Throughout cinema history, the horror genre has significantly grown, producing some of the greatest films of all time. In the past decade, movies like The Babadook, The Witch, and Get Out have sparked a horror renaissance. But now, it’s time to look back at the films that are horror at its best. Here is the Top 10 List for Best Horror Movies of All Time.
10. The Thing (1982)
Though this John Carpenter film was panned by critics when it was first released, it has since been revisited and praised as a sci-fi horror masterpiece. The Thing follows a team of American researchers in the Antarctic when they discover a parasitic alien that assimilates and takes the form of any living creature.
With the creature masquerading as any one of them, the group becomes consumed with paranoia as they fear for their lives. Along with its frightening atmosphere, the film displays outstandingly horrifying visual effects that still hold up today.
9. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Even though this film was made by controversial director Roman Polanski, he still created a bonafide masterpiece. This film tells the story of Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a pregnant woman who fears that a Satanic cult plans to take her baby to use in their dark rituals.
Unlike typical horror films, this film creates its scares by relying on its fear-inducing atmosphere. The audience is dragged into Rosemary’s paranoia as she grows suspicious of everyone around her, reflecting the crippling struggles of pregnancy.
8. Halloween (1978)
Another John Carpenter classic, this horror gem arguably started the trend of slasher films in the late 20th century. Halloween follows teenage babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she and her friends are hunted by suburban Boogeyman Michael Myers (also known as The Shape) after escaping from a mental institution.
From the film’s very first scene, Carpenter expertly crafts suspense with the Myers lurking around every corner, complementing with his own haunting score. This silent and unstoppable killer haunts the town of Haddonfield like a ghost, showing that a murderer can be anywhere, even in your own neighborhood.
7. Alien (1979)
This Ridley Scott classic set a new standard for sci-fi horror. Alien focuses on the crew of the commercial space cruiser, Nostromo, when an extraterrestrial predator invades their ship. The film’s sheer terror is summed up in its iconic tagline: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
While Alien seems like a slasher film set in space, there is a lot underneath the surface. The film explores fears of rape and unwanted pregnancy, as well as evolution, artificial intelligence, and humanity itself. It also introduced the phenomenal Sigourney Weaver, who established Ellen Ripley as one of cinema’s most badass female protagonists.
6. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director Tobe Hooper relentlessly raised the gore factor beyond its limit with this controversial classic. This film chronicles a group of friends when they are captured by a family of vicious cannibals.
Despite its shoestring budget and unknown cast, this film garnered massive success by marketing it as a true story. It also established many familiar tropes in the slasher genre, particularly with its silent, hulking, and chainsaw-flailing killer, Leatherface. Thanks to its graphic violence and shocking imagery, this film will make you think twice before eating meat again.
5. Jaws (1975)
This movie single-handedly put Steven Spielberg on the map. Jaws tells the story of police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), who teams up with a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a professional shark hunter (Rober Shaw) to kill a great white shark terrorizing the town of Amity Island.
Spielberg took inspiration from Hitchcock and used the shark’s point of view to create suspense in a film that once seemed doomed to fail. Combined with John Williams’s now iconic score, Spielberg elevated Jaws to unparalleled success, becoming the first Summer blockbuster and changing cinema forever. It also made audiences afraid to go into the water.
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
So far, this is the only horror film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. In this cinematic masterpiece, FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) consults former psychiatrist-turned-serial cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to capture another serial killer, “Buffalo Bill,” who steals the skin of his female victims.
While the film is about the pursuit of Buffalo Bill, its main focus is on the psychological relationship between Starling and Lecter. Hopkins’s enthralling performance as Lecter steals the show in every scene he’s in. Even with the film’s gruesome imagery, the way Lecter sadistically breaks down Clarice’s psyche for his own amusement is especially terrifying.
3. The Shining (1980)
While initially denounced by critics and audiences, Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece has gone down in cinema history as a cult classic. In this adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic, watches over the haunted Overlook Hotel with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny (Danny Llyod), who is gifted with psychic powers. As the ghosts of the Overlook manipulate Jack as his sanity slowly deteriorates, Danny uses his powers to try and escape the dreaded hotel.
Everything about this film is near perfect. Every shot looks like it was taken straight from a painting. The film’s unsettling score fits the Overlook’s chilling ambiance like a glove. On top of that, Nicholson’s haunting performance as Jack Torrance perfectly encapsulates a person’s descent into madness, making him one of cinema’s greatest villains.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
This movie shocked the entire world when it was first released in 1973, and it continues to horrify audiences fifty years later. Directed by William Friedkin, this film follows actress Chris Macneil (Ellen Burstyn) as her 12-year-old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), becomes possessed by the demon, Pazuzu. Having reached her wit’s end with modern science, Chris seeks help from Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), who has lost faith in God, to perform an exorcism and save her daughter.
The Exorcist is filled with memorably horrifying scenes and stellar performances from its main cast, particularly from Blair. Her haunting transformation from a sweet little girl into a demonic corpse puppet has been engraved into the minds of millions.
At the same time, this film questions whether or not religion can exist in the modern scientific era, while exploring themes of mental illness, motherhood, and the nature of evil itself. While there have been numerous copycat films, there hasn’t been a film quite like it since, and probably won’t be one anytime soon.
1. Psycho (1960)
While Halloween popularized the slasher genre, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho arguably started the genre as a whole. The film’s iconic shower scene alone revolutionized cinema, pushing the boundaries for what was acceptable in terms of violence and sexuality.
This magnum opus follows secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she stays at the Bates Motel after stealing $40,000 from her boss. At the motel, she encounters its timid owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and his overbearing mother, Norma. As the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock keeps the audience hooked to the screen all the way to the film’s shocking twist ending. Psycho isn’t just the greatest horror movie of all time, it’s also one of the greatest films period.