The Halloween season has inspired a slew of spooky movies that fans can enjoy as October draws to an end. Some of these even take place on the holiday. That said, all sorts of movies, from romantic comedies to lavish musicals, can take place on or around Halloween. There might be a scene with characters trick-or-treating or going to a Halloween party. The characters could mention the holiday in passing. Even if the main characters aren’t celebrating, the background might be clustered with people in costume.
If a movie has a plot that takes up a year, it’s only natural for Halloween to come up. Sometimes, Halloween is an important plot point, just not the main focus. Other times, it’s just an excuse to show off costumes. Ultimately, it can be easy for viewers to forget that a film takes place on Halloween unless they know the story by heart. Of course, this leads to the debate if certain movies count as Halloween movies or not.
A Cinderella Story (2004)
A Cinderella Story sees teenage waitress Sam Montgomery get invited to the upcoming school dance by her secret admirer, an anonymous IM buddy, but her wicked stepmother won’t let her. However, this isn’t just any school dance, but the annual Halloween party. This allows Sam to go to the dance hiding herself behind a mask, walk down a staircase filled with pumpkins, and even win a prize for her “Cinderella” costume.
This is an important plot point, since wearing a costume gives Sam the courage to meet her mystery man, as well as go unrecognized by her family. Notably, the follow-up film, Another Cinderella Story, also has the leads meet each other at a holiday party. This time, however, it was a black and white masked ball for St. Valentine’s Day.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
To Kill a Mockingbird, set during the Great Depression, focuses on a young Alabama girl nicknamed Scout who sees her father, Atticus Finch, as he defends Tom Robinson, a young man falsely accused of sexual assault, in a story of racial inequality. Though Tom is ultimately tragically convicted and killed, his accuser, Bob Ewell, is still humiliated by Atticus during the proceedings and swears revenge.
By the time October comes around, according to her narration, Scout’s mind becomes focused on Halloween. Her school is hosting a pageant with an agricultural theme, where Scout is expected to be a ham. Losing her regular clothes, Scout is forced to walk home in her costume. While walking home, Scout and Jem get attacked, but they are rescued by another figure who slays the first assailant. Thanks to her costume, Scout is initially unaware of who was who. It eventually comes to light that Ewell was the initial attacker and that the children were saved by local recluse Boo Radley.
The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid starts off with Daniel LaRusso moving from New Jersey to California, where he encounters Mr. Miyagi, initially as a handyman. During a beach party, Daniel befriends a girl named Ali, earning the wrath of her karate-practicing ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence. From then on, Daniel is regularly humiliated by Johnny and the Cobra Kai gang.
Things escalate at a Halloween dance, where Daniel shows up as a shower, complete with a curtain, offering some privacy among the crowd. When Daniel sprays Johnny with water, however, he and his gang chase him into the streets and beat him until he can’t stand. Fortunately, Mr. Miyagi arrives on the scene and easily defeats the bullies, revealing himself as a karate master, and ultimately rescuing Daniel. This marks the start of Daniel asking to be taught karate.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis is a musical film often labeled a Christmas film, but actually features a Halloween sequence first. After all, it revolves around the life of a St. Louis family leading up to the World Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The well-to-do Smith family hosts four daughters and a son. On Halloween, two of the sisters, Tootie and Agnes, attend a bonfire. It appears, however, that Tootie has been physically attacked by the boy next door, whom her older sister Esther has a crush on.
An infuriated Esther confronts the boy, John. However, it soon comes to light that John was actually protecting Tootie from the police after a prank got out of hand. After apologizing, Esther has her first kiss with John. Halloween is also the time when the girls’ father announces plans to move to New York. Notably, the children play pranks and don costumes, but never go trick-or-treating, as it wouldn’t suit the time period, anyway.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial revolves around a young boy, Elliot, who befriends a stranded alien, dubbed “E.T.,” and must find a way to help him return home. Halloween proves to be a pivotal moment for the film, as it is the time Elliott and E.T. sneak out into the forest and manage to successfully make contact with E.T.’s homeworld.
E.T. appears fascinated by the holiday, although he is somewhat confused by it, showing concern that a fake costume injury was real. E.T. also notably defies the convention of a non-human character going as themselves for Halloween. As E.T.’s appearance can’t be easily passed off as a Halloween costume, he dons a sheet and goes as a ghost.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
Cowboy Bebop: Knockin on Heaven’s Door, also known as Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, is a film based on the popular anime series of the same name, set during the later episodes. The story is set a few days before Halloween, after a terrorist spreads a deadly pathogen on Mars. This isn’t a coincidence, as the villains’ ultimate plan involves the holiday.
Terrorist Vincent Volaju’s plan involves deferring attention away from a Halloween parade, which will be the base of his ultimate attack, with a fake attack. Infiltrating the event with a witch’s hat, Vincent will use jack-o-lantern balloons laden with nanomachines to kill the entire population of Mars. Fortunately, the Bebop crew is able to spread out a vaccine in time using a weather-control system. The event also features the song, “Yo’ Pumpkin Head.” Ed also briefly pretends to go trick-or-treating with a pumpkin mask while searching for Vincent’s accomplice, Lee Sampson, and gets scolded for being a day early.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko is a science fiction thriller in which the titular troubled teenager encounters a figure dressed in a rabbit costume named Frank. The figure warns him that the world will end in little more than 28 days. The whole story starts on October 2nd and lasts throughout the month. After his older sister Elizabeth gets accepted into Harvard, she and Donnie throw a Halloween costume party. It is then that Donnie realizes that the prophesied end of the world is only a few hours away.
Donnie’s “imaginary friend” Frank wearing a rabbit costume might have even been seasonal foreshadowing. Frank later turns out to be Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Frank Anderson, who appears wearing his rabbit suit as a Halloween costume. Technically speaking, however, Halloween comes a bit earlier than usual in Donnie Darko. An orange sign reveals the Middlesex Halloween Carnival actually starts on October 26 and ends on the 30th. Kids can even be seen out trick-or-treating and saying “Happy Halloween” on the 29th.
Ed Wood (1994)
Ed Wood is a biographical film, detailing the life of cult filmmaker Ed Wood. Notably, Wood gets to meet and befriend Dracula actor Bela Lugosi, and he hopes to help revive his career. Halloween appears in a scene where Ed watches Vampira on television, as she’s hosting Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, sitting right alongside the real Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Wood notably criticizes the show’s framing device for interrupting the film, saying it doesn’t give movies proper respect. For his part, Lugosi finds Vampira appealing and mimics her hand movements, fascinating Wood.
When trick-or-treaters show up at the door, Lugosi dons a Dracula costume to give them a proper “trick.” Two kids are scared and run off, but one little boy stands firm, saying that Lugosi isn’t a real vampire and that even his teeth aren’t scary. Wood comes to his defense, pulling out his teeth in front of the kid. When a confused Lugosi asks him how he did it, Wood explains they’re dentures, having lost teeth in the war.
Beastly updates the story of Beauty and the Beast, with a spoiled rich kid, Kyle, transformed after being cruel to a classmate, Kendra, who was secretly a witch. Now rejected by his father and forced into hiding, Kyle takes advantage of the Halloween season to confront Kendra at a costume party. Although taking advantage of the fact that his new appearance can be chalked up as a costume, Kyle also tries to keep a low profile while keeping his hood up.
While Kendra refuses to lift the curse, the event gives Kyle a chance to overhear what people think of him behind his back, as well as getting to meet with his future love-interest, Lindy. In the original book, where Kyle, portrayed as more of a traditional beast, sneaks into a Halloween party to meet girls and hits it off with a girl dressed like a punk Dorothy Gale. This backfires, however, when “Dorothy” really wants to find out who she is, ending things in disaster.
The Batman (2022)
The Batman is a film based around the DC Comics superhero of the same name, rebooting the Batman franchise. Notably, the film is a partial adaptation of The Long Halloween limited series, in addition to the “Year One” story arc and the “Ego” character study. The story starts out on Halloween, with the Riddler killing Gotham City’s mayor, spurring Bruce Wayne, the vigilante Batman, to investigate. With everyone out trick-or-treating or celebrating in costumes, the holiday presumably made it easier for the Riddler to sneak into the mayor’s home.
The holiday also causes Batman to get a heckling from Commissioner Pete Savage, asking him if it’s his favorite time of the year and wishing him “Happy f*cking Halloween.” Halloween also features in the earlier film, Batman Forever. As in the later film, the laxity of the holiday helps the Riddler and Two-Face to break into Wayne manor, even reaching the Batcave, while initially pretending to be trick-or-treaters.
Halloween shows up in a variety of films, even when they’re not exactly “Halloween movies.” Read More