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The 10 Best Horror Movies of All Time

Jesse managed a movie theater for 7 years prior to starting his career in education. During that time he grew to love films of all genres.

From slashers and the supernatural to creature features and comedy, great horror films come from many different subgenres.

From slashers and the supernatural to creature features and comedy, great horror films come from many different subgenres.

Horror: The Most Versatile Genre

As a lover of cinema, horror is by far my favorite genre. This isn't to say that I'm a huge fan of blood and gore, or even that my favorite movies overall even fall into the category of horror. They don't.

However, horror has always been the most versatile genre in film in my opinion. It can be funny, emotional, terrifying, deep, or a slasher-gore-fest. It's very rare that comedies or action films can boast such a broad range of various films.

A Different Kind of Top 10

Instead of a Top 10 with obvious picks like The Exorcist, The Shining, and other classics from the '70s and '80s that have been hashed and rehashed for decades, I chose my favorite movies from various horror subgenres. Hopefully, this article helps you discover a new form of horror you may not have been experienced before.

Scream original movie poster.

Scream original movie poster.

Best Slasher: Scream (1996)

Slasher films are horror movies that have a single antagonist stalking and killing a group of people, typically teenagers, with a form of bladed weapon. I personally believe that when people are unfamiliar with horror, they think of slashers or paranormal films as typical of the genre. These movies are filled with sexual teens making dumb decisions leading to their bloody demise. My favorite slasher is an all-time classic of the genre: Scream.

Scream turned the slasher genre on its head after iconic films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street ruled the subgenre since the late '70s. The film adds twists and unforeseen turns throughout, all while establishing cliché horror movie rules in meta fashion.

A Brilliant Meta-Slasher

The characters literally explain how a massacre can be avoided if they learn lessons from prior slashers. Of course, they fall victim to the clichés anyway. Scream is funny, violent, original, and surprising on first view.

The series as a whole has a strong place in my heart, even though it gradually gets worse. That said, the newest entry in the franchise—also titled Scream (2022)—is very good, especially after so many years without a new movie in the franchise.

If you're into smart, self-aware, but still gruesome and scary slasher films then Scream is definitely for you. Grab a friend who hasn't seen it yet and share it with them for the first time!

Honorable Mentions

  • Halloween (1978)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Cabin in the Woods original movie poster.

The Cabin in the Woods original movie poster.

Best Comedy Horror: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

For those of you who don't like to get TOO scared, comedy horror is a great route to go. Some people think that a comedy horror means a film is basically a Disney movie, but that simply isn't the case. There are plenty of bloody, scary, and gory horror movies that also go out of their way to intentionally make you laugh between your screams.

My favorite comedy horror movie is The Cabin in the Woods. This movie takes a group of cliché young adults and puts them in the middle of a big-time conspiracy that was new and refreshing on my first viewing. I remember a lot of people didn't enjoy this film when it first came out because it's SO different and can be hard to wrap your head around if you're a purist.

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Funny, But Never Forgets It's Horror

Without giving too much away, the group goes to a cabin inspired by the cabin in Evil Dead and awakens a zombie-like family of masochists who attempt to pick them off one by one. What happens in the background and develops throughout the movie is exciting, original, and above all else for this category ... funny.

I literally laugh out loud at certain parts. The movie is well-written, with great comic timing, and yet the laughs don't take away from the urgency or horror of the movie. In fact, this isn't just one of my favorite comedy horrors, it's one of my favorite horror movies in general. If you haven't seen it, or wrote it off after your first viewing, I'd recommend checking it out again.

Honorable Mentions

  • Freaky (2020)
  • Gremlins (1984)
  • Zombieland (2009)
Trick 'r Treat original movie poster.

Trick 'r Treat original movie poster.

Best Halloween Horror: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

The best time of year for horror movies is when the leaves begin to change, the weather cools, scary decorations pop up in people's yards, and Halloween is on the horizon. Still, few horror movies are Halloween-centric and most of those don't capture Halloween the way they should.

Sure, we can watch someone get their organs shredded with a butcher knife or a demon possess an innocent girl, but that typically isn't in line with our yearly All Hallows Eve entertainment ... and if it is then please seek help immediately.

There are certain films that make Halloween the focal point for their narrative. They include children trick-or-treating, discuss legends centering around October 31st, and people dressed as monsters celebrating the harvest nights. It may think I'm going to choose the movie named for the holiday, but that is not actually my favorite Halloween-centered film.

A Halloween Movie That Respects the Holiday

The greatest Halloween horror movie is none other than Trick 'r Treat. In all of my years of watching horror, I've never seen a movie more focused on respecting the holiday we all love so much. Trick 'r Treat is a film that follows various characters throughout their Halloween night, each set up as a sort of mini-film.

Eventually, we see how all of the stories connect and classic monsters, legends, and horrors come to life. The film includes visions of mother asking you to check your candy before eating it, the weird next door neighbor, and even some legends that I'd never heard of before viewing. (I'll never blow out a jack-o-lantern on Halloween night again!)

If you enjoy gruesome, violent, funny, and fun movies then Trick 'r Treat is for you. You'll also get to see a terrifying, yet lovable, new character named Sam along the way. This is a MUST-watch every October.

Honorable Mentions

  • Halloween ... duh (1978)
  • Hocus Pocus (1993, see below)
  • The Crow (1994)
Jaws original movie poster.

Jaws original movie poster.

Best Animal Horror: Jaws (1975)

Not all horror movies have to have ghosts, monsters, or demons haunting the protagonists. Sometimes the animals who live among us on earth are scary enough to create fantastic horror. Some people think that animal horror is the scariest of all because it could potentially happen to any one of us.

There have been horror movies with animals that included supernatural circumstances, such as Pet Sematary, but those won't be included here. This particular topic will only focus on man versus a very dangerous nature.

Of Course It's Jaws

My pick for the greatest animal horror is exactly what you would guess. Jaws is the most terrifying movie I've ever seen. I'm still scared to go into the ocean and I don't live anywhere near great white sharks. Jaws is the best animal horror movie ever made.

To this day, nearly 50 years after its original release, Jaws still terrifies people with its haunting score and the first-person view from the shark's perspective. Until the shark is revealed—over an hour into the movie—your imagination runs wild. It's Steven Speilberg's best work in my opinion, and while it's an obvious pick for the subgenre, it's just that good!

Honorable Mentions

  • The Birds (1963)
  • The Grey (2011)
  • The Ghost in the Darkness (2019)
It Follows original movie poster.

It Follows original movie poster.

Best Supernatural Horror: It Follows (2014)

The supernatural is a broad term, including things like ghosts, demons, magic, and rituals, and can often have ties to religious beliefs and spiritual connections. For me personally, this is the scariest form of horror and I don't enjoy watching it. Something about unseen forces has always freaked me out. Of course, that's also why it's a very strong subgenre of horror. Choosing a favorite was tough.

I went back and forth on whether the "best" supernatural movie was the one that scared me the most, or brought the most to the table as a film. Do I want people to walk away from this article enjoying a great cinematic experience, or simply pissing their pants in fear and sleeping with the light on afterwards? I decided to go with the former and pick a supernatural film that doesn't scare me as much, but has some great themes, memorable music, and is in my all time personal Top 5.

It Follows is my favorite supernatural horror film and the premise is very simple. There's a ghost/demon/monster that follows a single person at a walking pace at all times. It never speeds up or slows down, but it also never stops. There is only one way to get rid of it: have sex. Whoever you sleep with will then take your place in line until the day the follower kills them and returns to chasing you, or they have sex and pass it on.

Sex Kills: The Movie

The scariest thing about the monster is that only those people in line to be killed can see it, and it can change its form to look like anything. So forget saying hi to your friends out in public ever again, they very well could be walking towards you to kill you.

While the follower is clearly an STD monster, once we get into the characters' backstories, including the reading material of one particular supporting character, the movie is more than just a PSA against n unsafe sex. It's filmed beautifully and has a great synth score similar to John Carpenter's classic Halloween soundtrack.

It Follows makes you fall in love with the characters and look over their shoulders the entire film. I rewatch it every year and I still see walking figures in the background that I think may be the monster.

Honorable Mentions

  • Paranormal Activity (only the first one, the rest suck) (2007)
  • Poltergeist (1982)
  • The Exorcist (1973)
The Orphanage original movie poster.

The Orphanage original movie poster.

Best Foreign Horror: The Orphanage (2008)

While American cinema has always been the powerhouse of the film world, there are plenty of fantastic foreign movies. While they may not be for people who refuse to read subtitles, they should be watched by more than just their own countrymen.

South Korea has released a number of great movies recently, including the zombie film, Train to Busan, and the non-horror film, Parasite, which won Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars. Meanwhile, some of the greatest horror/mysteries ever came from Italy in the form of Giallo films. Giallo means "yellow," so named for the bright yellow movie posters that accompanied the films. They're bright, violent, and sensual and one of my favorites is in the honorable mentions below.

Horror as a Manifestation of Grief

The Orphanage is a horror film hailing from both Spain and Mexico. It centers around a young woman who was adopted from an orphanage as a child who returns to the orphanage years later with her husband and seven-year-old son, Símon. The boy begins to talk about his imaginary friend who wears a sack on his head, and after a fight with his mother, goes missing. From there the spooks proceed and the mystery is where Símon went.

The Orphanage is creepy, thought-provoking, and very emotional. It was one of my introductions to horror, not just in a foreign sense, but in general, and has always had a soft place in my heart. While it probably won't make your leave the lights on at night, The Orphanage is a great film that doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. It's a movie steeped in real-world fears that will leave everyone, especially parents, with a knot in their throat.

Honorable Mentions

  • Train to Busan (South Korea) (2016)
  • 28 Days Later (Britain) (2002)
  • Suspiria (Italy) (1977)
The Thing original movie poster.

The Thing original movie poster.

Best Psychological Horror: The Thing (1982)

Psychological horror doesn't need blood, guts, or scary monsters to frighten its audience. All it needs is the viewer's own mind. It typically uses music, anticipation, and subtle nuance to unsettle viewers, making them uncomfortable as they watch.

It's more the anticipation of fear than the actual moment of fright that makes psychological horror so great. It covers such a broad range of topics that, just like supernatural horror, it's incredibly hard to narrow down to a single choice for best ever. That said, I have a personal favorite.

The Isolating Terror of Male Paranoia

John Carpenter's The Thing isn't just my favorite psychological horror film, it's my absolute #1 favorite horror film ever. Everything about it is fantastic: the acting, the premise, the execution ... chefs kiss. The movie takes place at a research station in Antarctica where a group of scientists is thousands of miles from civilization.

A helicopter is chasing after a sled dog, shooting at it as it runs towards the research station. The scientists take in the dog after the helicopter pilot and his gunman perish in an accident. It's not long before the dog reveals itself to be an alien that can shapeshift into any living being. The rest of the film pits the men in the film against each other as they try to figure out who is human and who is an alien, with the men needing to kill the creature before it can escape and end humanity.

To this day there are theories about how to tell who is real and who isn't. It's been pored over by millions of people who enjoy The Thing just as much now as when it was released in 1982. The practical effects are still gruesome and disturbing, much more so than the CGI-riddled crap we get today. Best of all, The Thing also has one of the best movie posters ever released. It's a fantastic horror film and if you have to choose only one of my recommendations, this is definitely it.

Honorable Mentions

  • The Shining (1980)
  • Get Out (2017)
  • The Lighthouse (2019)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers original movie poster.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers original movie poster.

Best Science Fiction Horror: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

I could very easily choose The Thing for this category as well, but I'll refrain from any repeats for the sake of supplying you all with new films. Science fiction is one of the oldest forms of horror we have in America, much of which began back in the 1950s with shows like The Twilight Zone.

Sci-fi typically deals with aliens, space, the downfall of our technological advancements, or any other science-related catastrophe that mankind may discover or unleash. Like horror, the great thing about sci-fi is its adaptability.

In every era, sci-fi has reflected then-contemporary concerns with the downsides of technology. For example, space exploration brought on a slew of incredible alien-based horror, and artificial intelligence gave us classics like The Terminator.

Brainless Conformity as Horror

Sci-fi has always interested me, but if I had to choose my favorite in the genre I have to give the crown to the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a good horror movie that replaces humans with alien hosts, but they are so damn good! Body Snatchers follows a San Francisco health inspector who stumbles upon the discovery that humans are being replaced with emotionless copies of themselves.

Unlike The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't focused on who's real or not, but on the helplessness of getting people to believe there is a massive disaster happening. It has one of the most famous endings to any film, and that's all I'll say about that.

The movie is a slow burn, so if you're wanting fast-paced action or a screamfest, then it may not be for you. However, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an all-time classic and a must-see for any horror fan.

Honorable Mentions

  • Alien (1979)
  • Signs (2002)
  • Annihilation (2018)
The Descent original movie poster.

The Descent original movie poster.

Best Creature Feature Horror: The Descent (2005)

Going back to the silent film days with Nosferatu, creature feature films have always been a part of cinema. We've seen aliens, werewolves, vampires, mummies, monsters, and creatures of the deep. Cryptid animals, legendary human-like beings, and monsters from our imaginations have all come to life.

Creature features are the descendants of stories that go back thousands of years on cave wall paintings. To clarify, when I say "creature," I'm not talking about animals like in the subgenre above. Cinematic creatures are usually things we wouldn't encounter in real life—at least, let's hope not!

My favorite creature feature includes the imagined fear of goblin-like subterranean monster-people and terrifying real-life fears like claustrophobia and paralyzing darkness. The Descent is easily one of the most terrifying films I've ever watched. It concerns a group of women who go spelunking in the middle of nowhere.

Creepy Crawlers and Claustrophobia

The women are having a fine time until they find out that the cave is in unmapped territory and they don't know how to get out. If that isn't terrifying enough, they start to hear clicking and shuffling in the darkness, which turns out to be monstrous white humanoids living in the cave. The women have to escape an unfamiliar area literally crawling with danger.

Despite all of these horror elements, The Descent is a great character study. In fact, the original ending was changed in America for being too fucked up, and not because it was too gory or scary. It was way too sad and dark for a mainstream audience. If you like to watch movies alone in the dark, cue up The Descent. You'll never go hiking or spelunking again!

Honorable Mentions

  • Cloverfield (2008)
  • Fright Night (1985)
  • The Mist (2007)
Hocus Pocus original poster.

Hocus Pocus original poster.

Best Horror Movie For Kids: Hocus Pocus (1993)

Last, but certainly not least, we venture into the tamest of all our categories. Some may argue that these movies aren't horror, but comedies dressed up in monster clothes or cheap, scareless knockoffs. I disagree. All horror superfans have to start somewhere, and personally, I don't think exposing children to real horror at a young age is smart or healthy—sue me.

Of course, there is a way to introduce children to horror for the first time. These movies typically have monsters, mysticism, or other horror tropes, but are light on the violence and gore. They also tend to be more comedy-forward. These are films you may see on ABC's "31 Days of Halloween" or a similar month-long program of G to PG-rated films.

Three Ancient Hags vs. the 20th Century

My favorite horror movie for kids is none other than Hocus Pocus. After loving this film my entire life, it seems it has become something of a cult classic. A young California boy named Max is forced to move to Salem, Massachusetts, where he is surrounded by his new small-town classmates who fully embrace their Halloween traditions.

One of Salem's greatest legends is that of the Sanderson sisters, three witches who killed children to stay young and were hanged for their crimes three hundred years earlier. It is said that if a virgin lights a black candle on Halloween, the Sanderson sisters will return. Well, Max the virgin does just that and hijinks ensue.

Hocus Pocus is great because it's funny, but also has a story baked in real world lore, like the Salem Witch Trials. There are monsters and danger, but presented in a way that isn't too scary, but also not too hokey. It's a classic for kids and my family watches it every year. In fact, my daughter's first birthday is going to be Hocus Pocus-themed. If you're looking to have some Halloween fun without inducing awful nightmares, this is a great pick for you and your little ones.

Honorable Mentions

  • The Monster Squad (1987)
  • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)
  • Paranorman (2012)

© 2022 Jesse Unk

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