The phrase “art is subjective” really seems to hit home with the horror genre as much as any other type of movie. What makes a great horror movie? Is it the one that scares us the most? The one that has the best performances or best direction and cinematography? Is it the goriest or the one with the best practical effects? Or is it the best one at using horror elements to comment on the social issues of its time? The answer is simply yes. Yes to all because horror is subjective. We can count the beats, the number of jump scares and rate the overall quality of the film, but ultimately what makes a great horror movie is its effectiveness on the viewer.
So, to determine what I feel are the best of the best horror films of all time, I set a few rules for myself. Of course, critical reception, importance to and influence on the genre were part of the process. I also limited myself to only one movie from an original series so I wouldn’t put all the Friday the 13th films on here. I did allow myself to add remakes and a film from a rebooted series, however. The last and most important rule is simply my personal freakin preference.
This is the 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time!
50. Suspiria (1977)
Gorgeous and vibrant aren’t descriptions that generally come up when describing horror, but Dario Argento’s Suspiria is one of the most beautiful horror films of all-time. The most well known and talked about Giallo’s, Suspiria takes what would be a run of the mill American slasher flick about a young woman arriving to a dance academy, only to realize people are being killed all over the place and adds so much flair and style that it ends up being a piece of art.
Through awkward character interactions and dialogue, Argento is able to make the viewer feel more than understanding what is happening here. Suspiria has one of the most memorable and talked about death scenes in horror history and everyone should fall in love and appreciate the Goblin soundtrack that simply compliments the aesthetics so well. Simply can not call yourself a horror fan without watching this at least once in your lifetime.
49. Videodrome (1983)
One of David Cronenberg’s most beloved films by fans, it follows James Woods as a sleazy cable TV programmer whose life begins to spiral out of control once he stumbles about a broadcast signal featuring extreme torture. The concept stemmed from Cronenberg’s childhood when he used to pick up television signals from Buffalo, New York after Canadian channels had gone off air and his childhood worry of seeing something not meant for public eyes. The surreal imagery combined with special effects master Rick Baker’s work on the film combined to create one of the strangest, entrancing horror films way ahead of its time.
48. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Love or hate this film, you need to respect what director Oren Peli was able to accomplish with only a $15,000 budget. He was able to prey upon people’s fears of someone or something entering your house while you sleep by utilizing sleight of hand tricks to make you white-knuckle your armrest. Tension and dread were the stars of this show with everyone able to relate to that anxious feeling when things go bump in the night. Paranormal Activity would make almost $200 million at the box office spawning five sequels.
Micah brings home a video camera after his girlfriend, Katie, claims an evil presence is haunting their home. To help dispel this, Micah sets up the camera at night while they sleep but end up seeing unexplainable happenings as the force becomes more aggressive. Even though we got a lame tacked on studio ending, the climax is hold your breath intense.
47. The Wicker Man (1973)
A police officer visits a bizarre, isolated island community while looking for a missing girl, only to (slowly) realize that there’s some super-creepy old-school witchcraft afoot. The Wicker Man is one of those “slow-burn” horror stories, and yes, the truly goofy Nicolas Cage remake spoiled some of the surprises, but this Christopher Lee-led mystery is a truly disturbing horror classic for those who settle in and pay close attention. Lee’s quietly menacing presence adds the initial dark tone to the film. As Sargent Howie spirals deeper into the world of Summerisle, he is faced with temptations of sex, lust, desire, and – in a particular blow to his devout Christian ways – paganism.
46. American Psycho (2000)
A tongue in cheek satirical horror that is carried on the shoulders of Christian Bale’s performance. Director Mary Harron does a wonderful job of combining horror and comedy to effectively drive home the excess and self-indulgent vanity of Wall Street during the ’80s. The story follows a young New York banking executive who is wealthy and successful but not as much as some of his fellow peers. He goes through a daily charade to play the part but at night releases his hidden homicidal side by murdering people while listening to some classic ’80s tunes.
The film is very polarizing as some don’t get the satire aspect calling it misogynistic because of the violence towards women but Harron handles the humor and horror so well that it is hard not “get” what the movie is trying to say. Along with Christian Bale’s performance garnered him some wider acclaimed which would lead to a stellar decade in film. Underneath all of this, is a gory and violent film set in the ’80s with an incredible soundtrack with one of the greatest chainsaw kills in movie history.
45. The Sixth Sense (1999)
I feel the impact of M. Night Shyamalan’s debut feature has worn off slightly because he became “king of the twist endings” and by now most know what takes place at the end of this one even if they haven’t seen the film. There is a generation that wasn’t able to experience this film for the first time without it being spoiled and some have forgotten how special it was at the time of its release. I’m sure all of you will say you knew the whole time but regardless of what anyone thought of the ending, Shyamalan was able to craft a creepy ghost story with some great scares while Bruce Willis and young Haley Joel Osment gave fantastic performances.
44. Nosferatu (1922)
As an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu was the first and most influential vampire film to be released back in 1922. More importantly, would be F.W. Murnau’s filming by creating an eerie atmosphere and having a gothic feel combined with Max Schreck’s haunting performance to help set a template for horror films to come. Schreck’s version of Dracula, Count Orlock, helped shape some of the scarier and less regal vampires that we would see rival Bela Lugosi’s archetype.
Simply one of the defining entries the early 20th Century German Expressionism, Murnau’s stark contrasts, artistic flourishes, and symbolic imagery have been felt for decades, through horror, film noir, and more, and continue to be influential to this very day.
43. The Witch (2015)
This is arguably one of the best-made films on this entire list. Robert Eggers directed a technically exceptional film from the directing, the cinematography, and the committed performances. His ability to create this authentic world set in 1630’s New England at such a proficient level, in his debut no less, is remarkable. The story follows a family cast out of their local village and left to make it on their own on a farm at the edge of the woods where this Puritan family begins to face supernatural forces of evil.
The committed performances are outstanding by all cast members with Ana Joy-Taylor shining bright in her first starring role. There is a thick layer of atmosphere and dread linger throughout with a methodical pace. Ultimately, I didn’t love The Witch overall but like I said, this is one of the best-made horror films ever made from a technical standpoint and that cannot be overlooked regardless of how the movie lands with you.
42. Re-Animator (1985)
Re-Animator was adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft in a time where director Stuart Gordon felt there were too many vampire movies and he wanted to make a Frankenstein film. His original idea was for it to be a stage play, then it was going to be a TV pilot until Gordon was convinced to turn his project into a full-length horror feature. And horror fans can rejoice in that decision because Gordon is one of the few to succeed at translating a Lovecraft adaptation to the big screen.
It follows the gruesome tale of a medical student (Jeffrey Combs) who believes he can cheat death. As we all know, death doesn’t like to be cheated. Herbert West invents a reagent that can re-animate deceased bodies. There is razor-sharp wit combined with splatterfest comedy that isn’t for the squeamish.
41. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Looking at the cover art and reading the synopsis, you would think this is just another run of the mill “cabin in the woods” story we have seen a hundred times over. Well, the name doesn’t help either, but for those who took the chance on the Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon creation were for an unexpected trip. Those who have seen it, know what I am talking about. For those of you who haven’t then I suggest you go in as blind as possible and enjoy. The Cabin in the Woods is a meta-heavy horror-comedy filled with references and homages to the genre’s most famous films.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror films? Maybe they will show up further on the list!