The iconic standard bearer of the genre. Fires on all horror cylinders - tense, unsettling, startling, you name it. Most films on this list have one or two all-time memorable moments, tops; this one has half a dozen.
The only thing preventing it from #1 overall is the murky genre status. Plenty will say this isn't a horror movie at all, but more of an arthouse-noir-mystery-thriller. Fine, sure. But it also feels like an unending nightmare, and what's scarier than that?
Watch it today and it's very clearly a low-budget student film without much of a plot. But remember that it kicked off the found footage craze that's still a horror mainstay, consider the terrifying prospect of being lost in haunted woods, and allow me to call this an all-time classic.
While the franchise that followed turned into a torturous shitshow of unbelievable plots and bloodlust, it's worth noting that the first Saw movie was, you know, really damn good. It's more of a twist-laden mystery than a pure horror movie, but it's still thrilling and provocative.
Consider this. More than forty years later, and we're still losing our collective shit over shark attacks, which almost never even happen. And is there a more ominous sound in film history than the two notes that kick off the Jaws theme?
Holy hell. Start with a healthy dose of claustrophobia - what's worse than a cave-in? - and then tack on the darkness, the crawlers, and the overwhelming sense of doom that comes with being trapped, lost, and alone. Which ending do you prefer? I still can't decide...
Their sequel-slash-remake is probably even better, but Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell absolutely nailed it in the early '80s with The Evil Dead. It's that all-too-rare horror movie that's consistently funny and absurd but still capable of jump scares and brutal gore scenes.
Raimi again. This was criminally underrated when it came out in '09, and it's easy to blame the PG-13 rating. It has a heroine-victim so sympathetic and easy to root for, but whose demise is hilarious all the same. Just a flawless execution. (And is it secretly about bulimia?)
As pure genre fodder it's a nearly perfect horror movie. We start with normalcy and happiness, some unwise decisions are made, some unsettling things begin to happen, and then shit just hits the fan. Did Spielberg seriously direct this?
A lot of older movies just don't hold up, but there's something about the dated effects in the Exorcist that make the demonic possession movie even more disconcerting today. And for bonus horror points, look into the events surrounding this movie. Some say it's cursed!
Frank Darabont just understands how to put Stephen King on screen, and he absolutely nails it in this simple but terrifying story about a group of people trapped in a grocery store surrounded by an ominous fog full of monsters. And oh, God, that ending!
Here's another one that slipped a little bit for flirting with too many other genres. To its credit, it boasts not just one of film history's most frightening villains in Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter, but a second - Buffalo Bill! Lotion basket, "Goodbye Horses," skin coat, and all.
This may not be a horror movie, strictly speaking, but it's basically uncategorizable. And it's goddamn harrowing. Creepy, unsettling, whatever term you want to use. Those scenes in the, uh, "blackness" - they still give me the willies. Look, Under the Skin was scary and good.
Unbelievably tense. It's not quite a spoof, but it's such a good new twist on the teen slasher formula (sex means death) that's worked so well for decades. Turns out the worst STD you can get is the curse of being hunted by a stalker-killer no one else can see.
Eli Roth may be a poor man's imitation of Sam Raimi at best, but this movie is an overlooked masterpiece. The sequels are butt and the remake was ass, but the original Cabin Fever is a perfect mix of campy stupidity, brutal gore, and amazing one-liners.
This is Joss Whedon saying, "Horror? More like bore-or!" and shaking the genre formula around like a ragdoll until its tropes are all mixed up and sideways and staring you right in the face through the fourth wall. Its entire second half is unlike anything else out there. Amazing!
This loses a couple points for being more of a zombie comedy than a horror movie, but gains them right back since all the best zombie movies from yesteryear were satires in their own right. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were just making zombies great again, guys!
It's pretty easy to startle a viewer into an elevated heartrate, so props to The Witch for "earning it." The seventeenth century New England woods are fertile ground for horror seeds, what with all the witchcraft fervor, and, I mean, holy smokes. That rabbit. That goat! Loved the ending.
There's fun horror, there's disturbing horror, and then there's Lars von Trier. Do not watch Lars von Trier's movies. They will only make you feel bad, albeit in a weirdly beautiful and captivating way. (This one begins with a dead kid and only gets darker!)
Looks and feels so much older than 2002 but a grainy digital camcorder will do that I guess. Honestly, the quickly dated vibe helps it feel like the classic it certainly is. Remember when zombies weren't so fast and aggressive? Yeah, me either, but this is what changed that.
Probably the lone iconic horror franchise from the 1990s after so many others died with the '80s. Wes Craven gets credit for breathing life back into the slasher genre with this winking-fun-but-not-quite-funny serial killer thriller.
Tense as hell, and the only monster here is a bunch of rich white people. A little poignant, a little funny, a little psychological - a lot to love. Looking forward to more from Jordan Peele in the years to come.
Would you believe this was the first ever Stephen King film adaptation? Holds up in so many ways and it's a classic to boot, but there's an awful lot of build up for what's essentially ten minutes of actual horror. Before that, it's just a sad story about a weird girl. But hey, still good.
Starts out a bit slow, but really hits a stride in the second half, first by being unexpectedly funny, then by being unexpectedly brutal. The werewolf and zombie effects have aged poorly, to say the least, but in the pre-CGI era I'm sure they were top notch.
Another fringe-horror candidate. Whatever - I'm including it not for its giant monster, but for all those little spawn things running amok in the darkened subway tunnels. What they did to Lizzie Caplan gave me nightmares. I mean, holy shit!
Look, this one's a real stretch, and I realize that, but just like Mulholland Drive felt like a nightmare come to life, Black Swan felt like a perfectionist's manic mental breakdown. (It was also a phenomenal movie, which doesn't hurt its case.)
This excellent crime thriller masquerades as horror just well enough to earn a spot on this list thanks to a pitch black tone, some gruesome murders, and the biblical undertone of the seven deadly sins. Call it a Silence of the Lambs-based inclusion.
Such a good ghost movie. The child actors help out here - if they're bad, the movie's trash - but it's Nicole Kidman's slow and steady breakdown and terrifying realization that make this great. And that twist! So obvious in hindsight, but I never saw it coming.
Broken Lizard's take on a slasher movie. This was pretty good - for my money, better than Super Troopers - with lots of memorable moments and lines, but at the end of the day it's just another goofy slasher movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.
M. Night Shyamalan's free-falling career has been a long-running joke, but in order to fall so far, you've got to start out close to the top. And that's what he did here. The Sixth Sense is largely remembered for its twist ending, but the whole thing's pretty tense and creepy.
More western than horror - but yeah, it's definitely horror - Bone Tomahawk is a bit of a slow burn that starts cooking with gas more than halfway through. But man, does shit get real! Contains what's easily one of the all-time most graphic murder scenes I've ever seen.
Best described elsewhere on the Internet as "Richard Linklater meets Cthulhu." It's horror-romance, but not the gothic type - no vampires! - and there isn't really much else like it. Definitely not for everyone, but I dug it, although admittedly I hated the ending.
Scariest pop-up book ever! Okay, I don't want to give too much away here, but the real monster in The Babadook isn't necessarily, you know, the Babadook. After all, what's more horrifying than being the single parent of a bratty five-year-old?
The farther down my list I get, the further the definition of "horror" seems to stretch. But listen! One, the depiction of addiction ruining four lives in different ways is just harrowing. And two, it earned a "Best Horror Movie" nomination at the 2000 Saturn Awards. So, yeah!
Monster movies count as horror movies, as I established back with Cloverfield, but even for a monster movie this is pretty light on horror elements. It makes up for that with dysfunctional family drama, though, and it's a pretty good movie to boot. South Korean cinema, y'all!
One of the better low-budget indie flicks you can find on streaming. Two newlyweds spend some time in a cabin in the woods (of course) and then suddenly things are a bit, you know, off. Confusion leads to concern, concern leads to chaos. Creepy, quick, and effective.
A great movie with a worthy cult following, but it's more a satirical indictment on 1980s materialism than it is a horror movie about a psychopath. Either way, Christian Bale was as memorable here as he ever is.
Does sci-fi found footage count as horror? Considering what befalls the six people on this ill-fated mission to Jupiter's moon, I'll allow it. Kind of treads where "Sunshine" has already gone, but it's different enough not to be a knock-off and for my money it's better, too.
More thriller than horror, but again, why bother with distinctions? A punk band and some other people find themselves held hostage by a murderous group of skinheads - we've all been there right? Tense as hell and almost as brutal.
Yeah - this barely counts, but fifteen years ago I'm probably putting this all the way atop my list. Hindsight's twenty-twenty, but tell me you weren't terrified of Frank the Bunny and that ominous death portent for young Jake Gyllenhaal. (Actually, don't. Let me have this one!)
Solid movie with plenty of vampire scares and gore and such, but deep down this is more of a teen romance with a heart of gold. It's in Swedish, but allegedly the English-language remake is just as good, so consider seeking out "Let Me In" as well.
It's home invasion with an interesting twist - the victim is a deaf woman! This, naturally puts her at a disadvantage, but then also at an advantage since she's fighting on her home turf. It's nothing special, but it holds its own for a tense ninety minutes without a dull moment.
Takes the "found footage" phenomenon to an extreme literal end, when a group of burglars finds a collection of VHS tapes in a house. There are five segments in this one, plus a wrapper. It's a giant mess and it makes for a bad movie, but damn did this get scary from time to time!
From Austria. Two twin boys begin to suspect that their mother, who recently had plastic surgery, is no longer actually their mother. It's suspenseful and decent but the twist ending is telegraphed from a mile away.
Fantastic movie that explores what monogamy really means when you live forever - because you and your spouse are vampires. Thing is, I hesitate to include it here at all - it's really just not a horror movie in any sense beyond the vampire elements. But it's amazing.