Do you remember your first horror movie? I do. I can remember how petrified I was like it was yesterday.
And I’ll never come close to a TV set broadcasting ants racing, thanks to Poltergeist. I’m still too terrified of being sucked in.
My little brother was terrified of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and would cry whenever his name was mentioned. And my son turned sheet white when he first saw Vanessa rip her face off in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
The point is that we’ve all been scared by something on TV or in theaters. Although, some of us seem to enjoy it more than others.
As horror fans, nothing compares to the thrill of a window blown open by the wind in complete darkness. Candles flickering out can make us shudder.
You’re no longer alone – behold!
Our exclusive list of the ten best horror movies ever is here. Prepare for scares and thrills as you journey through these iconic films.
Throughout over 100 years of movie history, the unknown and the unseen have tempted us, pulling us into stories that transcend normality and flirt with death.
The gruesome, the ominous, and the macabre are what horror is made of—a perfect medium for this genre.
In this list, we’ll journey through time, exploring the fascinating evolution of horror – from its early roots in German expressionism with films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to classic monsters, to the mind-bending psychological thrillers of the modern age.
Get ready to flip the switch on the 10 Best Horror Movies of All Time…and say…
10 Highest-Rated Horror Movies of All Time, According to IMDb
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – 8
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – 8
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – 8
- Diabolique (1955) – 8.1
- The Exorcist (1973) – 8.1
- Tumbbad (2018) – 8.2
- The Thing (1982) – 8.2
- The Shining (1980) – 8.4
- Psycho (1960) – 8.5
- Alien (1979) – 8.5
10 ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ (1920)
Some cinematic experiences age like a fine wine, never losing their captivating allure, irrespective of the passage of time. One such timeless masterpiece is the classic horror, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Picture yourself nestled comfortably on your couch on a peaceful winter night. The room dimmed, the air punctuated by the uncanny notes of this silent era phenomenon, each frame promising a mesmerizing journey into the macabre realm.
‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ [ Trivia ]
- The entire movie set was made of paper.
- Widely considered the first true horror film.
- This movie was played in a Paris theater for over seven years.
- When it debuted at New York’s Capitol Theater in April 1921, some viewers booed and demanded refunds.
Under the skillful directorial hand of Robert Wiene, this German gem is a pillar of expressionist horror. It draws viewers into the menacing sphere of Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist assistant, Cesare, who can foretell the future in his slumber.
As audiences today, we’ve become accustomed to state-of-the-art CGI and intricate special effects. Yet, observing how this timeless classic invokes dread with its uncomplicated yet potent visual techniques is refreshing and grounding. The twisted, oneiric set designs, dramatic illumination, and eerie makeup concoct a heady mix of suspense and horror, intensified by a narrative infused with madness, deceit, and mortality.
Reflecting on this influential film, one can’t help but marvel at how it pioneered the path of contemporary horror. It wasn’t merely the unnerving plot or the sinister personas that caught my attention, but the realization of how this early 20th-century cinematic work established the archetypes now deemed standard in the horror genre.
So, if you’re a horror enthusiast or a lover of film history, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari should be an essential addition to your watch list.
9 ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ (1962)
Horror films possess a unique knack for persistently clinging to one’s memory, a trait eminently embodied in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Its bone-chilling allure is difficult to discard, lingering like a mystery. I vividly recall absorbing its story on a late-summer evening, my surroundings barely lit by the ghostly glow of the television – the perfect ambiance for this spine-tingling narrative.
‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ [ Trivia ]
- The film is included on Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” list.
- Bette Davis made her own makeup to play Jane.
- The movie was a big success. It made back its budget in just 11 days!
- In her book “This N’ That,” Bette Davis wanted the film to be shot in black and white. She argued that coloring it would make a sad story look pretty, something she was against.
Robert Aldrich‘s directorial prowess plunges us into the tumultuous existence of former child star Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) and her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford). As their faded Hollywood mansion descends into terror, the boundaries separating sibling affection and lethal intent blur, unveiling the horrifying extremes of jealousy and bitterness.
Diverging from standard horror narratives, this film amplifies the real-life dread of aging, isolation, and sibling rivalry. It’s a chilling reminder that the most fearsome beasts often reside among us, not lurking under our beds but boldly parading in our daily lives.
The performances of Davis and Crawford are compelling anchors in this cinematic tale. Their eerie portrayals of desperation and madness echo in the viewer’s mind, their theatrical brilliance infusing the narrative with added depth.
This classic horror, however, transcends its film status and transforms into an emblem of the genre itself. It delves into the grim landscape of human frailty and our potential for malice. This psychological thrill ride is essential viewing, echoing the startling truth that our internal demons often serve as the most frightening monsters.
8 “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
Darkness descended. Roman Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby enveloped me in its haunting atmosphere. Tension mounted as the story unfolded onscreen, seeping into my mind and not departing. A chill ran through me at every twist of this tale–a lasting reminder of a night I won’t soon forget.
“Rosemary’s Baby” [ Trivia ]
- Mia Farrow stated that the shots taken of Rosemary walking in front of traffic were not scripted; it was real.
- Mia Farrow, a vegetarian at the time, ate raw liver for a scene in the movie.
- The phone booth scene was filmed as one continuous shot.
- Stanley Kubrick‘s brother-in-law and assistant, Jan Harlan, claimed that this film was one of the director’s favorites.
Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary in this revolutionary horror movie. She and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move to a new apartment block in Manhattan – but their life there is far from ordinary. As her pregnancy progresses, Rosemary begins to experience odd memory loss regarding the conception of her baby… What sinister turn will events take?
As the film progresses, Rosemary’s anxiety peaks as she grows suspicious of those around her, notably their eccentric and intrusive neighbor, portrayed brilliantly by Oscar-winner Ruth Gordon. These fears are not unfounded as the narrative unfurls, revealing the dark obsession of her new acquaintances with her unborn child.
It cleverly parallels societal issues, presenting an icy commentary on the often oppressive and subservient roles women are subjected to. Polanski masterfully crafts an atmosphere of claustrophobia that thickens as Rosemary desperately attempts to escape the unseen terror enclosing her. Farrow’s performance is powerfully riveting, embodying a character whose resilience in the face of unspeakable evil symbolizes the enduring struggle for women’s autonomy over their bodies.
This film isn’t merely a horror story but an exploration of deeper, more profound fears. The terror it evokes is not drawn from supernatural shocks but from the cruel realities that could exist in our world. Rosemary’s Baby remains an iconic horror genre piece, a haunting narrative as relevant today as it was upon its release.
7 ‘Diabolique’ (1955)
Take yourself back to the mid-’50s, when the subtlety of psychological thrillers began making a mark on cinema. Here’s where Diabolique comes into play, a French horror masterpiece that breathes life into the phrase “less is more.”
‘Diabolique’ [ Trivia ]
- The movie does not include a lesbian relationship between the two women, which is part of Thomas Narcejac‘s novel “Celle qui n’était plus.”
- Henri-Georges Clouzot purchased the film rights to the novel quickly. He got them before Alfred Hitchcock could in a matter of hours.
- Five years after its release, the film gained extra notoriety when Véra Clouzot died suddenly at 46 from a heart attack.
- Alfred Hitchcock was a great admirer of the film, despite being unable to create it. Reports say that ‘Psycho’ (1960) had some influence from this movie.
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, it weaves an intricate narrative of suspense and fright. It’s a tale of two women, the frail Christina, and the fierce Nicole, who conspire to murder Christina’s abusive husband.
But the body goes missing after they hide it! Unexplainable events ensue – sure to send chills down your spine. Suspense builds as each clue unfolds in this intricate thriller of murder and mystery.
The eerie quiet, and unexpected plot twists genuinely disturb. This film doesn’t rely on gore or supernatural entities but on the dark possibilities of human nature. The movie plays out an unnerving narrative about guilt and fear that will leave you guessing until its conclusion – a proper blend of suspense and dread.
Indeed, its distinguishing feature is the balance of mystery, thriller, and horror elements in Diabolique. It pioneered a unique blend that inspired many films in the subsequent decades. If you appreciate a slow-burning, creeping horror, this French classic offers an unmissable cinematic experience.
6 ‘The Exorcist’ (1973)
IMDb: 8.1/10 423K | Popularity: 310 | Top 250: #228 | Metascore:
Directed by William Friedkin in 1973, The Exorcist pushed the boundaries of terror and suspenseful moments. Watching it for the first time as a teenager was scary; lights off, heart beating fast while barely able to look at the screen! The film has been remembered for its ghoulishness since then.
‘The Exorcist’ [ Trivia ]
- Only one take was needed for the scene where Regan projectile vomited at Father Karras.
- Due to death threats, Warner Bros. arranged bodyguards for Linda Blair after the release of ‘The Exorcist.’
- On the first day of filming, Linda Blair‘s profane delivery was so shocking that Max von Sydow forgot his lines.
- Mercedes McCambridge, the actress behind the voice of the demon, employed various tactics to achieve her desired sound. She consumed raw eggs and smoked cigarettes excessively to alter her vocalizations.
The premise is simple yet terrifying: A young girl, Regan, played brilliantly by Linda Blair, becomes possessed by an evil entity. Her desperate mother turns to two priests, who must confront the demon inside Regan.
The film perfectly transforms a seemingly quiet suburban house into a battleground of good versus evil. It’s not merely the disturbing imagery and supernatural occurrences that make this film a horror masterpiece but also its exploration of faith, doubt, and guilt. The exorcism scene, which still haunts many viewers decades later, is a horrifying culmination of these themes, a moment of reckoning for both the characters and the audience.
Fearful yet enlightening, The Exorcist is a horror classic. This groundbreaking film from almost half a century ago still grasps its audience’s attention with a scary story and exploration of the supernatural. It questions our beliefs while creating a lastingly daunting atmosphere.
Its ability to provoke emotion has stayed strong, making it much more than just another horror movie. Brave viewers should make this their next watch – you’ll surely be enveloped in mental unrest and fright.
5 ‘Tumbbad’ (2018)
A high note in Indian horror cinema, Tumbbad masterfully merges horror, fantasy, and folklore. Directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad, this chilling narrative introduced me to an intense rollercoaster of emotions, drawing heavily from Indian mythology and culture.
‘Tumbbad’ [ Trivia ]
- The first Indian film to open at Venice’s prestigious International Film Critic’s Week.
- It took six years to film ‘Tumbbad.’ It was shot during four monsoons, giving the city a rainy atmosphere.
- In the film, Mohammad Samad had two roles. The first was Pandurang (Vinayak’s son). The second role he played was Vinayak’s grandmother.
- Tumbbad is a real city. Its folklore, though not found anywhere else, suggests the existence of Hastar – an enigmatic god-demon.
Vinayak, the central character, is consumed by his obsession with a mythical treasure under the protection of a cursed goddess. His insatiable greed pulls him into the rain-soaked, crumbling depths of Tumbbad village, where the barriers between life, death, and mystical reality become hazy. As his fixation deepens, so does the sense of terror.
The film’s strength lies in its atmospheric storytelling. Gloomy, ominous cinematography provides an eerie touch, while the intricate production design constructs an immersive, unforgettable world. Human greed at the story’s core is more horrifying than any supernatural element.
Transcending traditional horror genre boundaries, this gem interweaves folklore, history, and fear in a manner seldom seen in contemporary cinema. For those ready to venture beyond the Western horror canon, this film offers a riveting exploration that might compel you to reassess fear’s nature and the real or imagined monsters that inhabit our world.
4 ‘The Thing’ (1982)
Let’s return to an era when horror was unflinching and raw, fearlessly steeped in the dark and the gory. A sterling representation of this period is John Carpenter‘s chilling masterpiece, a grotesque reimagining of the 1950s classic The Thing From Another World. This innovative narrative invites us into the icebound solitude of an Antarctic research outpost besieged by a shapeshifting alien invader thriving on chaos and concealment.
‘The Thing’ [ Trivia ]
- John Carpenter has revealed that this movie is the one he likes best of all that he’s directed.
- Every June 21, British Antarctic research stations observe Midwinter with a feast and celebration. Part of this tradition is to watch ‘The Thing’ as entertainment.
- Rob Bottin, who was only 22 when he started the project, created special make-up effects that are considered a benchmark in film.
- ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Thing,’ released on the same day in 1982, were both met with unfavorable reactions by critics at their premieres. They lost out to Steven Spielberg‘s ‘E.T.’, that year’s more positive blockbuster success. However, since the early 90s, these two movies have gained recognition as some of cinema’s greatest works ever made.
The film brilliantly capitalizes on our universal dread of the unknown, adeptly fanning the flames of paranoia as the hidden menace eliminates the outpost’s team members individually. With a cast led by Kurt Russell and Keith David, the escalating tension of the narrative is imbued with a sense of authenticity that permeates every scene. The ensuing dread is all-consuming – trust becomes an unaffordable luxury, and everyone is a potential casualty of the alien intruder.
The unforgettable element that separates this cinematic terror from the pack is the astounding special effects crafted by Rob Bottin. The human and canine transformations into horrific, nightmarish creatures remain jarringly vivid and deeply unsettling. Carpenter’s mastery of these elements elevates the film’s intensity to nearly unbearable levels, crafting a lingering sense of unease.
The film’s grim narrative and visceral violence divided audiences upon its release. Over time, however, the brilliance of this horror tour de force came to be recognized, and today it stands as a testament to Carpenter’s gift for conjuring fear from the familiar. Chilling and thrilling in equal measure, it’s a film that continues to deliver shivers even decades after its debut.
3 ‘The Shining’ (1980)
A sinister transformation unfolds in Stanley Kubrick‘s take on Stephen King’s 1977 novel. Jack Nicholson portrays Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic. He turns from a loving family man into a raging terror.
His victims? His wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). Their setting? Colorado’s historic Overlook Hotel.
‘The Shining’ [ Trivia ]
- Criticism and audience responses to the film ‘The Shining’ have caused ire for Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. They feel unjustly overlooked in favor of giving Stanley Kubrick all the credit, ignoring their work and Stephen King‘s source material.
- To prepare Jack Nicholson for his role, the team had him eat only cheese sandwiches (something he despises) for two weeks to get him agitated.
- Jack Nicholson, a former volunteer fire marshal, was so strong that the props department had to build a stronger door for the scene where he broke down the bathroom door.
- Stanley Kubrick is renowned for his perfectionism and repeated takes. The iconic shot of blood oozing from the elevators in ‘The Shining’ took nine days to set up, a year to get right – and only three actual takes.
The Torrance family are winter caretakers at the hotel. Here, they fall into a whirlpool of horror. Haunting presences lurk around the hotel, threatening to topple their sanity. Jack’s breakdown is central to the film’s horror. However, its cause remains uncertain. Are the spectral hotel residents at fault? Or does isolation expose Jack’s deep-seated anger and frustration?
This lack of clarity boosts the film’s terror. You grapple with these questions, trapped in a labyrinth of fear. Every corner could hide a restless spirit – or something far more sinister.
Kubrick showcases his genius in this film. His use of haunting tracking shots creates an inescapable sense of dread. The Overlook Hotel emerges as a mysterious character in itself. The tension is palpable, the horror relentless. Iconic moments, like Nicholson’s manic “Here’s Johnny!” outburst, have infiltrated pop culture.
Initial reactions to the film were mixed. But time has proven its enduring potency. Parodies and copies have surfaced. Yet, the film’s ability to instill terror remains untouched. It stands as an emblem of psychological horror. As such, it’s a must-watch for all – be you a horror enthusiast or an occasional viewer. This harrowing exploration of domestic terror and the fragility of sanity is unforgettable.
2 ‘Psycho’ (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho is a groundbreaking classic in horror cinema. Released over 60 years ago, it still evokes fear and anticipation today. It ushered in a new era of fear, not merely a horror film, revolutionizing the genre. The movie’s allure isn’t diminished by knowing its secrets; instead, it amplifies anticipation.
‘Psycho’ [ Trivia ]
- Sir Alfred Hitchcock was very pleased with the score by Bernard Herrmann. He doubled his salary to $34,501 and praised him highly. According to Hitchcock, “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”
- A dad wrote to Alfred Hitchcock after the movie was released. His daughter had been too scared by ‘Diabolique’ (1955) to take a bath–and now, she refused even showers due to this new release! In response, Hitchcock sent one line: “Send her to the dry cleaners.”
- In the early 1960s, Walt Disney refused Alfred Hitchcock‘s request to film at Disneyland. Disney’s reasoning: Hitchcock had made “that disgusting movie, ‘Psycho.'”
- In the opening scene, Alfred Hitchcock presents Marion Crane as angelic by having her wear a white bra. But after she steals the money, this changes to black – symbolizing wrong and evil behavior. Similarly, before stealing the money, we see her with a white purse, but it’s changed to black afterward.
The narrative is uncomplicated yet horrifying. Janet Leigh‘s character arrives at the Bates Motel, thrusting us into a shocking world of terror. Hitchcock demonstrates that horror isn’t confined to grotesque creatures or supernatural beings. It can resemble the boy next door, the unsuspecting individual in a quaint house off the highway.
Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense shines, catching viewers off guard with audacious plot twists. The notorious shower scene remains an iconic element of cinematic horror, its brutal presentation underlined by Bernard Hermann‘s piercing score.
Despite the film’s climactic surprise now being common knowledge, it retains its shock value. Key to this is Anthony Perkins‘ chilling portrayal of Norman Bates, especially his contrasting expressions of mania and eerie calmness in the shower and final scenes, respectively.
Psycho didn’t spell the end of monster movies, but it redefined horror. It presented a modern, deeply unsettling form of horror – mundane, familiar, yet profoundly terrifying.
1 ‘Alien’ (1979)
In 1979, Ridley Scott introduced Alien to the world. It’s not your typical science-fiction flick. Instead, it takes the form of a horrific narrative aboard the Nostromo. This spaceship, floating in space, mirrors a haunted mansion.
‘Alien’ [ Trivia ]
- The blue laser lights in the movie were borrowed from The Who. They were using them for their stage show on a soundstage nearby. These same lights featured prominently inside the alien ship’s egg chamber, giving it an other-worldly feel.
- Yaphet Kotto revealed that Ridley Scott asked him to annoy Sigourney Weaver off-camera to create genuine tension, but he ultimately refused since he liked her.
- For the descending alien film scene, a screen was placed between Jones the cat and a German Shepard to block his view. Suddenly, the obstruction was removed; this made Jones stop advancing and start hissing.
- The alien’s jaw was made fearsome by using shredded condoms as tendons.
A distress signal turns the crew’s world upside down. Suddenly, they find themselves hosting a deadly extraterrestrial. Masterfully designed by H.R. Giger, this alien sets new standards in cinematic horror. It emerges as the “perfect organism,” as an awestruck android aptly describes it.
At the helm, Sigourney Weaver shines as Ellen Ripley. Breaking norms, she becomes an impressively solid female figure in horror cinema. Her struggle against the alien beast showcases the unyielding human spirit amidst immense terror.
We grasp the film’s terror when we recall Veronica Cartwright‘s shocking scene. It starkly contrasts other space fantasies, thrusting viewers into a nightmarish reality. Through the unknown and the unfamiliar, Alien taps into our deepest fears.
Despite countless sequels, prequels, and copies, the original’s spine-chilling impact remains unparalleled. Its unique blend of suspense and existential dread marks a milestone in horror cinema. It continues to captivate, proving that true horror can endure the test of time.
FAQs About the Best Horror Movies
According to Rotten Tomatoes, what are the ten best horror movies ever?
- A Quiet Place (2018) – 96%
- The Invisible Man (2020) – 92%
- The Night of the Hunter (1955) – 93%
- Nosferatu (1922) – 97%
- King Kong (1933) – 96%
- Alien (1979) – 98%
- Us (2019) – 93%
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) – 96%
- Get Out (2017) – 98%
- Psycho (1960) – 96%
According to Letterboxd, what are the ten best horror movies ever?
- Kwaidan (1964) – 4.17
- OPAL (2020) – 4.17
- The Cremator (1969) – 4.20
- Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983) – 4.20
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – 4.20
- Cure (1997) – 4.21
- The Shining (1980) – 4.26
- Alien (1979) – 4.29
- Psycho (1960) – 4.33
- The Thing (1982) – 4.35