10 Fantasy Movies from the 80s That Messed Us Up

August 13, 2022

Okay, so maybe things are different in 2022, but back when we were kids, fantasy movies weren’t always 100% safe for children to watch. We’re not talking Game of Thrones or Witcher-level sex and gore, though. We’re talking “this movie is made for kids but it is WAY too scary and will probably scar them for life” kind of damage. The best decades for this? 1980-1999. For whatever reason, the censors just thought kids could handle a lot of very dark, very creepy imagery.

Guess what? We could not. But we told our parents we could, anyway.

Now we have become an army of “adults” that were scarred from a very young age to be into the weird, dark, and fantastical. We were the ones who grew up reading Stephen King because our parents didn’t know or care who he was. We were the kids who had Garbage Pail Kids cards and Gremlins lunch boxes. Do you want to know why? Because one (or all) of these movies paved the way for our little brains to be instantly and irrevocably addicted to dark fantasy. And we thank you.

10 Weird Fantasy Movies from the 80s That We Shouldn’t Have Watched as Children

1. The Watcher in the Woods

We have talked about this one before, namely on our list of 90 Scary Movies that Aren’t Rated R. This 1980 movie is touted as “A masterpiece of suspense,” which is true. But it’s also a masterpiece of Betty Davis’ eyes, backwards writing in mirrors, girls screaming into the void, aliens, and séances. Not really sure what Disney was thinking when they put this one together, and it seems from their retconning of basically all of it that they don’t know, either. A very cool fact is that this movie had a different original ending with a much scarier alien showing up. But we think that the one that they went with is still pretty messed up.

No Rating. Probably because they wanted it to vanish into the great in between after a rousing bout of witchiness…

2. The Dark Crystal

Okay, so here’s another entry in the deeply-terrifying-but-only-for-kids movie list that still haunts our dreams to this day. The Dark Crystal was 1982, featuring completely sympathetic puppets that reminded us of fairies. Beautiful beasts that are astronomers and sing to the moons. Oh yeah, AND ALSO SKEKSIES THAT DRINK YOUR BLOOD AND EAT YOUR SOUL JUICE. Totes normal. If that wasn’t enough, there were also the huge rolling spider beasts, the giant walking monsters that looked like AT-ATs (probably because they were all a part of the same design team), and then your favorite character gets murdered. I have never recovered.

Rated PG. But you probably didn’t watch it with your parents. They saw the one-eyed witch lady and noped out of there.

3. Dragonslayer

Not sure how many people watched this, but some of it is etched into our collective memory so deeply that we thought we’d made it up. Google, however, has proved us wrong. There was, indeed, a movie in 1981 that featured that weasely guy from Ghostbusters 2 playing a second-rate magician and blacksmith. The scene that haunts us is not the dragons or the explosions. It’s the scene where a very frightened girl in a white dress tries so hard to escape some lead manacles that she turns her hands to hamburger. Totally gross, totally cool, and totally not something that a young child should have watched.

Rated PG for “Peek Generously.” Because you’re going to watch a lot of this through your fingers.

4. The Last Unicorn

Talk about your existential crises machines; here’s one in tip-top shape! The Last Unicorn (1982) is a fantastic frolic based on Peter S. Beagle’s timeless fantasy novel of the same name. What’s troubling about the movie, however, is that it’s 100% in line with the novel, including the fear of death, aging, and the general sense of existential dread that pervades every line. Not only do we have to consider our heroine “feeling this body dying all around [her],” but we have to face Molly’s dissatisfaction with her wasted life, Hagrid’s empty search for happiness, and watch a tree grow boobs and try to kill someone with them. Extra points for harpies that dismember a witch.

Rated G for Gaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh! (The sound that a witch makes as a harpy disembowels her)

5. Rock and Rule

Okay. So not EVERYONE saw this, but it was completely insane. Featuring an all-star cast including Debbie Harry as the main female lead, this Canadian fever-dream released in 1983 and was seen by about 12 people. The premise? It’s post-apocalpytic America and the only thing that survived the nuclear holocaust were dogs and cats…who became irradiated and mutated very human forms. Extremely human forms. Okay. So we may or may not have developed an unhealthy crush on the Debbie Harry version of a cat. Anyway, there’s an evil villain about to take over the world and he needs the perfect voice to do it. Enter Angel (Harrie) who is “discovered” at a greasy lounge and then is forced to perform some kind of ritual to bring about the ultimate power to rule the world. Just watch it. So much rock and roll. So much crazy. So much dirty animation.

Rated PG. Because the censors didn’t care as long as you were home by dark.

6. Return to Oz

What list of terrifying 80s kids’ movies would be completed without this strange tale? With basically nothing in common with the original, this story takes place after Dorothy returns from Oz, convinced of its reality. After being saved at the last moment from a terrible psychiatric experiment, she finds herself in Oz again. This time, with new friends like TikTok the robot and Pumpkinhead, the…pumpkin head. By themselves, totally freaky enough, but we add another layer of complete hysteria to this movie. The villain is an evil queen who STEALS PEOPLE’S FACES. She strips them off and takes them back to her beauty closet full of faces which she exchanges out like shoes.

Rated PG. For “Please God, don’t make me think about all those faces when I’m trying to go to sleep.”

7. The Brave Little Toaster

On the surface, this isn’t a terrifying tale. I mean, Jon Lovitz as a cranky old radio? Totally fine. But there are a couple of scenes in this 1987 gem that are pretty dang dark. The premise? There’s a toaster who gets accidentally sent to the dumpster and has to work with a bunch of other discarded inanimate objects to get back home. Very Incredible Journey but with appliances. And yet…there’s kind of a dark scene where they end up in an appliance repair basement with a bunch of other objects that have been Frankensteined together, a la Sid’s house in Toy Story. Oh yeah. And an air conditioner (Phil Hartman voices this one) commits suicide. So, yeah. A little on the messed up side.

Rated G. Because you can never start kids too early on the finality of death.

8. Legend

Talk about your sexual awakenings at an early age, this was one of Tom Cruise’s first films (it was actually his second movie, ever) in 1985. Of course, that’s not really the issue. Tom plays a cute little wood-bred elf-boy who has a fairy entourage and a way with unicorns. His would-be girlfriend, Princess Lili (Mia Sara) is also pretty hot (read: hot mess), and uses her power for annoying to kind of destroy the world. But the real reason we shouldn’t have watched this? Tim Curry is at his peak, y’all. There is no sexier version of any devil in any version of the universe. When he turns Lily evil, all of us kind of thought, “So, being bad isn’t THAT bad, is it?” Also, there’s a swamp witch that makes our skin crawl.

Rated PG for “Princess Gyrations.” You know. Because the princess dances. You know what? Shut up.

9. Labyrinth

For some of us, this was the first foray that we really had into the incredible sexiness of tight leather pants and huge hair that is David Bowie circa 1986. Not only that, but it’s kind of every babysitter’s fantasy/nightmare. No one really wants the kid to turn into a goblin, but it’s pretty damn cool to travel a magical labyrinth, dance in a gigantic princess dress, fight the coolest bad guy who sings EVER, and then get paid for it at the end of the night. Unsettling points for a bad guy who is confusingly sexual, super gropey hand puppets, and heads flying off of random people.

Rated PG. Because when mom had the hots for the goblin king, you could watch it as many times as you wanted to.

10. The Neverending Story

When you take a nerdy, bullied kid and put him with a magic, stolen book, all kinds of shenanigans start happening. But in this 1984 masterpiece, most of those shenanigans are not shenanigans at all—they’re psychological torture devices designed to wring every last 80’s kid of every last therapy dollar we have to spend. Where do we start? Dead mom? Check. Killer sphinxes? Check. Being thrown in a dumpster? Check. LOSING YOUR ONLY FRIEND AND BEST HORSE EVER TO THE SADNESS???? CHEEEEEEEEEEECCCCCCCKKKKK. Also, the world disappears and nothing you can do will stop it. Except maybe screaming your dead mom’s name.

They look like such strong hands, don’t they? DAMN YOU, NEVERENDING STORY.

Rated PG for Pernicious Gmork. Do not ask me any more questions about this or I will start hyperventilating.

11. Who Framed Roger Rabbit

This is a bonus entry. The 1988 classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit wasn’t ONLY designed for kids, but it was mostly us who watched it. A lot of this is not really cool to show small brains, but here is a short list: gun violence, overly sexy lounge singers, people melting, someone’s eyes coming out of their head, a very weird game of patty cake. Of course, the producers knew what they were doing when they developed it, as it still retains a lot of entertainment value for both kids and parents. Still. There is so much weird stuff in this that we shouldn’t have seen. Just the thought of our favorite characters getting DIPPED was enough to send most of us crying to snuggle with our Donald Duck piggy banks.

Rated PG for Porn-adjacent Gem. Jessica Rabbit is the clear star of this life-ruining slice of awesome.

Did we miss any? Share your thoughts with us on social media!

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