With Halloween approaching, people all over are doing what I do all year long — looking for horror movies to watch. Others are actively avoiding horror movies because “horror movies aren’t scary.”
Or, even worse, I’ll hear someone say, “I like horror movies, but they’re not scary.” I don’t understand this. Are there people who like comedies that aren’t funny?
In the case of comedies, it’s understood that people have varied senses of humor, and we make recommendations based on the type of comedy sub-genre that someone is likely to enjoy. To that end, I’ve broken up the 30 horror movies below into five broad sub-genres of horror — to suit your “sense or horror”:
- Reality-based Psychological Horror (8 films)
- Supernatural Psychological Horror (9 films)
- Slashers (3 films)
- Creatures (6 films)
- Found Footage (4 films)
Click on any title to go directly to the film’s iMDb page. You can get all the information there. I’ve just supplied a trailer and a quick sentence or two about why you should watch each film.
This list is in no way comprehensive or definitive. What it is, however, is a list that I vouch for. With so many terrible horror movies out there (including many that make “best of” lists), I wanted to create a list that I have personally curated and that I believe will have an extremely high satisfaction rate among anyone who might read this.
If you’re looking for a scary movie and haven’t yet seen one of these 30, go for it without hesitation. And now, the picks:
Reality-based Psychological Horror
1. Se7en (1995)
Reason to Watch: Director David Fincher has never made a bad film.
Reason to Watch: Don’t take my word for it. This is one of the few horror films to ever be acknowledged with the Best Picture Oscar.
Reason to Watch: This is not Hitchcock’s best film, but it’s arguably his scariest.
Reason to Watch: This could happen to you. Like today.
Reason to Watch: Visually stunning and constantly engaging. Plus, little kids are creepy.
Reason to Watch: One of the best adaptations of Stephen King. If you like feeling claustrophobic, this is for you.
Reason to Watch: The horror comes from the reality of religious fervor. It’ll be hard to shake the feeling that America is filled with people like the protagonist.
Reason to Watch: Tightly paced with mystery elements.
Supernatural Psychological Horror
Reason to Watch: Probably my favorite horror movie of all time. The credits roll, and you’ll feel violated for the next few days.
Reason to Watch: This is the modern haunted house movie that so many in the past are supposed to have been (but aren’t). Amazingly executed.
Reason to Watch: One of the classics. The religious overtones tap directly into the anxiety of anyone raised Christian — and will make anyone else glad they weren’t.
Reason to Watch: The scariest and most successful American translation of Japanese horror.
Reason to Watch: I feel like more people quote or reference this film than have actually seen it. Watch it. It’s scary.
Reason to Watch: Stanley Kubrick. Stephen King. Creepy kid. This is actually lower on my list than it would be on most because the narrative is all over the place, but the scary imagery makes it a must-watch.
Reason to Watch: Proof that what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do.
Reason to Watch: We all have to go to sleep sometime, and Freddy Krueger will cross your mind the next time you do. Really any film in this series is worth watching, except for the second one.
Reason to Watch: It became an instant classic in a time when horror was not particularly strong. It also gets the creepy kid bump.
Reason to Watch: Director John Carpenter is a master of horror, and this is still his scariest and most influential film.
Reason to Watch: The title will pretty much tell you if you want to see this one or not.
Reason to Watch: A lot of the sequels are terrible, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from watching the original. If you forgot that Kevin Bacon is in it, it’s time to watch it again.
Reason to Watch: This is a foreign film in which the effectiveness is amplified by its otherness. Creepy kid bump x 2.
Reason to Watch: The zombie movie that started it all — for better and (mostly) for worse. It’s a small scale version of zombie uprising that leaves time for the viewer to really contemplate being in that horrifying situation.
Reason to Watch: The opposite end of the spectrum in the zombie genre but also really scary. As far as I can recall, this is when zombies got fast.
Reason to Watch: The oldest film on the list. Bela Lugosi transformed the vampire into something sexy and alluring with his performance without even having a mastery of the English language.
Reason to Watch: This one is weird, folks. It involves otherworldly beings that live at the threshold of pleasure and pain. Don’t watch it with your parents in the room. Do watch it if you like a little kink mixed in with your horror.
Reason to Watch: If you’re looking for another reason to never go spelunking.
1. [Rec] (2007)
Reason to Watch: This Spanish film is intense for its entire short running time. It was remade in America a year later as QUARANTINE (2008), but this original is far superior.
Reason to Watch: This one has been copied and parodied constantly for the past 15 years. It’s worth watching the original.
Reason to Watch: Aside from the fact that this film was made for practically no money, it’s legitimately horrifying. If you can see it on a big screen, do so. The effect is that the room in which most of the film takes place is presented almost at full scale in the theater, so the audience feels like it’s sitting just on the other side of the room watching it all unfold. A significant amount of the scare is lost on the small screen with this one.
4. Creep (2014)
Reason to Watch: Proof that two actors and a camera can make a movie that will stay with you for days. It’s also the most recent movie on the list.
“Hey, You Forgot to List…”
There are a ton of great films that are often named on horror lists that I’ve omitted for very specific reasons. These reasons and films are:
No Science Fiction
Science Fiction is its own genre. Great films that I’ve left off for this reason include:
This is a list of 30 scary movies. Movies that make me laugh have no business on it. A few great horror-comedies are:
- The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
- An American Werewolf in London (1981)
- Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
- Evil Dead II (1987)
- Army of Darkness (1992)
- Drag Me To Hell (2009)
- Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
- Zombieland (2009)
- Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Suspense is Different
The list would have quickly gotten much too broad if I didn’t exclude films that are primarily suspenseful, rather than scary. I consider this to be true for the following great movies:
- Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
- Jaws (1975)
- In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
- Rear Window (1954)
- Zodiac (2007)
- Don’t Look Now (1973)
- Bug (2006)
There are a few miscellaneous movies that are definitely worth watching and often appear on lists like these that I’ve ultimately left out, including:
Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite on the list below or to let me know what you think deserves to be on the list.