Movies & TV / Columns

The 5 Scariest Non-Horror Movies

October 18, 2021 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

We’re in the midst of Halloween season and with plenty of scary options, sometimes it’s hard to choose just one. You’ve seen the classics, you’ve checked out the latest releases, and you just want something to be in the spooky mood. 

Here comes the scariest non-horror movies! These titles may not have the label but will disturb and keep you up at night. 

Quick note: I didn’t include documentaries (too many and could have their own list), animated (including anime, as like documentaries, too many to choose from). As with most lists, this is all subjective. 

Here’s my Top 5. What’s yours?

Honorable Mentions
Mulholland Drive 
Black Swan
Marathon Man

Top 5

5. The NeverEnding Story/Labyrinth
“wHAt?!? tWo MoVieS iS cHEatiNG!” Calm down. I lumped these two together because I find them similar in vibe. Fantasy themes in a kids movie mixed with dark undertones makes these two a Trojan horse that enter the gates of family friendly movies that aren’t so friendly. 

In The NeverEnding Story, The faceless “Nothing” seeks to destroy the land of Fantasia and while it has plenty of fun and beautiful moments, it’s the scarier ones that stand out from your childhood. The destruction of Fantasia and the loss of Atreyu’s horse Artax is burned into our brains in the most traumatizing way. For me, Gmork still lingers in my head, more than most horror film characters. 

Labyrinth on the surface looks like a perfect recipe for a children friendly movie. Directed by Jim Henson, with George Lucas as executive producer, it follows 16-year old Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly, in her quest to reach the center of an enormous otherworldly maze to rescue her baby half-brother Toby, from the clutches of Jareth, the Goblin King, played by David Bowie.

Have you watched it lately? The creeper obsession between Jareth and Sarah alone makes your skin crawl but some of the visuals, which are highly impressive, are intense. While watching it not too long ago I was reminded that this one made you stare at the shadows a little bit longer at night. 

4. Mommie Dearest
Based on the memoir of Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter, Christina Crawford, Mommie Dearest will trigger anyone with a soul and while it may seem campy today, the “No more wire hangers!” scene is tough to watch. 

The outright evil intensity that Faye Dunaway displays throughout the movie will make you question just how much of this is based on fact as the mental abuse displayed is horrifying. 

3. Deliverance
No, I didn’t even once think about putting THAT scene in here. Four friends go canoeing and I never want to go camping ever after seeing it. 

While the dueling banjos scene is entertaining for some, it gives me shivers and to this day I don’t like going into small towns on the off-chance I see someone strumming on the steps. 

To be honest, I could just write “Squeal like a pig” here and leave it at that. 

2. Return to Oz
Back to another movie for kids that has some dark tones and even darker visuals. Wizard of Oz is a classic family film that’s still enjoyed today. It contains classic characters, songs, and moments that we reference pretty regularly. 

Return to Oz is the exact opposite of that and while it’s been getting some love recently, I’m still surprised this got made the way it did.

The movie really plugs into the darker side of L. Frank Baum’s book series and pulls no punches in amping up the scarier characters. Even Dorothy’s new friends are strange and off-putting. 

It does have one big fan though. Neil Gaiman reviewed Return to Oz for Imagine magazine, and said that “Terrifying and visionary, funny and exciting, Return to Oz is one of the very best fantasy films I’ve ever seen.”

1. Requiem for a Dream
Without a doubt, the number one movie that has disturbed me like NO other movie has. I couldn’t even share a scene because they all are so grim. 

If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t…I can’t even recommend it. I’ve seen it only once and once was enough. I’m still not sure it was worth it because it was stuck to me all these years.

Alright, it’s your turn! Sound off in the comments!