It doesn’t matter what your non-scare loving friends say, you need the best horror movies and you need them faster than a James Wan jump scare. Thanks to some horror heavy hitters such as the It movie, A Quiet Place, and aforementioned Mr Wan’s Conjuring Universe making serious bloody waves at the box office, there’s never been a better time to enjoy a good scary movie. It’s also never been quite this easy to get your horror fix. Sure, you could always invest in a Blu-Ray of Texas Chain Saw Massacre for a full disturbing HD experience, but it’s even simpler to log into one of your many streaming services to mainline the terror that way. But, what do you watch when you get there?
Well this list of sheer terror is here to help you out. Sure, they’re ranked in an order with 1 as the pinnacle of cinematic scare-excellence, but this list of the very best horror movies of all time is guaranteed to unnerve from the get go. There’s horror comedy, creature features, buckets of gore, and the true historical heavy hitters, as well as a few that you might not be expecting. It’s time to grab your remote and biggest cushion. I’ll be right back…
Oh, and if you’ve finished this list and are hungry for more brai...scares, check out the upcoming horror movies looming on the horizon.
25. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The movie: Wes Craven's iconic slasher takes the one place on Earth you're meant to be safest - tucked up under your bed covers - and makes it deeply unsafe by inventing a killer who attacks teenagers in their dreams. The scarred-up, knife-fingered Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is one of horrors scariest villains.
Why it's scary: The notion of impossible escape from a whole reality crafted by an evil predator is primally affecting, and doubly so when you factor in that the whole thing happens when you're at your most vulnerable in the real world, a scenario that is always, ultimately, impossible to avoid. Whatever you do, eventually sleep always wins. Plus the whole nightmare conceit gave Craven and co. complete freedom to dream up some utterly horrible kills.
24. Evil Dead (2013)
The movie: In this Fede Alvarez directed reboot of the age-old tale of woodland cabins and Books You Should Not Read - in truth as much sequel as remake - drug addicted Mia is taken to the worst intervention venue in the world by her well-meaning brother and friends, in an attempt to detox. Mia’s mind is tormented to start with, but things are about to get worse. Oh so much worse. You wouldn’t believe how much worse.
Why it’s scary: Because it’s the most rampant, relentless, gruelling, and obsessively dedicated cavalcade of nightmarish disgust you can possibly imagine. And it’s glorious. Eschewing CG entirely, in favour of sticky, stretchy, horrendously grubby practical effects and enough blood to drown on, Evil Dead 2013 is an absolute carnival of slaughter. After its disarmingly affecting, cold and downbeat opening, it erupts into a ripping, tearing, twisting, snapping tribute to the forcible malleability of the human form. Combining surprisingly touching character work with a giddy desire to push what’s possible in the most gleefully horrid, expertly crafted fashion it can, Evil Dead is one of the most focused and deftly executed splatter movies you’ll ever see.
23. Ringu (1998)
The movie: Journalist Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is investigating a story about a cursed videotape and in the process, manages not only to watch it herself but to let her ex-husband and young child watch it, too. The idea of a haunted VHS tape is a brilliant one, and the climactic scene where the vengeful ghost finally makes her entrance is pure nightmare fuel.
Why it's scary: The cursed video concept suggests that not only are the characters in the film in danger but that you, the audience at home, are also in line to meet a sticky end. Yikes. And on top of the explicit scares, the scenes which show the surreal, creeping, indefinably nightmarish imagery on the tape itself make for some of the most instinctively unsettling, slow-burn horror ever committed to film. Two decades on, Ringu is one of the most incisively atmospheric ghost stories around.
22. The Descent (2005)
The movie: If there was a dip in caving and bouldering trip attendance back in the mid-noughties, it’s probably the fault of Neil Marshall’s truly terrifying claustrophobic creature feature. Sarah’s friends want to make her feel better after the tragic death of her family so, instead of y’know, buying her some wine, they take her on a caving trip. Unfortunately, the movie wouldn’t be on this list if the six women were there to have a heartwarming, gently comedic adventure where they all grow as people. From the moment this lot lower themselves into the darkness below the Appalachian mountains, it’s very clear that getting back out into the light again isn’t going to be likely.
Why it’s scary: The claustrophobia of The Descent is horribly real. Before you even discover what’s lurking down there - with a night vision reveal so spectacular that it goes down in jump scare history - this cave system is stone horror. The women are experienced explorers but every shot of squeezing through tiny spaces as rubble gently falls, every huge cavern only lit in one tiny corner by their flares, and every step they take further into the abyss is heart racing stuff. And this isn’t an unlikable crew of barely fleshed out American teens, pun intended, these characters and their complex relationships truly matter. This is beautifully gruelling, not to mention empowering, filmmaking. Witness the UK ending of this cult classic and you’ll need more than some wine to cheer you up afterwards.
21. Scream (1996)
The movie: Wes Craven resurrected the slasher genre with this cheekily post-modern effort in the mid-90s. It ticks all the usual boxes, as a teenage girl and her friends are stalked by a masked killer, but these teens grew up watching movies and their ability to remember the rules will make the difference between living and dying.
Why it's scary: Directed by the man behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream works as a perfectly great, straightforward slasher in its own right, so even if you're not enough of a genre nut to spot all the references and homages, it's still terrifying. Someone calling you from outside the house? Yeah, that never stops being creepy. And if you do know the tropes, the crushing inevitability of what's to come adds a whole extra, fatalistic weight to the stabbings and maimings. And ye gods, some of them are bloody.
20. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
The movie: Inversely to the 2013 reboot, Evil Dead 2 is more of a remake than a sequel. Reworking the 1981 original’s set-up – innocents go to a woodland cabin, find the book of the dead, accidentally bring the dead pouring down upon their own heads – but presenting it in a far slicker, more professional format than the first movie’s film-school scrappiness allowed, it’s also one of the finest showcases around for Bruce Campbell’s terribly underrated, kinetic character acting.
Why it’s scary: While it deliberately steers into the 1981 Evil Dead’s inadvertent comedy - allowing room for a great deal more slapstick and lashings of mapcap carnage - the thick, dread-laden claustrophobia Evil Dead 2 maintains as its foundation ensures a hellish, dream-like mania permeates the entire movie like old, dirty stain. The otheworldly, creepily graceful, stop-motion resurrection of Ash’s recently-killed girlfriend is a particularly striking image, but the real kicker is the sequence in which Ash, alone in the cabin, steadily loses his mind. Building from creeping, uncanny fear to screaming mad excess, it’s a slow-motion explosion of unhinged, fevered delight the like of which Campbell alone can invoke.
19. A Quiet Place (2018)
The movie: Is there anything more terrifying than the idea of bringing up a young family in a world where brutal monstrosities with supernaturally good hearing hunt down the last of humanity? John Krasinski’s first horror - in which he also stars with irl wife Emily Blunt - follows the Abbott family as they silently creep through a truly miserable existence where every single sound could be their last. Playing with movie audio in an entirely new way, A Quiet Place might have a simple premise but this is 90 minutes of sheer muscle-clenching tension.
Why it’s scary: It turns out that humans are loud. Footsteps boom. Food crunches. Doors creak painfully. Exquisite use of sound means that every noise that the family makes feels like an agonising step closer to death. Electric performances from the entire cast - especially young Millicent Simmonds - command you to watch every single frame, holding your breath if necessary. Rarely has a horror director commanded your attention for so long with such blatant disregard for the nails digging into your palms. Watch A Quiet Place. Oh, and turn it up.
Read more: "Please shut the **** up" – These reactions to annoying A Quiet Place moviegoers say it all
18. Ghost Stories (2018)
The movie: A supernatural debunker is challenged to disprove three particularly troubling cases by a distraught figure from his past. Traveling the bleak coastline, countryside, and urban rot of a stark, wintery UK, he encounters hauntings and victims as unique as they are fundamentally disturbing. He persist in brushing off their legitimacy with arrogant certainty, just as a greater, creeping sense of dread grows to envelope the whole journey.
Why it's scary: Dancing assuredly through the entire last century or so of the British horror canon - with a detour or two into unsettling, antiquarian folklore along the way - Ghost Stories' slow, cold, steady fear is a masterclass is intelligent direction. More than earning the few jump-scares it uses, the film transfigures the blasted landscape of decaying contemporary Britain into a realm of primally foreboding otherness, channeling writers from MR James to Lovecraft while asserting itself as a thoroughly modern entry in the lineage. By the mid-way point, the thought of being alone will terrify you.
17. The Witch (2015)
The movie: Self described as a ‘New England folk tale’ - although it’s more like a fairy tale from hell - Robert Eggers’ terrifying period drama follows a Puritan family after they are ejected from their colony. Screaming ‘don’t do it’ at the screen just doesn’t work as William (Ralph Ineson) takes his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and his five children into the deep, dark woods to survive alone on a farm. It’s not spoiling anything to say that it doesn’t go particularly well. Following Thomasin, the eldest daughter of the family played by Anya Taylor Joy in her first credited role, we witness the tense unravelling of a dysfunctional family faced with the horrific prospect of an outside force staring out at them from the trees.
Why it’s scary: It’s Marmite to cinema goers but lose yourself to The Witch and suddenly everything is scary and you can’t put your shaking finger on exactly why. Every perfectly constructed shot of the family attempting to survive in the wilderness is cranked into fear-ville with a constantly surprising hellish score of strings and vocals. This means that when true horror eventually does hit after a torturous slow burn of tension, it’s like Eggers has masterfully wired you in for shocks and you didn’t notice. From the unnerving skip and shrill voices of the young twins to the monstrous goat known only as Black Phillip, there is unique horror lurking in The Witch that doesn’t go away after the credits roll.
16. Psycho (1960)
The movie: Hitchcock's thriller about a murderer lurking in a roadside motel is so much a part of pop culture now it's hard to imagine what it must have been like to watch it on release. Anthony Perkins is wonderful as the vulnerable and frightening Norman; even when you know what happens, he's got a kind of awkward charm that's hard to resist.
Why it's scary: There are at least two moments that would've been completely shocking to contemporary audiences. And yes, they might not be as surprising to today's crowds, it's still possible to watch it now and appreciate the craftsmanship of the film, how carefully it's constructed and how overwhelming its atmosphere of dread.