Top 100 Horror Movies of All Time
Hello, horror fans! Grab your popcorn and join me as I count down the Top 100 Horror Movies of All Time. For the sake of this list, I have not included kaiju/giant monster adventure-thrillers such as Gojira (1954) and King Kong (1933) or musicals with horror elements such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) as such films would be fitting for other genre lists. However, films that operate as both horror and thriller do count, so there is a little bit of genre mixing since not every horror film always just lands into the one genre only. Also, I’m not just judging films on scariness, but rather a mix of factors like scares, influence, and craftsmanship.
Honorable Mentions that nearly cracked the 100 (alphabetical):
The Beyond (1981), The Brood (1979), Candyman (1992), Child’s Play (1988), The Conjuring (2013), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Grindhouse (2007), High Tension (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Hostel (2005), The Howling (1981), Insidious (2010), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), It Follows (2014), Martyrs (2008), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Mummy (1932), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Vampyr (1932), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), You’re Next (2011)
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
IMDB Plot: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and a grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
The preeminent film in the natural horror sub-genre, Jaws is a stunning movie that invented the blockbuster idea and made audiences terrified of going in the ocean. The instantly-recognizable music, well-defined central characters, and an edge-of-your-seat climax are just a few of the standout elements of Jaws. It’s one of the most important films in cinematic history.
“Look what your brother did to the door! Ain’t he got no pride in his home?”
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal
IMDB Plot: Two siblings visit their grandfather’s grave in Texas along with three of their friends and are attacked by a family of cannibalistic psychopaths.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an indie horror landmark, making over $30 million dollars while the film’s budget was only $300,000. But beyond money, the film more importantly has great horror quality. Massacre is a terrifying cannibal/slasher pic, extremely gritty but never quite as gory as some make it out to be. The final moments set against a rich sunset are truly unforgettable.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman
IMDB Plot: There is panic throughout the nation as the dead suddenly come back to life. The film follows a group of characters who barricade themselves in an old farmhouse in an attempt to remain safe from these flesh eating monsters.
The film that practically invented the modern iteration of the movie zombie, Night of the Living Dead is essential indie horror viewing. It’s a film that proves that one small location with people surrounded by a frightening threat can be very gripping. It was also Romero’s first feature — and remains one of his most entertaining and influential.
“Death has come to your little town, sheriff.”
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
IMDB Plot: On Halloween night of 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death. After sitting in a mental hospital for 15 years, Myers escapes and returns to Haddonfield to kill.
A movie that re-shaped the slasher sub-genre forever, Halloween has become a timeless piece. It didn’t invent all of the plot elements and techniques it uses, but it presented them in a way that has now been imitated by myriad films. And it still holds up today. Curtis and Pleasence are excellent, the scares and tension are expertly handled by Carpenter, the piano-heavy music (also by Carpenter) is addicting, and the film’s exploration of the idea of “pure evil” is interesting. Only gripe: some of the supporting actors’ performances are pretty sub-par, especially Nancy Kyes as Annie.
“This is no dream! This is really happening!”
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
IMDB Plot: A young couple move into an apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.
Paranoia, delusions, or satanic witchcraft? Rosemary’s Baby keeps you guessing and holding your breath as it peels back its mystery. Farrow is luminous – though occasionally over-the-top — and leads a remarkable cast, with Gordon (who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for the film) especially shining. The build-up and releases in the film are nothing short of masterful. It’s possibly Polanski’s finest feature, though some would argue for Chinatown (1974).
“Yeah, fuck you too!”
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
IMDB Plot: It’s the first week of winter in 1982. An American Research Base is greeted by an alien force that can assimilate anything it touches. It’s up to the members to stay alive, and be sure of who is human, and who has become one of the Things.
Though initially ignored at the box office, The Thing has gained a massive following over the years and is now often considered to be Carpenter’s magnum opus, even beating out Halloween (1978) – also on my list at number seven. Carpenter builds so much suspense with his direction as he perfectly captures the isolation of the film’s location and the Cold War-era paranoia. Also, special kudos to Rob Bottin’s incredible makeup effects, which still look creepy and disgusting today. The Thing is simply the best horror remake of all time, topping The Thing from Another World (1951) – number 59 on this list – in nearly every way.
“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm
IMDB Plot: After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as distress call, their landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious lifeform. Continuing their journey back to Earth with the attacked crew having recovered and the critter deceased, they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.
While I personally prefer Aliens (1986) – see number 36 on this list — as an overall film, Alien beats it out in terms of its horror elements. The movie is, fittingly, the ultimate alien movie in cinema, spawning tons of clones that never reached its quality. The Nostromo provides atmosphere to burn, working like a haunted house in space, and the Xenomorph hunting the crew is still terrifying. The whole film is monumental, but it’s the chest bursting scene especially that sticks with audiences.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
IMDB Plot: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.
Kubrick, in my opinion, is the greatest film director of all time. He only made thirteen features before dying, yet he explored many genres and the majority of his films are classics. The Shining was his only full-on dive into horror, yet he struck gold on his first and only swing at the genre. Though a bit different from Stephen King’s novel, the movie stands the test of time in its own ways. From its breakthrough Steadicam uses to the Overlook Hotel setting to Nicholson’s iconic performance to everything else, The Shining is a masterclass of filmmaking.
“Oh, we have 12 vacancies. 12 cabins, 12 vacancies.”
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
IMDB Plot: A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
Hitchcock usually stuck to dramatic thrillers, but on occasion he explored horror thrillers such as Psycho. His second best film only behind Vertigo (1958), Psycho was a groundbreaking movie that remains chilling and highly entertaining even after multiple repeat viewings. Perkins and Leigh are simply perfect in their roles, speaking quotable dialogue at every turn. The shower scene is possibly the most recognizable in all of horror, but the film holds plenty of other iconic moments as well. Psycho is one of those rare flawless movies.
“What an excellent day for an exorcism.”
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
IMDB Plot: When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Is The Exorcist still the scariest movie ever? Maybe. It really just depends on what scares you. To me it is, but to others possibly not. But I do see it as the best overall horror film of all time. Beyond just scares, The Exorcist is a magnificent representation of what the horror genre has to offer when it’s working overtime on every level. The craftsmanship of the writing, directing, acting, music, sound, and effects are all first-rate; the extended edition includes even more of the greatness, including the spider-walk scene. Head spins, crucifix stabbings, and other nightmarish imagery from the film have haunted audiences for over forty years now and will continue to do so for decades to come.