It’s safe to say that during the many years it’s been on our screens, the horror genre has seen it all – from cheesy movies to masterpieces. And whether or not they received critical acclaim, some movies are just so omnipresent in the collective conscious that it’s impossible to forget about them even years after their release.
So to honor this multifaceted genre, here is a list of 25 best horror movies to date, from classics to more recent successes. Sit back, dive your hand into the popcorn, and enjoy the traumatizing ride.
1. Hereditary (2018)
In this jaw-dropping, troubling psychological horror film, a family struggles with the dark heritage and mysteries left behind by a dead grandmother. Just when you think you know what to expect from this film, you get punched in the face with twists and turns you never saw coming. From atmosphere to sound effects, editing to acting, Hereditary plays with tropes while being its own original self, and we can safely say there has rarely been a movie so disturbing this decade.
2. The Mist (2007)
The Mist combines typical monster-movie horror with very intense character drama. The main part of the plot surrounds a group of characters hiding in a grocery store from a deadly mist that has overtaken the surrounding town. It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same situation as the hero, David, an unassuming family man who relies on logic instead of impulse or fear. Our connection to David makes it all the more traumatizing when the movie delivers one of the most shocking endings in movie history.
3. Us (2019)
They say everyone has a twin out there somewhere. Well, that’s very much the disturbing case for the Wilson family, who meet a murderous version of themselves when staying at a beach vacation. This isn’t your everyday horror movie, but instead a thrilling journey of subtle humor, a bizarre mystery and great cinematography. Drizzling in suspense, blood and great action scenes, the 2019 movie, Us is the latest scary film to keep fans awake at night. You never know who’s lurking outside your home…it could be your barbaric doppelganger.
4. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s first instalment in a series that sparked various top sequels and prequels, Alien is a horror movie that genuinely has no flaws. In this spatial movie led by the wonderful Sigourney Weaver, we meet the crew of a commercial ship threatened by an alien creature. Turns out, they’ve inadvertently brought it on board with them after responding to a distress call just before their return home. Talk about dramatic irony…
5. Saw (2004)
We’ve all seen movies with serial killers, but Saw is on a different scale. The killer known as Jigsaw prefers not to kill people himself. Instead, he creates an elaborate scenario that forces people to kill each other or themselves. The movie and its entire saga forces us to face difficult questions like, would you take another person’s life to save your own? Or would you cut off your own foot to escape certain death?Saw doesn’t teach us any lessons about the value of life, the same lessons Jigsaw claims to teach his victims. Instead, it only shows us the inevitability of death. It’s a terrifying message and one we don’t often face, even in horror movies.
6. Get Out (2017)
Jordan Peele’s extremely clever and layered horror film is masterfully shot, written, directed and acted, and follows the terrifying journey of Chris, a young Black man who is taken by his White girlfriend to visit her posh, liberal White family in their gorgeous estate in the countryside. It’s all downhill from there as Chris realizes that the estate and his hosts have terrible secrets in store…
7. The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is a classic horror movie that was very bold for its time. It’s one of the first scary movies to use obscene language and self-mutilation, and it’s all done by a child. While children have proven themselves as excellent horror movie monsters time and time again, the demon-possessed little girl, Regan, is unlike any other. You’ll be traumatized by her performance as well as the creepy subliminal messages in some cuts of the film.
8. A Quiet Place (2018)
Top rated film of 2018, A Quiet Place tells the tale of a family roaming through a post-apocalyptic America in which the slightest sound or word can get you eaten alive by alien creatures. Gripping and beautifully shot with barely any spoken word, this is surely one of the scariest movies of the past five years that will make you want to chew on your popcorn with care.
9. The Human Centipede (2009)
This movie can be summed up in one word – grotesque. Many horror films explore the idea of “body horror,” in which the major threat to the characters is mutilation of their physical bodies. The Human Centipede shows this horror in great detail as a mad scientist stitches together the living bodies of three victims, attaching them mouth to rectum to form a human centipede with one continuous digestive tract. This movie is incredibly disgusting and the gag factor guarantees to traumatize and stick with you to say the least.
10. It (2017)
The latest book adaptation of the famous Stephen King’s novel, It follows the Stranger Things hype by being set in the 1980’s. Seven children in Derry, Maine, investigate the dreary mysterious clown that has emerged from the sewers to terrorize and kill, especially by showing people their deepest fears and manipulating them to lure them to their death. Considered one of the best horror movies of our generation, you’ll never look at clowns in the same way again.
11. It Follows (2014)
One of the biggest, most unexpected successes of the genre these past few years, this movie tells the story of Jay, a teenage girl who has beared a curse after sleeping with her boyfriend for the first time. She becomes the victim of assassins who won’t stop until she is either dead or passed the curse to someone else. The metaphor might be a bit too on the nose, but the beautiful cinematography and tense pace will make you forget that you are essentially watching a cautionary tale about STDs.
12. The Conjuring (2013)
This top scary movie follows the alleged true story of the real-life ‘ghost-hunting’ couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Based on their reports of the events that unfolded when helping the haunted Perron household in 1971, The Conjuring is as tense as it is beautifully shot, and proves to the audience that ghost-hunting can be more than just a boring trope.
13. The Witch (2016)
In this compelling, suspenseful period horror movie, a family of English settlers are exiled from their Puritan gated community and forced to live alone at the edge of a forest. Shortly after they’ve moved in a humble abode, the newborn of the family mysteriously disappears. Abducted by a witch, the entire family is sent into a fit of paranoia that even makes them doubt one another…
14. Jaws (1975)
An absolute classic of the genre, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws tells the story of a great white shark that’s hungry to eat the beach-goers of a New England town as they swim mindlessly around. Trying to put an end to this nightmare, a police chief, a marine biologist and a shark hunter join forces to catch the beast. This horror classic will put you on edge whenever dipping your toes in the sea. Just make sure to avoid its follow-up film, Jaws 2 – it’s ranked as one of the worst movie sequels ever!
15. The Babadook (2014)
A grieving widow is exhausted by her son’s fear of a monster she believes to be imaginary. This concern has invaded their social lives for the worst, until she is forced to realize that the creature her son fears is truly inhabiting her home and threatening them both.
Want more film recommendations? Check out our list of the best drama films on Amazon Prime!
16. Gerald’s Game (2017)
This adaptation of Stephen King’s novel tells the terrifying story of a woman whose husband dies of a heart attack – in the most unfortunate circumstances. The wife is handcuffed to the bed in a house located far away from anything and anyone. Not knowing where the key is and left in this position for several nights, she begins to experience haunting hallucinations while trying to find her way out…
17. Sinister (2012)
A writer in need of a big idea moves his family into a house where another family died tragically some years ago. He finds old footage of the deceased and soon realizes that it is an evil presence in the house that led them to their untimely end… and it might just do the same to his own family.
18. Annabelle (2014)
After the success of The Conjuring, it was only a matter of time before the creepy doll, Annabelle got her own movie. In this stand-alone “origin story” focused on the horrendous old-timey doll, a man offers her as a gift to his pregnant wife, but a cult soon breaks into the house and inadvertently curses it. Consequently driving them both into a nightmarish journey, this thriller will make you want to throw any dolls into the trash.
19. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
One of the most self-aware, strange horror films to date, this movie might seem quite generic but it’s actually a clever commentary on the horror genre. A group of college friends head to a deserted cabin, lost in the middle of nowhere for the weekend (what could go wrong?). Unaware, they turn out to be the victims of a high-tech company intent on manipulating them and watching them killed one by one in the strangest of ways…
20. Insidious (2010)
In this supernatural horror film, a family moves into a new home and it’s not long before their son, Dalton falls in the attic and slips into a coma. When Dalton is back from the hospital, still in a coma, a strange presence seems to run through the house, tormenting the family. Prepare for jumps and scares and sounds of creepy children giggling that’ll echo later in your dreams.
21. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity brought back the hype for fake found-footage movies and spawned several sequels and prequels that slowly descended into parody. Still, this first opus is a must-watch. A young couple moves into a house in San Diego where an evil presence ruins their hope for a fresh start. This great horror flick is spooky enough to make you doubt the slightest sound or creak in your house.
22. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Call yourself a horror and thriller fan? Haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs? Where have you been all of these years?! A young Jodie Foster plays an FBI trainee who is sent to seek the help of an imprisoned psychiatrist-turned-cannibal (played by the riveting Anthony Hopkins) in order to find another active serial killer who skins his victims’ bodies. Will telling you this classic won seven Academy Awards convince you to watch it? It’s clearly one of the best horror movies to date.
23. The Ring (2002)
Another iconic horror flick from the early 2000’s, The Ring tells the story of a journalist investigating the unusual deaths of teens apparently caused by a strange video tape. It’s not everyday you hear about a tape that kills its viewers after seven days. Anyone who lives on earth would have encountered the image of the creepy black-haired girl coming out of the TV set. We recommend watching it at night…just don’t pick up the phone when it rings right after.
24. Poltergeist (1982)
One of the scariest classics from the 1980’s, this paranormal horror movie directed by Steven Spielberg tells the story of a Californian family that finds itself haunted by a spirit manifesting as a poltergeist through their TV set. Though the spirits are friendly at first, they rapidly become the opposite of that and plunge the family into a nightmare.
25. 1922 (2017)
This adaptation of Stephen King’s novella is a Netflix gem that has treated thriller fans. Minimalist, grim and extremely tense, this period horror movie will keep you on your toes until the very end. It tells the story of Wilfred “Wilf” James who admits to a crime he committed on a family farm in 1922. Recounting every sordid detail of his descent to hell, this story is yet another shocking tale that will leave imprinted in your mind for days to come.
Each one of these traumatic movies in our list dares to do something unlike any movie that came before. Bravo to them for being different. Not sure it’s worth the therapy we’re going to need after seeing them, though.
Are you a super-fan of horror movies so much, you love to dress up as its characters? Check out our selection of horror movie costume ideas you can get your hands on now!
There are sections of this article that were written by Kasey Rubenstein.