The 25 Greatest Performances In A Horror Movie

8. Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense


Any time a child actor turns in a powerful performance, it makes audiences everywhere sit-up and take notice. In a movie where a child can see dead people, Osment is captivating as Cole Sear. The line “I see dead people” remains one of the most infamous movie lines in history, and it is delivered with fearful conviction by Osment.

The child actor really made each person feel the pure horror he was going through when he saw each dead person. He was even nominated for an Oscar for his performance in 1999. Anytime someone ears that honor before they are tall enough to ride certain rides at amusement parks, it’s impressive.


7. Donald Pleasence in Halloween


A fixture of the Halloween franchise, Donald Pleasance portrayed Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychologist who was given the daunting task of analyzing Michael Myers. The character provided therapy for Michael from when he was a child until adulthood, when Michael decided it’d be more fun to cut people with a butcher knife rather than sit in a padded cell.

Donald Pleasance portrayed Dr. Loomis as a soft-spoken and intelligent man, who realized the horrors that he let out and knew he had to remain calm to stop him. His delivery of the line “I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” set the tone for the series. I can’t imagine another actor filling the shoes of Sam Loomis. Malcolm McDowell gave his best, but his Dr. Loomis just didn’t match up. The movies after Donald Pleasance’s death have all been lacking, and it is because a major cornerstone of the franchise was no longer around.


6. Jack Nicholson in The Shining


Jack Nicholson has had one of the most successful careers of any actor in film history. He’s been nominated for 12 Oscars, and has won 3 of them. And although not nominated for an award in this case, his role as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one that still stands out.

The character is a recovering alcoholic who agrees to take care of a haunted hotel with his family over one winter. Slowly Jack becomes madder and madder, giving into the insanity that encompasses the hotel and turning completely crazy. Who else could pull of psychotic menace like Jack Nicholson? His role was a major part of the success of the film, one that considered one of the greatest horror films in history.

A lot of times Jack didn’t have a lot to play off of, other than the insanity factor. The way he snapped at his wife, argued with ghosts, and plotted murder was all pulled off with such brilliant intensity by Nicholson. It is a complicated character with a wide range of emotions, but Jack was able to get across this variety in a way that benefited the film tremendously. It’s just hard to imagine someone else delivering the now famous line “Here’s Johnny!” the way Jack did. Kudos, Mr. Nicholson for another outstanding role.


5. Christian Bale in American Psycho


What’s not to love about Bale’s performance as Patrick Bateman? He’s a lawyer in an upper-class environment who seems to fit in well with his wealthy companions. But at night he is as every bit of a psycho as they come, as he chops up helpless victims with an axe.

There is a subtle fakeness to the way Patrick speaks when he’s around all of the WASP’s, and a subtle carnal desire when he is ready to kill another person. Also the dark comedy aspect to the character is also a strong asset brought by Bale. Although it is odd to praise an acting performance by Christian Bale when he hasn’t lost or gained a ton of weight, He deserves a lot of credit for making American Psycho the cult classic it is today.


4. Anthony Perkins in Psycho


As Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins was cast as a creepy mama’s boy with a secret. Psycho is considered one of if not the best horror film of all time, and some of that credit belongs to Perkin’s intense performance.

Two scenes stand out for Perkins: the one where Bates has a sit down with Marion and defends his mother’s madness to a woman who has never met her, and the final scene where the camera does a close up of Bates in a holding cell. Although he doesn’t speak in this scene, his facial expressions are powerful when mixed with the voiceover from his mother. A calm energy was brought by Perkins, and an excellent performance helped cement this horror movie great.


3. Kathy Bates in Misery

Annie Wilkes Misery

An Oscar and a Golden Globe went to Kathy Bates in 1990, for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery. The character required a switch from friendly and admiring fan, to total sociopath in a matter of a few hours. And Kathy Bates pulled this off tremendously. Her facial expressions were so excellent at showing when Annie went from happy to psychotic.

It’s hard for one to not get lost in her character when watching this film. Even though she was delusional and cruel, every time she was on screen she demanded more and more of the audience’s attention. She even laced the character with some dark comedy. Her charming northern speak could make one giggle, right before making one cringe at the thought of what she might do next to the author she has imprisoned.

When you have a film with only a handful of characters, you need some powerful performances to drive home the message of the film, and that is why Kathy Bates deserves all the praise she has received and then some.


2. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs

Although he was only in the movie for a short while, Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter was so significant that he was rewarded the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Hannibal Lester does not seem like an easy character to pull off. You have to balance both sides of him: the sophisticated side, and the cannibalistic psycho side. Hopkins was able to do this with a calm intensity that poured through each line and scene. Considered to be one of the vilest antagonists in the genre, the recognition is earned exclusively because of Hopkins’ brilliance.


1. Robert Englund in The Nightmare on Elm Street Series


He made you laugh, he made you scared, and he made you afraid to close your eyes, but also excited to see what would happen to those who did. Robert Englund IS Freddy Kreuger. A cornerstone of the slasher genre and a true icon in horror films, Robert Englund effortlessly balanced comedy, malevolence and overall creepiness to capture the vision Wes Craven had for Freddy Kreuger.

He has said several times that the character represents neglect, suffered by children. He also represents subconscious fears. Not an easy role to pull off with that many levels while also keeping the movies fun, but Englund did it well. How do you make a man who tortured and murdered children lovable? Robert figured out how, as the evil groundskeeper remains a fan favorite 30 years later.

Honorable Mentions: Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead series, Tobin Bell in Saw II, Kristen Connolly in Cabin in the Woods, Robert Shaw in Jaws, Kevin Spacey in Se7en, Eihi Shiina in Audition.

Author Bio: Russell studied Radio-TV at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He has been writing since since high school, and loves writing about anything movies or television related. He loves horror, comedy, action, drama, zombies, sports movies, Tarantino films, Judd Apatow productions, and anything with Liam Neeson.