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!
60. Gremlins (1984)
A comedy-horror must watch around Christmastime as these lovable pint-sized creatures claw their way into your heart. A well-meaning father searches for the perfect gift for his son as he is able to procure a fuzzy-faced little guy named Gizmo. He is given strict instructions of don’t get them wet, don’t expose them to bright light, and for the love of God whatever you do, don’t feed them after midnight. Well, as most every single horror film goes, all three of the rules were broken and we are given a wacky tale with mesmerizing puppetry work as the miniature monsters wreak havoc on a cozy little town.
Director Joe Dante was able to create one of the most iconic horror-comedies that is able to provide laughs and frights as the PG film can get a bit dark as well. That chimney story anyone? As most great horror films do, Gremlins sparked several imitators of small creature features that were never able to top this original classic.
59. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
This early French horror film is about a plastic surgeon who is simply trying his best to repair his daughter’s face after it was disfigured in a horrible accident. Doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Daddy just trying to take care of his baby girl, right? Sounds good until you find out he is murdering and removing faces from other women in order to transplant their skin to his daughter’s face. A daughter who is also going a bit crazy at the same time.
By 1960, we had seen the mad-doctor story done a few different times but what help set this film apart was the imagery that was seen on the screen. The scene of the surgeon removing one of his victim’s faces by cutting around the edges with a scalpel and then removing the loose skin was very unnerving for that time. Many critics hated this film for the grotesque nature of its content. This means documentary director Georges Franju’s first foray into horror was a success. Well, by horror standards at least. Since its polarizing debut, the film has become one of the most regarded horror films in history often described as horrific poetry come to life on screen.
58. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
We are just going to ignore Keanu Reeves’ horrid accent because of his overall awesomeness in real life but Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is what every Dracula film should be. Glorious and gaudy. Luscious set designs with gorgeous cinematography make this a beautiful film before we ever get to the wonderful performances from Gary Oldman as Dracula and Anthony Hopkins as the famed Van Helsing. Oldman commands the screen as the titular vampire while Hopkins steals the show with his Hopkins excellence. The film may feel stuffed to the brim at times, but it is never dull. Your eyes stay glued to the screen.
57. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The story is simple enough as an eccentric millionaire invites a group of people to this “haunted house” offering them $10,000 if they can stay through the night. As weird happenings begin to take place around them, they soon realize they are trapped in this mansion and must plan for their survival of the night.
An absolute horror classic with every rewatch being as fun as the first time around. What makes it great is that it knows what it is. It’s a campy haunted house story that relies on the greatness of the sneering sarcasm of Vincent Price. Another example of effective Gothic atmosphere with a jump scare I would have loved to have seen the 1959 audience react to including seeing William Castle’s use of gimmicks like rigging a real skeleton in the theater to help spook the moviegoers.
56. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Perhaps one of the most quintessential October/Fall time viewing films of all-time. Tim Burton constructs period horror film with stunning visuals and a creepy atmosphere. Everything here is top-tier from the wardrobes, the acting, the production design, and the Danny Elfman score. It’s one of the rare family horror films that is not too much for younger viewers but has enough even for the hardcore horror fan.
In this variation on the headless horseman legend, Ichabod Crane, as played by Johnny Depp, is an early proponent and practitioner of the forensic sciences, and this, along with the bright red splashes of blood and general dismemberment, adds a kick of modernity to an otherwise classical tale. Jeffrey Jones, Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon, and Christopher Walken are very theatrical with Andrew Kevin Walker’s dialogue, while the kills are nicely varied and occasionally surprising. Though Washington Irving purists might get up into a tizzy, the thematic core of Burton’s film is that progress and the modern world are integral to not only the future of societal issues but of storytelling itself.
55. You’re Next (2011)
Home invasions are a staple in horror with most filmmakers trying to add a wrinkle or something fresh to help their home invasion story stand out above the rest. Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard were able to do just that by giving us a terrifying violent and smart film. We get some great kills and some hilarious black comedy, but Shari Vinson as Erin is the real treasure here.
A family with their significant others arrive to gather for their ailing mother until family members begin being picked off by masked killers. Trapped in the house, they must figure out a to get help and survive multiple attacks. While all seems hopeless as bodies begin to pile up, an unlikely force arises to combat the deadly intruders. You’re Next is a fun romp filled with nasty kills, despicable people you root to see die and a memorable horror hero.
54. Hellraiser (1987)/ Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)
So, another cheat here because I feel these two films work better together than separately. Don’t get me wrong 1987’s Hellraiser was a disturbing and one of the most gruesome stories to come out of the horror explosion of the ‘80s. The story hit on taboo subjects like sex and pain that had a nasty tone and gave us one of the most iconic villains in horror history in the torture demon “Pinhead”. Clive Barker directing debut was stellar but where I feel it lacked in story is where Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 elevates the original. It does a better job of world-building around these nasty creatures called the Cenobites that we met in the original while being gorier and more violent like all good sequels should.
Like most good horror movies, Hellraiser is full of subtext underneath all the incredible practical effects of blood, gore and the Cenobites themselves. It would be a shot in the arm for horror that began relying too much on the same slashers and stories with Barker’s unique vision.
53. The Babadook (2014)
Horror has had its ups and downs over the decades and whether or not you believe a particular decade to be better or another one to be subpar, one thing all horror fans can agree upon is that 2010s are giving us some of the most well made from a quality and technical standpoint like we haven’t seen in a long time. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is one of the best examples of the quality of horror films we have received this decade.
Essie Davis does a terrific job at playing a grieving widow who recently lost her husband while trying to be a nurturing mother to her incredibly difficult son. On the surface, it seems this is a simple storybook coming to life in the form of a terrifying creature, Mister Babadook. However, as we dive deeper, we realize this more about a bond between a mother and child, a constant of losing her grip on reality, and the instinct to protect her family at any cost. This is one of those that rattle around your mind long after seeing it while making constantly wanting to repeat “the babdook-dook”.
52. Saw (2004)
At a time when horror was in a transition of finding its footing and the next big thing that wasn’t found footage, came along a psychological thriller that added in some violent shock value. The trend that would follow would be dubbed as “torture porn” which would fit most of its sequels and other movies that came after, but most forget Saw was more clever and toned down compared to most of that era. In his directorial debut, James Wan was able to take a small budget of $1.2 million and turn it into one of the most profitable horror films in almost a decade since 1996’s Scream. The film would break $100 million and spawn a box office juggernaut as one of the most successful horror franchises of all time.
Two strangers awake in a dilapidated bathroom with a corpse in the middle of the floor. Neither knows how they got here but both realize they are chained to a pipe by their ankle and are a part of a dangerous game of survival at the hands of a sadistic madman. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) would become a horror icon for his creepily raspy voice giving instructions to his victims through some sort of recording device. All they had to was follow his rules and survive some horrific ordeal or die a grotesque death. The original Saw is one of the best “What would you do?” type of films as it constantly our two victims in positions to make moral decisions as they are trapped and helpless. This one would value twisty narratives over shock value, unlike the sequels.
51. Carrie (1976)
Brain De Palma’s Carrie is easily one of the most recognizable and memorable horror movies ever. This was based on Stephen King’s first novel that is about a shy and awkward girl who is bullied at school and abused by her religious nut of a mother. As the cruelty escalates, Carrie uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers seeking revenge by lashing out against those who have wronged her.
Sissy Spacek would play Carrie White to perfection with Piper Laurie delivering one of the most spine shivering and hated characters in horror history as Carrie’s mother. De Palma directed two of the genre’s defining moments with the prom prank that everyone knows about even if you haven’t seen the movie and one of the best jump scares of all jump scares. Bullying was nothing new to film but how it focused on the unique torment teenage girls face is what helps this stand out above the rest.
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!