50. The Sixth Sense (1999)
I feel bad for anyone that didn’t get to see The Sixth Sense when it first came out because by now everyone knows the twist and it has been ripped off by several other films. It will most likely not have the same effect on people viewing it for the first time today, but M. Night Shyamalan’s debut feature is a chilling ghost story that is so much more than its famous ending. Both Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment are fantastic, giving affecting and understated performances. Shymalan is at the top of his game, delivering a poignant tale of loss containing plenty of scares (don’t tell me Mischa Barton vomiting in the tent didn’t make you jump out of your seat the first time you watched it).
49. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro’s sixth film is a lovely adult fairy tale that chronicles little Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), five years after the Spanish Civil War, as she traverses a mythical world she has created to mask the real life horrors of brought upon her and her mother by her evil stepfather. Pan’s Labyrinth is, to use a worn-out cliche, a feast for the eyes. The amount of detail poured into every frame is insane. From the set design to the costumes and even to the CGI (which still looks convincing today), Pan’s Labyrinth is a visual spectacle of the highest order. Viewers expecting a straightforward horror film may find themselves disappointed, but those with their expectations in check will find a film as close to a masterpiece as they come.
48. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford: two screen legends whose dislike of each other was known to pretty much everyone in Hollywood. Why waste such chemistry like that off screen? That was director Robert Aldrich’s thought as he cast them playing twin sisters, one a former Vaudeville star who has gone off her rocker and the other a former actress left paralyzed by a car accident, in this grand horror melodrama. Davis to truly shine in a powerhouse performance as Baby Jane Hudson. Crawford gets the less showy role of the two actresses, but she still manages to elicit sympathy from viewers. The film also serves as a commentary on the state of Hollywood and their willingness to dispose of aging actresses. If that weren’t enough, it was so successful that it even inspired a sub-genre of horror films known as the “psycho-biddy” sub-genre.
47. The Omen (1976)
1973 gave us a possessed female child in The Exorcist. 1976 tried to up the ante by giving us the male Antichrist in Richard Donner’s The Omen. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick star as two parents who give birth (or so they think) to little Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens), who just so happens to be the son of Satan. Most remember the film for its set pieces (such as the nanny hanging herself scene or the decapitation scene), but the film is so much more than that as its influence on the genre can still be felt to this day (Hell, Final Destination 3 even stole the whole picture foreshadowing death concept). The film is also notable for its bleakness, especially for a mainstream film at the time. I still remember being shocked at ****SPOILER ALERT*** Remick being tossed out the window by Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) and Peck being gunned down in the church. The last shot of Damien smiling at the audience in a rare breaking of the fourth wall is especially creepy.
46. Poltergeist (1982)
Who cares whether Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist? The important thing is that together, they gifted the world with what is quite possibly the scariest PG-rated movie ever made (in fact, its existence helped spur the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating). Home to some of the best horror set pieces of the ’80s (the swimming pool full of corpses, the clown doll, the possessed tree, the face peeling, etc.) and some wondrous practical effects, Poltergeist is easily one of the best horror films ever made.
45. The Conjuring (2013)
Yes, another James Wan movie. The Conjuring is Wan at his most mature. With it, he has crafted a sophisticated, old-school ghost story that emphasizes atmosphere and characterization over cheap jump scares (though there are a couple of those thrown in for good measure). With minimal use of digital effects and first-rate performances all around (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are the highlights, but Lili Taylor also impresses as the victimized family’s matriarch), it was immediately clear that The Conjuring was an instant classic when it was released in 2013. It also features what is perhaps the scariest game of hide-and-seek ever. *clap clap*
44. Audition (1999)
Out of all the films on this list, Takashi Miike’s Audition is arguably the most difficult to watch. And it’s not even because it features a woman sawing a man’s foot off with a piano wire and feeding a different man a bowl of her own vomit. It’s because the first 90 minutes leading up are so slow. In fact, the film begins as a sort of romantic comedy before moving into a full-fledged romance and then abruptly switching into full-blown horror during its final 20-ish minutes. This isn’t a bad thing, it just creates an unbearable tension leading up to the moment when the shit hits the fan. I’ve long considered adding Audition to my Blu-Ray collection because it is such a great film, but I can’t fully justify it because I honestly don’t ever want to watch it again.
43. The Witch (2015)
The word “dread” gets tossed around a lot when describing horror films (this article included), but Robert Eggers’ slow burn of a horror film induces so much dread in the viewer that it’s difficult to handle. The plot, about a Puritan family facing evil forces in the woods surrounding their home after being ostracized from their village, is rather straightforward, but it is Eggers’ unique style of filmmaking that makes The Witch so hypnotic. He used natural light for every shot (and only candlelight when indoors) and wrote the dialogue after combing through several Jacobean-era pamphlets and documents (some viewers complained about not being able to understand what the actors were saying, and this is why). If you can’t appreciate the beauty of Eggers’ filmmaking, you will hopefully be able to appreciate the horrors present in throughout the film, especially the final moments, which will get under your skin and leave you thinking about them for days.
42. The Fly (1986)
There aren’t many remakes on a list like this, which just goes to show how great of a film David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly actually is. The film is grotesque, oozing (sometimes literally) horror while also providing a tragic love story. The film ended up on many Top 10 lists in 1986, a rarity for the horror genre, and this is mostly due to the remarkable performances of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, not to mention Cronenberg’s directing. The true star of the film is the makeup effects provided by Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis because, well, just look at this:
41. The Wolf Man (1941)
It’s amazing how the Universal monster movies of old can be simultaneously horrifying and tragic. The Wolf Man perhaps best embodies these qualities, as it tells the tale of a man (Lon Chaney Jr., born for the role) who transforms into a werewolf after saving his love interest’s friend from another werewolf. Chaney, in his first of many appearances as the titular beast, is born for the role and director George Waggner relies almost solely on the talent of his actors and a ghastly atmosphere to scare the audience. It also has the honor of establishing most of the cinematic lore for the werewolf sub-genre, so its influence is still felt today.
40. Hellraiser (1987)
Hellraiser didn’t receive widespread acclaim when it was originally released, but it has since spawned eight(!) sequels and its main villain Pinhead (Doug Bradley) has become one of the most recognizable figures of the horror genre. Directed by Clive Barker (who also wrote the screenplay, which is based on his short story The Hellound Heart), Hellraiser spotlights several gruesome set pieces, the most horrific of which is the skinned body of sleazeball Frank (Sean Chapman). The film was so gory that multiple shots had to be cut or re-edited in order for the film to get an R rating. The plot may be a little soap opera-ish, but the bizarre ideas on display and the aforementioned outstanding makeup effects more than make up for any shortcomings present in Barker’s script.
39. It Follows (2014)
Some might accuse David Robert Mitchell’s timeless horror film of being boring and anticlimactic. If you haven’t seen it yet let me just tell you that that is simply not true. It Follows could have easily been a gimmick film (the gimmick being that a supernatural entity follows a person until either it catches them and kills them or until they have sex with someone, at which point it begins to follow that person instead), but Mitchell is able to maintain a considerable amount of tension and dread for the film’s duration. The lack of explanation or answers about “It” makes the film even more terrifying, and Mitchell’s direction paired with Mike Gioulakis’ stunning cinematography make It Follows a classy and stylish must-see film for any horror fan.
38. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
There seems to be a trend with highly acclaimed horror films being deemed “too boring” by audiences and the king of all of those is The Blair Witch Project. I can’t really argue with anyone who doesn’t like i, as not much actually happens in the film. That being said, watching a trio of stupid youths slowly giving way to panic in the face of a very real situation (being lost in the woods with a mysterious entity) is what makes the film so scary. The fact that we never getting a glimpse the titular villain might prove frustrating to some, but it forces the viewer to use their imagination which is much scarier than anything that could ever be shown on screen (just look at Adam Wingard’s 2016 sequel Blair Witch, which I enjoyed quite a bit, for an example of that). Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project is most notable (like so many other films on this list) for its influence on the horror genre. It kickstarted a wave of low-budget found footage horror films that would prove to be wildly successful (though none, save for perhaps Paranormal Activity, could match the critical or commercial success of The Blair Witch Project).
37. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Filmed in 2009 but not released until 2012, The Cabin in the Woods is a film that many thought would fail because it had been shelved for so long. Lucky for us, Drew Goddard’s film proved to be one of the best films of 2012, horror or otherwise. Goddard’s script, which he co-wrote over the course of three days with Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, takes a simple premise (five college students vacationing at an isolated cabin the woods) and flips the sub-genre on its head by incorporating a secret underground facility that has technological control over all of the horrific occurrences in the cabin. This is a film made by people who have a clear respect for the genre and it shows. Filled with references, critiques and homages to some of the genre’s most popular films (The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, Saw, etc.), The Cabin in the Woods is a meta-heavy horror comedy that is every horror lover’s dream.
36. Eyes Without a Face (1959)
If obsession and guilt are your thing, then seek out Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face immediately. The adaptation of Jean Redon’s novel, which sees a mad scientist (Pierre Brasseur) murdering young women in the hopes of replacing his daughter’s (Edith Scob, in a heartbreaking performance) deformed face with theirs, has been described as the equivalent of cinematic poetry. The film caused quite a stir upon its initial release, with many critics denouncing it as sick and/or disgusting which is surprising considering how little gore there is. Modern criticism has been more kind to Eyes Without a Face, however, and it has joined the ranks of other classic horror films.
35. The Descent (2005)
Many of you reading this probably get asked for scary movie recommendations all the time. Neil Marshall’s The Descent is always my go-to recommendation for a truly scary movie. Not only is it expertly directed by Marshall and filled with wonderful performances by its all-female cast, but it is really fucking scary. This is especially true if you’re claustrophobic (or cleithrophobic). On the surface The Descent is a movie about a bunch of cave divers who are trapped underground with a bunch of monsters, but the focus is actually on Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) and her gradual descent into madness after being faced with the aforementioned monsters and the discovery of her best friend’s affair with her deceased husband. It is the rare horror film with compelling emotional stakes that also manages to be an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.
34. Martyrs (2008)
Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is brutal, frustrating, graphic and uncompromising. So it’s not exactly an easy film to watch. If you bring this film to movie night, your friends might think that you are more than a little off. Martyrs poses many questions that are either difficult to answer or not able to be answered at all, but the fact that it even dares to ask those questions make it one of the boldest films to come out of the New French Extremity movement. The film contains graphic violence that would lead some to call it torture porn, but by using the violence to highlight Laugier’s message, Martyrs somehow rises above ilk like Captivity and many of the Saw sequels. Of course, what that message is is up to the viewer to decide, but it doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Love it or hate it, Martyrs is one of the best horror films ever made.
33. King Kong (1933)
A modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, King Kong was a spectacle like none the world had ever seen. Willis O’Brien’s stop motion effects in King Kong were the highlight of the film, bringing the giant ape to life like no one could have imagined. Some would even say that Kong delivers a better performance than any of the human members of the cast. While that may be the case, it doesn’t stop King Kong from being one of the scariest and most thrilling monster movies of all time, as well as a pioneer of special effects.
32. The Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven’s directorial debut has an icky feel that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, The Last House on the Left shows how far two parents will go to get revenge on the people who raped and murdered their daughter. Its purpose is not only to shock audiences with its graphic violence (as evidenced by the film’s marketing, which demanded audiences repeat the phrase “It’s only a movie” over and over again), but also force them to question their own morality. Are the parents justified in their actions? Though the film doesn’t glorify the parents’ murderous acts of revenge, it also doesn’t answer that question for you. You must decide. That is of course if you can make it through the whole thing, as it is a decidedly repulsive form of art.
31. Repulsion (1965)
Speaking of repulsive, Repulsion is the frightening tale of one schizophrenic woman’s (Catherine Deneuve) descent into madness. Roman Polanski’s first English-language film earns points for it’s soundtrack, composed of repetitive everyday noises, as well as Polanski’s excellent camerawork. It is Deneuve, however, who carries the film on her back, delivering a marvelous and mostly dialogue-free performance.
30. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
This German Expressionist silent film, which follows a hypnotist (Werner Kraus) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders for him, was filmed with a unique visual style. Using vertigo-inducing sets, deliberately distorted forms and sharp, pointed angles, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari feels like a living nightmare. Or it at least feels like you’re living in the head of the deranged mental patient who narrates the film. According to Roger Ebert, it is arguably the first true horror movie and employs one of the (if not the) first twist endings ever put on film. Its influence is so strong that it is shown in film courses across the globe (it was actually the first film I had to watch for a class in college). The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a masterpiece of horror cinema that, at the time, was unlike any other film released before.
29. Get Out (2017)
Who would have thought one of the best horror movies ever made would be A) Released in February 2017 and B) Written and directed by comedian Jordan Peele? Get Out is one of the biggest surprises the horror genre has seen in years, and not only because of its glowing reviews (a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 84 MetaCritic score) and massive box office take (a $175.4 million domestic gross on a $4.5 million budget), but because its social commentary is, to put it casually, on point. Peele touches on multiple themes with Get Out including but not limited to: slavery, race envy among upper middle class white Americans and the lack of attention a missing persons report gets when it is a black American that goes missing. Get Out is a horror film with multiple things to say. It sparks a conversation that some people may not feel is necessary, when in fact those are the people that need to have that discussion most. It’s a shame that the critiques present in the film are so relevant today, but hopefully one day that may not be the case anymore.
28. Frankenstein (1931)
James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (well, adapted from Peggy Webling’s play which was adapted from Shelley’s novel) was fairly controversial among its original release due to a scene in which the monster unintentionally drowns a little girl, but it has since become a classic of the horror genre. In addition to Whale’s stylish direction, Frankenstein also boasts a superbly nuanced performance from Boris Karloff, despite being hidden under Jack P. Pierce’s outstanding makeup effects. Frankenstein is a film that sympathizes with its monster and even had audiences identifying with it (him?) too. For a film that can be so frightening, it has a surprising amount of heart.
27. Carrie (1976)
Carrie features a climactic scene that will generate an incredible amount of catharsis for anyone who has ever been bullied before. The first of many Stephen King adaptations, Carrie is the rare instance of a film adaptation improving upon its source material. It also has the distinction of being one of the few horror films to be nominated for an Academy Award (two to be exact, both of which were acting nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie). Not only are Spacek and Laurie splendid as Carrie and Margaret White, respectively, but director Brian De Palma visualizes the horror of King’s novel with a kind of dream-like elegance not often seen in the genre. The added bonus of Pino Donaggio’s hypnotic score doesn’t hurt the film either.
26. Black Christmas (1974)
John Carpenter’s Halloween gets all of the glory, but Bob Clark’s slasher masterpiece Black Christmas should not be forgotten when it comes to its influence on horror. Made just 4 years prior to Halloween, Black Christmas is another example of a film that received a mixed reception upon its initial release but has since become a cult classic. Clark’s film, about a mysterious assailant who stalks a bunch of sorority girls in their house, sports two wonderful lead performances from Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder (not to mention Difficult People actress Andrea Martin, in her third film role) and, like many other well-respected horror films at the time, is mostly gore-free.