The Frighteners

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Frighteners Movie Poster Image
Violent, frenzied, foul-mouthed ghost comedy.
  • R
  • 1996
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Sort of lost in all the mayhem is Frank learning to put the past behind him and move beyond the tragedy in his life to a new relationship (it may be completely unintentional that the happiest couple onscreen are a couple of serial killers).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Except for the selfless physician-heroine Lucy, nobody here is very admirable, with even Frank, the hero, a practicing con-artist at the outset. One of the ghosts is a comically stereotyped, big-afro black dude (he died in the 1970s). An FBI agent, constantly bragging that he represents the US government, is a clueless, dangerous jerk (though local cops are okay).


Cartoonish/CGI-ish violence, as ghosts are dismembered, sliced, flattened, shot to pieces, sometimes twisted and mashed into oozing goo. Demonic elements assail and torture two characters. Many guns and pistols are brandished; flashbacks detail a bullet-riddled massacre in a hospital. One shotgun blast that takes a character's head off. People killed by induced heart attacks. Characters fall, get threatened with knives, and are beaten or strangled. Reckless driving stunts.


Double-entendres spoken by the ghosts, most particularly the rotting old Judge, who also goes through the motions of sex with a mummy.


"Ass," the s-word and its variations, "bastard," "bitch," "a-hole," "hell," "pissed-off," God's name in vain.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One ghost smokes cigars (well, he's dead already); drinking in a fancy-restaurant setting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this horror-comedy includes over-the-top violence, with glowing ghosts (some in various stages of decomposition) dismembered, squished, slashed, mashed, and shot. Abundant gunfire includes a Columbine-style massacre, with multiple fatalities. One shotgun blast blows up a head off. Nightmarish visuals include zombie-like rotting-corpse ghosts and mummies and one closeup of a recently dead, worm-eaten face. Don't-try-this-at-home stuff ranges from reckless driving to drug-induced comas and falls from high places. Swearing is pretty constant. Off-color jokes refer obscurely to sex and hemorrhoids (not at the same time, at least).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBrendan M. April 20, 2020

An Excellent Horror Comedy That Didn't Deserve An R rating.

Note: There are two versions of this film, the R rated theatrical cut (110 minutes) and the unrated director's cut (123 minutes). The director's cut d... Continue reading
Adult Written byMaverik October 14, 2018

Movie should be PG-13

Looking to step up our Halloween movie night i thought Frighteners would be a perfect movie but was surprised to see it had a r rating. I watched it originally... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCameronAnderson April 20, 2019
Common Sense Media is out of there mind with 18+, this movie easily could’ve been PG-13. I was disappointed with this movie. I love Micheal J Fox but he can’t s... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byspenlock October 9, 2018

Not as bad as they say

I think people go over the top explaining this movie sometimes. There isn't a lot of violence until the near end of the movie, and while the swearing is ve... Continue reading

What's the story?

A series of unexplained heart-attack style deaths have the community of Fairwater terrorized. It's a business opportunity, though, for Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), a former architect who, after a traumatic car crash that killed his wife, has psychic mojo to see and interact with ghosts. With help of three rebellious spook cohorts Bannister stages fake hauntings at bereaved households and charges fees to perform phony exorcisms. But Bannister becomes the suspect in the ongoing deaths, especially after an occult-obsessed F.B.I. agent arrives in town and fixates on him. Frank fights to save further victims from the real menace, a robe-wearing serial-killer phantom (and Dementor-lookalike) who's so vicious he can even 'kill' other ghosts.

Is it any good?

Though hailing from the always-impressive director Peter Jackson, THE FRIGHTENERS makes Beetlejuice look like Jane Austen. The script and high-speed direction seem contrived to make sure audiences are too dazzled by wild f/x and boo! stuff to nitpick things, like the heroine recognizing a clue that she couldn't possibly have seen (known to the viewer only via flashback) and similar giant plot holes. How the movie's version of the afterlife really works -- who can see ghosts, grab ghosts, harm ghosts -- isn't terribly well thought out. Well, it usually isn't in such movies, but this time noticeable effort went into distracting your attention.

There are a few scenes, such as havoc at an Egyptian museum exhibit, when the madcap action pace and the macabre seem to hit the right note. Otherwise it's noisy and not quite as much fun as it's supposed to be, with the best moments provided by lead actor Fox, a calm center in all the phantasmagorical whirlwind.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of ghost stories. Ask kids if they like them straight-up scary or funny.

  • The undead villain in this movie is obsessed with serial killers, dropping the names of several and aspiring to "score" higher body counts. Why are so many people fascinated by serial killers? Do the media glamorize them?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love scary movies

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