13 Best Horror Films of all Time

November 18, 2013

13. The Descent

TheDescent

A recent classic, this film makes horrifyingly effective use of pitch-black darkness to make you feel the claustrophobic terror of its doomed female spelunkers. It’s also one of the rare horror feature with almost no downtime; it’s gripping from start to finish.

Halloween Trivia: The director went on direct “Blackwater,” the unforgettable episode of Game of Thrones where Stannis Baratheon’s navy attacks the Lannisters
Scariest Scene: The reveal of the cave’s lurking horrors–possibly the most memorable monster design since H.R. Giger’s Alien

12. The Changeling

The-Changeling

This ghost story starring George C. Scott is one not many have seen, but those that have stumbled across it have never forgotten its intensely spooky story about a composer’s stay in a haunted house with a tragic past. You’ll never see an empty wheelchair without getting the chills ever again.

Halloween Trivia: Won the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture
Scariest Moment: The ball’s return trip down the stairs

11. The Blair Witch Project

BlairWitchProject

The film that launched the found-footage genre has been imitated and parodied, but let’s not forget how terrifyingly real it seemed when it was first released. Its scares are less pronounced than the other films on this list, but its profound creepiness stays with you like a frightening urban legend that may or may not be true.

Hollywood Trivia: Its production budget was only $22,500
Scariest Moment: The final seconds

10. Suspiria

Suspiria

Suspiria’s gory shocks are complemented by its lush, gothic beauty; Dario Argento’s best film is exquisitely shot–and terrifying. Bonus points also go to Goblin’s pulse-pounding score that perfectly accompanies the frenzied second half.

Halloween Trivia: David Gordon Green was once slated to direct a remake (since canceled due to complicated international legal issues)
Scariest Scene: The sudden crash through the plate glass window

9. [REC]

[Rec]

The found footage genre has no better representative than this Spanish horror movie about a zombie outbreak in an apartment building. It uses every minute of its brief running time to maximum effect, culminating in one of the scariest third acts in horror history.

Halloween Trivia: [REC] is among the shortest theatrical feature films in recent memory at a trim 78 minutes
Scariest Moment: The reveal of the horrific secret in the doctor’s apartment

8. The Exorcist

TheExorcist

Nearly forty years later, The Exorcist is still a potent shocker, centered by Linda Blair’s unforgettable performance as the demon-possessed Regan MacNeil. Though it’s hard to imagine in today’s world of multiplexes, the lines for this one often stretched around any movie theater lucky enough to receive a print.

Halloween Trivia: Stanley Kubrick wisely turned down the offer to direct the sequel
Scariest Scene: The voice of the priest’s mother coming from Regan’s mouth.

7. Poltergeist

Poltergeist

Steven Spielberg’s alleged hijacking of credited director Tobe Hooper’s helming duties on Poltergeist has been a persistent rumor since the film’s release, but this film is best reflected on as a combination of both of their styles. The family that moves into the haunted suburban house is positively Spielbergian, but the horrors that await them are as frightening as anything in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Halloween Trivia: Many attribute the “curse” that the cast suffered post-filming to the real skeletons used in the pool scene
Scariest Scene: It can be nothing but the clown doll under the bed–what else did you expect?

6. Rosemary’s Baby

RoseMarysBaby

Roman Polanski’s film about the literal pregnancy from Hell is still shocking today, thanks to bravura filmmaking (the dream sequence is still one of the best ever committed to film) and Mia Farrow’s stunning performance as the mother-to-be.

Halloween Trivia: Has an absolutely dreadful sequel with an equally dreadful title–Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby
Scariest Moment: “What have you done to his eyes, you maniacs!”

5. Don’t Look Now

DontLookNow

The director of Walkabout switched genres and made this supremely creepy film about a bereaved couple who move to Venice after their only child drowns in a pond. Intensely atmospheric and beautifully shot, this is one that should be watched in HD.

Halloween Trivia: The love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie had to be trimmed to slightly to avoid an X from the ratings board.
Scariest Moment: Only the most shocking horror film ending of all time

4. Night of the Living Dead

NightoftheLivingDead

Our modern-day fixation with the zombie apocalypse began right here, with George A. Romero’s directorial debut about a group of survivors defending a farmhouse against an undead mob. Almost 50 years later, it’s still just as harrowing as it was when it debuted in drive-ins in 1968.

Halloween Trivia: In the public domain due to a copyright error–now you know why this gets so much airtime around Halloween
Scariest Moment: The attack in the basement

3. Halloween

Halloween

John Carpenter arguably invented the modern-day horror film with Halloween, which introduced one of the classic film villains with Michael Myers, an escaped lunatic who is relentlessly pursued by his psychiatrist. Top-tier filmmaking and an equally classic score (also by John Carpenter) put this one head and shoulders above the lame imitators (Friday the 13th, anyone?) it spawned.

Halloween Trivia: The Michael Myers mask is an inside-out William Shatner mask painted white
Scariest Moment: The POV shot from the balcony

2. The Shining

TheShining

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is one of the rare instances of an adaptation totally outclassing its source material. So mesmerizing is the direction and the performances that it will thoroughly scare you despite mostly taking place in broad daylight.

Halloween Trivia: Stephen King passionately hates this film, comparing it to a beautiful car without an engine
Scariest Moment: What little Danny finds at the end of the hallway while riding through the hotel on his bigwheel.

1. Dawn of the Dead

DawnoftheDead

George A. Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead takes the apocalyptic scenario of the first film and gives it an epic twist, telling the story of a group of survivors who turn a suburban shopping mall into the ultimate anti-zombie fortress. Easily one of the most influential films of all time.

Halloween Trivia: The actor who plays Peter (Ken Foree) has a memorable cameo in the 2004 remake
Scariest Moment: The SWAT team’s discovery of what’s inside of the besieged apartment building’s storage room.

56 Comments

  1. Cube-Brick

    November 22, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Great list! Though the scariest scene in The Shining? has to be the
    bathroom scene with Jack and the old lady, no?

  2. Lourdes Meinhold

    December 2, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    The scariest thing about this list is that I’ve seen them all multiple times! I need a life…

  3. Markbea54

    December 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    S.K. was correct, the movie was a huge disappointment when compared to the “source material”. There was no need to change the ending, or to kill off Dick Halloran. In addition to the plot changes, I can’t remember ever seeing a more forced performance than that given by Shelley Duvall. It was painful to watch her stumble through scene after scene. I don’t care if it was some artistic rendering Kubrick thought was appropriate …… it was just wrong !!!

    • HIIIII

      December 15, 2013 at 1:38 am

      some things need to be changed to make it great in its new medium. The movie was excellent. If they stuck to the source material, it likely would be nothing near as well made.

    • Jonathan Boyd

      December 15, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      100% agree
      while i do like the film– it is a sad imitation of the novel– complete plot lines dealing with the ‘hotels’ interest in Danny were just removed and ignored… the novel is a multilayered fantastically done story of all time proportions… the film by comparison is reduced to the scariest ‘highlights’ and an outstanding performance by Jack that was technically well done and shot Duvall was terrible and HongKong Phooey (RIP Scatman)was in it…

      • lunderwood

        December 17, 2013 at 9:02 pm

        Check out “Kubrick’s Odyssey” on Vimeo. Whether it’s BS or not, it explains a lot.

      • Alexandra_8

        May 14, 2014 at 5:24 am

        But the ending of book was ridiculous.

    • nycpeach

      May 16, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      As a King fan, I agree the “source material” is stronger- but isn’t that always the case when a book is made into a movie? Part of the power in horror fiction is that we imagine what is happening and apply individual details in our minds that make it scary to us as individuals. If each of us read the same excerpt from “The Shining” and described how we “saw” it, there would be differences in each story.

      When a story gets put to film, that changes and what the director did may or may not frighten you more than you’re original reaction. That is a tough hill to climb. That’s why sometimes the most frightening events in a movie happen off camera. We can hear them happening but imagine our own version of what exactly is being done (pool scene in “Let the Right One In”, anyone?). When we can’t “hear” Tony’s increasingly louder warnings ourselves, when we can’t hear each character’s thoughts, it leaves the writers/director to fill in those details through other means that are never going to be quite as telling (or effective).

      As for Dick Halloran, he had it coming (lol). That’s what he deserved for keeping The Overlook’s dirty-little-secret.

  4. Jo Hanna

    December 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    you forgot a low key classic “The Haunting”- a black and white film from1963. Nothing in this film is overdone. The story is compelling and tragic, the acting excellent, and the special effects are minimal but the suspenseful buildups are done masterfully, with most of the horror being of a psychological nature and built up in the audience imagination from whence all fear comes!! Very scary with shivers included though probably outdated now due to the visual (special effects etc) direction of films with less substance. Another similar one was the “The Innocents.”

  5. johnnycroft

    December 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Huge props for The Changeling, one of the scariest movies I’ve EVER seen (Halloween being the scariest), and to markbea54, your opinion is your opinion, yet you and Stephen King are part of the 1% of movie fans on the planet who think The Shining is anything less than ABSOLUTE BRILLIANCE

    • Alison Mercer

      December 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

      the shining is another fave yeah even if stephen king didnt like it you can interpret as haunting and a haunted

  6. deb

    December 11, 2013 at 2:09 am

    Yes! With that damn ball bouncing down the stairs all wet. I was nine and saw it in the theater, and telling everyone its the best scarry movie ever. The errie voice on tape recorder sent chills out the top of my head.

  7. Jim

    December 15, 2013 at 12:17 am

    I honestly expected this list to be terrible, but it’s not bad at all.

  8. Alison Mercer

    December 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    suspiria is one of th ebest ive ever seen . ive only seen shit movies about witches like i really thought how the hell i shtis gonna be good but it was awesome and yes the spooky place is also beautifully decorated , the scenery everything about . it is one of my all time faves. saw it from downloading it , amazing.

  9. Jonathan Boyd

    December 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Blair Witch though groundbreaking is crap… Can’t have this list without Friday13th or A Nightmare on Elm St… Jasons ‘cameo’ at the end of the first film is scariest and most imitated ending…

  10. David Emghee

    December 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    As for the so-called “found footage” genre, the film that started the trend in horror was “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980) directed by Ruggero Deodato, not TBWP.
    Nice call on Dawn of the Dead, though!

  11. Stu

    December 17, 2013 at 12:54 am

    At last, acknowledgement that others believe George A Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” is one of the best horror movies ever made. The sequel to this, “Day of the Dead” is nearly as good. One of the best things about these movies is the special effects. No CGI, just brilliant make-up and cinematography. In my opinion, the 70’s and 80’s were the best two decades for the horror genre.

    • Sick Boy

      May 28, 2014 at 4:42 am

      Nah, the problem is that CGI isn’t used as a supplemental tool, but as the main tool for effects, and that’s where it fails, unless the budget is allotted enough for it, or the filmmakers allot for the absence of it in the budget. A slim budget is often the source of the best uses of supplemental CGI, even if they become a hit and the budget grows, as with The Walking Dead. Perfect example of the marriage of digital and practical effects resulting in a perfect product, visually anyway. Some don’t like the blood as much, but they’re usually fans of Evil Dead-style over the top gore. Doesn’t work when aiming for a serious tone as in TWD, though.

  12. Joseph Cullen

    January 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    For me, no matter how many people say so, I just never liked The Blair Witch Project.

    • Mike Lynch

      January 21, 2014 at 4:22 am

      Blair Witch was terrible until the end when the best and scariest scene finally put viewers out of their misery. Had there been more scares like that, it might have actually been good.

      • Skippy

        April 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm

        I agree. Show the guy telling the story about the serial killer, then cut to Josh disappearing. That would have been a much better movie and I wouldn’t have had to sit through the close up of marshmallows. How stupid was that? Film students should have known better! Only good thing was I didn’t waste money to see it, only time.

    • Brent Johnston Gordon

      April 30, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      i couldnt go in my old houses basement to do laundry for 2 months after seeing this movie with a shady friend that was illegally streaming this to a dark dirty moist old warehouse where he was duping it for illegal distribution….alot scarier than seeind it at the multiplex~imaginary witches chased my car all over portland for months

    • MrX13

      July 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Nothing scary about The Blair Witch Project. It was a major disappointment and the ending was stupid, nothing scary about that either. Can’t see how people like the movie.

  13. Conner Nielsen

    February 25, 2014 at 3:42 am

    My fav is Psycho. So well made, so well edited, so well acted, and the use of black-and-white is marvelous. No, it’s not the SCARIEST movie ever and what’s on screen isn’t TERRIFYING, it’s what’s not seen that’s scary: the psyche of Norman Bates. So chilling.

  14. Roberto Rivera Mercado

    March 29, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    for me the #1 of all time is The exorcist

  15. docdon

    April 4, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Agree with Night of the Living Dead. But the best horror movie of all time, one that continues to haunt your thoughts, is the 2008 vampire movie Let the Right One in.

  16. MICHAEL

    April 10, 2014 at 12:22 am

    How about The Thing, that definitely should have been included!

  17. Jerry Jerry

    April 15, 2014 at 2:02 am

    If anyone saw The Changeling on its release weekend, one thing the audiences might remember, the movie was ruined. The movie was ruined because the entire movie had the boom mic’s visible throughout the entire movie. Every scene had a giant boom mic all over the top of the actors heads.

    • Alexandra_8

      May 14, 2014 at 5:23 am

      That’s the theater’s problem. The framing is done by the theater, almost all boom mikes can be seen in prints sent to theaters as the 35mm print is larger than what is projected on the screen. I saw that on “Jacob’s Ladder” also.

  18. Jerry Jerry

    April 15, 2014 at 2:08 am

    My family lived near the filming location and supposed location of Blair Witch. I went home on leave, from Ft. Knox, ESPECIALLY to see this movie because the nearby mall theater had made a huge deal out of it. The entire movie was full of laugh’s and jokes…from the audience. Blair Witch was the lowest budget, poorly directed, lousiest piece of garbage film making in American Theatrical History. And probably the best promoted. And that movie created a genre (Yes, because Cannibal was actually a movie worth watching, so good people thought it was real), created a genre that has people to this day hoping for one of these crapola shaky cam films that might actually be worth the money to watch. The original Paranormal Activity was the only one that has come close.

  19. Paladin13

    April 17, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    I agree with the list but I would like to add several old time movies – Phantom of the Opera (silent version – Lon Chaney), Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein (Boris Karloff). Honorable mention – The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr.

  20. Joe

    April 20, 2014 at 2:36 am

    Putting the Blaire Witch Project on a list with these other classics is insulting. It did not “launch” the found footage genre, there were plenty of found footage movies before Blaire Witch, it was not scary…at all, the ending was horrible, and you think it was impressive that it only cost $22.5K to make? Many things (like the acting) show it only cost $22.5K, not to mention the fact I could make a better version of the movie for the cost of camera rentals.

    • Bernie Herrera

      June 2, 2014 at 2:55 am

      so go for it…get off the net and put your money where you mouth is.

  21. Tabby Bane

    May 1, 2014 at 1:24 am

    The Descent is the only one I disagree with. I was kind of bored by that movie. It has been a number of years since I’ve seen it I may have to give it another chance.

    • Bernie Herrera

      June 2, 2014 at 2:56 am

      Well the only reason you disagree with The Descent is because…wait a sec what did I want to say…oh yea now I remember that movie sucked.

  22. Ted

    May 6, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I’d put The Sixth Sense in there somewhere.

  23. klaus barbie doll

    May 10, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    don’t talk to ME about horror. i am dead now, but when i walked on this planet, my life was a living breathing psychopathic blood & guts horror movie.
    – kbd

    • michael

      May 17, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Yeah, but did they make a movie about it?

  24. Mary Contrary

    May 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I’m glad [REC] was included in this list. That movie stuck with me for days afterwards. very creepy. This list is good. However, I would remove Blair Witch Project and include the Swedish film Let the Right One In. Ringu is another one of my favorites. All three of these movies had American remakes for Americans that can’t be bothered with subtitles. such a shame Hollywood made dumbed down versions. Don’t bother with them, imo.

    • michael

      May 17, 2014 at 8:13 pm

      I disagree about “The Ring,” Although it was admittedly slow, I thought it was stylish, intelligent, well acted, creepy and unlike so many horror films, it had a very good ending, executed better than it was in “Ringu.” Plus, the haunted video in the American version was better than the one in Ringu, which also spent way way too much time on digging out the well. I still watch “The Ring” every year or so.

  25. Alexandra_8

    May 14, 2014 at 5:27 am

    Note: The mask of Michael Meyer was not turned inside out. It was a Captain Kirk mask with the eye holes cut out a bit larger, the hair ratted out and painted white. Yes, I know. That really didn’t need to brought up but I’m a “Halloween” geek. I couldn’t supress it. 😛

  26. Ned

    May 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Who came up with this list, some 20 something year old? The Exorcist is by far scarier than Poltergeist and all the other movies on this list. Don’t forget it was based on a true story.

  27. Jazzcaster

    May 15, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Alien? Jaws? The Birds? Psycho? An American Werewolf in London?
    No Hitchcock?
    Pretty lame list despite some good movies named.

  28. clave

    May 16, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Come on, “Poltergeist”? That was a disappointing mish-mash.

    • michael

      May 17, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      True, although the clown doll scene scared the bejeezus out of my kids.

  29. nycpeach

    May 16, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Look, I love “Day of the Dead” too but does it really qualify as a full-fledged horror movie? Isn’t it more of a bloody, zombie-filled, socio-political comedy? I’m with Jazzcaster- Jaws should have been on this list.

  30. michael

    May 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Lists are meant to be argued with I suppose and this one is debatable. “Don’t Look Now” is a good film with fine performances and nice Eurpoean scenery, but it’s not really scary. “Dawn of the Dead” was described by George Romero as “an action-adventure film,” with a lot of comedy elements, and a handful of scares such as the elevator scene, but number one horror film? Really? A stronger case can be made for Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead,” which was not only as influential as “Psycho” but was utterly terrifying at the time of its release. Although it’s a bit tame and talky now, as a long-long time genre fan, nothing ever scared me or my friends like that film did in ’68, not even close.

    One problem with horror is that the scares only work once, so as Steven King pointed out you have to sort of remember how scared you were when you originally saw it. Did you sleep with lights on or have nightmares? The original “Halloween” made me nervous leaving the theater, though not like “Living Dead.” For that matter, “In Cold Blood” scared me when I first saw it back in the day, but it’s not even horror.

  31. Diana Borasio

    May 19, 2014 at 6:01 am

    The Conjuring.

    • Jon Christy

      May 27, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      Yes, I thought The Conjuring should be near the top of the list. Scary both in content (the storyline) and in technical execution. I jumped even when I knew exactly what was coming. Just like Halloween in that regard!

  32. 18235

    May 20, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    “the shining” is total boredom—-another director could have made the movie 10 minutes shorter just by speeding it up, and not taking anything out!

  33. bertdeuce

    May 23, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    UGH, really? Dawn of th Dead over the Exorcist? In my humble opinion, methinks that ranking be categorically bogus.

  34. Rob

    May 25, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  35. LetumComplexo

    May 27, 2014 at 7:09 am

    For me no horror movie will ever be as tense or scary as the original Alien movie. For whatever reason that one just stuck with me. Not saying it was objectively the best, but subjectively very much so.

    • Bernie Herrera

      June 2, 2014 at 3:02 am

      well first off it definitely had the best advertisement campaign ever. The egg cracking, that eerie sound effect and the “in space no one can hear you scream” told you absolutely nothing and left you wanting to see it more than showing you half the movie does now. I was at the very first screening of it in NYC at the Criterion theater and that was something to behold. Everyone reacting at the same time and at the end when Ripley goes to sleep there was a standing ovation until the credits were over. It was definitely an experience for sure.

  36. Keith100

    May 27, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Glad to see “The Changeling” get a shout out though it, probably like many others, doesn’t quite play out so scary on TV as it does in a theater.

    Agree with an earlier post about ‘Blair Witch” not being so scary. For me, it was a one trick pony that got stale 15 minutes in. I remember another so-called “suspense masterpiece,” “The Sixth Sense,” came about the same time as Blair Witch. I simply did not understand all the raves and accolades these films got. I figured out the Sixth Sense “twist” about an hour in(the scene where she picks up the check at the dinner table) and it became a bore-fest. I recall there was one critic on the internet who used to score films on a scale of one to one hundred. He ripped both films and scored these two in the 30’s. In a way he was right on-both were good movies for about 1/3 of the running time.

  37. iconic1

    June 2, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Any horror list without, “The Haunting” starring the great Julie Harris is seriously vacant.

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