Getting movie fans to agree on much of anything is rare, but on occasion even the most opinionated will cross the theater aisle to make peace. Over time, film fans have even found common ground in a few select titles offering that most peculiar form of voluntary self-torture – the horror movie.
Films like these that become widely loved are a strange lot, and not easily categorized – while they don’t all reach the pinnacle of artistic accomplishment, their popularity doesn’t automatically imply creative compromise. And these favorites aren’t all shiny, whitewashed PG-13 fare either – some are borderline traumatizing, and would normally be much more polarizing under other circumstances. But, we’re not here to explain why everyone likes these horror movies, we’re just here to list them.
10. It (2017) – Andres Muschietti
The newest entry on this list, It has quickly amassed a respectable fanbase of its own. Building on the legacy of a beloved miniseries which was effective but constrained by its television format, 2017’s film pulled out all the stops and delivered an edgy, truly terrifying experience. And this connection to the older It seems to contribute to the new one’s popularity – on some level, it feels like being treated to a grown-up version of a beloved show that you could only watch a sanitized version of as a kid.
King’s classic novel may have done more to spread a fear of clowns than any other book in history, but the film adaptations made certain that our collective cinematic psyche would remain forever scarred. Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the shape-shifting villain of the story, lives in the sewers of a small town and terrorizes the local children. But seven local kids decide they’ve had enough of the clown’s scare tactics, and band together to take back their psyches and their lives from this nebulous menace. Their camaraderie is the emotional heart of a story that triggers the deepest fears inside all of us.
9. Ringu (1998) – Hideo Nakata
Ringu did as much as any movie to help usher in a new wave of J-horror popularity, which in turn provided the inspiration for many films to follow. With a plot only possible its own digital age, Ringu was perfectly positioned to engage a new generation of movie fans with a horror hook specially designed for their tastes. Though it quickly spawned a Hollywood remake, the Japanese original remains the preferred choice for students of cinema.
This story centers around a video tape which, once watched, curses the viewer with a certain, though slightly delayed, death. When a news reporter’s niece becomes one of the victims, she sets out to unravel the mysterious video’s secret. As she races against her own ticking clock, the reporter’s life hangs in the balance and drives her to find an answer. Ringu is a modern classic guaranteed to similarly haunt those viewers brave enough to watch it.
8. The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter
An updated reinterpretation of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s film keeps the skeletal plot of the original while boldly staking out its own identity. Additional on-screen violence is an obvious evolution resulting from the passing years, but The Thing also amplifies the tension and the terror to great effect. Kurt Russell anchors a uniformly excellent cast, whose performances help to keep this a perennial favorite.
A group of research scientists living in icy Antarctica fall under threat from a deadly, shape-shifting creature who begins systematically killing the members of their team. Far away from any potential help, the victims begin turning on each other, each suspecting that the evil presence may have taken over the body of a fellow scientist. The paranoia and tension escalate to an inevitable climax which is as entertaining as it is terrifying. This is one of John Carpenter’s very best movies.
7. Let the Right One In (2008) – Tomas Alfredson
This modern Swedish classic is beloved for its unconventional approach to its horror topic. You could call it “vampirism unplugged” – Let the Right One In sucks away the Victorian-style romanticism often applied by Hollywood to the vampire theme in favor of a more realistic treatment. And horror fans loved it, welcoming this much-needed reset to a genre in danger of permanently descending into self-parody.
At the center of the story is a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy who strikes up a close friendship with and finds an emotional refuge in his new neighbor – a girl who only makes her appearances at night. As the two kids grow closer, it becomes apparent that the girl has something to hide; her oddly specific rules about when and where she can go begin to annoy her new friend who thought he had found a kindred spirit. Let Me In is an intelligent movie that takes an honest look at the concept of vampirism, and follows its implications through to their logical conclusions. It’s also a touching story about human loneliness and connection, viewed through the eyes of two characters at sensitive stages in their lives.
6. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Roman Polanski
This trailblazing classic still serves as a kind of bridge between classic and modern horror. Its style, its themes, and its 1968 release date all help it feel quite modern even while it deals with the business of witches and covens. Rosemary’s Baby has dynamic performances, stylish direction, and an engaging story that still hasn’t lost a step after all these decades.
Rosemary is the central figure of the film, and the baby she is expecting is the catalyst for the drama. While delighted about the news of her pregnancy, Rosemary becomes deeply suspicious of her husband’s friendship with the neighbors – an older couple who seem to take an excessive interest in her well-being. Rosemary’s investigations reveal mounting evidence that the friendly neighbors might belong to a coven of witches with evil designs on her child. But could her suspicions just be the result of the taxing physical conditions of her pregnancy? That is the question which creates the horror of Rosemary’s Baby.