hit puberty.

Rated: M
We recommend: 15+
Parent’s guide

We’re the Millers

At first glance of the DVD cover, the Millers looks like yet another slapstick film about an American family road tripping in an RV. Look further and you’ll find the Millers are actually a fake family – a pot dealer, a lap dancer, a teenage misfit and a homeless girl – thrown together when they’re blackmailed into smuggling drugs across the Mexican border. The film is actually pretty funny, with a fairly witty script, but includes swearing (f**k, c**t and s**t,) and multiple drug references. There are also numerous sexual and explicit scenes, such as a non-sexual close up of the teenage boy’s genitals after he’s stung by a spider, a three-way french kiss with the two teenagers and Jennifer Aniston’s character, and plenty of sex jokes including references to anal and oral sex, swinging and sex toys.

Rating: MA15+
Our recommendation: 15+
Parent’s guide

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