Skip to content

The 30 Best Horror Movies of All Time

25 October 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

best-horror-movies

Halloween is almost upon us, so what better time to round-up a list of the most scariest films of all time? Before diving into these suspense-filled nightmares carefully wed to celluloid let’s take care of a little house cleaning to clarify how such daunting a task of presenting only 30 films under the banner of “best horror movies of all time” was determined.

There’s a tendency amongst horror fans to venerate their films, and this explains the inclusion of many genre classics in this list. Also, while cinematic masters like Hitchcock could have easily dominated this list, only his most influential shocker is here, similarly the vast and valuable output of Hammer Studios was narrowed down to just one selection, and ditto such directors as Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and George Romero.

Pains were taken to include at least one film from the likes of Lovecraft, one choice cut featuring Vincent Price, one representative of the Universal Studios classic horror icons––all worthy of the list––as well several recent selections were added into the mix to emphasize the continued delectable state of marvellous modern horror.

True, J-Horror is underrepresented (including Kwaidan as we just had to limit our ghost stories to allow room for others), as are splatter films (all due respect to Lucio Fulci, Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, we love your movies but they didn’t make the cut this time), found footage freakouts (yes, the Blair Witch Project was a game changer but alas, we passed you by for brevity), many horror-comedies aren’t dominant either (with regards to Shaun of the Dead and many others) as we decided to cut lean and go for the ghoulish gold.

We touched on all the tropes, the major nightmare manufacturers, the icons, the eras, the classics, and the bloody benchmarks. While there may be a few regrettable omissions this list is pretty unruly, prodigious, and terrifyingly transcendent.

These horror films are the apogee of the genre and are guaranteed to curdle your blood, raise your hairs, and have you howling in terror, titillation, and excitement.

You’ve been warned, now bravely go forth if you dare.

 

30. It Follows (2014)

It Follows

Remember the name David Robert Mitchell. His 2014 old school horror film, It Follows, is a keenly observed, expertly lensed, micro-budgeted miracle steeped in atmosphere––with a genius Goblin-inspired soundtrack from Disasterpeace––that had genre fans shrieking in delight, when not cowering in fear, of course.

Deliberately pastiching ‘70’s and ‘80’s slasher films where teens are routinely punished for being sexually active, It Follows slyly works in alternate allusions and textures to these tropes, with a feminist slant and De Palma-esque flourish to spare.

With a breakout performance by Maika Monroe as Jay our ill-starred heroine battling a sexually transmitted curse that shape-shifts into some of the creepiest ghouls going. This is the film that rescued indie horror from torture porn and proved that modern horror can be a compendium of what’s gone on before and still be transcendent, terrifying, and teeming with interpretations. Gold!

 

29. Let the Right One In (2008)

let the right one in

Based off of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel from 2004 (he also wrote the screenplay), Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire film pumps new blood and artistry into the vampire milieu.

Let the Right One In works in a myriad of praiseworthy ways; as coming-of-age tale, romance, horror, even something of a comedy, all with an arthouse sensibility and an emotional depth that is as rare as it is refreshing. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) are both luminous as two lost and lonely kids—one a vampire—who, for a time, need one another, and need to make sense of the world.

The ensuing drama is an enduring classic, whose American remake from 2010 by Matt Reeves, Let Me In, is also worth watching (though does fall short of this version considerably).

 

28. Audition (1999)

audition

J-Horror gets mad props here with Takashi Miike’s audacious Audition. Thanks to Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) the year before, contemporary horror fare from Japan was suddenly being taken seriously and this allowed a treacherous, satirical genre mishmash like Audition––part melodrama, part nimble nightmare––to further establish the Land of the Rising Sun’s affinity for fright.

Lonely widow Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) runs a video production company and, with good intentions mostly aimed at his motherless adolescent son, begins auditioning actresses for a fake role in a fake film in hopes of finding himself a girlfriend, and his son, a matron. Enter Asami (Eihi Shiina) and a blossoming romance that, by the film’s horrifying third act morphs into an ultraviolent thriller.

This is an avant-garde offering from Miike, and while it may have helped popularise “torture porn”––the good with the bad I suppose––its gender role reversal is refreshing, and it heavily influenced a new generation of genre luminaries like Eli Roth, Adam Wingard and Jen and Sylvia Soska. Audition is an overwhelming and unforgettable experience.

 

27. The Descent (2005)

the descent

Some real serious shit goes down in The Descent. That wasn’t even just an excuse for a bad pun (sorry, not sorry). Uneasily dactylic and startling from the get-go, writer/director Neil Marshall weaves the lives of six friends together in an increasingly tight-knit underground cave system through the Appalachian Mountains.

For Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), their bittersweet past surfaces as the women discover, most grotesquely, that they are not alone in the crumbling, unmapped, dripping, awful, nasty-ass caves. This is what happens when a thoroughly solid drama also happens to be a horror: stirring character development, palpable tension submerging into madness, unforgettably frightening creatures, and it’s just so awesome that it’s an all-woman cast.

Even while bloodily contending with predatory subhuman mutants these dames get catty retribution on each other––so no, not even stabbing gruesome monsters in the face together will smooth things over regarding that time someone maybe slept with someone’s hubby. Water under what fucking bridge?

 

26. Kill List (2012)

Kill List (2011)

Brit badass Ben Wheatley is one of the most exciting filmmakers around and his sophomore film, 2012’s Kill List, is a relentless, and tense thriller that subverts expectation and morphs into what may well be the most frightening film you’ve ever seen, we shit you not.

Neil Maskell is Jay, a former soldier now turned hitman suffering from PTSD, reluctantly talked into taking another assignment by his best friend and partner, Gal, played by Wheatley regular Michael Smiley (A Field in England).

Kill List is a deliberate slow burn to start, establishing a mood and a tone that eventually and rewardingly ratchets tension and builds anxiety. As the plot takes many unpredictable turns, humor is present to diffuse the mounting mental pressure, Wheatley works the audience, making us anxious, uneasy, and on edge.

The last half hour is all edge-of-your-seat suspense and the final scene is as unforgettable as it is disturbing and, ultimately, inexorable. In a deft and bloody flourish, Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump (also his wife) have upped the ante of what the genre can do with this shocking showpiece.

Kill List is an earthquake of a picture that, once seen, you’ll never be able to forget it.

 

25. 28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later reworks and revives the zombie genre by giving it political figuration, humanist tragedy, and style to spare.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) is a bicycle courier who awakens in a London hospital from a coma 28 days after a contagion has hit humanity hard. This virus induces terrible rage in those affected via blood and saliva, so while technically not a zombie bacillus––got that nerds, it’s not your atypical zombie apocalypse––it uses all those familiar tropes and can therefore be classified a zombie film.

So Sunny Jim soon pairs with other survivors––including a breakout performance from the sensational Naomie Harris––and the film focuses on their struggles and sorrows as they rise to occasion in a frightening new reality. Provocative, playful, and told with tireless energy, 28 Days Later is a great character-driven panic attack that hard-edged horror fans rightfully revere.

 

24. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

An American Werewolf in London

With undeniable and enviable skill, writer/director John Landis’ alternately frightening/funny film, An American Werewolf in London has withstood the passing decades because of its genius balance of horror, dark comedy, and drama.

You can’t help but root for David Kessler (David Naughton), such a nice mannered young lad, but then again, after an unfortunate hike over the moonlit moors of Scotland––which he was warned to steer clear of––he keeps transforming into a nasty AF werewolf that delights in tearing people to pieces. As an added perk for his victims their torture goes on, cursed to roam and rot until Dave himself dies and the werewolf curse along with him.

Rick Baker’s practical special effects are genius, truly this film has the best werewolf transformation sequence of all time.

Aside from bending genre rules along to a perfect CCR-soaked soundtrack, An American Werewolf in London provides the added freakout; you will NEVER comfortably walk through a subway station ever again, ever.

 

23. Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser-reboot-Todd-Farmer

Clive Barker brought terror, psychosexual symbolism, S&M, and a new horror icon dubbed Pinhead (Doug Bradley), gnashing and snarling into the world with this transgressive, subversive, and shocking directorial debut. Based off his own novella, Hellraiser is a cruel celebration of deviant horror, primal trauma, and fucked up Freudian imagery.

Barker’s Cenobites (extradimensional beings summoned via sex magick, with a predilection for pleasure through pain) led by the aforementioned Pinhead combine with surreal imagery that jump started a series of spinoffs and sequels that are still subjugating fans far and wide and back in 1987 Stephen King famously dubbed him “the future face of horror.”

Hellraiser also succeeds as a startling satire of Marquis de Sade’s explicit proclivity and fetish as well as being a great example of 1980s horror done right. As Pinhead proudly proclaims: “We have so much to show you.”

 

22. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Werner Herzog’s redaction of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 German silent horror classic is a mesmerizing mindfuck with a terrifying Klaus Kinski in the titular role. With touches of the surreal and some deliberate deviations from the familiar Bram Stoker tale of Dracula and his relocation to a more settled estate, Herzog’s vision is frequently apocalyptic and more macabre than you might expect.

Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is a real-estate agent from Wismar, Germany, who treks through the Carpathian Mountains to tailor the relocation of the despondent Count Dracula from his imposing castle. Once there the Count is instantly infatuated with a portrait of Jonathan’s his wife, Lucy (Isabelle Adjani), and he agrees at once to relocate his estate to Bremen.

Expectedly, things get dark pretty quick and the sparring between Kinski and Adjani is lyrical, fantastical, and frightening. Paced unusually for a horror film, Herzog’s approach is stylish and hypnotic, full with black humor business and slowly scary reveals there really isn’t another vampire film quite like this eccentric and enduring specimen.

 

21. Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator

Stuart Gordon’s fast-paced, funny, and wonderfully bombastic adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft is a quintessential 1980s B-movie with lasting charm, trash appeal, loads of explicit sexual perversion and serrated social criticism. Sound like a mouthful? It is!

Gothic sensibilities pair with splatter comedy and genius practical effects as Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna (also a legend in cult horror from that era) hilariously and horribly revise the mad scientist trope and make an iconic antihero in Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and his arch rival Doctor Hill (David Gale).

Easily Gordon’s most enjoyable film, and the first in the Re-Animator franchise, it’s an irresistible little shocker that’s as disturbing as it is comical and is, make no mistake, a genuine genre original. Not to be missed.

 

 

Pages: 1 2 3


   

Other Brilliant Movie Posts On The Web
   

Like Our Facebook Page and Get Daily Updates
   
  • Chrisychipz

    Eyes Without A Face is better than Psycho and should be on this list

    • D Train

      Are you serious? While EWAF is an outstanding film it is hardly the influential piece de resistance that Hitchcock’s Psycho is, c’mon. If you’ve got a strong argument as to why it deserves top billing, please make it. I’m listening.

      • Chrisychipz

        Just because a film is influential doesn’t mean it’s better. Both films came out the same year and I like Eyes better. I think it has the better story. It only barely beats out Psycho.

        • shane scott-travis

          You’re right that it doesn’t mean that because a film is more influential that it’s better, but when carefully selecting relevant films for a list of this nature you need a criteria to follow not just personal preference. That’s not what makes a film universally great or enduring or a classic.

  • Where’s Possession, Antichrist, and House?

    • D Train

      I agree, but doing a list of only 30 films is pretty daunting. I’d like to see Sam Raimi on here too but at least he got a mention in the intro.

    • frank mango

      antichrist is like every other film by him…..overrated dogshit with a sense of his sexual fettishes

      • Oh and you think Uwe Boll is a better filmmaker?

        • frank mango

          no

      • D Train

        Frank, you’re an idiot.

  • D Train

    Great list! Rad to see Kill List and It Follows, both are modern masterpieces of the genre. Well played.

    • Jacob Kilgannon

      Can you explain to me what makes It Follows so popular? I honestly don’t
      understand why horror fans love it so much. I thought it was terrible. I
      promise I’m not trolling or anything, I legitimately don’t understand the appeal x/

      • Henke

        Nobody can. It’s a matter of taste. I personally loved it because it got me terrified unlike most horror movies today. If you look at the plot it’s ridiculous, but like every other movie it is also about how a story is being told. I personally enjoy the cinematography, the script and the music a lot. And I don’t have any problem in seeing that other people would have the exact opposite feelings about that.

  • Allister Cooper

    Event Horizon, Kairo, and The Amityville Horror remake of 2005. Ringu, too, the Japanese original. Forget the sequels. All of them.

    • D Train

      The Amityville Horror remake was drek, nothing more than a retread with jump scare after jump scare. Event Horizon is a fun one but hardly the best of anything.
      Ringu is great, it got a mention on this list with Audition. Love J-horror!

  • Blake MacLean

    Sorry – but “The Changeling” (George C. Scott) was my fave and i thought the director missed the point completely on “The Shining” which doesn’t belong on this list. The book was great, though!

    • D Train

      I agree. The Shining sucks. The Changeling rocks!

      • D Lame

        40 storey building looking down on me
        Blocking a perfectly good view of the sky
        But I’ve got rolling wide open fields
        And a homegrown sunset on my mind

        I make a real good living in this city
        But this will never be home to me, no, no

        ‘Cause I come from the hills of West Virginia
        Where the blue grass grows so green
        I brought a little backwards backwoods with me
        Yeah, I’m a big time, small town, big city hillbilly

        Yeah, good wine, champagne costing more than my TV
        I miss my ice cold pure mountain moonshine
        And how do you girls ever learn to walk in those stilettos
        Balance on a toothpick on a steep incline

        I may button up real nice for the boardroom
        But I’m more in my own skin in these old jeans, yeah, yeah

        ‘Cause I come from the hills of West Virginia

        Where the blue grass grows so green
        I brought a little backwards backwoods with me
        Yeah, I’m a big time, small town, big city hillbilly

        And if you peel back the layers of this big town I’ve got on
        You’ll find hardcore country underneath, yeah, yeah

        ‘Cause I come from the hills of West Virginia
        Where the blue grass grows so, so green
        I brought a little backwards backwoods with me
        Yeah, I’m a big time, small town, big city

        Yes, I come from the hills of West Virginia
        Where the blue grass grows so, so green
        I brought a little backwards backwoods with me
        Well, I’m a big time, small town, big city
        I’m a big time, small town, big city
        I’m a big time, small town, big city hillbilly

    • shane scott-travis

      I prefer The Changeling too, and George C Scott is a better actor than Nicholson. But narrowing down so a lofty a list to just a mere 30 titles is an incredible challenge. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • David Balota

    Good list, but I would have included The Ring and Session 9.

  • Aishani

    english language horror films*

  • Porst

    I liked It Follows, but no way should it be in the top 30 of all time. The 3rd act falls apart and it gets too silly for its own good sometimes. Plenty of other more solid and deserving horror films belong on here.

    • D Train

      I disagree. For a film with so small a budget it skillfully proves that a film can be a compendium of genre elements and tropes and still transcend the genre.
      And if you’re suggesting It Follows is silly it makes me wonder if you’re truly a genre fan. Horror films have ghouls, undead creatures that drink blood, horny teenagers, all sorts of “silly” conceits you either accept straight up OR you go watch a Merchant Ivory film and love it.

      • Porst

        Ha, do not question my genre love. I love silliness in horror, when it’s earned. I feel It Follows takes itself too seriously in parts that are inherently goofy, so it often feels tonally off. Again, I enjoyed it – so don’t gloss over that in my criticisms – but my bottom line is that there are many, many better and more iconic films that can and should be in a list of “top 30 of all time”. We’re talking everywhere, ever. Frankly I don’t think something that came out a year ago has seen enough longevity to be considered among classics anyway, but that’s another discussion.

        • D Train

          What’s the harm in predicting a potential classic? And what makes you think It Follows takes itself too seriously? Do you know the director personally? It seems playful and light on its feet, considering the horror factor. It has lots of instances of comic relief and has humor in the dialogue. Maybe you’re just part of the trendy backlash that always befalls a film that gets acclaim?

          • Porst

            Really? “Do you know the director personally” handwaves every criticism you could possibly throw at any piece of media, and so do ad hominem accusations of bandwagoning. Criticism is broad and widespread. I said multiple times that I like the film. I just don’t think it’s literally one of the best horror movies ever. Feel free to disagree, but you won’t convince me that it is.

  • Greig Stott

    Would you count Misery and Silence of the Lambs as horror films? Also Evil Dead, The Burning, The Birds, Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer and Poltergeist, they would all be in my list (not counting some more of my more obscure and personal favourites, but these are worthy among the best) – some great films listed, though I haven’t seen several of the more modern ones.

  • Josh Campbell

    The Babadook deserves a spot on this list, it blew It Follows away. Depression is a truly frightening beast.

    • D Train

      I wouldn’t say The Babadook “blew it away”, for starters, that kid was fucking annoying and also the soundtrack to It Follows was worth the admission price alone.
      You’re right though, depression is a beast.

      • Josh Campbell

        The kid was “annoying” to convey truths about parenthood. Especially the care of a child who is a little off/on the spectrum.
        I liked the soundtrack, I liked fez’s soundtrack too. The composer disasterpiece does some great work. That being said I’d rather go to a concert than sit through a mediocre horror film just because I enjoyed the score.

        • D Train

          The Disasterpeace score was just one reason I liked It Follows over The Babadook. Both films were good, both played with refreshing feminist ideas, both had strong female leads, & both were artful and effective.
          I also really liked how It Follows played with those old 80s teen exploitation tropes and existed in a pocket universe with almost no adults. I also dug the setting of Detroit; a collapsing and half empty ghost city. Also, for me, It Follows was technically more dazzling like those De Palma inspired 360 degree shots and some stirring long take tracking shots like vintage Carpenter. Really impressive stuff.

    • Jacob Lyon Goddard

      The Witch was heads and tails above The Babadook and It Follows.

  • Nikos Ikonomidis

    Nice list; a few complaints yes maybe, but for a list I didn’t create myself it’s very close to my desires.

  • Carl Edgar Consiglio

    A tale of two sisters!!!!

    • Louunicorn

      Summer 2015 encounter!

  • Jake LaMotta

    Sorry to say so,but this list is a joke.Where are Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant??Murnau’s Nosferatu should definitely be on the list,along with some Jacques Tourneur movie(I Walked with a Zombie,Cat People).Jack Clayton’s The Innocents should be a no-brainer for this list.Also The Haunting(the 1961 original,not the ridiculous remake of course)shoud be part of this list.And these are just for starters…

    • Tristan Reed

      Agreed..really surprised ‘The Innocents’ is not on this list…and really don’t think ‘It Follows’ is as deserving as everyone makes out (IMO) Still..it must be hard delivering a list of 30 and should be called The 30 Best Horror Movies (according to the writer) rather than being so definitive 🙂

    • D Train

      Sorry to say but YOU are the bore. Please present YOUR list as I’d like to shit all over it with my superiority complex and preference for Polanski.

  • christoofar

    Great list, lots of my all time favorites there.

  • Klaus Dannick

    Not a terrible list overall, but I was sensing problems with the first 5 entries all being of a post-2000 vintage. The remainder of the list contains primarily entries which are inarguably syrong choices, but I’d replace any of those recent films with Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat, Sidney Hayers’ Burn, Witch, Burn, or Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon; and, although Black Sabbath is a good film, Mario Bava made others which are better (Black Sunday; Kill, Baby, Kill; Lisa and the Devil).

    • D Train

      Must have been a nightmare task to distill a century of films down to just 30 films. This list, by and large, works for me. I’d love it if Sam Raimi was on here but I think it covers a lot of ground. Certainly a great introduction to great horror for non-genre fans.

      • Klaus Dannick

        It wouldn’t have occurred to me if the title of the article didn’t specify “Greatest of All Time”. To me, the selection here betrays some ignorance of history on the author’s part. Unless, of course, they feel that the quality of horror films in general has somehow vastly improved over the last 15 years of cinema (versus the first eight-five or so), enough to justify nearly 20 percent of the entries having been released in the last 15 years.

        • D Train

          I’ve written for this site before and the editors title the articles for whatever is the most attention grabbing and click-baiting. Like most publications, it’s the editor and publisher that write the headline, not the writer.

          • Klaus Dannick

            I’ve seen others say sinilar things about the titles of the articles, and I certainly believe you on that. Still, any basic list of horror genre films (as you said, suitable as an introduction for non-fans to the genre) would serve that audience more appropriately with Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Robert Wise’s The Haunting over several of these entries.

  • BaronMarx

    Judging by the title of this article, I already know it’s not worth reading. Can’t really understand how people can write “Best of” lists when it comes to something subjective like art. Next time try being honest, have some respect for yourself, title it “My 30 Favorite Horror Films”, and try being more than just click-bait fodder.

    • D Train

      Judging by the first sentence of your comment you’re an elitist snob with an axe to grind. Why comment on an article you haven’t read? Ignorance is unattractive you know.

      • BaronMarx

        You poor fool. Claiming that you’ve made a “Best Of” list is elist, since it fails to consider everyone else’s opinions. Thankfully I’m not trying to attract those who confuse “opinion” with “fact”. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone posting an article discussing their favorite genre films and would probably lead to a positive discussion where people can compare their tastes regarding a subjective art form. It’s called being realistic dum dum.

  • Scream >>>>> Hellraiser

    • D Train

      No fucking way is Scream better than Hellraiser. Do you wanna back that with anything tangible? Even Wes Craven previously did a meta slasher movie with New Nightmare so Scream wasn’t at all groundbreaking in the way Hellraiser was. Duh.

      • D Lame

        http://www.allthelyrics.com/lyrics/woolpackers/hillbilly_rock_hillbilly_roll-lyrics-738913.html#ixzz4OzOP2Ay9

        Up on a mountain way out of town
        It’s saturday night and the folks gather round
        bring a little bottle but you hold on tight
        it’s a hillbilly rock and roll night
        Yeah

        hiya all say Ma and Pa
        everybody’s out in the yard
        somebody’s calling out go cat go
        it’s uncle Earl on his old banjo

        CHORUS Do the hillbilly rock, the hillbilly roll
        stand in line and away we go
        a little bit of moonshine, a little bit of meat
        do the hillbilly rock and roll with me
        Yeah

        Grandpa’s sittin’ in his rocking chair
        and grandma’s pretty when she let’s down her hair
        her hair comes down, her dress goes up
        she grabs a fiddle and she peddles to the vibe

        CHORUS

        Well everybody dance, everybody sing
        squeeze that box and make it ring
        here’s a little bitty gift from Ma and Pa
        Johnny be good it’s his first guitar

  • Everette Eats World channel

    What is even more interesting than the actual list is the revisionist ideas as to what movies have been included. It is unlikely that list would include a number of the movies it does if it were written a mere five or ten years ago. Some of the films mentioned have only gained traction within the last decade or so. I’m thinking that Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man, and a few others would have been well liked, but not thought of as some of the “greatest” of all time.

    And I’d like to personally add Haxan to the list. And at least one Val Lewton film should crack the top twenty, as well. Pick one. And no love for Rosemary’s Baby? Oh, And The Devil Rides Out” would be my Brit pick over the Dracula offering.

  • I Am Tyler Durden

    Fist pumping? I’d stop that if I was you or your hands will be as hairy as David Naughton’s!