PG and PG-13 Horror Movies That Prove an R Rating is Overrated

I’ll admit it. When I hear that a horror movie is going to be PG-13, I’m usually a bit skeptical. I begin to think that the studio is watering down the scares and the violence just so they can make more money, and I lose a bit of faith in the project. Almost all genre fans do that, and it’s not entirely unfounded. Horror often needs to be rated R to adequately deal with adult themes like death and loss and to show the violence and gore inherent in the story, so we do have a reason to be wary of films with a PG-13 rating.

However, we shouldn’t take this sentiment too far. Not every horror movie needs to be rated R. Sure, some do (most obviously, every slasher ever made), but the measure of a good horror film isn’t blood, boobs, and F-bombs. Just like any genre, all a horror movie really needs is a good, well-executed story, and if it has that, the rating is entirely inconsequential. There have been plenty of great PG and PG-13 horror films throughout the years, so let’s take a look at five of them that prove an R rating is overrated.


The shark eating Quint's boatWe’re starting with the best and most surprising movie on this list. Jaws is about a big shark that eats people, but it’s surprisingly not rated R. In fact, it’s not even rated PG-13. That’s right, this classic creature feature is rated PG (but to be fair, that’s because it came out before the PG-13 rating was invented). Most of us focus so much on the scene toward the end when the shark eats Quint that we forget how non-violent the rest of it is. Sure, we see blood in the water a few times, but that’s about it. For the most part, the movie shies away from showing the shark in action until the very end.

Instead, it focuses on the characters and the story. It’s about how the people of Amity Island respond to the shark, and even after more than forty years, it’s still a fascinating and timely exploration of the importance of protecting concrete human lives over the economy. By taking this approach to the idea of a man-eating shark, the film doesn’t need to be rated R. The human story is compelling enough that you don’t need to see the shark chomping down on unsuspecting swimmers until the very end.

In fact, holding back on showing the shark in all its glory is actually one of the movie’s strengths. What you can’t see is almost always scarier than what you can, and this film knows it. It lets you stew in the juices of your own imagination and scare yourself more effectively than any onscreen monster ever could. Simply put, Jaws is the quintessential non-R horror movie. It proves that you really can tell a great story that terrifies an entire culture with just a minimum of gore and violence.


Diane being scared by a ghostLike Jaws, Poltergeist was also made before they had created the PG-13 rating, so this one is PG as well. And also like Jaws, when you think back to a few key scenes in this movie, it might seem hard to imagine that it’s not rated R. For example, a bunch of skeletons coming up out of the ground and a guy ripping his face off aren’t exactly fun for the whole family, but moments like those are few and far between. On the whole, this is actually a fairly tame horror movie.

Its real strength lies in the strong family bonds it creates between the main characters and the heartache you feel for them when Carol Anne goes missing. The filmmakers behind this one understood that horror is at its most effective when you care about the people suffering through it, so unlike many forgettable genre movies, this one takes the time it needs to establish its main characters and show you that they really love one another. Once you’re hooked on this family, the scares are that much more effective, so they don’t need to be gory or violent.

On top of that, Poltergeist also has one of the best supernatural investigator characters in cinematic history: Tangina Barrons, played brilliantly by Zelda Rubinstein. She’s tiny, but she exudes such a sense of authority that you don’t dare disbelieve a word she says. She’s an unforgettable character, so even if you’ve only seen the movie once, she will stick with you long after the credits roll. And when you combine such a fantastic supporting character with a charming central family, you get another essential non-R horror movie that proves once again that a compelling, well-told story is worth way more than the gore and violence many typically associate with the horror genre.

The Sixth Sense

Cole in bedding finally telling his secretWhen The Sixth Sense came out back in 1999, it was a sensation. It had everybody talking about the twist ending and Haley Joel Osment’s amazing performance, and the phrase “I see dead people” became a part of our cultural vernacular. It tells a gripping story about a kid who sees the ghosts of people who died brutal, often violent deaths, and it does all this with just a PG-13 rating.

At its heart, this is a movie about a lonely kid named Cole who just wants to be normal, and that resonates with a lot of people. Not everybody is a loner like Cole, but we’ve all felt the way he does at one point or another in our lives. We’ve all gone through times when the things that make us different and unique have seemed like terrible burdens rather than precious gifts, and we’ve all wished that we could just get rid of them and be like everyone else.

What’s more, the film also tells us, in no uncertain terms, that this feeling is wrong. Cole learned how to make the most of his unique ability and help people with it, and so can we. We too can find productive ways to harness our own unique abilities and gifts, even the ones that make us feel weird and out of place in society, and do something worthwhile with them.

That’s a really important message that everyone needs to hear, and it’s what makes this movie such a classic despite its PG-13 rating. While it tells the story of a kid who’s terrorized by ghosts, it’s not really about the scares. It simply uses its horror trappings to explore a universal sentiment that everybody struggles with, so it doesn’t need to have a ton of gore, sex, or vulgar language. It tells a great story with a message we can all relate to, and that’s more than enough.


Josh with the red-faced demon standing behind himBefore James Wan cemented himself as one of the elite horror filmmakers of the 21st century, he honed his haunted house craft with Insidious, a PG-13 horror that many people consider scarier than The Conjuring, which was rated R specifically for being too scary. I personally don’t hold that opinion, but I won’t argue much with people who do. It’s definitely one of the scariest movies of the 2010s, and it achieves that status with an absolute minimum of violence and gore.

Instead, it relies on simpler measures that get under your skin way more than blood and guts ever could, like darkness, super creepy theme music, and a place called The Further, one of the most spine-tingling afterlife settings ever imagined. It also features a terrifying demon that looks like the bastard child of Freddy Krueger and Darth Maul, and there’s an especially effective scene with him that gives us one of the best jump scares in recent memory.

All that being said, this film isn’t just about the scares. Like every other movie on this list, this one also has likable characters and an intriguing plot. In particular, one of the best things about it is that it’s not just the same old haunted house story we’ve seen a million times before. It’s not just about a bunch of ghosts terrorizing a family by moving things around and appearing in spooky guises. This film takes a much different approach, going beyond the trappings of Judaeo-Christian lore to give us a really unique take on the spiritual world and what it even means for a house to be haunted, so like Jaws, Insidious is further proof that you can make a PG-13 horror movie that’s both terrifying and a good story.

A Quiet Place

Lee silently telling someone to be quietFinally, we have A Quiet Place, one of the most lauded horror movies of the last decade. This movie isn’t particularly scary, but much like Poltergeist, its claim to fame lies in its emphasis on family. More specifically, it’s all about fatherhood. John Krasinski’s character, Lee, is one of the best cinematic fathers I’ve ever seen in any genre, and the movie does a phenomenal job of showing us what it really means to love a child unconditionally.

I could go on and on about this movie, but I’ll limit myself to two examples, both involving Lee’s daughter, Regan. For one, she’s deaf, and Lee has taught himself how the human ear works so he can make hearing devices for her. None of the devices ever work, but he never gives up. He loves his daughter so much that he will keep trying again and again no matter how impossible his task may seem.

Secondly, Regan played a big role in her younger brother’s death in the beginning of the movie, and she feels like her father resents her for it. However, toward the end of the film, Lee shows her just how wrong she is when he sacrifices himself so she and her surviving brother can escape the monsters. This is one of the most touching scenes in the entire genre, and everything in it, from the camera work to the acting to the music, comes together to let both Regan and the viewer know without a shadow of a doubt that Lee loves both of his kids more than anything else in the entire world.

Those are just two examples, but they’re enough to convey just how awesome this movie is. Like I said before, it’s not particularly scary, but it doesn’t have to be. It shows us that regardless of the violence and scares (or lack thereof), all a horror film really needs to do is tell a good, well-executed story, and A Quiet Place definitely fits that bill.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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