Whether it’s Halloween time or the middle of summer, a scary movie always sounds like a good idea. But what are the best horror movies of all time—a.k.a. the slasher films, supernatural pictures and psychological thrillers that will keep us up at night for years to come. Well, we watched the best classic and new horror movies to find out.
Though it seems like horror movies have been around for decades, the genre started long before Hollywood, with authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. In fact, the horror genre can even go back further than that to ancient Greece and Rome, where stories of demons, witches and vampires were told. The horror genre continued in the centuries after with folklore about werewolves and other supernatural creatures. Fast forward to today, and the best horror movies still have feature a lot of the same tropes of the scary stories that were told in the centuries past.
Don’t know what scary movie to watch next? Read our list of the best horror movies of all time to decide which terrifying picture to watch in your nightmares.
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The first film in the Scream series, which stars Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell, centers on a mysterious masked killer, known as Ghostface, who has his sights set on a high school student named Sidney Prescott as his next kill. The film—which has led to three sequels and a TV series—subverts clichés seen in other slasher horror films, such as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
This slasher film centers on Michael Meyers, a serial killer who escapes from a sanitarium and murders several teenagers on Halloween night in 1978. The movie, is known for launching the career of star Jamie Lee Curtis, has led to 12 sequels.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Directed by Scream director Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street is regarded as one of the best horror movies in cinematic history. The film centers on Freddy Kreuger, a burnt killer with a bladed leather glove who invades the dreams of teenagers in the fictitious town of Springwood, Ohio, and kills them.
Seven kids. One killer clown. What could go wrong? Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same title, IT, which was originally released as a miniseries in 1990, told the story of a gang of children haunted by a demonic clown named Pennywise. The miniseries was remade into a two-part film starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Skarsgård in 2017 and 2019.
Toni Collette stars as a woman whose family is haunted by a mysterious presence after the death of her grandmother. The film, which earned critical acclaim for Collette’s performance, unravels the mystery around a family whose family secrets are darker than they could’ve ever imagined.
The Exorcist (1973)
Based on Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same title, The Exorcist became a horror fan favorite when it premiered in 1973. The film followed a the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother’s attempt to save her through an exorcism performed by two priests.
The Babadook (2014)
This Australian horror film revolved around a single mother and her son, whose terrified of The Babadook, a fictional creature from a children’s book that he believes is haunting their home. Though the mother is skeptical of the child at first, she soon learns that her sons fears are very much real.
Based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden,” Candyman revolves around a Chicago graduate who’s writing a thesis on urban legends and folklore. Her project leads her to the legend of the Candyman, the ghost of an artist and the son of a slave who was murdered in the late 19th century for his relationship with a white painter’s daughter.
If you haven’t watched Jaws, now is the time to do it. The film—directed by Stephen Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name—became an international phenomenon when it premiered in 1975. The film revolves around a man-eating great white shark that attacks beachgoers in a summer resort town. To stop the shark, professionals, including a shark hunter and marine biologist, are called in, but the mission to stop the vicious sea creature is far from easy.
Get Out (2017)
Written and directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out, which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars, revolves around a Black man named Chris Washington who travels with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage, to meet her parents. While at his girlfriend’s home, Chris finds out that his significant other’s family isn’t who he thinks they are and must make his escape before it’s too late.
Alien, which became Sigourney Weaver’s breakout role when it premieres in 1979, centers on a crew aboard a commercial space ship who encounter a deadly and aggressive Alien, who’s set loose on the ship and threatens their lives.
The Strangers (2008)
The Strangers wasn’t a box office hit when it premiered in 2008, but it’s since been a cult-favorite for fans of home invasion films. The movie centers on a couple whose stay at a vacation home is cut short when three masked killers invade their home. The script was inspired by two real-life events: the Mansion family Tate murders and a series of break-ins that occurred at director Bryan Bertino’s neighborhood as a child.
Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas has the scariness of Halloween with a Christmas theme. The film, which was remade in 2019, is set during Christmas season and centers on a group of sorority sisters who receive threatening phone calls and are stalked and murdered, one by one, by a deranged killer. The film is based on the urban legend, “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs,” as well as murders that occurred in the Westmount neighborhood is Montreal.
Based on Stephen King’s 1975 novel of the same title, Carrie follows a 16-year-old girl named Carrie White with telekinetic powers who is mocked and bullied at school. As the film continues, Carrie pushed to her breaking point and unleashes her deadly powers on her classmates. The film was remade in 2013 with Chloe Grace Moretz and Ansel Elgort.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
One of the first of its kind, The Blair Witch Project is a mockumentary about three filmmakers who hike in the Black Hills in Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994 to film a documentary about the local legend, the Blair Witch. Soon after they started their project, all three disappeared, but their equipment and footage was discovered a year later.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho, based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same title, is one of Hollywood’s most iconic horror films and continues to inspire new movies in the genre to this day. The film centers on Marion Crane, a woman who’s on the run with her boyfriend after stealing $40,000 from her employer. The two stop for the night at the Bates Motel, where they meet Norman Bates, a mysterious young man, a nd his mother.
The Shining (1980)
Based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name, The Shining centers on Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and an aspiring writer who accepts a job as a caretaker at the historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. While living Colorado with his wife and his young son, Danny, Jack’s son becomes possessed by “the shining” and develops psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel’s horrific past.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Based on Ira Levin’s 1967 novel of the same name, Rosemary’s Baby revolves around a pregnant young wife named Rosemary who comes to believe that her child is not of this world after she and her husband, a struggling actor, move to a New York City apartment with an eery reputation and even eerier neighbors.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs, which was based on Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel of the same title, stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee who assigned to a case to find a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill,” a murderer who skins his female victims’ corpses. In order to do this, Clarice must seek the advice from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an imprisoned psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which has produced seven spinoffs, follows a group of friends meet a family of cannibals while on the road. The group is then attacked one by one by a chainsaw-wielding serial killer known as Leatherface, who wears a mask of human skin.
Invisible Man (2020)
Based on H.G. Wells’ 1987 novel of the same name, Invisible Man stars Elisabeth moss as a woman who believes she’s being stalked by her abusive and wealthy boyfriend after his apparent suicide. As the film continues, the woman soon learns that her ex is still alive and has created a suit to make himself invisible.
Directed by Ari Aster (the same creator of Hereditary), Midsommar follows a group of friends who travel to Sweden for the Midsommar festival, which only occurs once every 90 years. They soon discover that their trip isn’t all celebration as they find themselves a part of a pagan cult.
Ready or Not (2017)
Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as a newlywed wife who learns that her spouse’s family has a wedding-night ritual where they must hunt and kill her as part of their pact with Satan.
You’re Next (2011)
You’re Next revolves around an extremely wealthy, upper-class family who come together to celebrate a wedding anniversary at their weekend estate. Their celebration is cut short, however, when crossbow-wielding killers in animal masks come to hunt the family members one by one.
Child’s Play (1988)
Child’s Play is the origin story for Chucky, a serial killer doll who terrorizes a family. The film stars Catherine Hicks as a widowed mother who gives her son a doll for his birthday. Little does she know that the doll is possessed with the soul of a serial killer.