We know, we know. Everybody has an opinion on the best horror films. How do you even begin to rank them? Are they the scariest? The bloodiest? The most shocking? The most jump scares?
We choose to rank them based on the films themselves. The story. The acting. The directing. The cinematography. And yes, fear factor. A horror film should be called great because of all these elements.
One thing that makes movies scary is how old you were when you first saw them. The Exorcist is scary at any age, but is Poltergeist? Carrie? Even Psycho? Many of these films may not have the same shock value or the same scares that they did at the times of their release, but they still stand the test of time cinematically. They have a bit of nostalgia going for them too.
So go ahead, argue and complain, but it’s our list. Leave your own list in our comments section.
10. Halloween (1978)
Stars: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis
Director: John Carpenter
All-time classic slasher fest. No list of all-time horror movies would be complete without Halloween. Carpenter is masterful in this adaption – the jump scares are some of the best of all time. There is subtlety here that is often lacking in horror flicks that followed in its footsteps. Just consider the idea of the character we are dealing with. A six-year-old boy kills his sister, is locked up, and his psychiatrist says he spent 8 years trying to help, and the next 7 years trying to keep locked away. Nuff said.
9. Carrie (1976)
Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie
Director: Brian DePalma
I prefer (as usual) the original to the remake. The prom scene alone makes the film, but DePalma builds the tension very well throughout. The scenes where Carrie is being terrorized by her schoolmates are bad enough, but the real pressure grows from the scenes with her mother, played by Piper Laurie. The climactic scenes are more powerful because the anger that had been building throughout is released in a brilliant gore-fest
8. Poltergeist (1982)
Stars: Craig T Nelson, JoBeth Williams
Director: Tobe Hooper
Go ahead, find a scarier clown in film history. When little Robbie Freeling starts looking for the clown under the bed, I almost peed myself. Granted, I was a lot younger, but don’t judge me. It’s not just the scares in this film though. The subtlety early on, and the special effects throughout, make this an all-timer. Even though the special effects might be a bit dated at this point, one cannot argue with Hooper’s directing skills.
7. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Stars: Heather Lagenkamp, Robert Englund
Director: Wes Craven
The original and easily the best. Craven is the master of popcorn horror flicks, popular among a huge number of people. You probably rolled your eyes when you saw this as one of the top horror movies, but take a fresh look at it. Don’t lump all the Nightmare films together because most of them have no value. But just remember what it felt like to watch it for the first time. Freddy Krueger is one scary sonofabitch. Horribly scarred man with knives for fingers who will kill you in your dreams if you fall asleep? Children eerily reciting scary nursery rhymes? Scary indeed.
6. Alien (1979)
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt
Director: Ridley Scott
One of the taglines for this movie says it best. In space, no one can hear you scream. This film is much more subtle than James Cameron’s hugely popular follow up. The jump scares come out of nowhere. Weaver’s Ripley may be the best movie heroine of all time. The idea of the creatures are scary enough, but it is the entire atmosphere of the film that makes it so scary.
5. Seven (1995)
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt
Director: David Fincher
Brilliant storyline and never stops scaring you. The scariest part of this movie is that it could be real. A psychopath killing based on the seven deadly sins – it is really one of the smarter films on this list. An all star cast including the two leads and Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey, along with great writing by Andrew Kevin Walker are also a strength of the film.
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster
Director: Jonathan Demme
This film swept the Oscars, making it one of the most decorated horror films of all time. Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter might be the greatest depiction of a villain in film history. He actually makes you root for Lecter to escape, which is the best praise I can think of for an obviously horrifying character. Foster is brilliant in the role of FBI cadet Clarice Starling. The scenes with Lecter and Starling are the best – with dialogue that is funny and scary at the same time.
3. Psycho (1960)
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The shower scene is not only one of the greatest scenes in horror film history, it’s one of the greatest scenes in all of film history. The searing music, the angle showing the silhouette coming in the door, the quick cuts that mask the fact that the viewer doesn’t even see the knife enter skin, all come together perfectly. Many people took baths for months after seeing Psycho in the theater. Audiences in 1960 were shocked by the brutality of the material – tame by today’s standards, but the characters remain
2. The Shining (1980)
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Very close to calling this one the greatest of all time. The main reason it is ranked this high is Stanley Kubrick. It was a scary story when Stephen King wrote it, but Kubrick took it to the next level. His patented symmetrical shots; the quiet menace of the set; the methodical build to the climax – Kubrick is in rare form. Nicholson gives an all-time performance as he is coming unglued as Jack, the dull boy.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
Director: William Friedkin
The Exorcist gets the nod at number 1 simply for sheer terror. Some of the scenes are hard to watch even as an adult. William Freidkin was famously difficult to work and hard on his cast, but the results are inarguable. He used interesting tactics to get the desired reactions from the actors, including shooting guns to get jump scares, and even slapping actors to get them riled up. Simply put, it stands the test of time, and gets our vote for number 1.