For many horror fans, their love for the genre may have started early in life, through watching films that have a PG-13 rating. Presumably, this means that its contents are suitable for children ages 13 and older with recommended parental guidance. However, the definition of what constitutes as a PG-13 film constantly shifts based on an array of factors, and horror films continue to push these boundaries.
In 1984, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) introduced PG-13 to their rating system. Since then, popular horror production companies have utilized the rating to reach a broad audience, all while pushing the boundaries of its restrictions. Today, PG-13 horror films dominate the box office and are not as tame as they were once perceived to be. Some may even say that certain films should have been given an R rating—case in point, the flicks on this list. The following PG-13 horror films are bound to terrify even the most seasoned fan.
Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi’s supernatural horror film Drag Me to Hell stars a young bank loaner named Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who refuses to extend an elderly woman’s mortgage. As a result, the woman places a curse on Christine, with the promise that in three days’ time, she’ll be taken to the depths of hell to suffer for the rest of time. It’s hard to believe that a Sam Raimi horror film could get any rating lower than R, but Drag Me to Hell has in fact been deemed appropriate for anyone 13 or older.
At the peak of apocalypse-centered entertainment, Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams depicted a world falling to its knees with their 2008 film Cloverfield. Following a going-away party, the events of the film quickly turn from celebratory to nightmarish when New York City is demolished at the hands of an inexplicable, relentless creature. Though it’s rated PG-13, this film features consistent scares and gore aplenty.
The Japanese horror (J-horror) craze of the 2000s delivered some of horror's most frightening films to date, such as Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge. The genre also inspired a number of shockingly good American remakes, including 2004's The Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and also directed by Takashi Shimizu. Set in Tokyo, The Grudge depicts a type of curse that is born from a death rooted in rage or sorrow. As the Williams family uncovers the dark secret of the previous owners of their home, they discover the murder, betrayal, and violence that took place there three years prior. With such dark themes, The Grudge remake is consistently regarded by fans and critics as one of the scariest PG-13 films of all time. As for the original? Ju-On: The Grudge is rated R. Watch if you dare!
A Quiet Place
The Office star John Krasinski’s post-apocalyptic horror film A Quiet Place was released to immediate critical acclaim, in part for its unique use of sound—or lack thereof. In the aftermath of civilization’s collapse, the remaining survivors live in silence to ward off creatures with hypersensitive hearing that can tear them limb from limb. A Quiet Place raised the bar for provoking fear and tension in an audience. Since its release, fans have anxiously awaited what the sequel, A Quiet Place Part II, has in store.
The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense is a PG-13 movie with an undeniable ability to disturb its viewers. Regarded as a horror classic, Shyamalan’s intense psychological thriller follows the story of a young boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) who has the psychic ability to see dead people. This is a thought-provoking movie with deeply troubling circumstances and a shocking twist, revealing that true horrors happen daily in seemingly safe places.
The unsettling atmosphere of Scott Stewart’s Dark Skies made for a sci-fi horror movie that had audience members on the edge of their seats well after leaving the theater. Taking full advantage of the fear of the unknown, Dark Skies successfully captures the eerie and unsettling uncertainty about whether extraterrestrial life exists beyond Earth. This is one PG-13 film that made its mark in the 2010s as one of the best in both the sci-fi and horror genre.
Related: 15 Best Horror Movies of the 2010s
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Unlike most other exorcism movies, Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose was given a shocking PG-13 rating, despite its contents and the true events that inspired it. Jennifer Carpenter plays the titular Emily Rose, who requires an exorcism after a demon possesses her. Disturbing events transpire, and a parish priest is brought to trial for aiding in Emily’s untimely death. With an eerie true story to back up the events depicted in the film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is sure to engage fans of true crime and horror alike.
Kicking off America’s obsession with J-horror, Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) delivers an intense jolt of terror in its 115-minute run time. While found footage films are petrifying in their own right, this film’s haunted take is even eerier, following a woman who watches a cursed tape said to kill its viewers within seven days. Since this PG-13 film’s release, supposedly cursed homemade videos have made their way to YouTube and other platforms. Watch them if you dare.
David F. Sanberg made one hell of a directorial debut in 2016 with the supernatural horror thriller Lights Out. Following the story of the Wells family and an imaginary girl named Diana, the film unfolds to reveal that Diana is actually a dangerous entity that wishes to cause harm to the family. Sanberg’s use of darkness throughout the film creates an atmospheric pressure that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. It is a classic haunt with a unique twist that makes it one of the best PG-13 films available.
As far as PG-13 films go, The Possession is by far one of the scariest supernatural horror movies on this list. Directed by Ole Bornedal and produced by Sam Raimi, it follows a young girl named Emily (Natasha Calis) who discovers a mysterious old box inscribed with Hebrew. As the film progresses, her behavior grows increasingly aggressive, until it is revealed that she is slowly being possessed by an evil entity called a dybbuk. Bornedal’s film inverts countless classic horror themes, like demonic possession, and makes them new again.
When a Stranger Calls
The psychological thriller When a Stranger Calls takes the mundane experience of babysitting and transforms it into a horrifying fight for survival. Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) just wanted to earn some extra cash, but her babysitting gig goes horribly awry when she’s threatened by a menacing stranger. The horror of When a Stranger Calls comes from director Simon West’s ability to transform the ordinary into the terrifying and make his audience feel like they’re being watched.
Rupert Wainwright’s supernatural horror film The Fog is an impressive remake of John Carpenter’s 1980 film of the same name. When a thick fog rolls into town, the ghosts of an abandoned ship rise from the sea to take revenge on those that could have saved them. This is a PG-13 film that is not overly ambitious, making it one of the best as it gets straight to its purpose—terrifying its viewers.
Directed by James Wan, the 2010 supernatural horror film Insidious spawned an entire franchise about the terrors of the astral realm and what is waiting in the afterlife. When Dalton (Ty Simpkins) slips into a coma for unknown reasons, a team of paranormal investigators discover that he is actually in the midst of a battle for his soul in the astral realm. With jump scares, demonic entities, and a looming sense of dread, Insidious is one of the most iconic and scary PG-13 movies of all time.
Featured still from "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" via Screen Gems