The best horror movies often become part of our pop culture while others are considered cult classics that go overlooked. Filmmakers have provided audiences with quality scares for decades, and each year a few gems in the horror genre appear. The movies below are listed by the year of their release rather than ranking them; doing so is like trying to rank your children — they’re all special. Some of the best horror movies shake the viewers’ nerves to the core, provide a few laughs on the journey to terror, and some provide master storytelling for any genre.
51 Best Horror Movies of All Time
Alfred Hitchcock was ahead of his time and nothing proves that more than with his masterpiece, Psycho. Nearly 60 years later, Psycho is still considered one of the best horror movies and shows that a boy’s best friend is his mother.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson torturing her paraplegic sister will always be terrifying. The older this movie gets, the creepier it becomes; the old-timey feel to it adds to the horror.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski’s first American film inspired an influx of satanic horror movies from The Exorcist to The Omen. Mia Farrow gave a phenomenal performance and at times is downright creepy.
The Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero was the first to introduce zombies to modern film. This classic stands the test of time and it is considered by many to be the best zombie flick.
The Exorcist (1973)
William Peter Blatty wrote both the novel and the screenplay for this chilling horror story. This is the film that started it all for exorcism-themed movies, and it is still the best. IMDb provides the synopsis for what many consider to be one of the scariest horror movies of all time.
“A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother’s terminal sickness. And, book-ending the story, a frail, elderly priest recognizes the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy.”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Real life murderer Ed Gein inspired Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This picture feels more like a snuff film rather than a fictional movie. What makes it extremely creepy is there is almost an absence of a soundtrack; the silence is filled with the sound of a chainsaw.
Steven Spielberg’s horror classic still proves that all you need to entice fear is an ocean and large jaws.
Carrie was the first film adaptation of Stephen King’s work and it is just as chilling today as it was over 40 years ago.
The Omen (1976)
A little boy and three numbers — who would have thought these could be so scary. Directed by Richard Donner and starring Gregory Peck, Damien showed audiences that children can be more frightening than adults.
David Lynch is known for his ingeniously bizarre movies and this one launched his career. A man afraid of adulthood and a mutilated baby that won’t stop crying is more terrifying than one would imagine.
Before Jason and Freddy, there was Michael Myers. John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece put both him and Jamie Lee Curtis’ career on the map. This film provided one of the most iconic horror themes (composed by Carpenter). After watching Halloween, viewers will be asking, what’s the boogie man?
Horror invaded the cosmos in this sci-fi classic about a crew isolated in space that’s hunted by an alien.
This cult classic introduces audiences to the Tall Man as horror fills a mausoleum.
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is considered one of the best horror movies of all time. The symbolism and disturbing visuals are as strong as the sheer terror.
The Howling (1981)
Typically, werewolf movies aren’t good on the big screen. Considered the best werewolf movie of all time, The Howling launched the genre into modern film history.
Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
None of the movies in this franchise are particularly good, but something has to be said about a film that redefined the slasher genre and became deep-rooted in our pop culture. All of the Friday the 13th movies are basically the same, but in this particular one Jason gets his iconic hockey mask.
Steven Spielberg co-wrote this ghost story that combines elements of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Poltergeist was one of the best horror movies to come out in the early ’80s.
The Thing (1982)
Rarely is a remake better than the original. John Carpenter manages to prove otherwise with his horror magnum opus, The Thing.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Often, when horror movies are mentioned three names come to mind: Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Wes Craven directs this epochal film that introduced the blade-fingered serial killer.
Fright Night (1985)
Fright Night is one of the best and underrated horror movies. Older viewers will love the nostalgia of the ’80s when they revisit this, and newer generations will be elated with the story.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987)
Another horror masterpiece by Wes Craven, The Serpent and the Rainbow deals with voodoo and black magic deep in the jungles of Haiti. The tagline of the movie became as popular as the film itself: “Don’t bury me…I’m not dead.”
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
Ash and the deadites are back in this sequel that’s even better than the predecessor. In the second installment of the trilogy, the movie introduces laugh-out-loud humor and Bruce gets his infamous chainsaw-hand.
Punpkinhead is a horror classic of the ’80s and still tells a terrifying tale. After losing his son, a father has a demon conjured up for vengeance and soon regrets it.
Perhaps one of the best film adaptations from Stephen King’s library, Misery took the career of Kathy Bates to a whole new level. This horror story shows how dangerous it can be for an author to meet his number one fan.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
A man is torn between hallucinations and reality in this supernatural thriller. This film is not mentioned enough when listing horror movies and it is simply chilling.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Though Manhunter was the first movie to introduce Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs made the character an icon in the horror industry. This multiple-Oscar-winning film is no doubt one of the best movies of any genre.
In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
Another horror classic from John Carpenter. A famed author in the likes of Stephen King is taken on a terrifying journey into the macabre.
Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey star in this shocking picture. The symbolism in the movie is brilliant: it starts off extremely graphic and lessens as the story progresses, although the final scene is the most horrifying.
Wes Craven pokes some fun at the horror genre while still delivering some genuine scares in Scream.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Definitely the most popular M. Night Shyamalan film, The Sixth Sense truly offers an original plot with a surprise ending. This movie has equal parts of drama and suspense in this modern-day ghost story, and it unfolds like horror movies of yesteryear.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Stir of Echoes was released the same year as The Sixth Sense and it initially got lost in the shuffle. Kevin Bacon delivers one of his best, and certainly the most chilling, performances of his career. This ghost story delivers true suspense and creepy visuals.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Though it wasn’t the first of the found footage horror genre, The Blair Witch Project popularized the style on a mainstream level. Some critics called this one of the scariest horror movies since The Exorcist.
American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho uses dark humor in this ’80s-based horror film about a man who is a Wall Street tycoon by day, and a serial killer by night.
The Ring (2002)
Dozens of films have copied the cinematography of The Ring, but nothing compares to the original and the creepy little girl.
Dead End (2003)
This sleeper flew under the radar for many but pleased the viewers who saw it. A shortcut on the way home turns into a never ending road of horror.
Identity polarized audiences; they either enjoyed the constant twists to the plot or they became exhausted by them. Many viewers didn’t like it while they watched it, but the ending twist pleased them so much that they revisited it.
This modern horror franchise features seven installments but the original is still the best. The diabolical Jigsaw has become one of the modern-day horror icons.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Aside from The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the scariest of the demon possession movies and it is pure horror.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Horror music legend Rob Zombie shifted to making movies at the beginning of the new millennium. His sequel to House of 1000 Corpses takes the disturbed Firefly family in a different direction.
Based on the horror story by Stephen King, 1408 provides genuine suspense that primarily takes place in a haunted hotel room.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Evil forces haunt a woman after she evicts a gypsy from her home. Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell is as brilliant as his other legendary horror movies.
The House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West wrote and directed this horror movie that is set in the ’80s, and it nostalgically feels like an authentic film from decades past. West used technology and techniques used in movies from the ’70s and ’80s to add to the feel of this satanic tale.
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
This horror-comedy offers as many laughs as it does scares. Though the title sounds like another generic addition — it is anything but. The Rotten Tomatoes‘ critics consensus explains why this is one of the best horror movies.
“The Cabin in the Woods is an astonishing meta-feat, capable of being funny, strange, and scary—frequently all at the same time.”
You’re Next (2013)
The home invasion horror genre gets some dark humor and an unexpected heroine in You’re Next.
It Follows (2015)
It Follows is one of the best horror movies of the last several years. A young woman is followed by an evil entity after she has a sexual encounter.
The Final Girls (2015)
The Final Girls is a spoof on slasher movies from the ’80s but doesn’t sacrifice the horror.
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Thus far, 2016 has provided a plethora of high-quality horror movies and Don’t Breathe is one of the best. A group of thieves get more than they bargain for when they break into the home of a blind man.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
The second edition in the Cloverfield universe provides more terror and suspense than the sci-fi antecedent. A young woman is in a car accident and wakes up in a bunker with a man that claims the outside world is no longer safe.
Green Room (2016)
When a punk band witnesses a murder at a skinhead club, they seek refuge in the green room. Patrick Stewart has never been so evil and the late Anton Yelchin gives a great performance in this chilling horror film.
This independent horror movie was released exclusively on Netflix. A deaf woman lives in seclusion and a psychopath starts stalking her in a game of cat-and-mouse.
The Witch (2016)
In one of the most unsettling horror movies ever, a family in the 17th century is torn apart by witchcraft and possession.
OTHER HORROR ARTICLES FROM THE INQUISITR
From Psycho to The Witch, this list of best horror movies of all-time should provide plenty of films that fans might have missed.
[Image via Orion Pictures]