This past decade was a time of great change for the horror genre. We saw a wave of fresh and diverse voices and new kinds of horror films, from new directors from all over the globe. The proverbial gates were opened up wide for anyone to come through and use the genre to tell their stories, which birthed what many fans refer to as the second “golden age” of horror. It was a decade that saw an MCU level crossover universe from James Wan, a massively successful Carpenter and Spielberg influenced TV show that created an 80s horror nostalgia boom, tons of independent and foreign gems, and more King adaptations than you can shake a stick at. We, unfortunately, lost a ton of masters of horror within this decade but with all the gold these new directors are churning out, it looks like the baton is in safe hands. This list chronicles the end of an era but more importantly, provides a small glimpse of the future of horror.
This is The 50 Greatest Horror Films of the 2010s.
30. A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quiet Place, like Tremors before it, contributes a strikingly original monster to the genre of creature features that specifically targets one of the five senses. The Graboids in Tremors were subterranean, so you couldn’t move or they’d feel it and the monsters in this, are a species of lightning-fast, flesh-eating aliens that happen to be blind, which means its potential prey can successfully survive an attack as long as they’re being absolutely quiet (hence the title) at all times. Their hearing is so great, that even a whisper is deadly, which means that for most of its runtime, A Quiet Place is devoid of noise. It’s one of the rare silent films whose silence is an actual plot point. It’s a ballsy move that definitely paid off.
In addition to its clever gimmick and tense monster action, there’s also believable character drama that stems from real-life partners John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. Their family dynamic and chemistry feel real because it is real. While the kids in the film aren’t theirs in real life, they as a couple are about as authentic as it gets. Watching them trying to survive and protect their children during the apocalypse is the real meat of the film, the monster stuff is just the garnish. It might be filled with illogical holes that are nigh impossible not to nitpick but there’s no denying that it’s a unique horror experience and in the age of Blumhouse trash and infinite sequels, that’s a godsend.
29. Insidious (2010)
After the Saw series flatlined but before The Conjuring became the MCU of horror, James Wan made what is essentially his version of Poltergeist. For a good chunk of that film, the little girl at the center of it is trapped in an alternate plane of existence. Where demons and poltergeists live and where the dead don’t know they’re dead. It sounds harrowing and terrifying but since we never see anything from her point of view, we can only imagine the horrors she’s witnessing. For his film Insidious, Wan decided to ditch the ambiguity and decided on a more “show don’t tell” approach. It’s nowhere near as scary as what I’m mentally picturing every time I watch Poltergeist but it definitely gets props for trying. There are odd-looking demons, unsettling looking nuns, and the most effective use of Tiny Tim’s bizarre vocals in any film ever. It may not have the gruesome factor of his previous films or the “shit your pants from fright” level of jump scares from any of The Conjuring films but it kinda splits the difference. There’s messed up stuff in this as well as a decent amount of scares. It’s just an overall fun type of horror film.
28. Oculus (2013)
Jumping between Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim’s (Brenton Thwaites) present-day investigation of a supposedly haunted mirror and the horrors that, eleven years ago, sent her to foster care and him to a mental institution, Oculus splits the fear between the past and the present. By dividing the story, it fleshes out both protagonists and offers more context to the horrors to come. You understand why she’s obsessed and why he’s terrified but why both need answers. It also offers up traumatic moments as ammunition for a mirror who delights in psychologically tormenting its victims before it drives them to suicide. It’s a clever structure that adds a bit more depth than the typical haunted house (or object in this case) film usually provides. Smartly written characters, fleshed out backstory, a unique premise, and oodles of frights. The only thing it’s missing is tits and it would be the perfect horror film.
27. Maniac (2012)
Remaking a film that’s as notoriously violent and unpleasant to watch as the original Maniac, is a fool’s errand. It’s hard enough remaking a horror in the first place but to try and match or even outdo a film involving a sweaty Joe Spinell killing women and nailing their scalps to mannequins is downright absurd. The film is a look into the mind of a deranged psychopath that’s hard to watch, which makes the remake doubly effective because it literally places the viewer inside the mind of a serial killer. Since every kill is seen through his POV, the viewer is forced to confront the brutality of Elijah Wood’s maniac and it’s equally as unsavory. Both films do an amazing job at skeezed out so bad, you want to jump out of your skin and burn it but the 2012 version might have a leg up on the originality by making you feel like you’re not just watching a creep but that you are the creep.
26. The Crazies (2010)
There’s something about Romero’s work that perfectly lends itself to remakes. The first two entries of his Dead trilogy have extremely solid remakes, as does his political paranoia thriller The Crazies. We just need new versions of Monkey Shines, Knightriders, and Martin, and we’d have a full set. Focusing more on the unexplained sickness that’s driving everyone banana balls than the distrust of the faceless government sent to quarantine everyone, the remake loses the political commentary of the original in favor of non-stop horror action. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything different you haven’t seen in a million other zombie-ish movies but it does hit the targets it’s aiming at dead on. Namely the characters and the scale of the chaos. Each of the leads feel distinct and are given equal amounts of screen time to feel fleshed out and memorable and the aforementioned action is slick and filled with great set pieces. Often overlooked when mentioning the great horror remakes, The Crazies deserves as much praise as any of the other classics and then some.
25. Midsommar (2019)
Ari Aster, the director of this film, said that Midsommar is one type of film for one character and a completely different film for everyone else. It’s a horror film for everyone you know will eventually die and a fairy tale for the lead. While I don’t completely buy why anyone would fall under the spell of this village and their customs (It’s a goddamn hellscape of annoying villagers and pube pies with really shitty cellphone reception), I do see the clear line between horror and romantic fantasy. Behind the door of every cabin, lurking just out of sight, are true monsters. Their way of life is brutally violent, sickeningly depraved, and archaic in its belief system. They’re the kind of people who still believe in ritualistic suicide and harsh penalties for minor crimes.
Their happy-go-lucky personas are a facade created to mask their ulterior motives. I’m not crystal clear what their goal is but I do know it involves a ton of murder and sacrifices. But on the other hand, you have a strong community that supports the protagonist (Florence Pugh) and treats her like a Queen. It also happens to be located in the middle of a serene and beautiful clearing. It is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale come to life. It’s dark, twisted, and filled with a supernatural energy that feels tranquil. In other words, it’s the inverse to The Wicker Man, everyone but the lead is sacrificed and she couldn’t be happier.
24. Let Me In (2010)
Matt Reeves’s remake of Let the Right One In is the definition of Americanizing something to make it more palatable for people who can’t be bothered to read subtitles. It removes every element that would be deemed inappropriate for Westerners (there’s more going on with the little girl than just being a vampire) and tightens up the narrative to improve the pace. It sacrifices plot efficiency for subtext but I think it’s a fair trade. Set in New Mexico in 1983 (a time before cellphones and the internet and in an isolated place no one wants to live), the film does a better job than the original at creating a deep loneliness for the main character.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a bullied kid who finds solace in pretending to be a serial killer. He dresses up in a creepy mask and asks imaginary people questions before stabbing them with his very real knife. He’s an adolescent boy going through some shit. So when he finds another weirdo named Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), it’s love at first sight. He’s immediately smitten with her, so much so that when he discovers she’s a vampire, he still tries to protect her. It’s a beautiful love story between two outcasts that just so happens to be ultra-violent and frightening. If Carpenter ever directed an adaptation of Romero and Juliet, it would look a lot like this.
23. The Lighthouse (2019)
Two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson) try to maintain their sanity while tending to a lighthouse on a remote island in the 1890s. Much like how Tarantino’s films are a cinematic patchwork of the director’s influences, The Lighthouse is everything Eggers has ever loved or was inspired by, thrown into one giant pot. The film feels like Kubrick doing Bergman doing H.P Lovecraft. Shots linger on images far too long, the pace is glacier, nothing is ever explained and the sound design and aspect ratio are designed to make you claustrophobic and annoyed, which is a good thing.
This film’s idea of answering a riddle is to provide the audience with an even crazier riddle. Since the meaning behind the events of the film are up for interpretation, I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to say that the film juggles at least five or so explanations. The main characters could both be dead and are now in purgatory or hell, they could be the same person, there could be a force within the lighthouse that’s driving them mad or it could just be a tale of insanity. There are many ways to interpret this film and the fact that it supports them all, is just brilliant. This is a new master working at the top of his game.
22. Black Swan (2010)
While not a horror film in the traditional sense, Black Swan nevertheless borrows heavily from horror cinema of the ’70s, most notably the slow burn thrillers from America and the whacked-out Italian Gialli from directors such as of Argento and Fulci. It’s among the first wave of “non-horror” horror films that focus more on atmosphere and dread than outright scares. Films like Raw and Suspiria and It Comes at Night and Blackcoat’s Daughter and especially Under the Skin do this to great effect. Whether you refer to them as art-house horror or elevated horror, it doesn’t matter. The fact remains, that they are horror movies and that they are the future. The age of the slasher and found footage film is dead and in its place are slow-moving tension pieces that stick with you long after the credits have rolled and Black Swan is one of the best.
21. The Invitation (2015)
Will and his new girlfriend are on the way to Will’s ex-wife, Eden’s, house for a dinner party with their old friends and her new husband, David. Will and Eden divorced over the grief of the accidental death of their young son. This will be the first time the group of friends will be together in over two years. As Will deals with reliving moments of his past life with Eden and their deceased child, he begins to realize things aren’t what they appear to be.
This is an intense and claustrophobic closed room type of thriller with some standout performances. Logan Marshall-Green plays Will as a tortured soul trying his best to move on and there is the always fantastic John Carroll Lynch who does John Carroll Lynch things. Director Karyn Kusama does an incredible job of creating an uneasy atmosphere while having the ability to keep you on your toes the whole time up until a very somber ending that makes the event even more terrifying.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror movies from the past decade? Maybe they will show up further on the list!