King Kong on the Empire State Building

Classic Monster Movies for Kids

I love movies, and I love sharing great movies with my kids. My kids are all ten years old or younger, and that presents a challenge. They aren’t old enough to appreciate Casablanca or Citizen Kane, and I don’t want them to become budding gangsters by watching The Godfather. So what is a movie-loving parent to do? I have the solution! Classic monster movies for kids!

Many of these classic movies, even those made nearly one-hundred years ago, still have the power to captivate, excite, and provoke deep thoughts. These classic films tell great stories, and are usually straightforward enough not to confuse kids. They have great special effects that are just fake enough not to scare the kids. Bad language is at a minimum. Good always triumphs over evil at the end (although what is evil and what is good can be debatable, even in the movie). They won’t traumatize the kids like more modern horror movies would.

Read on for my list of 1930s-era classic monster movies for kids. As a special treat, you can read what my kids thought about each movie. I was impressed that they remember each movie and had detailed thoughts on each of them.

King Kong and Dinosaur
King Kong and his pet lizard

King Kong (1933)

Plot Overview

A film crew travels to an uncharted island to film a mysterious monster. Unfortunately for them, King Kong is the monster and he decides to kidnap the lead actress of the movie and kill most of the ship’s crew. Based on this new information, the director of the film decides it would be an excellent idea to capture King Kong and put him on Broadway. Turns out King Kong isn’t much for showtunes. The U.S. Air Force is called in King Kong is dramatically brought down from atop the Empire State Building.

What Makes it Great

The giant-monster effects make this movie great. They are obviously stop-motion, but the blend of almost-realism and drama makes for exciting action scenes that aren’t too scary for the kids.

What Parents Should Know

Violence – While most of the action is hokey fun by today’s standards, some scenes are graphic. King Kong’s battle with the dinosaur is one of the highlights of the movie, but ends with King Kong breaking the dinosaur’s jaw, with black-and-white blood galore.

Sexism – Many of the movies made in the 1930s feature outdated views on women. King Kong stands out in making misogyny the central tenant of the movie. “Twas beauty that killed the beast” is a repeating message in the movie, with both King Kong and the male lead “going soft” due to the female lead actress.

Racism – No nuanced, culturally-sensitive portrayal of the natives here. Just bone-through-the nose hostile natives who are quite happy to trade two or three of their women for the pretty blonde white girl. Oof.

Smoking All of the movies from the 1930s feature multiple characters smoking. Just be aware, and I won’t mention this again for the movies that follow.

Kid Reviews

From my kids:

It was great! We loved it! It was the coolest movie we’ve ever seen! There were giant monsters and dinosaurs. It was cool that they brought back the dinosaurs – and King Kong broke that one dinosaurs’ jaw! We liked how the lady gets captured and is King Kong’s barbie doll. That was funny.

My Kids’ Review
Frankenstein
Frankenstein goes for a stroll on the countryside

Frankenstein (1931)

Plot Overview

European scientist Victor Frankenstein has a promising career in zombie and undead studies. For his PhD dissertation, “borrows” some body parts from local gallows and cemeteries to bring life from death. It actually works! He promptly chains up and abuses his creation. The monster escapes, kills a few people in the countryside, and is eventually killed with fire in a windmill.

What Makes it Great

First off, this movie created the template for mad scientists. Victor Frankenstein is the son of a well-to-do Baron, so he gets to run all of his experiments in one of his dad’s spooky old castles. He fills his spooky castle full of sciency stuff that sparks and crackles and zaps. Victor himself epitomizes reckless pursuit of knowledge without regard for consequences. Fantastic work.

Second, the monster makeup and performance of Boris Karloff is convincing. He is a big, tall, scary zombie monster who is clearly a menace, but also has a hint of sympathy. He never asked to be alive, he doesn’t understand what is happening, and yet everyone is out to hurt him.

What Parents Should Know

Scary Stuff – You do see a hanged man while Victor and his henchman go grave robbing. The monster causes a child to drown off-screen, since he thinks it is part of a game of throwing flowers in the water. The dead child is carried by her father in a later scene. In the climax of the film, the monster dies in a windmill set on fire.

Kid Reviews

We liked how he brought back the monster from the dead. This movie really brought back the charm of old science fiction. The Frankenstein monster is so dramatic. He is made from a bunch of body parts. He is basically the first zombie.

My Kids’ Review
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Bride of Frankenstein having second thoughts at the altar

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Plot Overview

Surprise! Frankenstein’s monster survived! Double-surprise, Dr. Frankenstein is back in the game of unholy sciences!. Sure, Dr. Frankenstein was peer-pressured by a fellow mad scientist, but he sure didn’t resist for very long. Meanwhile, the monster roams the countryside and has a hard time making friends. Eventually, the monster and the good doctors meet up and decide the Mr. Monster really needs a Mrs. Monster. They create the bride-to-be, but she gives them a lesson in consent. The marriage is off.

What Makes it Great

This movie repeats all the mad science and monster makeup of the original, but also adds more depth to the monster and his feelings. The scenes where the monster befriends a blind man is classic for many reasons. We get to hear the monster speak “Fire bad! Drink good!”, we see how the monster could have lived in peace with his friend, but is forced away by other villagers who hate and fear him based his appearance.

The ending is pretty deep for a classic monster movie, with the monster himself deciding that he and his “bride” should never have been created in the first place, and allowing himself to be destroyed by a collapsing castle.

What Parents Should Know

Smoking / Drinking – The monster enjoys smoking and drinking alcohol with his new friend. “Smoke good!”, “Drink good!”

Violence – The monster allows himself and his “bride” to die in a passive sort of suicide.

Kid Reviews

We didn’t think it was as good as the original Frankenstein movie, but we did like that they introduced a woman. We liked how the monster talked “Drink good! Fire bad!”. That was funny.

My Kids’ Review
Dracula
Dracula being a total drama king.

Dracula (1931)

Plot Overview

Landowner and blood-sucking ghoul Count Dracula is tired of living in his giant, spider-infested castle. He decides to get into English real estate and turns his realtor into a insane servant of darkness. They both head to England and establish themselves in a broken down estate. They are happy to have the neighbors over for dinner (har!). Only Professor Van Helsing knows what Dracula truly is and how to stop him.

What Makes it Great

Bela Lugosi steals every scene as Dracula. He portrays a perfect blend of aristocratic charm, creepiness, and menace. He commands his role when hypnotizing his helpless subjects. Watch his performance which launched a century’s worth of vampire copy-cats.

What Parents Should Know

Scary stuff – Dracula’s realtor is a little scary when he becomes Dracula’s wild-eyed, insane servant.

Kid Reviews

We liked the story. We liked how Dracula talks. He has a funny accent. Dracula looks cool and funny. His giant nails were cool. His ears looked like elf ears. Exploiting vampire weaknesses was dramatic.

My Kids’ Review
The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man forgot his glasses.

The Invisible Man (1933)

Plot Overview

Dr. Jack Griffin invents a potion that makes him invisible. Unfortunately, it has the side-effect of making him go insane. Insane Dr. Griffin tries to find the cure, but is distracted by the locals who want him to pay his rent and not steal their stuff. He decides that being invisible isn’t so bad, and he should take over the world instead. He is eventually brought down by some clever detectives who track him through his own footprints.

What Makes it Great

The “invisible man” effects hold up well even today – especially the scenes of the invisible man having some clothing on so you can see part of him move about and interact with the rest of the scene.

And boy, oh boy, did my kids get a big laugh out of some the scenes with the (invisible) half-naked Dr. Griffin. In one early scene, he is an empty shirt scaring the local constable by chasing him around a table. In a later scene, he is an empty pair of pants skipping their way down the road in an insane happy dance. Legitimately funny stuff.

What Parents Should Know

Violence – Dr. Griffin does kill a police officer, derail a train, and throws some people off a cliff. The violence is bloodless, but he is definitely not being a positive role model.

Kid Reviews

We loved the invisible man because it was super-funny. “Please let me in – its very cold being outside naked”. Ha ha! He went all crazy and took off his underwear. It looks like he is wearing toilet paper on his head, and he puts on a fake nose. Plus we liked how he skipped around singing a song in just his pants.

My Kids’ Review
The Mummy
The Mummy helping an archaeologist with the study of himself.

The Mummy (1932)

Plot Overview

Archaeologists discover the mummified remains of Imhotep, which immediately come to life and book it out of the tomb. Ten years later, the mummy is looking pretty good for a 3,000-year-old and helps the same archaeologists make some additional finds. Unbeknownst to the archaeologists, this helps Imhotep further along his evil plans to resurrect his dead girlfriend. The Egyptian Goddess Isis eventually gets tired of Imhotep’s shenanigans, and zaps him to dust.

What Makes it Great

Boris Karloff pulls off another great makeup job and performance as the creepy and conniving ancient mummy. His schemes to resurrect his true love by kidnapping the lead actress are somewhat interesting, but this movie involves more talking and less action than many of the other movies on this list.

What Parents Should Know

Violence – Imhotep kills a person here and there. No blood and not much violence.

Scary stuff – The mummy effects are pretty good and are a little scary.

Kid Reviews

We thought it was good. We loved the backstory. It really explains why the guy wants a revenge for being buried alive. The punishment at the end was pretty good. We liked how you could see his skull when he got really old. The leading lady was beautiful. We liked the mythology too – the old Egyptian gods stuff. It looks like his body is wrapped in toilet paper!

My Kids’ Review

The Wolf Man
The wolf man does not respect boundaries

The Wolf Man (1941)

Plot Overview

An American names Larry travels to Wales to make up with his wealthy father. While he’s there, he flirts with a local girl and protects her from a wolf attack. But surprise! The wolf was a werewolf, and Larry becomes a werewolf too! Larry the werewolf then periodically turns into a wolf, and causes trouble in village until his own father kills him with a silver walking stick.

What Makes it Great

The practical makeup creature effects are pretty convincing in this movie. It is fun to see Bela Lugosi show up as the Gypsy that brings werewolfism to Wales. The horror of realizing “the monster is you” was compelling.

What Parents Should Know

Violence – The wolf men attack and kill, and get killed. No blood or savage violence, but both wolf men are defeated by being beaten with a silver stick.

Sexism – Larry is an annoying “doesn’t take no for an answer” type, which in 1941 was a charming sign of true love, I guess.

Kid Reviews

“Larry the Werewolf” is a dumb name. When he turns into a werewolf, he turned against his own girlfriend. It was weird that he got a star on his skin to show he was a wolf man. Why a star? Why not something like a “broken heart?”

My Kids’ Review

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