39 Best Horror Movies Of All Time

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What’s Halloween without a marathon of the best horror movies of all time heating up the TV screen and giving you a bone-chilling good time? Read on for 39 of the scariest movies ever for your viewing pleasure.

In this article:

  1. Classic Horror Movies of the ’20s to the ’50s
  2. Top Horror Movies of the ’60s and ’70s
  3. The Best Horror Movies of the ’80s and ’90s
  4. The Creepiest Horror Movies of the 2000s – Present

Best Horror Movies of All Time for Halloween Bingeing

Classic Horror Movies of the ’20s to the ’50s

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert singles this movie out as the first true horror film.  It is the story of a hypnotist, his somnambulist patient, and a sleepy town rocked by a series of murders. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari influenced American horror films afterward thanks to its use of the unreliable narrator and its twist ending.

2. Nosferatu (1922)

Although Dracula has always been the iconic vampire of legend, Nosferatu’s Count Orlok was the first one to ever grace the screen and establish several tropes like vampires burning when exposed to sunlight. The director and the scriptwriter behind Nosferatu acknowledge that Stoker’s Dracula was indeed the source material for their movie, but in the end, Nosferatu became the template for all vampire movies after it.

3. Freaks (1932)

Writer and director Tod Browning hired real-life sideshow entertainers in this suspenseful tale of love and betrayal in a traveling circus. Freaks lost MGM around $164,000 and Browning’s career came to a close due to the public’s poor reception, but history is good to this movie, and recent viewers rate it at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.

4. Frankenstein (1932)

Based on the novel by Mary Shelley about scientist Dr. Frankenstein who made a man out of body parts salvaged from corpses, this movie made a splash among moviegoers. Frankenstein netted $1.4 million in movie houses in 1932 which was a massive box office figure during its time.

5. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

People consider The Bride of Frankenstein one of the first instances where the sequel is much better than the first movie. This story follows the events of the first with Frankenstein’s Monster terrorizing the countryside in search of a companion.

6. The Wolf Man (1941)

What Nosferatu did for the vampire in film, the Wolf Man accomplished for the werewolf. The Wolfman launched how Hollywood would portray these supernatural creatures, and werewolves have been fascinating us ever since.

7. The Body Snatcher (1945)

Drawing inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story of the same name, The Body Snatcher is the story of a grave robber and the revenge that haunts him from beyond the grave. This film holds an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

8. The Spiral Staircase (1946)

One of the first home invasion movies, The Spiral Staircase weaves the tale of a serial killer who targets people with disabilities and a woman trapped in her own home with her predator. It holds an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

9. Night of the Demon (1957)

An American scholar and skeptic Dr. John Holden arrives in England to investigate a Satanic cult led by Dr. Julian Karswell. It’s sufficient to say that Dr. Holden finds his belief in science destroyed after encountering the devil himself.

10. House on a Haunted Hill (1959)

Legendary horror actor Vincent Price plays the role of millionaire Frederick Loren who invites five people to stay for a night in his haunted mansion with the promise of a $10,000 payday. The guests encountered all sorts of terrors after Loren locked the doors past midnight.

Top Horror Movies of the ’60s and ’70s

11. Psycho (1960)

Critically-acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock filmed Psycho on a lower budget than his other films, but that didn’t stop the movie from becoming one of his masterpieces. Psycho tells the story of a secretary who ends up in an isolated motel after stealing her employer’s money, and her encounter with the motel’s mysterious manager, Norman Bates.

12. Carnival of Souls (1962)

The death of two friends after a drag race gone wrong prompts Mary Henry to get a new identity and lead a new life as a church organist in a faraway town. Despite turning over a new leaf, her friend’s ghosts stalk Mary and take her to a long-abandoned carnival.

13. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George Romero put zombies in pop culture through Night of the Living Dead. This film follows a group of survivors trapped in a barricaded house who must fend off zombies until rescue comes, or they find a way to escape. Night of the Living Dead grossed $12 million, a hefty return for its $114,000 production budget, and cemented the walking dead as one of the most popular movie monsters today.

14. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby raises terror by notches by having the story revolve around a baby. The child’s mother, the titular Rosemary, fears a cult is after her child — a suspicion which becomes true as mysterious events unravel.

15. The Exorcist (1973)

Drawing direct inspiration from William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, The Exorcist is the story of a child’s possession by the devil. The film’s nightmare-inducing scenes still eclipse all other Satanic-possession movies Hollywood churned out in its wake.

16. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre infused horror and the slasher genre in particular with its common tropes like murder with power tools, gore, and a brutish, near-unkillable villain. Director and creator Tobe Hooper made the movie for $140,000 and shot for several weeks straight to keep costs low. The movie grossed $30 million despite several countries banning the film because of the extreme violence on screen. America’s horror genre has nonetheless upped its game thanks to this movie, with several iconic slashers following in Leatherface’s footsteps.

17. Jaws (1975)

If there’s one reason to fear swimming in the ocean, Steven Spielberg manifested it in Jaws. The movie follows the trail of a Great White Shark terrorizing the beaches of a resort island town.

18. Suspiria (1977)

This movie about witches and devil-worship put Dario Argento and Italian horror on the map. Argento’s gory flourishes and visual style has made Suspiria a cult classic and a familiar name in other horror movie lists.

19. Halloween (1978)

The producers for Halloween tapped John Carpenter to make a film that combined young girls and horror the same way The Exorcist did, and what they got is Michael Myers. John Carpenter started so many of the tropes for slasher movies in Halloween that critics believe the film inspired the next wave of horror movies that came out in the ’80s.

20. Alien (1979)

Alien had turned Ridley Scott into a household name and popularized its Xenomorphs into iconic monsters which transcended movie screens and translated into comics and video games as well. The film takes place in the Nostromo, a cramped space tug plying on its usual route when its crew responds to a distress call, only to bring on a deadly creature aboard the ship.

The Best Horror Movies of the ’80s and ’90s

21. The Shining (1980)

In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick delivers one of the most widely acknowledged best horror movies of all time. The story revolves around the Torrance family and their stay in the haunted Overlook Hotel one decisive winter. As the narrative progresses, we see Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, spiral into insanity as the various supernatural forces goad him into madness.

22. The Evil Dead (1981)

Before directing the first Spiderman movies in the 2000s, Sam Raimi earned his stripes for creating and helming the production of The Evil Dead. Now considered by its fans to be a cult classic, the film revolves around five vacationing teens who unwittingly release evil spirits bound in a book called the Necronomicon. Viewers loved The Evil Dead for its combination of gore, over-the-top special effects for its time, and its tongue-in-cheek comedy.

23. Poltergeist (1982)

Tobe Hooper, director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, scores another hit in Poltergeist. Steven Spielberg originally held the director’s seat but chose to collaborate with Hooper instead, creating this film detailing the struggles of a suburban family against evil spirits out to take their daughter.

24. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter notched another achievement in horror after directing The Thing. This movie revolves around the story of an American research team in Antarctica who discover an alien life form that is able to assimilate and copy other beings. This monster’s ability, coupled with the icy wasteland, emphasized the suspense and psychological horror of the movie. Fans celebrate The Thing as one of the best science fiction movies, and scariest horror movies of all time up there with Alien.

25. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street gave many kids sleepless nights for fear of Freddy Kruger visiting them in their sleep. Kruger’s trademark bladed gloves, red and black striped shirt, burnt face, and hat has become the stuff of horror legend and aided in the films gross of $25 million domestically.

26. Braindead (1992)

Before Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson delved into horror movies with Braindead being one of his works. Terror ensues after an infected Sumatran rat-monkey bites a middle aged-woman from the suburbs and turns her into a zombie. Her son locks her in their basement, but she escapes and bites her neighbors who then turn into ravenous undead like her.

27. Scream (1996)

Dawson’s Creek writer Kevin Williamson and master of the macabre Wes Craven combine their powers to deliver a slasher flick with winks and callbacks to various horror tropes. Scream effectively renewed interest in horror movies in the mid-90s after viewers became fatigued with the genre due to the abundance of direct-to-video B movies and the number of horror sequels out there.

28. Ringu (1998)

Asian horror movies gained a foothold into American pop culture thanks to Ringu. It tells the story of a vengeful ghost named Sadako who comes and kills people unlucky enough to watch her cursed tape. The movie spawned several sequels in Japan and an American version.

29. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project earned its stripes to be on this list thanks to its novel use of documentary/handheld camera style to tell the tale of a group of young adults lost in the cursed woods of the Blair Witch. This movie made good use of the idiosyncrasies of the cameras at that time and used graininess and poor image quality at low-light levels to create a tense atmosphere all throughout the film.

List of Horror Films of the 2000s – Present

30. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

In the heels of Ringu comes Ju-On, the story of which unfolds through a curse spawned by a family in the hands of the father. Anyone who enters the house imbibes the curse and they themselves die horrible deaths and in turn cycle the curse onto people who enter their homes. People love Ju-On for its memorable jump scares.

31. The Descent (2005)

Neil Marshall made his mark in recent history after directing episodes of Game of Thrones and Lost in Space, but before these, he made Dog Soldiers and The Descent. The movie begins when a group of women cave spelunkers explores an unknown cave and come face-to-face with subterranean flesh-eating creatures.

32. [REC] (2007)

Like The Blair Witch Project, [REC] uses a handheld camera to tell the story of survivors fending off zombies from the inside of a locked down apartment building. It is considered one of the best in the found footage horror film genre.

33. Let the Right One In (2008)

This award-winning movie centers on the story of a vampire child and a bullied kid who go on a murder spree targeting the protagonists’ bullies. The film achieved a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and spawned an American version called Let Me In.

34. Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Joss Whedon has already polished his horror chops through Buffy the Vampire Slayer before helming Cabin in the Woods and it shows in the slick narrative, tongue-in-cheek humor, and witty callbacks to various horror tropes across the decades. When you think it’s just another story of teens encountering cabin fever in a remote forest, think again and watch it for yourself. You won’t regret it.

35. The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook didn’t gain popularity in its home turf of Australia, but instead found critical-acclaim in the Sundance Film Festival, earning itself distribution rights in the US. It highlights the struggles of a single mother and her child against a Bogeyman-like supernatural creature called the Babadook, which resides in their home.

36. The Witch (2015)

Robert Eggers’ The Witch delivers slow-burning terror in this period flick about an exiled Puritan family who encounters supernatural forces in the woods from across their home. It starts with the death of their youngest and the family’s fortunes go downhill from there in harrowing fashion.

37. Get Out (2017)

Jordan Peele of the comedy duo Key & Peele, intended to make a horror movie with African-Americans focused as its audience. He combined racial satire with horror and gave us Get Out. The movie is a fresh take on horror and was hugely popular among critics and viewers alike, garnering it a 99% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

38. A Quiet Place (2018)

John Krasinski, who plays Jim in The Office and Jack Ryan in Jack Ryan, showed that there is no end to his talent after penning and directing A Quiet Place Its story is set in a world that has been invaded by man-eating aliens who hunt their prey by sound.

39. Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary puts its cold dead finger inside your gut and the feeling never leaves you long after the film credits have rolled by. Toni Collette plays a mother who strives to protect her family from a supernatural evil that has long haunted her family line.

Horror films serve an important function according to Dr. Steven Schlozman who details this in his TED Talk on the cinematic genre:

These films are some of the best horror films of all time and truly deserve your attention. We hope you found our list of horror films helpful and discovered the perfect movie(s) for your next horror movie night. Remember to microwave the popcorn ahead and invite your fear-prone friends over for some great reactions.

What’s your favorite horror movie? Tell us what makes it a must-watch in the comments section below! 

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