16+ Best Dysfunctional Family Movies

A list to make your family seem normal — all the most dysfunctional families in cinema.

The Omen (1976) features one of the most famously dysfunctional families in all of horror.

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You may know dysfunction. But do you know the terror that comes with the expectation to uphold the perfect nuclear family? This type of family lives inside a glass house. Fragile and superficial, one misstep leads them to shatter. Some films have captured this dysfunction perfectly. 

The 1950s saw the release of “educational” films like “A Date With Your Family.” In the short, strict and misogynistic roles burden all members of the household. Everything is “un-emotionally pleasant.” This film functioned as the archetype for families of the 50s. While a lot has changed in the past 70+ years, the same air of repression still chokes so many. Though embellished with paranormal flair, the films on this list are far more honest. In them, you may recognize your own familial dysfunction. 

Best Dysfunctional Family Movies

The Omen (1976)

Damien is embraced by his adoptive parents in The Omen (1976).
The forgotten sequel titled Omen IV: The Awakening (1991) was a made-for-TV movie meant to expand the story beyond Damien.

Can a parent’s love reach all the way to Hell? Kathy is in absolute anguish due to her inability to connect with her son, Damien. However, Damien is not really her son. He’s not really a human at all. Based on what some might call the most famous piece of horror literature, the Bible, this film birthed three sequels, a remake, and a television series. All of the films in the series evoke the same question: can the ties of familial love challenge the forces of evil?

Carrie (1976)

Carrie being forced by her mother to pray in Carrie (1976).
Piper Laurie didn’t like the script for Carrie when she first read it, but director Brian De Palma helped convince her to take the role of Carrie’s mother Margaret White.

Carrie’s mother loves her. But she loves God more. Her mother’s religious fixation eventually pushes Carrie to a breakdown, one that culminates in a bloodbath. The film is based on the book by Stephen King, which was literally pulled from a trashcan. King had thrown away his first draft, only for his wife to find the pages later and demand to know what happens next.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

In this movie the Sawyer family consists of Grandpa (Ken Evert), Leatherface (Bill Johnson), Chop Top (Bill Moseley), and The Cook (Jim Siedow).

All of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films are based around the dysfunctional Sawyer family, with Leatherface as the main villain (though perhaps not the mastermind). The first sequel shows the family on the run after the events of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), when one of their kills is broadcast over the radio after it is captured on a request line. The Sawyer family sets their sights on killing the radio DJ responsible for airing evidence of their crimes, Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams), while Lt. Boude “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) tries to track the family down to get justice for his murdered relatives.

The Stepfather (1987)

Terry O'Quinn, Shelley Hack, and Jill Schoelen as a happy family in The Stepfather (1987).
Terry O’Quinn (seen here in the center) returned for Stepfather II (1989), but another actor took his role for Stepfather III (1992), explained away by the character having plastic surgery.

Jerry just wants to keep his family together. After all, he killed his last one. The dynamics between any daughter and her stepfather are occasionally tense. This pair takes it to a new level when the stepdaughter becomes suspicious of her new father figure. The Stepfather is based on John Emil List, who killed his entire family before marrying into a new one. This thriller/ horror leaves you examining your family tree a little closer.

Mum & Dad (2008)

Mum & Dad (2008)
Mum & Dad is a gruesome British horror film from director Steven Sheil.

Being adopted by a tight-knit family is every homeless child’s dream. However, this family watches porn for breakfast and eats human sausages for dinner. Lena, a young woman who is kidnapped and forced into the family, must escape Mum and Dad’s clutches before their next parental act of brutality. This bloody strange horror movie is refreshingly unpredictable and bizarre.

Dogtooth (2009)

The family attends a fake memorial in Dogtooth (2009).
Dogtooth won the Prix un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009.

A couple raises their children in complete isolation. This keeps them unaware of the outside world. The private compound walls house unbearable acts. Animal torture, incest, and the strangest games and punishments the imagination can conjure. Dogtooth asks the question: what does a parent do when given complete control? Unfortunately, it also answers it.

Case 39 (2009)

Jodelle Ferland in Case 39 (2009)
Jodelle Ferland had previously appeared in other supernatural horror movies including They (2002) and Silent Hill (2006).

A social worker rescues a child from their abusive family, a family determined to send their daughter to Hell. Or perhaps they were trying to return her? Children are often seen as the glue that holds a family together. This film proves that a child can also be a destructive force, one capable of ruining the family that they once completed.

Here Comes the Devil (2012)

Children stare across a table in Here Comes the Devil (2012).
Writer/director Adrián Garcia Bogliano developed the idea for Here Comes the Devil for about ten years before finally getting the chance to make the movie.

A couple loses their children while on vacation in Tijuana. When the kids return, there is something different about them. Something dark. This Mexican horror film is unafraid to approach uncharted territory and has a lot to say in the process. It exposes the discomforts of sexuality and its impact on family dynamics. “It is not about horror. It is about sex and sexual repression,” director Adrián García Bogliano says of the film.

The Babadook (2014)

Jennifer Kent made a short film in 2005 titled Monster which contains themes expanded on in The Babadook.

In this Australian film, a single mother and her son try to navigate their life post-loss. Memories haunt them, as does a mysterious dark presence in their home. “It is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women,” says writer and director Jennifer Kent. In writing the film, she wanted to “explore parenting from a very real perspective.” Babadook shines a light on a horror every family experiences but so rarely faces head-on: loss and grief.

The Witch (2015)

Thomasin is berated by her father in The Witch (2015)
Lies, bad luck, and something in the woods combine to force Thomasin’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) family to turn on her.

A Puritan family prays that God will bless their crops. Yet, another entity arrives. One that promises splendor in exchange for bloodshed. New England’s notoriously mythic past makes the perfect setting for this horror. Tensions rise and bubble over as this family slowly implodes. Robert Eggers describes his film as a “Pre-Disney fairytale that confronts the complexities of a family relationship and the powers beyond.” 

Krampus (2015)

Krampus (2015)
One boy’s disillusionment about Christmas incurs the wrath of a demonic force in Krampus.

A family full of tension finally bursts when a demonic version of Santa Claus visits. This Anti-Claus is based on famous German folklore. Parents used the tale to scare children into submission during the festive season. However, this time around Krampus is spreading the festive fright to the whole family. Will the demonic spirit trying to pull this family apart actually pull them together?

Mom and Dad (2017)

Selma Blair in Mom and Dad (2017).
Selma Blair costars with Nicolas Cage as murderous parents in Mom and Dad.

A signal spreads over radios and televisions, making all parents yearn to murder their young. Perhaps this is a natural primal urge. As the film points out, many animals exhibit the same behavior. His role in Mom and Dad is Nicholas Cage’s favorite. “What I related to most was the idea that I am no longer what I once was… I think it is something we all go through.” After all, the beginning of parenthood is always the end of something else. This film perfectly portrays a couple’s struggles with banal domesticity. 

Hereditary (2018)

The Graham-family séance scene in Hereditary (2018).
The Graham family’s dysfunction is generational.

Some maternal bonds never break. That is why Annie (Toni Collette) conducts a séance to speak to her dead daughter. Meanwhile, she takes her depression and rage out on her surviving son, leaving him navigating the space between the loss of his sister and the ghost of his mother who remains. Hereditary traumatizes its audience with raw anguish.

Color Out of Space (2019)

Madeleine Arthur and Nicolas Cage in Color Out of Space (2019).
The Gardner family’s dysfunction is exacerbated by the cosmic horror that invades their home.

This psychedelic apocalyptic film is an H.P Lovecraft adaption starring Nicholas Cage. Nathan (Cage) is convinced moving to the New England countryside will bring his family closer. Shortly after their arrival, a mysterious and vibrant meteor crashes into their farm, bringing the beginning of madness and the ultimate destruction of the family as we know it. Director Richard Stanley explains “Color provides us with a snapshot of a Spielbergian, white-bread family unit at the point of extinction and not all the details it reveals are pleasant.”

Parasite (2019)

The Park family celebrates their good fortune in Parasite (2019)
The Kim family is arguably the least dysfunctional family seen in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.

A South Korean family film wrapped in the horrors of capitalism, imperialism, and wealth disparity. Parasite highlights what can happen when two families from drastically different worlds collide. The Kims, an impoverished family, decide to deceive and take advantage of the Parks, a wealthy family who live in a reality far different from the Kims. The Parks exploit the labor of the poor and weave their own webs of deception. This leaves us questioning: Which family is really the parasite?

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

Jesse Buckley at a dinner table in I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020).
Jessie Buckley (seen here) and Jesse Plemons star in I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Surreal and foreboding, I’m Thinking of Ending Things takes us through the life cycle of a family. We watch as years fly by, showing the ever-changing roles of each family member. The narrative makes as much sense as eating ice cream in a blizzard. Director and writer Charlie Kaufman refuses to explain, so neither will we.

More Dysfunctional Family Films

  • Crucible of Horror (1971) – An abusive man is put in his grave. Unfortunately for the women in his life, he refuses to stay there. Also released as The Corpse
  • All the Colors of the Dark (1972)A dreamy Italian film about a woman dealing with the death of her mother and her unborn child. 
  • Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)A catholic family crumbles when one of their daughters dies. The other daughter’s sweetness turns sickening when she becomes the murder suspect.
  • Damien: Omen 2 (1978)Puberty strikes the anti-Christ as the 13-year-old destroys all who oppose him, his loving family included. 
  • The Others (2001)A thin veil separates the living and the dead. With a family on either side of it, chaos ensues when the veil rips. 
  • Orphan (2009) – A couple adopts a mysterious little girl. What lies beyond that mystery rips apart the family one member at a time.
  • The Boy (2016) – A Nanny discovers her new family’s boy is made of porcelain. When she fails to treat the doll like a child, malicious happenings make her wonder if the boy really is alive. 
  • Blood Craft (2019)Sisters use witchcraft to bring back their abusive father from the dead. What follows is a tale of bloodthirsty vengeance.

Meet The Author

Kasey Rae is an artist, writer, and filmmaker, residing in the mountains of New York. Her favorite horror films are Nightmare on Elm Street and The Descent.