200 Greatest Horror Films of All Time
Here is the list of 200 Greatest Horror films. Horror is one of the most primal types of film. Perhaps some of the first stories humans ever told were of the horror genre, warning of the beasts and monsters that lurked outside at night. Now special effects and other narrative techniques work to bring tales of modern monsters to billions across the globe. This list of 200 greatest horror films is a guide for both a film neophyte wanting to see the best of the best and a film expert looking for a masterpiece she may have overlooked.
Naming Alien the Greatest Horror Movie of All Time is bound to be a bit controversial. Although nearly everyone agrees it qualifies as a horror movie, it’s quite a bit different than most other classics of the genre. It’s in space. It’s sci-fi. And there’s no real sense of the supernatural.
There are two stars in Alien: Sigourney Weaver and the alien. Weaver created a new type of action hero, giving depth to the type of role that usually lacks it. And the creature’s famous creation by H.R. Giger is the stuff of nightmares. Watch the movie again. It’s horrifying. And when you combine horror expert, film critic, popular appeal and award recognition, it’s the GOAT.
The Shining (1980)
It’s hard to remember, but The Shining was once widely regarded as a failure. Kubrick’s adaptation changed more of Stephen King’s novel than the author would have liked, and filmgoers weren’t ready for the strangeness what Kubrick was presenting. The film is now so beloved that there’s even a documentary about all the fan theories surrounding the horror classic.
Jaws is the most popular film on this list. It was briefly the highest-grossing movie of all-time, and still holds the #7 spot on the list if measured by ticket sales. It completely changed what it meant to be a blockbuster. But apart from that: It’s terrifying. Rarely has a person dipped as much as a toe into the ocean (or even a swimming pool!) over the past 44 years without notes from John Williams’ score making an unwelcome appearance in the back of her mind.
Rosemary's Baby (1969)
Coming right at the end of the 1960s, Rosemary’s Baby pits the youthful, liberated mother against the ancien regime of religion and control. Mia Farrow’s performance guides the film’s slow revelations and embodies its portrayal of domestic gaslighting and terror.
28 Days Later (2002)
Its ranking here as the greatest zombie movie all time will provoke debate. But there’s a good case to be made. 28 Days Later adds human and political sophistication that was only hinted at in earlier examples of the genre. The reinvented fast-moving zombies gave new life (pun intended) to the idea of the living dead in pop culture.
The essential horror film to watch as a teenager. It creates a bridge between the childhood fears of monsters and bogeymen that teenagers are discarding with the adult fears of stalkers and serial killers they are taking on. Michael Myers seems to have superhuman powers, killing and terrorizing at will.
The “shower scene” is one of the cinema’s most famous among the 200 greatest horror films. 77 different camera angles were used in the 3-minute scene, which culminates in a long look at the victim’s lifeless eye. The horror genre – and film as a whole – would never be the same again.
Get Out (2017)
It’s hard for a film so recent to crack the top 10 on a FilmsRanked.com list. But Jordan Peele’s directorial debut was clearly an instant classic to critics and the general public alike. The best horror comedy on this list. Get Out is a biting, intelligent satire of racism in the United States — as well as a hilarious, frightening film that demands multiple rewatches.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins turn in the two best horror movie acting performances ever. Hopkins’ performance as the genius cannibal makes you forget the Buffalo Bill was Agent Starling’s primary target for most of the film and a horror villain in his own right.
The Wicker Man (1973)
One of the most unique films on this list, The Wicker Man has a feel to it that feels part flower child and part devil worshipper. It’s earned the moniker “The Citizen Kane of horror movies.”
The Exorcist (1973)
Director William Friedkin says didn’t intend to make a horror film. He says he thought he was making a film “about the mystery of faith.” It’s hard to entirely believe him, as The Exorcist is one of the most frightening — perhaps THE most frightening — movie in history. It was the first horror film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and is the 9th most popular movie by ticket sales of any type.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Evil Dead II is essentially a remake of The Evil Dead. It has the same basic beats as its predecessor, but way more laughs. It revels in its bad taste. If this list were called the Most Fun Horror Movies among the 200 greatest horror films. Evil Dead II would probably be #1.
The Fly (1986)
Mutants and half-human creatures have become a Hollywood staple during the past 20 years, but not in the horror genre. Usually, they’re played by underwear models wearing too much foundation. That’s how Goldblum’s character imagines Brundlefly at first. But Brundlefly is not Spider-Man
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Not technically the first zombie movie, but it’s the one that really put the monsters on the map – allowing them to join vampires, ghosts, werewolves and mummies as America’s top horror icons. Many critics called the movie “sadistic” and complained about its graphic violence.
The Babadook (2014)
The existence of a terrifying bogeyman helped Jennifer Kent tell a story of grief, depression and dealing with darkness. Extremely strong performances by both leads make us care about the mother and son at the center of the story… and constantly fear for both their lives and their sanity.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One of the most famous slasher movies ever made. The ability of Freddy Kreuger to use the dream world to enter the world of the living has horrified teenagers and adults trying to sleep after watching this movie late at night. It is one of the famous movies among the 200 greatest horror films.
It Follows (2015)
It Follows was acclaimed as a classic immediately after its debut at Cannes. “It” is essentially an STD that haunts our teenage protagonist. Sex and death have long been intertwined in horror, but It Follows does something unique with the convention – and posits a way to decouple that link.
The Descent (2005)
Set in the Appalachian Mountains but filmed in Scotland, The Descent features a group of women on an outdoor adventure into a cave system. Of course, everything goes wrong. It was released with alternate endings, both of which are debated by fans and neither of which will be spoiled here.
The prom scene… enough said, no? Carrie deals with high school bullying, puberty and a crazy mother, like any teenager. But she’s not like any teenager. The movie inspired countless revenge fantasies — and countless Stephen King adaptations. It was the first.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
A sequel to Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, it famously made the connection between brain-dead zombies and consumer culture. The survivors hole up in a mall, which has been taken over by the infected. “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Zombie movies were at their height of their popularity in the early 21st Century: Virtually every nerd in the world had a zombie escape plan, including my former roommate who included a map of the airport and a “go bag” in his. It is also one of the famous movies among the 200 greatest horror films. Shaun of the Dead combined this zombie-mania with Simon Pegg’s distinctly British sense of humor to create a film celebrated as a classic in two different genres.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Vampires have been associated with romance and sex at least since Tod Browning’s Dracula. So it makes sense that the top-ranking vampire movie on this list would be essentially a romance. It’s also the top foreign language film on the list, coming from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson who based it on a Swedish novel of the same name. This gives the entire production a haunting nordic atmosphere.
Nosferatu, the 1922 German Expressionist classic, has its roots deep in the Great War. Producer Albin Grau, the driving force behind the film, was an occultist who served in the German Army during the war. It was there a Serbian farmer told him the story of how his father was a vampire, inspiring Grau to create a vampire story of his own.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Some works of art embody their style so completely that they practically define their movement. Think Monet’s Water Lilies for Expressionist painting or Picasso’s Three Musicians for Cubism. That’s what The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is for German Expressionism. Famously described as a precursor of Nazism by the book From Caligari to Hitler, it remains unsettling and disturbing to watch 100 years after it was first screened. Among 200 greatest horror films, it’s one of them.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1975)
This is Southern Gothic with the temperature turned up as high as it can go. Think William Faulkner multiplied by Stephen King. Inspired by a real-life murderer, Leatherface will haunt your dreams – and come to mind anytime you drive by a run-down house on a country road.
The Thing (1982)
The Thing was released to negative reviews when it was first released. Now it’s regarded as an expertly-made classic. What changed? In 1982, The Thing’s special effects were so disgusting that they overshadowed everything else. Audiences now have seen a lot more gore – and so can appreciate the film’s other virtues.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
From Roger Ebert: “Some movies age; others ripen. Seen today, Whale’s masterpiece is more surprising than when it was made because today’s audiences are more alert to its buried hints of homosexuality, necrophilia and sacrilege.”
Anyone who grew up in suburbia can relate to this film — and was likely terrorized by it if they saw it as a child. This is the movie that showed millions of kids that it’s not just scary old houses or graveyards that can be haunted. It could be your home. Or even your bedroom closet.
Suspiria doesn’t rely on sudden volume spikes or shoehorned “twist” endings, or even really gore to horrify. One of the great movies of 200 greatest horror films. It is patient and takes its time telling the story. The bright Technicolor expressionist sets, the intelligent sound mixing, and the wonderfully terrible score by Goblin create a nightmare world.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
You won’t see this twist coming. Really, you won’t. If you haven’t already seen The Cabin in the Woods, do so now before it gets spoiled for you.
A Quiet Place (2018)
John Krasinski, formerly best known as Jim from The Office, made a big mark on the horror world with his turn behind the camera. Its unique premise helps make it a classic of the genre, despite being only a couple years old.
Frankenstein the novel was written in the 19th Century, but the character of Frankenstein’s monster – as embodied by Boris Karloff – is one of the most indelible persons of the 20th Century. It’s Alive!
An American Werewolf in London (1982)
You’d expect a comedy from director John Landis, and you get a comedy. But you also get some gruesome and genuinely horrifying scenes in this, the Greatest Werewolf Movie Ever Made.
The Witch (2015)
The 17th Century is usually overlooked in American history classes, and Hollywood rarely sets foot there. The Witch captures the religious thinking and experience of New England homesteaders with a bent for Calvinism.
This frightening film explores what happens when an entire family line seems to be haunted. Part family drama, part demonic horror, one of the newest and scariest entries on this list.
The Innocents (1961)
Henry James’s story gives us the fear of the unknown, but The Innocents refuses to give us answers. Critics have argued for a century over what ‘really’ happened.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project came just at the end of an era in which a certain type of hoax could really thrive. The internet was in a condition where material could be spread very quickly, but there weren’t many tools to help someone figure out what was true and what wasn’t
Eyes Without a Face (1962)
Two things embed the film into my memory. One is the pervasive sense of creepiness that director Georges Franju seeps throughout every scene of the film. The other is Maurice Jarre’s score. This was the second film he scored and was only two years away from his soaring tracks for Lawrence of Arabia.
James Cameron picked up the reins from Ridley Scott for what is arguably the best originally-unplanned sequel of all time. Sigourney Weaver deservedly got her first Academy Award nomination for her masterful action hero performance in this film.
In the 1960s, Polanski was fêted as a feminist director who was able to understand and portray on screen the horrific consequences of sexual violence inflicted upon women. The nature of Repulsion makes it impossible to watch in isolation of knowledge of its director’s biography — he’s a rapist who made a movie about what it’s like for a woman to be raped. I’m interested in seeing how critics will evaluate and react to his work in the future.
Freaks is about a group of people treated like second-class citizens. The sideshow performers have physical deformities which are exploited by the “normal” people. Freaks stands out from Hollywood fare like The Elephant Man, The Greatest Showman, or The Help, because it actually tells the story from the perspective of the oppressed.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The nightmarish story of an evil would-be stepfather. The Night of the Hunter is famous for its chiaroscuro lighting and Robert Mitchum’s menacing performance. A favorite among film instructors.
The Birds (1963)
The enigmatic bird attacks are never explained in Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece. Neither is the bizarre way they suddenly stop. Is it the end or THE end and simply the eye of the hurricane? How widespread are the attacks? The psychic link between the birds and Melanie Daniels (played by Tippi Hendren) hints at the type of Freudian theme the “Master of Suspense” was famous for.
The Evil Dead (1981)
This schlocky movie kicked off one of the most beloved franchises in horror and nerd culture. It’s not as funny as its sequel, but its low-budget gore is what endears fans to the series.
The most direct comparison to David Lynch’s Eraserhead is some of the early work of Luis Buñuel. Both are surrealist gothic artists, consciously informed by Freud. Lynch is clearly working out his own anxieties over fatherhood and carefully crafts images and sounds that can convey his horror.