Who's afraid of no ghosts?
Everyone has a favourite ghost story, the one tale that haunts your nightmares and fuels that desire to immediately turn on the hall light even though you know there’s only three steps to the next room.
The following haunting tales are the very best ghost movies of all time. The celluloid made just to send chills down your spine and cold creeping into your heart. Whether you just want standard ghouls, furious angry spirits, or even just the ghosts of Christmas’s yet to come, they’re all here. Watch at your peril.
25. Scrooged (1988)
Probably the least terrifying movie in this list, Scrooged is still an essential ghost film. Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, it sees TV executive Frank Cross (Bill Murray) visited by several spirits. Two things truly stand out in this movie - firstly Murray’s performance as Cross shows the actor at his best, flitting between outrageous self-absorption, and genuine contrition. Secondly it’s the ghosts themselves; the way they influence the Christmas special and give insight into Frank’s selfish personality. The ghost of Christmas Past, for example, appears as a dirty New York cabbie and shows Frank a past where he was raised more by the TV than his parents, giving us insight into why he turned out like he did. Hardly an original trope or a fresh comment on the ‘sad origins’ of a loathsome character, but it’s a smart piece of storytelling nonetheless. This is probably the most unique and inventive telling of A Christmas Carol (well, with the possible exception of The Muppet version), and that alone makes it worth a watch.
24. Housebound (2014)
A deliciously dark horror comedy from New Zealand, Housebound preys on all of your claustrophobic fears nicely. Young Kylie is on house arrest with a tag around her ankle in her family home. Not only does she have to stay inside for eight months but she needs to reconnect with her mother and deal with the fact that there might be something a little more sinister in there with them. Constantly playing with your expectations and with plenty of laughs, Housebound is a pleasantly creepy surprise. It’s also refreshing to see Kylie - perfectly played by Morgana O’Reilly - as a less than traditional horror heroine who’ll just physically take a creaking door off its hinges instead of running screaming into the night.
23. Crimson Peak (2015)
There are certainly better ghost stories on this list, but none have the same sense of hopeless, faded beauty as Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak (opens in new tab). It’s perhaps the only time it’s ever acceptable to say ‘the house is the star’ without being burned on the pyre of bad writing, but seriously: look at that place. It’s incredible. The whole movie is a precise examination of colour and feel, which finds the exact middle point between chilling and charming. From the seeping floors to the lavish architecture, everything about it feels meticulous and artful. Whereas most horror movies are content to give us darkened rooms and billowing curtains, Crimson Peak is crafted to visual perfection, like a ghost train designed by Caravaggio. You won’t get the same sense of nourishment from the empty characters, and the echoes of a predictable story soon fade, but you’ll remember the way it looks forever.
22. We Are Still Here (2015)
New house? Check. Things that go bump in the night? Check. A whole town of highly suspicious individuals that keep talking about how the residence needs “feeding”? Errr… Yep, welcome to another disastrous moving story - seriously, how do people actually move house anymore with hiring an exorcist as standard? We Are Still Here admirably treads the line between horror and comedy and, despite some ropey special effects, the third act’s final showdown is a genuine jawdropper. Throw in a brilliant performance from Barbara Crampton as a woman who recently lost her son and this manages to be a ghost story with real heart amongst the strange noises and smoke coming from the basement.
21. Ghostbusters (1984)
One of those rare films than can be near-enough defined as perfect, Ghostbusters is the most flawlessly balanced, cleverly envisioned, expertly performed horror comedy ever made. Pouring wit, warmth, spontaneity, and a still-unique vision of the supernatural - blending the cartoony, the genuinely threatening, and a vast amount of personality – it’s the endlessly sharp, character-driven dialogue that really makes Ghostbusters a classic. For all the spectacle, lightning-charged action, and affecting, immaculately delivered sense of impending, apocalyptic dread, Ghostbusters is a fundamentally human film, and one that resonates just as hard now as it did in the early ‘80s.
20. Topper (1937)
In Hollywood’s silver screen hayday a film where you kill your two leads in the first few minutes is an anomaly. But Topper sees its stars Cary Grant and Constance Bennett die in a car crash not long after the MGM lion roars. Largely played for laughs, this does have oddly metaphysical twist as the main characters George (Grant) and Marion (Bennett) have done so little with their lives they neither go to heaven or hell, and remain on Earth in ghostly limbo. The Topper of the title is their friend, who they decide to ‘save’ from his boring life. Cue spiritual hijinks and some great farce - the scene where Topper, played by Roland Young, mimes being carried by the ‘invisible’ George and Marion is a masterclass in physical comedy. Ultimately, it all works out with Topper’s life fixed for the better, and George and Marion earn their way into heaven having finally done something meaningful with their (after) lives.
19. Mama (2013)
Written and directed by the man behind the new IT movie arriving later this year, Andres Muschietti, this creepy and disturbing tale sees two young girls abandoned in the woods after their father has a meltdown and kills his wife. The pair end up in an old cabin in the woods with their deranged father who plans on killing them and then himself but something stops him literally dead. A number of years later when the pair are found and adopted by Jessica Chastain and, err, Jaime from Game of Thrones, we find out that whatever that something is, it clearly doesn’t like the children being someone else’s. Mama (opens in new tab) is a remarkable spin on the ‘kids are creepy’ ouvre with a genuinely threatening spirit and an especially bold ending that truly rips up the Hollywood horror rule book.
18. The Innocents (1961)
The kind of black and white movie not to watch alone, this Henry James adaptation is truly spine-tingling. When Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) arrives at an estate as a governess to look after two children, she starts to see the ghosts of the house’s previous inhabitants. Horrifically, the biggest scares here aren’t things that go bump in the night but the disturbing combination of children and possession in the middle of the day. This is the kind of ghost story that once upon a time you might have accidentally recorded at 2am and subsequently let it haunt your nightmares for years. Things don’t get much creepier than this.
17. Sinister (2012)
Sinister (opens in new tab) is nasty. There’s no two ways about it. Blumhouse Productions was well into its stride by 2012 and cinema audiences were clearly hungry for more horror, making this probably the most disturbing entry on this list content wise. A ghost tale with a twist, this is a violent haunted house affair. True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves into an actual murder house with his clueless family but immediately finds a box of disturbing film reels in the attic. What follows is a gruesome and tense murder-fest that isn’t afraid to show the nastiness at work. It’s worth the ride but definitely not one to watch with the faint of heart or the squeamish. Oh, and the nasty? It’s called Mr Boogie and you’re not going to forget him easily. Sweet dreams
16. The Devil's Backbone (2001)
The Spanish, and Guillermo del Toro in particular, have perfected the art of terrifying ghost stories involving tragically wronged children. Where most tales focus on the spectre as villain or monster, The Devil’s Backbone (opens in new tab) (along with films like The Orphanage) create a chilling ethereal threat to terrify you for half the film, only to reveal a wronged, desperately sad (dead) child is behind it all. Just wanting to not to be alone anymore. In this case Santi, a chilling apparition of a wounded boy with a head bleeding upwards as if underwater. In a story that encompasses the Spanish Civil War, lost gold, feuding lovers and more, Santi is eventually revealed to a be an orphan accidentally killed and dropped in a cistern. Far from evil, he just wants closure and a little revenge. This is something he eventually gets in a final act filled with so much inconsequential and unrelated death it’s a nihilistic victory.