100 best American horror movies of all time

Published 6:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2021

Compass International Pictures

100 best American horror movies of all time

Georges Melies’ 1896 film “Le Manoir du Diable” is believed to be the very first horror movie ever, and though filmed in France, it was released in the United States as “The Haunted Castle,” establishing deep roots for the horror genre in American cinema. While horror films are often deemed a lower cultural form of filmmaking, they have been popular mainstays all the way back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Universal Pictures made a series of celebrated monster movies that audiences still love today.

Stacker compiled data on horror films from They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They?, a horror-centric site that has weighed and aggregated rankings from over 2,900 editorial lists to create the most definitive ranking of horror movies. From there, Stacker ranked the top 100 American films on the list. Nearly 7,900 films were considered in total. IMDb user ratings and Metascores are presented for popular and critical context. The list represents data gathered through May 2021.

Whether it’s the postmodern 1990s film that brought the slasher subgenre back to life or a silent film from the genre’s earliest days, these movies speak to those who love horror. Fans of horror are loyal and dedicated—they love the jump scares, the camaraderie of watching a film with other fans, and the sheer adrenaline rush of being scared to death in the darkened confines of movie theaters and living rooms.

While only six horror films have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and only one has actually won it, the genre is an important one. Zombies, vampires, aliens, monsters, and werewolves continue to hold a place in both the American psyche and heart. They terrify and delight viewers who continue to come back for more. For over a century, they have brought us the most deliciously amazing nightmares.

What’s your favorite scary movie? Perhaps it made Stacker’s list. Grab a snack, shut out the lights, and keep reading… if you dare!

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2 Loop Films

#100. May (2002)

– Director: Lucky McKee
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 58
– Runtime: 93 minutes

May had a difficult childhood due to her lazy eye. While contact lenses help to correct the problem, the psychological damage remains—and that, mixed with two failed romantic relationships, throws May into a frenetic killing frenzy. Writing for The New York Times, Stephen Holden called the “May” a “facetiously witty slasher film that keeps its forked tongue firmly in its gashed cheek.”

MPI Media Group

#99. The House of the Devil (2009)

– Director: Ti West
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 95 minutes

Ti West not only directed but also edited and wrote this homage to the “babysitter in peril” films of the 1980s, though with an interesting twist on the trope. The movie was shot in 16 mm and also employed the use of the caption, “based on true unexplained events,” at the beginning to add to the 1980s horror vibe.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#98. Mad Love (1935)

– Director: Karl Freund
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 68 minutes

Adapted from Maurice Renard’s novel “The Hands of Orlac,” the film boldly claimed it was “Suitable Only for Adults.” The plot finds a love-sick surgeon (Peter Lorre) doing the unthinkable when he replaces the mangled hands of the concert-pianist husband of the actress he loves with the hands of an executed murderer.

Dino De Laurentiis Company

#97. Army of Darkness (1992)

– Director: Sam Raimi
– Horror subgenre: comedy
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 81 minutes

This horror-comedy is the third installment of the “Evil Dead” horror franchise. The storyline follows the main character, Ash Williams, played by cult icon Bruce Campbell, as he once again fights the undead to return to the present day from the Middle Ages. Director Sam Raimi originally wanted to call the film, “The Medieval Dead.”

William Castle Productions

#96. House on Haunted Hill (1959)

– Director: William Castle
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 75 minutes

This classic “haunted house” tale features an eccentric millionaire, played by Vincent Price, who invites five guests to spend the night in a spooky house. Those who make it until morning will be rewarded with $10,000. The 1999 remake increased the reward to $1 million and spawned a sequel that had a straight-to-DVD release.

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Warner Bros.

#95. The Lost Boys (1987)

– Director: Joel Schumacher
– Horror subgenre: vampire
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 63
– Runtime: 97 minutes

Two brothers, played by Jason Patric and Corey Haim, move with their mother back to her hometown and soon find out why it’s referred to as the Murder Capital of the World. Vampires have taken over and threaten the seaside town, whose amusement park location was actually the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This film introduced the two Coreys, Feldman and Haim, who would remain friends until Haim’s death in 2010.

Columbia Pictures

#94. Fright Night (1985)

– Director: Tom Holland
– Horror subgenre: vampire
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 62
– Runtime: 106 minutes

This film marked the directorial debut of Tom Holland, who also wrote the screenplay. It features a teenager obsessed with horror films who believes his new neighbor, played by Chris Sarandon, is a vampire. Actor Anton Yelchin, who played the role of the horror-obsessed teen in the 2011 remake, died at the age of 27.

Golar Productions

#93. Event Horizon (1997)

– Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 35
– Runtime: 96 minutes

The Event Horizon, a spacecraft that disappeared, suddenly reappears, and a team led by the man who created it investigates and realizes that they may not be alone. The stellar cast includes Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Joely Richardson.

Regal Films

#92. The Fly (1958)

– Director: David Cronenberg
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 79
– Runtime: 94 minutes

When a scientific experiment goes awry, a common housefly is caught in a matter transporter, slowly turning a scientist into a fly. The 1986 remake of this sci-fi marvel, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, received an Oscar for Best Makeup.

RKO Radio Pictures

#91. The Seventh Victim (1943)

– Director: Mark Robson
– Horror subgenre: mystery
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 71 minutes

After her sister goes missing, a young woman leaves her boarding school and searches for her in New York City, only to discover that she’s become part of a satanic cult. The film explored topics that were considered taboo at the time, including repressed sexuality and satanism.

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Universal Pictures

#90. Son of Frankenstein (1939)

– Director: Rowland V. Lee
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 99 minutes

In an attempt to save the family name from disgrace, the son of Dr. Frankenstein must prove the relevance and validity of his father’s work. The third installment in Universal Pictures’ “Frankenstein” series featured Boris Karloff in his final turn as the famous monster.

Creepshow Films Inc.

#89. Creepshow (1982)

– Director: George A. Romero
– Horror subgenre: anthology
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 120 minutes

This horror-comedy anthology marked novelist Stephen King’s screenwriting debut and paid homage to the classic horror comics King loved as a kid. Several sequels followed, and in 2019, horror channel Shudder released a “Creepshow” television series featuring the “Creepshow” ghoul.

Laurel Productions

#88. Martin (1976)

– Director: George A. Romero
– Horror subgenre: vampire
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 95 minutes

“Martin” tells the story of a disturbed young man who believes he’s a vampire. The film marked the first big break for special effects master Tom Savini, who created a realistic wrist-slashing effect.

Strike Entertainment

#87. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

– Director: George A. Romero
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 101 minutes

During a zombie apocalypse, a group of survivors hide out in a mega mall in this remake of the 1978 George A. Romero film of the same name. There are several differences between the original and the remake, though, including director Zack Snyder’s decision to make the zombies run instead of shuffle after victims.

Solana Films

#86. Paranormal Activity (2007)

– Director: Oren Peli
– Horror subgenre: found footage
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 86 minutes

The original film in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise features found footage and is presented as a true story about the paranormal disturbances in the home of a young couple. Director Oren Peli had never made a movie and was actually a software engineer. He and the actors from the film didn’t attend the premiere because they wanted to lend an air of truth to the found-footage aspect of the movie.

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USA Films

#85. Session 9 (2001)

– Director: Brad Anderson
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 58
– Runtime: 100 minutes

A group of workers sets out to remove asbestos from an old asylum, but once inside, things begin to unravel. The movie was actually shot in an abandoned Massachusetts mental hospital and was one of the first feature films to be shot with Sony’s 24P HD video, which shoots at 24 frames per second—the normal frames per second for film, not the typical 30 frames per second seen in video.

Carolco Pictures

#84. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

– Director: Adrian Lyne
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 62
– Runtime: 113 minutes

The psychological mindbender finds a Vietnam vet, played by Tim Robbins, struggling to acclimate to his return home. A series of flashbacks and hallucinations make it impossible to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. The film received a remake in 2019.

Dimension Films

#83. The Mist (2007)

– Director: Frank Darabont
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 58
– Runtime: 126 minutes

“The Mist” is based on a novella by Stephen King. It follows a group of people in a small Maine town who take refuge in a grocery store after a storm accompanied by an ominous mist. In 2017, it was remade as a television series, though it was canceled after only one season.

Universal Pictures

#82. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

– Director: Sam Raimi
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 99 minutes

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert warned, “Never say no to an old gypsy woman with a blind eye and leprous fingernails.” The whole plot revolves around a young loan officer, played by Alison Lohman, who does just that—and with dire consequences.

New Line Cinema

#81. The Conjuring (2013)

– Director: James Wan
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 112 minutes

“The Conjuring” is the first film in what has become known as the Conjuring Universe. The films in the series are based on the cases and entities encountered by real-life paranormal investigators, husband-and-wife team Ed and Lorraine Warren. “The Conjuring” follows a family as they move into an old house that seems to be haunted by a vicious demonic presence.

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Parts and Labor

#80. The Witch (2015)

– Director: Robert Eggers
– Horror subgenre: witchcraft
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 92 minutes

When a child goes missing in New England in 1630, it may be due to witchcraft. Writing on his website, critic Roger Ebert called this period film “an ensemble drama about a faithless family on the verge of self-destruction,” giving the project a solid 3.5 stars out of four.

Northern Lights Films

#79. It Follows (2014)

– Director: David Robert Mitchell
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 100 minutes

Set in a Detroit suburb, this disturbing film features a fatal curse that is passed via sexual intercourse. It puts a frightening new spin on the dangers that befall sexually active teenagers in horror films. The indie feature was shot with a budget of just $2 million.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#78. The Unknown (1927)

– Director: Tod Browning
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 63 minutes

This 1927 silent film starring Joan Crawford and Lon Chaney concerns Alonzo, a man on the run from the police who hides out at the circus posing as an armless knife thrower. When the carnival owner discovers the truth, things unravel. Director Tod Browning claimed that the movie was partly based on an incident from his time working at the circus.

New Line Cinema

#77. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

– Director: John Carpenter
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 53
– Runtime: 95 minutes

Insurance investigator John Trent, played by Sam Neill, attempts to retrieve a manuscript and find horror novelist Sutter Crane, who seems to have disappeared. “In the Mouth of Madness” is one of famed director John Carpenter’s lesser-known works.

Victor & Edward Halperin Productions

#76. White Zombie (1932)

– Director: Victor Halperin
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 69 minutes

Bela Lugosi plays an evil witch doctor who vows to help a young man turn the woman he loves away from her fiancé. Instead, he turns her into a zombie. The budget for the film was $50,000, which translates to approximately $949,927 today, a small budget both then and now.

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Edison Manufacturing Company

#75. Frankenstein (1910)

– Director: James Whale
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 91
– Runtime: 16 minutes

The first film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic novel, the silent short tells the tale of an ambitious doctor whose attempt to create the perfect human derails. Instead, Dr. Frankenstein creates one of the most legendary monsters in movie history.

Bryan Foy Productions

#74. House of Wax (1953)

– Director: André De Toth
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 88 minutes

This period film stars Vincent Price as a disfigured sculptor who fills his wax museum with people he murders and coats in wax. It is a remake of the 1933 film “The Mystery of the Wax Museum.” Another remake featuring socialite Paris Hilton was released in 2005.

Universal Pictures

#73. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

– Director: Wallace Worsley
– Horror subgenre: melodrama
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 133 minutes

The evil brother of an archdeacon orders hunchback Quasimodo to capture and hold the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda in the belltower of Notre Dame. The drama, set in 15th-century Paris, stars legend Lon Chaney as Quasimodo and is based on the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same name.

Universal Pictures

#72. The Old Dark House (1932)

– Director: James Whale
– Horror subgenre: gothic
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 72 minutes

Boris Karloff stars in this film about a group of travelers who stumble upon an old estate during a violent storm. The film also features Gloria Stuart, who would go on to star in the blockbuster film “Titanic” as the elderly survivor, Rose.

Universal International Pictures (UI)

#71. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

– Directors: Charles Barton, Walter Lantz
– Horror subgenre: comedy
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 83 minutes

The film put a new spin on the popular adventures of the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. It is the first in a series of Universal films in which the duo meets up with the classic monsters from the studio’s lineup. In this one, Abbott and Costello play two railway baggage handlers who must personally deliver crates to a horror museum.

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Alta Vista Productions

#70. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

– Director: Roger Corman
– Horror subgenre: gothic
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 77
– Runtime: 89 minutes

Based on the 1842 short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the film stars Vincent Price as a prince who torments his subjects while he waits out the Red Death in his castle. Jane Asher, who also starred in the film, brought then-boyfriend Paul McCartney to the set. Roger Corman didn’t know who he was until he read about a Beatles concert in the paper the following day.

Paramount Pictures

#69. The Uninvited (1944)

– Director: Lewis Allen
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 99 minutes

When a composer and his sister purchase a seaside mansion for a song, they realize it may be due to the house’s unsettling history. This classic marked director Lewis Allen’s feature film directorial debut and remains one of his most famous and well-received films.

Universal Pictures

#68. The Mummy (1932)

– Director: Karl Freund
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 73 minutes

Another horror classic starring Boris Karloff, this film concerns the return of an ancient Egyptian mummy. The film was remade in 1999, though the tone was much lighter. In 2017, the mummy returned as an action-adventure reboot starring Tom Cruise.

The Associates & Aldrich Company

#67. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

– Director: Robert Aldrich
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 134 minutes

Once a vaudeville marvel, Baby Jane Hudson was eventually upstaged by her talented sister, Blanche. After an unfortunate and suspicious car accident, wheelchair-bound Blanche is hidden away by Jane in a Hollywood mansion the two share. Powerhouse actors Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play the Hudson sisters in this terrifying tale of sibling rivalry.

AVCO Embassy Pictures

#66. The Fog (1980)

– Director: John Carpenter
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 55
– Runtime: 89 minutes

In a small seaside town, a fog rolls in 100 years after a ship mysteriously sinks off its shores and just as the town prepares to celebrate its centennial. The film paired legendary scream queen mother-daughter duo, Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis. Leigh was known for her performance in the Hitchcock film “Psycho,” while her daughter starred in several slasher films, most famously the original “Halloween.”

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New Breed Productions Inc.

#65. Phantasm (1979)

– Director: Don Coscarelli
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 88 minutes

A teenager enlists some help to go after the town mortician, who reanimates dead bodies to create zombies. The low-budget film became a cult classic. The terrifying sphere in the film was based on a dream writer-director Don Coscarelli had as a kid in which a flying ball with a needle chased him down endless corridors.

American Zoetrope

#64. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

– Director: Francis Ford Coppola
– Horror subgenre: vampire
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 57
– Runtime: 128 minutes

Based on the 1897 Bram Stoker novel, the film finds a young barrister captured by the centuries-old vampire Count Dracula, who returns with him to England. There the Count attempts to seduce his fiancé, Mina Murray, played by Winona Ryder. Director Francis Ford Coppola fired the special effects crew, choosing instead to use what are called “practical effects.”

RKO Radio Pictures

#63. The Body Snatcher (1945)

– Director: Robert Wise
– Horror subgenre: gothic
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 77 minutes

In this film, a doctor in need of cadavers for his medical experiments calls upon his assistants (played by horror heavyweights Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi) to help. The assistants, however, may not be going about things in the most legal or moral way. The film is based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Candyman Films

#62. Candyman (1992)

– Director: Bernard Rose
– Horror subgenre: slasher
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 61
– Runtime: 99 minutes

If you say his name five times, the Candyman will appear in the mirror and kill you. So goes the legend in this 1992 slasher film starring Virginia Madsen. Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, a sequel by Jordan Peele was released in 2021.

Lionsgate

#61. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

– Director: Drew Goddard
– Horror subgenre: comedy
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 95 minutes

This horror comedy was written by director Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (the latter created the television series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). When five college friends vacation at a remote cabin in the woods, things go very wrong. Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” handled the prosthetics and special effects makeup for the film.

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Sean S. Cunningham Films

#60. The Last House on the Left (1972)

– Director: Dennis Iliadis
– Horror subgenre: revenge
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 42
– Runtime: 84 minutes

The British Board of Film Classification refused to give this controversial rape-revenge movie a certificate for cinema release. The film also marked the directorial debut for Wes Craven, who would go on to earn the title Master of Horror. It focused on the abduction, rape, and murders of two teenage girls at the hands of a group of maniacs in the woods.

Universal Pictures

#59. Get Out (2017)

– Director: Jordan Peele
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 104 minutes

Not only did Jordan Peele make his directorial debut with the film, but he also wrote it. The film tackles racism through the lens of an interracial relationship, as an African American man visits his white girlfriend’s wealthy family—only to discover some strange goings-on. With four Oscar nominations and one win for Best Screenplay, “Get Out” proved that it was not an average horror film.

Winchester Pictures Corporation

#58. The Thing from Another World (1951)

– Directors: Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 87 minutes

At a remote research base in the Arctic, an alien organism wreaks havoc in this sci-fi classic. The screenplay was based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by John Wood Campbell Jr., and the film spawned a 1982 remake and a 2011 prequel, both named “The Thing.”

F/M

#57. Near Dark (1987)

– Director: Kathryn Bigelow
– Horror subgenre: vampire
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 94 minutes

One of the early films by director Kathryn Bigelow, the film received a solid 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The plot involves newly turned vampire Caleb and his adventures with a nomadic group of vampires, including new love, Mae. Bigelow would eventually go on to become the first female director to win the Best Director Oscar for 2008’s “The Hurt Locker.”

Cruise/Wagner Productions

#56. The Others (2001)

– Director: Alejandro Amenábar
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 101 minutes

A mother moves her children to the English coast, where she waits for word on her missing soldier husband. The woman, played by Nicole Kidman, protects her children from a rare condition that makes them vulnerable to the sun, all while trying to find a way to explain the supernatural occurrences around her. The film featured a mind-blowing twist and has since been set for a remake.

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Universal Pictures

#55. The Black Cat (1934)

– Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
– Horror subgenre: gothic
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 65 minutes

While named after Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name, “The Black Cat” is entirely different from Poe’s story. In the film, an American couple honeymooning in Hungary are trapped in the remote home of a satanic architect. The film marks the first cinematic pairing of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

Embassy Pictures

#54. The Howling (1981)

– Director: Joe Dante
– Horror subgenre: werewolf
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 91 minutes

Television newsperson Karen White, played by Dee Wallace, is tormented by a serial killer. To begin healing, she journeys to a remote mountain resort where things aren’t what they seem. Wallace’s stellar performance convinced Spielberg to cast her as the mother in his 1982 classic “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

Paramount Pictures

#53. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

– Director: Rouben Mamoulian
– Horror subgenre: gothic
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 98 minutes

This film, based on the 1886 classic “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, starred Fredric March, an acclaimed actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age. This movie about the duality of man sees the brilliant Dr. Jekyll create a potion that turns him into the animalistic, sinister Mr. Hyde. The film has become known for its special effects and its overacting, though it continues to remain one of the most popular adaptations of Stevenson’s novel.

Evolution Entertainment

#52. Saw (2004)

– Director: James Wan
– Horror subgenre: splatter
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 46
– Runtime: 103 minutes

In this gruesome tale of human torment, a clever killer called Jigsaw forces his victims to play games in order to see how badly they want to survive. The film went on to spawn many sequels, and the original featured an interesting twist. It also pushed director James Wan into the horror-film stratosphere, where he remains a modern master.

Castle Rock Entertainment

#51. Misery (1990)

– Director: Rob Reiner
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 107 minutes

Based on the book by prolific horror writer Stephen King, the movie begins as overzealous fan Annie Wilkes rescues novelist Paul Sheldon from a car crash. Wilkes then imprisons him and forces him to write a book. The film was both a critical and box-office hit and a career-maker for actress Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in the film.

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Maljack Productions

#50. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

– Director: John McNaughton
– Horror subgenre: crime
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 80
– Runtime: 83 minutes

This disturbing film documents the killings of Henry and his roommate Otis. The characters are loosely based on real-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. While the film was made in 1986, it didn’t see a true commercial release until 1990.

Paramount Pictures

#49. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

– Director: Erle C. Kenton
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 70 minutes

This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Doctor Moreau” tells the tale of a sailor who washes up on an island where a mad doctor conducts genetic experiments that are both frightening and dangerous. Banned in the U.K. and 11 other countries, the movie’s detractors included Wells himself, who hated the film adaptation, calling it “vulgar.”

United Film Distribution Company (UFDC)

#48. Day of the Dead (1985)

– Director: George A. Romero
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 60
– Runtime: 96 minutes

Another George A. Romero zombie classic, this one is the third installment in the “Night of the Living Dead” series. Zombies have completely taken over the world while a group of scientists and military personnel hole up in a Florida bunker to find a solution. Most of the zombies in the film were extras who volunteered and were given small souvenirs as a reward for their service.

Dreamworks Pictures

#47. The Ring (2002)

– Director: Gore Verbinski
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 57
– Runtime: 115 minutes

When a mysterious videotape is linked to a series of deaths that seem to take place within seven days of viewing it, a journalist, played by Naomi Watts, goes on the hunt for clues. What she uncovers is a horrific tale and one of the most frightening little girls in horror movie history. The movie was a remake of the 1998 Japanese film “Ringu.”

Universal International Pictures (UI)

#46. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

– Director: Jack Arnold
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 79 minutes

A black-and-white creature feature from Universal Pictures, this film follows a creature of unknown origin and the scientists who venture to South America to figure out who and what it is. This classic monster movie was originally presented in 3D.

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Universal Pictures

#45. The Invisible Man (1933)

– Director: James Whale
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 71 minutes

After a scientist figures out the science behind invisibility, he loses his mind and becomes a homicidal maniac. The film is loosely based on the 1897 H.G. Wells’ novel. The Invisible Man franchise featured many spin-offs, including a film where comedy duo Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man.

Harcourt Productions

#44. Carnival of Souls (1962)

– Director: Herk Harvey
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 78 minutes

A woman from small-town Kansas survives a car accident and takes a job as a church organist. Soon, she finds herself drawn to a mysterious carnival. The film remains Herk Harvey’s only directing credit, though “Carnival of Souls” influenced many famous filmmakers.

Cinema ’84

#43. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

– Director: Dan O’Bannon
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 91 minutes

When a deadly gas is accidentally released into the air, the undead return as zombies in this comedy horror movie. This parody, which pays homage to the zombie films of George A. Romero, received a score of 91% from Rotten Tomatoes.

Universal Pictures

#42. The Wolf Man (1941)

– Director: George Waggner
– Horror subgenre: werewolf
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 70 minutes

While protecting a beautiful woman, Larry Talbot is bitten by a werewolf. He, in turn, becomes one in this Universal Pictures horror classic, which pairs Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi. Universal had originally slated Boris Karloff to star.

Empire Pictures

#41. Re-Animator (1985)

– Director: Stuart Gordon
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 105 minutes

A scientist shows up at a New England college and involves his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend in some strange experiments. After reanimating feline tissue, they turn to human cadavers, and things soon spiral out of control. The film is based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story “Herbert West, Reanimator.” Two sequels followed the original: “Bride of Re-Animator” and “Beyond Re-Animator.”

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RKO Radio Pictures

#40. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

– Director: Jacques Tourneur
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 69 minutes

The wife of Caribbean plantation owner Paul Holland suffers from a strange mental paralysis, and a nurse is brought in to help. When she begins to learn more about the island’s voodoo culture, she discovers the Holland family’s secrets. Director Jacques Tourneur also directed the low-budget horror classic “Cat People.”

Universal Pictures

#39. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

– Directors: Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle, Edward Sedgwick
– Horror subgenre: gothic
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 93 minutes

This silent film is an adaptation of “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra,” a novel by Gaston Leroux. In it, a deformed phantom, played by Lon Chaney, falls in love with a beautiful opera singer and hides out in an opera house, where he creates mayhem. The story was adapted into numerous film versions and was also a popular Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Paul Gregory Productions

#38. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

– Director: Charles Laughton
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 99
– Runtime: 92 minutes

Based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb, this thriller finds a widow remarrying a preacher who is really a con man. While in prison, the “preacher” discovered that her dead husband stashed $10,000 around the house, and he wants it for himself. The film, which film critic Roger Ebert called “one of the greatest of all American films,” was the only one Charles Laughton ever directed.

American Film Institute (AFI)

#37. Eraserhead (1977)

– Director: David Lynch
– Horror subgenre: surrealism
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 89 minutes

This surreal film follows Henry Spencer, who has a mutant child with his girlfriend. She eventually leaves him, and Henry is left to raise the child on his own. Deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress in 2004, “Eraserhead” has been added to the National Film Registry.

Hollywood Pictures

#36. The Sixth Sense (1999)

– Director: M. Night Shyamalan
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 64
– Runtime: 107 minutes

Known for its unexpected twist, “The Sixth Sense” is about a young boy who meets with a psychologist after he begins seeing dead people. The film was a career-maker for M. Night Shyamalan, who not only directed the film but wrote it as well. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

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Cecchi Gori Pictures

#35. Se7en (1995)

– Director: David Fincher
– Horror subgenre: crime
– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 127 minutes

A serial killer murders his victims based on the seven deadly sins, while Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt (playing a veteran and rookie detective, respectively) do their best to capture him. The ending is both brutal and shocking. Real-life 1990s power couple Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow also play husband and wife in the film.

Twentieth Century Fox

#34. Aliens (1986)

– Director: James Cameron
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 137 minutes

After being in hypersleep in deep space for 57 years, Ellen Ripley is rescued and again battles the extraterrestrials in the second film in the “Aliens” anthology. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and walked away with two. It was the only film of the anthology to be shot in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Solofilm

#33. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

– Director: Philip Kaufman
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 92
– Runtime: 115 minutes

This version starring Donald Sutherland is a remake of the 1956 film, which would be remade again in 1993 as “Body Snatchers” and in 2007 as “The Invasion.” All four versions are based on the 1955 Jack Finney sci-fi novel, “The Body Snatchers.” Throughout the decades, the plot has remained the same and features an alien life form invading Earth and creating perfect copies of humans with one exception—they are devoid of emotion.

Paramount Pictures

#32. Friday the 13th (1980)

– Director: Sean S. Cunningham
– Horror subgenre: slasher
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 22
– Runtime: 95 minutes

This classic slasher film follows the formula right down to the “final girl.” A bunch of rowdy teens set out for jobs as camp counselors at the recently-reopened Camp Crystal Lake, but a homicidal maniac has other plans. The movie stars Kevin Bacon before he became a major 1980s heartthrob.

RKO Radio Pictures

#31. King Kong (1933)

– Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 90
– Runtime: 100 minutes

A massive ape discovered by a film crew takes a liking to their leading lady in this ’30s classic. When the crew captures the beast and brings him back to New York City for public exhibition, things get chaotic. The scene where Kong knocks a biplane down with his hand after climbing on top of the Empire State Building remains famous.

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RKO Radio Pictures

#30. Cat People (1942)

– Director: Jacques Tourneur
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 73 minutes

At its core, “Cat People” is about sexual repression. The film features the relationship and attraction between a man and a woman, though the woman fears she is cursed and that any signs of sexual arousal will turn her into a panther. A sequel, “Curse of the Cat People,” was released in 1944, and there was an erotic remake of the original in 1982.

American Zoetrope

#29. Dracula (1931)

– Directors: Tod Browning, Karl Freund
– Horror subgenre: vampire
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 75 minutes

This classic is based on a stage play from the 1920s, which was an adaptation of the 1897 Bram Stoker novel. It features Bela Lugosi as the bloodthirsty count who moves from Transylvania to London in search of new victims. It was the success of “Dracula” that secured Universal Pictures as the premier studio for horror movies.

Dimension Films

#28. Scream (1996)

– Director: Wes Craven
– Horror subgenre: slasher
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 111 minutes

Based on a real-life killing spree, “Scream” brought the defunct slasher genre back to life and infused it with a postmodern vibe. Starring a cast of teen actors, the film was about a group of kids being terrorized by a killer known as Ghostface. The movie spawned several sequels, including the upcoming fifth installment in what was originally meant to be a trilogy.

Solofilm

#27. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

– Director: Don Siegel
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 92
– Runtime: 80 minutes

A doctor in a small town learns that people are being replaced with emotionless duplicates who are actually aliens. Not only has the film aged well, but in 1994 it was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.

Twentieth Century Fox

#26. The Omen (1976)

– Director: Richard Donner
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 62
– Runtime: 111 minutes

An American diplomat and his wife don’t realize that their child, who died shortly after birth, has been replaced with the Antichrist in this frightening film that spawned several sequels and a possible prequel. It remains a quintessential classic of the horror genre.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#25. Poltergeist (1982)

– Director: Tobe Hooper
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 79
– Runtime: 114 minutes

This take on the haunted house trope features a young suburban family whose daughter is dragged to another realm and communicates with them through their television. It is a classic deconstruction of the American dream, and the film itself is rumored to be cursed after many of its cast members suffered bizarre and horrific deaths. Questions surrounding the identity of the real director (the credited Tobe Hooper or writer-producer Steven Spielberg) still remain.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#24. Freaks (1932)

– Director: Tod Browning
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 80
– Runtime: 64 minutes

This cult-favorite about sideshow performers in a circus troupe derailed director Tod Browning’s career; he would retire prematurely in 1939, having never bounced back from the scandalous film. “Freaks” experienced a resurgence in the 1960s and remains an underground classic.

Argyle Enterprises

#23. The Haunting (1963)

– Director: Robert Wise
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 112 minutes

Adapted from the 1959 novel “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson, this film finds Dr. John Markway assembling a team to definitively prove whether Hill House is or is not haunted. In a list for the Daily Beast, legendary director Martin Scorsese declared “The Haunting” the scariest movie of all time.

Polygram Pictures

#22. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

– Director: John Landis
– Horror subgenre: werewolf
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 55
– Runtime: 97 minutes

Featuring some of the best special effects of the day, this werewolf movie followed two American college students who are bitten by a werewolf while in London. One student dies, and the other is haunted by the werewolf’s previous victims. The film won the very first Oscar for Best Makeup, which was presented by Kim Hunter and Vincent Price.

Regal Films

#21. The Fly (1986)

– Director: David Cronenberg
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 79
– Runtime: 96 minutes

When a scientific experiment goes awry, a common housefly is caught in a matter transporter, slowly turning a scientist into a fly. The 1986 remake of this sci-fi marvel, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, received an Oscar for Best Makeup.

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Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

#20. The Birds (1963)

– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Horror subgenre: nature
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 90
– Runtime: 119 minutes

Birds fly amok and begin attacking people in this Hitchcock classic featuring Tippi Hedren as a San Francisco socialite. The climactic attack on Hedren took a week to shoot. In fact, Hedren found filming to be a dangerous endeavor, and she wound up sustaining actual injuries on set.

Haxan Films

#19. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

– Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
– Horror subgenre: found footage
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 81
– Runtime: 81 minutes

Three film students head into the Maryland woods to film a project on local legend the Blair Witch and are never seen again—only a videotape reveals what happened to them. The film was marketed as a true story, and the handheld camera work and found footage added to the air of authenticity.

Red Bank Films

#18. Carrie (1976)

– Director: Brian De Palma
– Horror subgenre: supernatural
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 98 minutes

This film based on the debut novel by Stephen King features a young girl whose telekinetic powers hit a fever pitch after a few kids from her high school pull a cruel prank. John Travolta plays the role of bad boy Billy Nolan in his first major film role. The original film inspired several remakes and a sequel.

Renaissance Pictures

#17. Evil Dead II (1987)

– Director: Sam Raimi
– Horror subgenre: comedy
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 84 minutes

Ash Williams again battles demons in the woods in this follow-up to Sam Raimi’s cult classic “The Evil Dead.” Freddy Krueger’s glove appears twice in the film and was part of an ongoing film shoutout between Raimi and director Wes Craven.

Edison Manufacturing Company

#16. Frankenstein (1931)

– Director: James Whale
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 91
– Runtime: 70 minutes

The first film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic novel, the silent short tells the tale of an ambitious doctor whose attempt to create the perfect human derails. Instead, Dr. Frankenstein creates one of the most legendary monsters in movie history.

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Strong Heart/Demme Production

#15. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

– Director: Jonathan Demme
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 118 minutes

The Hollywood Reporter said of the film, “Like Hitchcock, [director Jonathan] Demme spruces this marvelously polished production with flakes of bizarre humor…upsetting our reality and causing us to look at everyday things in a far different light.” The film finds an FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, interviewing one serial killer to find another. Based on the book by Thomas Harris, it brought Oscar wins for Best Actress for Foster and Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins, as well as Best Picture and Best Director.

Universal Pictures

#14. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

– Director: James Whale
– Horror subgenre: monster
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 95
– Runtime: 75 minutes

With a score of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, this follow-up film to “Frankenstein” is thought by many to be superior to its predecessor. In this sequel, Dr. Frankenstein makes a mate for the monster he created in the original film.

Renaissance Pictures

#13. The Evil Dead (1981)

– Director: Sam Raimi
– Horror subgenre: possession
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 85 minutes

A small group of hikers spend the night at a remote cabin, where they find a book that awakens the dead. The first film in a trilogy, “The Evil Dead” became a cult classic. In a review of the film, Stephen King, called it, “The most ferociously original horror film of 1982.”

Strike Entertainment

#12. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

– Director: George A. Romero
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 127 minutes

This independent horror film is often classified as one of the most important zombie films of all time. It finds a group of people doing their best to survive in a shopping mall while being pursued by flesh-eating zombies. The film was unrated upon its initial U.S. release.

New Line Cinema

#11. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

– Director: Wes Craven
– Horror subgenre: slasher
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 91 minutes

The first film in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise features a maniac named Freddy Krueger who wields a glove decked out with knives to torment and kill kids in their dreams. It also introduced the terrifying chant, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.” The quintessential 1980s slasher features a young Johnny Depp in his film debut.

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William Castle Productions

#10. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

– Director: Roman Polanski
– Horror subgenre: psychological
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 96
– Runtime: 137 minutes

Based on the Ira Levin novel of the same name, the film follows a woman and her struggling actor husband as they move into a New York City apartment building with an interesting history. When Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow, becomes pregnant, she realizes something may be wrong with her baby. The film, like many other horror movies, is rumored to be cursed.

Zanuck/Brown Productions

#9. Jaws (1975)

– Director: Steven Spielberg
– Horror subgenre: nature
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 124 minutes

In “Jaws,” the residents and tourists of Amity Island are terrorized by a great white shark. The film was based on a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, who appears in a brief cameo. The smash-hit grossed over $100 million at the box office and was once the highest-grossing film ever.

Image Ten

#8. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

– Director: George A. Romero
– Horror subgenre: zombie
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 89
– Runtime: 96 minutes

In this 1968 classic, siblings Johnny and Barbara stop at the cemetery to put flowers on their father’s grave, and all hell breaks loose. The chilling line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” continues to evoke fear 50 years after it was first uttered on film. The movie also features the first Black lead in a horror film, Duane Jones.

Universal Pictures

#7. The Thing (1982)

– Director: John Carpenter
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 57
– Runtime: 109 minutes

A research team stationed in Antarctica discovers an alien being in this remake of the classic 1951 film “The Thing from Another World.” In 2011, the film was remade as a prequel featuring a whole new cast of characters.

Vortex

#6. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

– Director: Tobe Hooper
– Horror subgenre: slasher
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 78
– Runtime: 83 minutes

While many people believe the events in the film happened, they never did—though some of the details and the creation of Leatherface were based on murders committed by serial killer Ed Gein. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is a work of fiction about a family of cannibals who terrorize a group of kids unlucky enough to stumble across their old house. It is considered to be one of the very first slasher films.

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Compass International Pictures

#5. Halloween (1978)

– Director: John Carpenter
– Horror subgenre: slasher
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 91 minutes

One of the movies often cited for its relevance to the slasher genre, “Halloween” was produced on a meager budget but became a huge hit. The film featured scream queen and final girl Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, who discovers that she is the sister of Michael Myers, who murdered the rest of their family in 1963. Fifteen years later, he escapes from the sanitarium and returns to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, to find his long-lost sister and finish what he started years before.

Brandywine Productions

#4. Alien (1979)

– Director: Ridley Scott
– Horror subgenre: science fiction
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Metascore: 89
– Runtime: 116 minutes

“Alien” is set on the spaceship Nostromo (named after a Joseph Conrad book), whose crew realizes they are not alone and that an aggressive alien life form is out to destroy them. Cast members passed out frequently because of the space suits, and the costumes were eventually changed.

Shamley Productions

#3. Psycho (1960)

– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Horror subgenre: thriller
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Metascore: 97
– Runtime: 109 minutes

Often classified as the prototype for the slasher film, this classic’s infamous shower scene helped secure its place in the annals of horror movie history. It is also the first motion picture to show a toilet bowl being flushed on screen. Another horror film loosely based on the murders by Ed Gein, the film follows Marion Crane after she steals a large sum of money from her employer and ends up at the Bates Motel, where the strange Norman Bates cares for his invalid mother.

Warner Bros.

#2. The Shining (1980)

– Director: Stanley Kubrick
– Horror subgenre: haunted house
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 144 minutes

Directed by auteur Stanley Kubrick, based on the book by “Master of Horror” Stephen King, and starring iconic film actor Jack Nicholson, “The Shining” seemed like a horror movie trifecta. While fans and critics loved it, author King did not share their feelings and felt it didn’t stay true to the book. It featured a down-on-his-luck author who becomes the winter caretaker at a remote hotel and succumbs to the scariest sort of cabin fever.

Warner Bros.

#1. The Exorcist (1973)

– Director: William Friedkin
– Horror subgenre: possession
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 81
– Runtime: 122 minutes

This horror classic was based on the controversial 1971 novel by author William Peter Blatty. It tells the tale of a young girl possessed by a demonic force as two priests attempt to save her via exorcism. The film, thought to be cursed, was the first horror film to receive an Oscar.

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