Best of Horror: Ranking the Top 20 Scariest Horror Movies

Ready for some real horror?

by Todor Ivanov

Horror movies – you just have to love them, right?

The horror genre is highly diverse – slasher movies, body snatchers, alien abductions, demon summonings, psychos with axes, and every single one of those has its cult followers. 

We’ve undertaken the effort to try and rank at least a Top 20 of the scariest horror movies ever produced. Some of the greatest horror movies were remakes and sometimes became modern classics. So, if you’re looking for good horror movies to watch, here’s a great list for you! Enjoy!

Top 20 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time

Saw (2004)

horror movies

Few horror films have left as indelible a mark on the genre as the original ‘Saw,’ which, despite its notoriety for spawning some truly gruesome sequels, offers a brilliantly crafted cinematic experience. 

‘Saw’ is one of the highly recommended horror movies. In essence, it compels us all to become players in Jigsaw’s sinister game, forcing us to confront a nightmarish question: What would we be willing to endure to save our own lives from an impending, gruesome fate? Would we exhibit Amanda’s desperation, delving into a stomach to retrieve a key, or would we passively await our gruesome destiny? This moral quandary keeps us engaged throughout.

Adding to the film’s terror is ‘Billy,’ Jigsaw’s eerie, painted cycling puppet, a symbol that has become iconic in the horror world. And let’s not forget one of the most heart-stopping jump-scare sequences ever captured on screen. ‘Saw’ still wields its barbed-wire-covered punch, leaving us with lingering questions about the depths of human survival instinct and the harrowing allure of a meticulously designed nightmare.

Get Out (2017)

Get Out

‘Get Out’ is one of the excellent horror movies to watch, especially when Halloween is just around the corner. In the chilling narrative of ‘Get Out,’ we follow the journey of Chris, a talented photographer in his mid-20s, as he embarks on a road trip to rural New York to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. 

Understandably nervous, he tentatively asks Rose, ‘Do they know I’m Black?’ Thankfully, Rose reassures him with, ‘My Dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have!’—a comforting sentiment. 

What makes this one of the best scary movies is Jordan Peele’s storytelling. It isn’t content with merely frightening you with traditional jump scares; instead, it seeks to expose the unsettling truths lurking beneath the surface of contemporary American identity politics. 

A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place

Unsurprisingly, ‘A Quiet Place‘ is a flawless cinematic experience, meticulously crafted to keep its audience on edge because a single misstep could spell catastrophe in this world. 

The brilliant minds of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods originally conceived this pleasing horror movie. The film introduces a gripping concept—a post-apocalyptic world where enigmatic creatures with extraordinarily acute hearing have driven humanity into an eerie silence. 

In ‘A Quiet Place,’ the primal instinct to protect one’s offspring becomes a matter of life and death like never before. Krasinski weaves a mesmerizing narrative that unfolds like a masterclass in tension, employing narrative economy to the fullest. The film delivers spine-tingling chills and heart-pounding jump scares while cleverly threading a compelling storyline that revolves around the Abbott family, with a standout performance by Millicent Simmonds as the deaf daughter, Regan.

Train To Busan (2016)

horror movies

Train to Busan is one of the top horror movies to ever come from South Korea. Regarding high-concept thrillers, it delivers a pitch that can be summed up in just four words: ‘zombies on a train.’ Expanding on this electrifying premise, Yeon Sang-ho’s pulse-pounding undead adventure centers on a father and daughter who find themselves trapped on a high-speed train hurtling through chaos. 

Gong Yoo’s portrayal of Seok-woo is nothing short of compelling, drawing the audience into his desperate struggle to protect his daughter, Su-an, portrayed brilliantly by Kim Su-an. However, it’s the formidable Sang-hwa, played by Ma Dong-seok (now a recognizable face in Western cinema, starring in ‘Eternals’), who steals the spotlight as he fearlessly battles the infected, propelling the film toward its heart-pounding climax.

Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

horror movies

Breaking through the confines of its initial two straight-to-video releases, Takeshi Shimizu’s ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’ emerged as a pivotal success in Japanese horror cinema, setting the stage for a complex narrative that would span four sequels, including the somewhat perplexing ‘The Grudge 2’, making for one of the best scary movies. 

Adding to the intrigue, a forthcoming Sam Raimi-produced remake promises to extend the eerie legacy, making it the fifth installment in this ever-evolving saga.

What makes ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’ one of the best horror movies is its chilling premise. Here, a malevolent curse is transmitted much like an infectious disease, weaving its sinister way from one victim to another. The film adopts a unique storytelling approach, reminiscent of the La Ronde style or the Amicus anthology tradition, darting back and forth in time. 

Shimizu’s keen eye for effective horror, much like the iconic ‘ghost-crawling-from-the-TV’ scene in ‘The Ring,’ forms the core of ‘The Grudge.’ The film is an artful tapestry of ingeniously bone-chilling scares, where genuinely terrifying specters make their presence known under the sheets, crawl with eerie crab-like movements downstairs, perch ominously on beds, and, quite simply, deliver spine-tingling ‘boo’ moments that linger long after the credits roll.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Just like a certain possessed doll donning dungarees, Freddy Krueger carved his own niche in the realm of horror as the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise evolved over the years. Revisiting Wes Craven’s original masterpiece reveals a Freddy Krueger who demands our utmost fear and respect. Today, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is regarded as one of the top horror movies of all time, holding a high place in rankings such as ‘AMC 100 Greatest Horror Movies’. 

Your bed is supposed to be your sanctuary – a place of safety and solace. But Elm Street becomes a treacherous realm, harboring razor-sharp blades poised to pierce your chest at any moment. Robert Englund’s portrayal of Freddy Krueger is undeniably horrific, yet the notion of drifting into slumber, never to awaken again, sends shivers down the spine. 

The desperation of Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy and her friends, fighting to stay awake in a desperate bid for survival, strikes a chord.

A maniac lurks in the shadows, ready to snuff out their lives. While Johnny Depp‘s unforgettable, blood-soaked demise remains a standout moment, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a timeless classic that refuses to let you hit the snooze button on terror.

The Babadook (2014)

horror movies

The Babadook is one of the best horror movies of all time on IMDb. Jennifer Kent’s eerie pop-up book brought forth a new generation’s collective boogeyman almost overnight when ‘The Babadook’ hit theaters. 

Whispers of ‘Have you seen The Babadook? I couldn’t sleep all night” reverberated gleefully through offices and pubs alike. And the fear it instilled was entirely justified. 

‘The Babadook’ goes beyond mere scares, echoing the sentiments of the best horror films on this list. The thematic parallels between grief and depression are no coincidence. Notably, one of the most harrowing sequences in the film has nothing to do with monsters but everything to do with a young mother losing control of her son while attempting to drive. 

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity

While ‘The Blair Witch Project’ kick-started the found footage horror genre in 1999, ‘Paranormal Activity‘ truly escalated things into spine-tingling seriousness. 

This inaugural offering from horror stalwart Oren Peli introduces us to Katie and Micah, a couple encountering increasingly unsettling events in their Los Angeles home. Armed with his filmmaker’s enthusiasm, Micah strategically places a camera at the foot of their bed, intending to capture any nocturnal disturbances. Little do they know, the bumps in the night will forever alter their perception of bedtime.

Its profound simplicity makes ‘Paranormal Activity’ one of the scariest horror movies. Regardless of our preferred sleeping positions or habits, we all inevitably find ourselves lying down in a dimly lit room, switching off from the world, and becoming vulnerable to the unknown lurking in the shadows. The now-iconic shot from the perspective of Katie and Micah’s bed is a masterclass in slow-burning terror. 

28 Days Later (2002)

horror movies

Let’s address the undead elephant in the room right away – Danny Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’ is a zombie movie but also a good horror movie. Yes, these aren’t your traditional shambling zombies; they sprint ferociously. However, it’s essential to recognize that they share the same lineage as Romero’s iconic creations. 

When Jim, portrayed by the talented Cillian Murphy, awakens in a hospital bed – echoing the iconic start of Rick’s journey in ‘The Walking Dead’ – he stumbles into an apocalyptic London, forever changed and haunted by the horrors that await.

’28 Days Later’ unfolds like a relentless nightmare, heightened by a haunting and often heart-wrenching soundtrack. It offers an unfiltered glimpse into a modern British apocalypse as Jim and his fellow survivors embark on a perilous quest for safety in the Scottish Highlands. The Infected are truly nightmarish, survivors are consumed by suspicion, and the desolate British landscape is a visual marvel crafted with impeccable cinematography.

The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man

Some of the greatest horror movies were remakes, but most of the time, the original stands out as being far better. ‘The Wicker Man’ is far more than just the source of reaction gifs and fodder for lampooning Nicolas Cage’s bee-infested remake. It stands as essential viewing, laying the foundation for the surge of rural horror that has characterized 21st-century cinema. This is one of the top horror movies of all time, making it highly into the Rolling Stone ’50 Greatest Horror Movies’. 

The timeless message that ‘humans are the real monsters’ forms the crux of the horror, a theme that remains as potent as ever. While the inhabitants of Summerisle may appear somewhat whimsical, beneath the surface lies a chilling undercurrent. 

Amidst the genuine moments of humor, ‘The Wicker Man’ becomes a crucible for testing your trust in others. Why should you believe what anyone says, and how can you ever find solace in a world inhabited by fellow human beings? The fear of the unknown looms large as Edward Woodward’s Neil Howie stumbles into a realm governed by its own cryptic rules and beliefs.

Psycho (1960)


Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal proto-slasher masterpiece is one of the scariest horror movies. Some may argue that it is one of the best horror films ever to be seen on screen. Psycho has now surpassed the six-decade mark, and yet it continues to wield a cinematic impact that propels it into the hallowed realm of legends. 

For those uninitiated, ‘Psycho’ weaves a gripping narrative around Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh), who goes on the lam after embezzling a substantial sum from her employer. Her fateful journey leads her to a motel managed by the seemingly unremarkable Norman Bates (brought to life by Anthony Perkins) and his overbearing mother.

Chilling, frenzied moments of violence by the movie’s enigmatic killer (no spoilers, respecting those who have yet to experience this classic) send shivers down the spine, especially when they lead to a certain infamous plughole. This gripping narrative is further accentuated by Bernard Herrmann’s hauntingly sublime score, replete with screeching strings that resonate with viewers long after the credits roll.

Halloween (1978)

horror movies

Who would have imagined that an old Star Trek mask could be the source of one of the most popular horror movies? Director John Carpenter achieved cinematic greatness by giving his villain a blank William Shatner mask, which he donned while stalking babysitters through the fictitious town of Haddonfield, Illinois. 

‘Halloween’ created an enduring icon in Michael Myers and catapulted Jamie Lee Curtis into the spotlight, establishing her as both a scream queen and the archetype for all future ‘final girls.’ Disregarding any initial perplexity surrounding the first scene, this film grips you from its very inception.

And let’s not forget the soundtrack, a haunting composition crafted by Carpenter himself. The pounding, doom-laden synth score continues to serve as the sonic backdrop for oppressive horror. It’s a testament to the enduring impact of this iconic score.

Alien (1979)


One could argue that ‘Alien,’ directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the greatest science fiction films and among the best of horror. It’s almost unfair, isn’t it? 

Scott’s ‘Alien’ embarks on a chilling journey as the crew of the Nostromo responds to a distress signal emanating from an eerie, abandoned alien spacecraft—seemingly as innocently as any group of adventurous teenagers venturing to a remote cabin in the woods. 

Yet, like those ill-fated teenagers, not many will survive to recount their harrowing ordeal. In this narrative, Sigourney Weaver assumes the role of the ultimate ‘Final Girl,’ a character that has become synonymous with her name.

The isolation of deep space, light-years away from home, becomes a nightmarish setting. H.R. Giger’s alien creation is a veritable nightmare, a monstrous entity that exceeds all expectations of terror. But the horror here delves much deeper than mere fangs and claws. This creature embodies a complex, multilayered descent into psychosexual horror, preying on the most primal fears that reside within us. Moreover, Ridley Scott’s impeccable direction during the film’s climactic moments leaves audiences grappling with ‘What’s lurking in the shadows?’ suspense, a masterclass in tension.

Hereditary (2018)

horror movies

In Ari Aster’s directorial debut, ‘Hereditary,’ we find a distraught Toni Collette at the forefront as the mother of a grief-stricken family. The loss of her own mother sends shockwaves through their already fragile home, and without venturing into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that the family’s future doesn’t seem particularly bright.

‘Hereditary’ is a cinematic experience where safety remains perpetually out of reach and is one of the best horror movies on Netflix. Over its two-hour duration, you’re denied the opportunity to catch your breath or even hazard a guess about what might happen next. Is this a supernatural odyssey? Or is it an exploration of grief, akin to ‘The Babadook’? The lines between these concepts blur, leaving you in a state of perpetual uncertainty.

Every moment featuring Collette’s character meticulously crafting miniature dioramas feels like a looming threat, and each awkward exchange between the family’s teenage members elicits a sickening sensation in the pit of your stomach. 

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project

Have you ever wondered why camping in the woods seems to have lost its appeal these days? It’s not solely because millennials are tethered to charging points within a hundred feet at all times; it’s also due to the indelible mark left by ‘The Blair Witch Project’ on an entire generation. 

This now-legendary found footage horror film is one of the best scary movies. It follows the journey of three young documentary makers – Heather, Mike, and Josh – as they venture into the eerie woods of Burkittsville, Maryland.

Their initial mission is to interview locals about the sinister legend of The Blair Witch, a tale that you’d hope was nothing more than a cautionary fable for children. However, as they delve deeper into the woods, where the witch is rumored to reside, the line between reality and fiction blurs. The tapes left behind tell a story devoid of a happy ending.

What makes ‘The Blair Witch Project’ equally spine-chilling is its uncanny ability to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction.

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

horror movies

In this bone-chilling horror film, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins take center stage as they plunge deep into the sinister world of ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’ 

Foster portrays a young FBI agent tasked with tracking down the elusive serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, portrayed with eerie intensity by Ted Levine. To assist in her hunt, she seeks the expertise of the incarcerated cannibalistic genius, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, masterfully brought to life by Anthony Hopkins. 

Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece is one of the highly recommended horror movies. It is dominated the Academy Awards by winning ‘the big five’ categories—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay—but also opened doors for audiences who may not typically gravitate toward horror, inviting them to explore the darker realms of cinema.

The Shining (1980)

The Shining

‘The Shining’ unfolds as a man and his family take on the role of winter caretakers at a secluded resort hotel called The Overlook. Given that this is a Stephen King adaptation (albeit one that the horror author strongly disapproved of, leading him to create his own film adaptation), the winter months don’t bode well for their sanity. It becomes painfully clear that The Overlook Hotel isn’t too fond of its guests.

This film rightfully claims the top spot in the pantheon of spine-tingling horror, as it is one of the top horror movies. ‘The Shining’ exudes an overwhelming sense of malevolence. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of a man descending into murderous madness is a tour de force, and Kubrick’s relentless direction immerses viewers in a hypnotic journey as young Danny navigates the labyrinthine hotel corridors on his tricycle. 

This movie never lets you feel secure, much like ‘Hereditary’ earlier on this list. It’s akin to being driven by a deranged, intoxicated driver. What horrors await around the next corner? Elevators spewing torrents of blood? Gruesome apparitions of chopped-up little girls? The unspeakable terror lurking in the bath of room 237?

The Thing (1982)

horror movies

Despite its somewhat hokey title, ‘The Thing’ is one of the most gloriously gruesome, tension-packed, and scariest horror movies ever. Set in an Antarctic research station, this film follows a group of Americans, led by Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady, as they confront an alien entity—or ‘thing’—that can assimilate with and infect its hosts through their blood. 

It all starts with the unfortunate demise of their canine companions, but it certainly doesn’t stop there.

‘The Thing’ is a visceral experience. Amidst the growing paranoia and horror that grips the group as the infection spreads, the tangible, nightmarish quality of the creature’s manifestations truly disturbs. Masterfully crafted by a young Rob Bottin and the uncredited Stan Winston, the practical effects steal the spotlight. Chests devour limbs, decapitated heads sprout legs, and bodies are grotesquely elongated and contorted. The macabre imagery of these murderous monstrosities in action is nothing short of a petrifying nightmare.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Some movie titles are cryptic, gradually revealing their meaning as the narrative unfolds like a delicate flower unfurling in a cup of tea. Then there’s Tobe Hooper’s unrelenting, sweat-soaked masterpiece, considered amongst the very best of horror. Delicacy has no place here. 

‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ wields its title like a bludgeon of terror, leaving no room for subtlety. This film is an unapologetic tour de force of violence, as five young individuals venture away from the safety of civilization and into the heart of dusty Americana. 

Its surprising lack of overt gore sets ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ apart. While iconic characters like Leatherface, inspired by the real-life Ed Gein and his grotesque facial covering, and a death scene involving a hook will leave you checking if your own body is still intact, there’s very little explicit gore on display. 

Instead, the film relies on the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gruesome details, splashing mental images of horror across the mind to cope with the unrelenting screams of pure terror and the iconic, unsettling soundtrack.

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

‘The Exorcist’ continues to dominate lists of top horror experiences. Once you’ve watched ‘The Exorcist,’ you’ll quickly understand why. 

The story revolves around Regan, the daughter of a successful movie actress, who one day innocently delves into the world of the supernatural by playing with an Ouija board in the basement. A young Linda Blair’s performance might offer a clue if you’ve ever wondered why your parents warned you against such seemingly harmless pastimes. Using the Ouija board as a gateway, an unwelcome guest takes possession of the little girl, and the arrival of the titular exorcist sets the stage for a chapter in cinema history.

Despite its simple premise, the movie induces anxiety even in its lighter moments. Behind the scenes, Friedkin’s pursuit of ‘authenticity’ led to a near-mythical production where actors endured a refrigerated bedroom, were physically pulled across sets to simulate the demon’s otherworldly strength, and were infamously drenched in warm pea soup. The result is a horror film that you may not claim to ‘enjoy,’ but you’ll find yourself revisiting, compelled to experience the unrelenting terror of Friedkin’s harrowing battle between good and evil in all its disturbing glory, again and again.

In conclusion

Which one is the best horror film? The Exorcist or the Silence of the Lambs? One of the newer additions, like the best horror movies on Netflix? What about the rankings of the best horror movies of all time on IMDb? Do you have some highly recommended horror movies for us to watch?

There are more than enough good horror movies to watch in the cinema or on Netflix. Just pick what best chills your blood and enjoy the fright! 

Frequently asked questions

How do horror movies use symbolism and allegory to convey deeper themes and messages?

To convey topics like terror, mortality, trauma, and societal difficulties, many horror movies use symbolism and allegory. For instance, in the film “Night of the Living Dead,” the zombies represent conformity and mindlessness.

Are there horror movies that have been critically acclaimed and recognized at prestigious awards ceremonies like the Oscars?

Yes, several of the scariest horror movies have been praised by critics and even won awards. The Silence of the Lambs, Get Out, The Exorcist, and The Shape of Water are a few examples.

How do horror movies reflect and comment on societal fears and anxieties?

Horror films frequently reflect societal anxieties by addressing topics like technology, illness, loneliness, and the unknown. They offer a forum for examining and dealing with group angst.

How have horror movies evolved over the years, and what are some notable trends in the genre?

Horror films have developed from old-school monster pictures to address deeper societal and psychological fears. Recent developments include the popularity of supernatural horror, social criticism, and the fusing of horror with other genres.

How have technological advancements impacted the horror genre in recent years?

Advancements in technology have allowed filmmakers to create more realistic and terrifying special effects, enhancing the visual impact of horror films. Additionally, digital distribution platforms have made it easier for indie horror films to reach a wider audience.

What role do sound and music play in creating tension and scare in horror movies?

Horror movies require a lot of music and sound effects. They can use spooky or frightening noises and compositions to increase tension, produce jump scares, and arouse terror.

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