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The Scariest Scenes From Non-Horror Movies

When you go to see a scary movie, a part of you is always prepped for something horrifying to happen. You are braced for jump scares, gore, horrific images, and troubling depictions of the more disturbing aspects of life. That’s just part of the fun, right?

Update October 7, 2023: This article has been updated with even more terrifying scenes in non-horror movies that took audiences by surprise.

Well, you don’t always expect that sort of thing when you go to see a film that isn’t a horror movie. It might be a comedy, a kid’s movie, or a superhero film that all of a sudden veers off into horror territory when you were least expecting it. This surprise often makes the scene scarier than any you might see in a horror movie. Here are fifteen of the scariest scenes from movies that weren’t necessarily supposed to be scary.

15 Riddler’s Behind the Mayor – The Batman

Warner Bros. Pictures

When Matt Reeves agreed to direct the newest Batman adaptation, everyone knew that this one was going to be different. Instead of a fun, colorful romp with plenty of gadgets and one-liners like a Schumacher film, The Batman takes more inspiration from disturbing films like Se7en, Saw, and Chinatown.

Related: 20 Best Horror Movies From The ’90s, Ranked

This is made explicitly clear in the film’s first scene when it features a jump scare that introduces Reeves’ take on the Riddler. The scene focuses on Gotham’s mayor watching the news, but once he moves away, it’s clear that Riddler has been standing patiently behind him through the entire scene. This shows us that Riddler could be anywhere through the whole movie, and boy does he make good on that promise. Jim Carrey never scared us like that in Batman: Forever.

14 The Boat Scene – Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

willy wonka gene wilder
Paramount Pictures 

If there’s one scene from a famous kid’s movie that’s famous for scaring kids everywhere, it’s the boat scene from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The cute kid fantasy about a bunch of children who get to explore a magical candy factory is interrupted by a horrific detour on a boat with a crazed Gene Wilder. It’s a harrowing scene made all the more frightening by Wilder’s intense delivery of his monologue. Why is it in the film? What was its purpose? No one knows. The movie just continues like it never happened.

If only every kid who saw it could do the same…

13 The Trench Scene – Aquaman

Aquaman Is Getting Horror Themed Spin-Off The Trench
Warner Bros

Aquaman was a fun throwback adventure film with bold underwater action sequences, a globe-trotting adventure, and plenty of one-liners from Jason Momoa. So, no one was prepared when we were introduced to the cannibalistic underwater creatures of the trench. These unwelcome nightmare creatures clawed their way in from a different movie altogether to terrify the audience and then crawled back into the dark hole where they belong. It’s both a blessing and a curse that James Wan’s proposed spin-off about The Trench was shelved for good. Aquaman wouldn’t even have been around to save anyone from that fate.

The only question remaining is whether the Trench monsters from Aquaman are scarier than the sirens from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, who sing you into a trance that makes you jump into the water to your doom. Everyone should just be thankful that these two horrors weren’t featured in the same movie.

12 Wanda’s Bloody Rampage – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Marvel Studios

In the sequel to the first Doctor Strange film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness tells the story of a cursed Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). After being corrupted by the Darkhold, a book of demonic spells, Wanda is set on reuniting with her two sons from Westview, Billy and Tommy. To reunite with them, she believes that obtaining the powers of America Chavez, a teenager who can travel through the Multiverse, will give her everything she needs to get back to them. But again, she is cursed.

So after Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) refuses to give up Chavez, Maximoff goes berserk, gruesomely killing loads of sorcerers at Kamar-Taj, as well as members of the Illuminati, a group of heroes in an alternate reality. Director Sam Raimi, who has a history of making quality films with horror elements, made this the first MCU film to really push the gothic and horror boundaries like this. Maximoff’s bloody rampage is one of the darkest scenes in all of the MCU. That is the truth.

11 The Dead Marshes – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum on the ground in The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
New Line Cinema

People tend to forget that Peter Jackson got his start making horror movies similar to the kinds of B-movies Sam Raimi made in the 90s. That is until Jackson reminds us all by including a brief moment of sheer terror in his sweeping fantasy adventure. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has several horror movie scenes featuring giant spiders, demon cave monsters, and literal personifications of fiery evil itself.

Arguably, the scariest of the trilogy’s horror sequences is featured in The Two Towers. When Frodo, Samwise, and Smeagol travel across the Dead Marshes, the ghosts of fallen soldiers tempt Frodo to fall into the water. He then gapes in horror at the floating images of the dead that seek to pull him under. Smeagol deserves an MVP award for pulling him out of there.

10 Bathilda Bagshot’s House – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Warner Bros.

The Harry Potter franchise features scary sequences throughout the series with huge snakes that slither through the pipes of Hogwarts, Dementors that float through the skies of Hogwarts, and even Lord Voldemort who routinely checks in on the students of Hogwarts to remind them to be terrified of him. So audiences should’ve been prepared for anything by the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 came around.

Unfortunately, no one was prepared for the trip to Bathilda Bagshot’s home, even those who read the book beforehand. While most of the scary Harry Potter sequences at least had some questionable CGI to dull the terror, Hazel Douglas’ creepy performance as the snake-turned-old-woman offers no such relief. Aragog’s got nothing on her.

9 The Incinerator – Toy Story 3

All of the toys from Toy Story 3
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Toy Story 3 was supposed to be a fun reunion with Woody, Buzz and all of our Toy Story pals. What it wasn’t supposed to be was a piece of existential terror where we had to watch all of our childhood pals face the inevitability of their fiery doom as they were thrown away like every toy before them. The sequence where all of them clutch each other’s hands as they accept their fate is forever etched upon the minds of the audience members who were just promised a fun Pixar romp.

For one brief second, it was easy to forget that this was a kid’s movie and that the gang would be saved at the last minute. It genuinely seemed like this was going to have the darkest ending in all of Disney’s history. And for Disney, that’s really saying something.

8 The Joker Tortures a Man – The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Joker, especially when portrayed by Heath Ledger, is both a cool and creepy villain. Fans witness all of that and then some in The Dark Knight. His playful laugh and psychopathic mind set him apart from every other supervillain. He wreaks havoc on Gotham City, and it is up to Batman to end his dastardly ways.

In one scene, while getting ready for a benefit party that he is hosting, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) receives a threatening and dark message from the Joker. He has a man who is dressed up like Batman tied up in a chair. He sends the message that if Batman doesn’t take off his mask to reveal himself, he will start killing people. The camera then cuts away from the video with the man screaming in the background. From the Joker’s voice going from its normal tone to a screaming bark to the man to the shaky camera, it is clear that this Joker is a villain that will haunt Gotham, Batman, and the audience.

7 The First Class – Whiplash

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash
Stage 6 Films

Movie villains like Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, or Freddy Krueger are no doubt horrifying. But there’s a certain comfort in knowing that meeting them in real life is impossible. J.K. Simmons from Whiplash, however, is all too real. His horrifying teacher Fletcher is an amalgamation of every harsh teacher the world has ever seen.

The more Andrew desperately wants Fletcher’s approval, the more he verbally assaults him with a string of profanity so harsh that it feels like he could look at you through the screen and tear you down as well. All he needs is a chainsaw for students who aren’t on his time and he would be one of the biggest horror icons of all time.

6 Every Scene With the Cat – The Cat in the Hat

A scene from The Cat in the Hat
Universal Pictures

Jim Carrey truly understood how to take a Dr. Seuss character and make it real when he did How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Mike Myers absolutely did not when he played the titular character in The Cat in the Hat. Literally, every sequence involving the Cat in this film is unintentionally terrifying. He even has a sequence in which he threatens bodily harm to another version of himself who is trading insults with him. The sequence truly feels like what dropping into insanity must be like.

Related: Suicide Squad’s Weasel as The Cat in the Hat Is the Stuff of Nightmares

It’s all pretty harsh for a film that’s essentially about how to stay out of trouble and keep your room clean. Somehow, it seems like the moral of this story went over Mike Myers’ head. The Seuss family clearly thought the same thing because after this film premiered, they banned Hollywood from ever making a live-action adaptation of his works ever again. Who can blame them?

5 Elsa’s Introduction – Jojo Rabbit

Fox Searchlight Pictures

There’s something uniquely terrifying about the way young Jojo is introduced to the horrors of World War II as a young, impressionable boy living in Germany for Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. While he is enthusiastic about joining his country’s fight throughout the first part of the film, he slowly is shown the error of his ways by being directly confronted with the harrowing real-world consequences of his heroes. The horror movie inspired scene where he finds Elsa hiding in the wall is the first real shock he sees that hints that things might not be as fun in this world as he thinks.

This is just the preamble for the final horror, though. Once he sees his mother’s shoes as she’s been sentenced to the ultimate punishment by the government, he is forever changed. So was pretty much anyone who had to watch one of the saddest moments in movie history. Both of these scenes are more disturbing than anything that’s ever happened in the Saw franchise.

4 Every Wicked Witch of the West Scene – The Wizard of Oz

Wicked Witch Hourglass

The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the scariest characters of all time. Every scene that includes her in The Wizard of Oz proves that. Margaret Hamilton’s iconic portrayal of the witch is as scary as it gets. From throwing a fireball at Dorothy and Co. to sending her flying monkeys after the group of friends in the dark forest, the witch is everywhere. She even tricks Dorothy into thinking that she is talking to Auntie Em while locked away in the witch’s castle, but it is actually the witch who is scaring her.

Her sharp voice and frightening attitude towards those that oppose her combined with the score that plays when she appears on-screen, takes all the happiness away from the main characters. Her evil laugh and green skin are key qualities that make her one of the best antagonists in all of cinema.

3 Face Melt Scene – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Paramount Pictures

In the first of two Indiana Jones scenes on this list that put fear into the hearts of viewers, the face melt scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark is a big one. After adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones sneaks aboard a Nazi sub in an effort to rescue Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), he soon learns that the Nazis, who have regained control of the fabled Ark of the Covenant, are going to open up the Ark. Soon after they open it up, spirits and bolts are released that end up not only killing all the Nazis in the vicinity, but the fire from the Ark melts the faces and bodies of a couple of them too.

All Jones and Ravenwood can do is shut their eyes and not look. This scene was stunningly filmed without the use of CGI and remains one of Hollywood’s greatest adaptations of God’s wrath. Kids who saw this scene for the first time likely had nightmares for years to come.

2 The Winkie’s Scene – Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive (1)
Universal Pictures

There’s literally no David Lynch film that doesn’t feature at least one sequence that would earn a place on this list. In fact, pretty much all of Eraserhead would count. The scariest scene in all of Lynch’s movies that is most often referenced is the infamous Winkie’s scene from Mulholland Drive. The scene begins with a man describing to his friend how he’s had a recurring nightmare about the two of them visiting that very same Winkie’s Diner. His nightmare then culminates with him seeing a disturbing person who lives behind the diner’s dumpster.

His friend agrees to help him confront this fear by accompanying him to the dumpster to see that no one is really back there. Instead, the gruesome figure truly does appear, sliding out like some kind of specter straight out of his nightmare. It sends him sprawling back in terror before it slides back again. It might just be the greatest jump scare in the history of jump scares. If anyone could do that, it would be David Lynch.

1 Human Sacrifice Scene – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom- Mola Ram
Distributed by Paramount Pictures

It is hard to find a creepier scene in a non-horror flick than the human sacrifice scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. When Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) travels to Pankot Palace in India with young Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), he discovers a real evil growing beneath the palace. In an effort to return stolen children and magical Shankara stones back to a nearby village, Jones discovers that the children are enslaved by a deadly cult that is set on bringing life to the evil god known as Kali.

In one scene, Indy and Co. witness the cult’s high priest, Mola Ram, sacrifice a man. He reaches inside his chest and pulls out his heart before being dropped into a pit of lava. This is one of the major scenes that helped this movie cause the creation of the PG-13 rating. In fact, this was the last PG film created before the PG-13 rating came into effect. It is scenes like the sacrifice scene, along with children being enslaved and Indy drinking a potion made of blood, that make this movie arguably the darkest of historic director Steven Spielberg’s career.


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