These best horror movies of all time are significantly more diverse than non-genre aficionados may think. The best horror movies aren’t only about gore and violence. Although it might assist on occasion, the best horror movies take us on unique and horrific adventures.
They tackle societal concerns, delve deep into our collective psyche, and instill new phobias in us about the most mundane of things. Nope, not birds. Camping excursions? No, thank you. Calls through Zoom? Certainly not. You probably haven’t seen enough of the most frightening movies of all time if you’re not terrified of the darkness at the head of your sleep.
The following list of 30 best horror movies is the greatest collection of terror. Given that there have been hundreds of outstanding best horror movies over the decades, paring them down resulted in the omission of numerous iconic best horror movie classics.
The survivors, on the other hand, strike the ideal blend of ancient and new. If you want to call it that, it’s a fantastic horror-themed cocktail bar where Alfred Hitchcock sits next to Jennifer Kent and Ari Aster chuckles at a joke made by Tobe Hooper, who has just had a glass of Bloody Mary.
Top best horror movies from 1 to 10
#1 The Shining (1980)
What if you were stranded in a mystery hotel with nothing but hedge creatures to keep you company? The Shining, on the other hand, follows a man and his family as they take on the position of winter caretaker at The Overlook, a vacation hotel. Given that this is a Stephen King adaption (although one that he despises so much that he produced his own film), the winter months are not ideal. It turns out that the Overlook Hotel dislikes people.
#2 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Some film names are ambiguous, allowing you to deduce their meaning as the story unfolds in front of your eyes like a delicate flower in tea. Then there’s Tobe Hooper’s clammy, bleak horror film. There’s nothing sensitive about this. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s namesake weapon must be sharp, yet it is a clumsy tool of dread.
Five young individuals leave the safety of the world behind and venture into dusty Americana in this tour de force of violence. When they enter a house seeking gas, they discover such horror and depravity that the film remains a horrific endurance test decade later.
#3 The Thing (1982)
Perhaps you were buried under a blanket of snow and missed John Carpenter’s ultimate monster film. It’s very understandable. Why don’t you defrost by getting closer to the fire? The Monster is a beautifully splattery and terrifying horror movie about a group of Americans at an Antarctic research outpost, including Kurt Russell’s R.J MacReady, who take on an extraterrestrial, well, the thing that infects the blood.
Maybe you like:
#4 Hereditary (2018)
The heart belongs at home. It’s also where the darkest terror lurks, right under the surface of the ideal family. Toni Collette is the mother of a heartbroken family in Ari Aster’s very first (!) feature film. To keep this review spoiler-free, her own mother’s death has thrown shockwaves through their family, and the future doesn’t appear very, errr, bright either.
#5 The Exorcist (1973)
It’s almost expected that William Friedkin’s masterwork, now in its 40s, remains near the top of so many horror movies. However, after seeing The Exorcist, you’ll understand why. This is the story of Regan, the daughter of a successful movie actress who, one day in the basement, distracts herself by playing with an ouija board.
If you’ve ever wondered why your parents won’t let you play with this seemingly harmless item, it’s probably because of a young Linda Blair. An unwanted visitor takes root in the small girl via the ouija board, and the rest, once the titular exorcist comes, is film history.
#6 Halloween (1978)
Who knew an ancient Star Trek mask could be so frightening? When director John Carpenter handed his villain a blank William Shatner mask to wear while stalking babysitters around the imaginary town of Haddonfield, Illinois, he produced a modern classic. Jamie-Leigh Curtis, who’d become a scream queen in her own right and the blueprint for all final ladies to follow, was also a product of the film.
What does it matter if the opening scene is illogical? If you don’t think a youngster murdering his sister while wearing a clown mask is terrifying, you should have your horror fan status terminated instantly.
#7 Jaws (1975)
There was Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s toothy nightmare, before Jurassic Park, before ET, and an eternity before the bulk of the characters of Ready Player One were brought screaming into life. This is, after all, a horror movie. Jaws, one of the first blockbusters, is terrifying, with people practically lining around the block only to escape the theater in panic.
The narrative of Amity Island’s gruesome summer season as Chief Brody desperately tries to keep swimmers out of the ocean is the stuff of horror legends, regardless of whether the shark seems a touch ropey now that he gets up close and personal. And, let’s face it, you’re already singing along with the music.
#8 Alien (1979)
One of the best science fiction films ever produced also happens to be one of the best horror movies ever made. Doesn’t seem reasonable, does it? As innocently as any group of adolescent teens heading out to a distant house in the woods, Ridley Scott’s original Alien sends the crew of the Nostromo to investigate a distress signal from an abandoned alien spaceship.
And, like those adolescents, not many will live to tell the tale. Sigourney Weaver plays the ultimate Final Girl in this film.
#9 Scream (1996)
By the late 1990s, horror movies had worn out its welcome. The masked slasher genre was stumbling along in desperate need of a big cup of espresso. Instead, Wes Craven’s Scream revitalized the genre with its ideal combination of knowing humor and terror, despite being imitated to Inception levels of postmodern irony since.
As adolescents, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, and Drew Barrymore speak fluent horror movies while being hunted down by a serial murderer infatuated with the genre? Oh, go on… Scream is a modern horror classic, thanks to Courtney Cox as intrepid news reporter Gale Weathers, who was at the peak of her Friends celebrity.
#10 28 Days Later (2002)
Let’s start with the undead elephant in the room. The horror movie by Danny Boyle is a zombie film. Yes, they can go, but it’s vital to remember that this heinous bunch is related to Romero’s best. They may not eat Christmas dinner together, but they’d send cards and possibly gift cards to the young children.
The essential thing to remember is that these zombies, regardless of their pace, are still planet killers. When Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed, he stumbles out into an apocalyptic London that will never be the same again, much like our buddy Rick in The Walking Dead.
Top best horror movies from 11 to 20
#11 Get Out (2017)
Chris, a mid-20s photojournalist, is nervously heading out to rural New York to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. He hesitantly asks Rose, “Do they know I’m Black?” but she has none of it: “My Dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could!” Phew! What’s the worst that might happen? Everything. Chris, anything may go wrong. Return your attention immediately. This isn’t going to be a minor social faux pas.
#12 The Wicker Man (1973)
No, The Wicker Man isn’t only about making reaction gifs and insulting Nicolas Cage’s bee-filled version. At the very least, witnessing Edward Woodward’s voyage to Summerisle is required viewing for the current wave of rural horror movies.
The Wickerman’s appeal lies in its pure horrifying simplicity, making it the ideal complement to the contemporary nastiness of Ari Aster’s Midsommar or Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. A police officer travels to an island in search of a missing girl. A police officer realizes that not everything is as it seems.
#13 The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’ disturbing period drama follows a Puritan family after they are evicted from their colony. It’s self-described as a ‘New England folk story,’ but it’s more like a fairy tale from hell. As William (Ralph Ineson) takes his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children into the deep, dark woods to survive alone on a farm, yelling “don’t do it” at the screen is futile.
It won’t be a spoiler to state that it doesn’t go especially well. We follow Thomasin, the family’s eldest daughter, played by Anya Taylor-Joy in her first credited appearance, as she watches the suspenseful unraveling of a troubled family confronted with the terrifying potential of an outside entity looking out from the woods.
#14 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Have you ever wondered why no one goes camping in the woods anymore? It’s because a whole generation of us saw The Blair Witch Project when we were in our early teens, and we now prefer to sleep inside. Three teenage documentary filmmakers travel to Burkittsville, Maryland, in this now almost mythical found-footage nightmare.
Heather, Mike, and Josh begin by questioning residents about the local legend of The Blair Witch, a particularly gruesome tale you’d think was merely to keep kids eating their vegetables, before venturing into the woods where the witch is said to live. Given that these cassettes are all that have ever been discovered, this isn’t exactly a joyful ending.
#15 Rec (2007)
First and foremost, we’ll assume that Quarantine, the English-language remake, does not exist. Good. After that, it’s time to wax poetic about the genuine dread hiding inside a Barcelona apartment complex in this Spanish horror movie. The setup is basic, as it is in all the finest found-footage horror movies.
When a report comes in about a lady acting suspiciously in her apartment, the crew of a morning TV show follows a team of firemen. Angela and her cameraman Pablo, of course, eagerly follow the rescue crew into, well, hell.
#16 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Horror comedy is nothing new. For decades, the best horror movies have walked the bloody tightrope between making us laugh and having us scream. The great comedic filmmaker John Landis’ film An American Werewolf in London is a masterclass in this specific circus act.
David and Jack, two American travelers (don’t worry, it’ll be one in a minute) find themselves wandering the Yorkshire moors after dark, and instead of seeking refuge at The Slaughtered Lamb pub, they decide to continue their trek. Locals even warn them that if they simply stay on the trail, they’ll be alright.
#17 It Follows (2015)
To put a unique twist on things, It Follows’ dismal plodding nasty comes after you if you literally do the nasty. While a 21st-century horror about a sexually transmitted horrible curse may sound like something that should be avoided, It Follows is a really scary experience.
The terror is genuine, as Jay is stalked by ghosts that no one else can see, slowly and relentlessly approaching her unless she ‘passes it on.’ They get together to take on the supernatural monster, demonstrating how amazing Jay’s pals are.
#18 The Descent (2005)
It’s likely that Neil Marshall’s genuinely horrific claustrophobic monster feature had to blame for a drop in caving and bouldering trip attendance in the mid-noughties. Sarah’s pals want to cheer her up after her family’s awful demise, so instead of buying her some gin, they take her on a caving excursion.
Unfortunately, if the six ladies were there to have a joyful, gently comic experience where they all grew as humans, the film would not be on this list. From the time this group descends into the darkness beneath the Appalachian Mountains, it becomes evident that returning to the light would be difficult.
#19 Suspiria (1977)
Suspiria by Dario Argento is less of a film and more of an attack on your senses, not to mention your stomach. It follows teenage ballerina Suzy as she arrives at a prestigious ballet school. Unfortunately, she ignores the girl going in the opposite way and soon finds herself in the midst of a gruesome murder as young ladies are masterfully murdered one by one.
Argento’s original, which underwent many trims around violence on release and was one of the films at the violent core of the 1980s video nasty scare, is nevertheless a grisly cut above the remake. It’s not difficult to understand why.
#20 Paranormal Activity (2007)
While The Blair Witch Project resurrected and found footage horror like a haunted motorcycle in 1999, Paranormal Activity took things to a whole new level. Oren Peli’s debut film introduces us to Katie and Micah, who have been witnessing strange happenings in their Los Angeles house.
Micah, ever the intrepid filmmaker, places a camera at the foot of their bed to keep an eye on things while they sleep. The bumps in the night that follows will make you never want to see another bed, much less sleep in one.
Top best horror movies from 21 to 30
#21 A Quiet Place (2018)
Could there be anything scarier than raising a small family in a world where monstrosities with supernaturally good hearing hunt down humanity’s last survivors? The Abbott family is slowly creeping through a terribly horrible existence where every little sound may be their last in John Krasinski’s debut horror movie, in which he also stars alongside IRL wife Emily Blunt. A Quiet Place may have a basic premise, but it’s 90 minutes of intense tension.
#22 The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
The Cabin in the Woods, like someone equipped with a laser sight and Final Destination 3’s nail gun, manages to peg not just one horror stereotype, but all of them. This group of gorgeous twenty-somethings gets far more than they bargained for as they visit the namesake location. Chris Hemsworth is one of them, by the way. You’ve piqued your curiosity.
#23 The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent’s eerie pop-up book became a generation’s boogeyman almost overnight after its debut. “Are you familiar with The Babadook? I didn’t get any sleep last night, “was muttered with delight across workplaces and pubs. And rightfully so. The Babadook is a terrifying creature.
This is a film that gets under your skin and stays there, telling the story of a young bereaved widow attempting to care for her newborn kid. It also makes you think about a number of things.
#24 Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Unlike the first Evil Dead, which followed a party of twenty-somethings to a vacation house from hell, the sequel focuses only on Campbell’s Ash and his lover Linda as they try to survive after doing a live reading of the Necronomicon. If I didn’t warn you about someone getting decapitated with a garden tool after you finished reading, I’d be negligent.
#25 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
As the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise progressed over the years, Freddy Krueger, like a certain dungaree-clad possessed doll, firmly slid into killer clown territory. Sure, he’ll spray your organs all over the walls, but at least you’ll die laughing. But, as shown in Wes Craven’s original film, Freddy isn’t to be taken lightly.
Because of our selective recollections, we frequently overlook the fact that this serial child killer’s burns were caused by an angry crowd of parents. Freddy becomes the ultimate boogeyman as he dons his favorite murder glove and goes for a whole new generation of Springwood progeny while they sleep, living eternally via their terror and guilt.
#26 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead is the first installment of Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy,’ following the titular Shaun as he plods through his dismal London existence, only to find (beautifully late) that the majority of the populace has been changed into shambling cannibals while he was sleeping.
It’s time to save his mother, get his lover back, and make sure everyone is alright in time for tea, as he suddenly realizes he needs to be the hero everyone deserves. Unfortunately, things don’t exactly go as planned.
#27 Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Choosing only one zombie Romero film for a list of the best horror movies of all time is similar to facing a shambling army with a letter opener: nasty and difficult, but not impossible. The moment has come to go shopping after much thought.
Four survivors of the zombie apocalypse gather at a vast mall in Romero’s violent onslaught on the consumerist American ideal. While they get inside without anything chomping on their heads, it doesn’t take long for the mall’s beacon to attract additional visitors, and the fortifications begin to crumble.
#28 The Birds (1963)
The Birds, a rough adaptation of a short tale by Daphne du Maurier of the same name by the Master of Suspense, is the pinnacle of the horror movie. Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren, goes to Bodega Bay to deliver some love birds, but she gets far more than she bargained for when the town’s wild winged inhabitants realize that human eyeballs are just as tasty as abandoned chips.
#29 Saw (2004)
With its (mainly) genuinely awful sequels, Saw may have resurrected the so-called torture porn genre, but – and this is a big but – the original Saw is nowhere like as gross-gusting as you think it is and happens to be superb horror. Yes, the title refers to a horrible killer’s suggestion that someone cut their leg off rather than use a key to open a cuff, but Saw is actually rather controlled.
In your head, the thoughts at work here are far more gruesome than what you see on screen. This disturbing tale of two men waking up in a toilet with a corpse between them was made on a shoestring budget by Leigh Whannell and James Wan.
#30 Host (2020)
The first sign of post-pandemic terror has arrived in the form of a Zoom call gone horribly wrong. A bunch of buddies come together for an online mid-lockdown seance, desperate for something to do other than endless lockdown quizzes — we feel this. In an intimidatingly short 56-minute run duration, what follows is a quick, sharp blast of found footage adrenaline.
The host isn’t the first horror movie to be set on a computer screen; it draws on REC, The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity for horrific inspiration while yet providing a frighteningly timely shock.