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)
“Bad luck isn’t brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.”
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci
IMDB Plot: A newcomer to a fancy ballet academy gradually comes to realize that the school is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of grisly murders.
Nearly every frame of Suspiria is so gorgeous that it could be hung on a wall. The rich and exaggerated color palette, eye-opening wide shots, spellbinding music (by Goblin), and suspenseful story make it land among the greatest of witchcraft films. Some of Argento’s films of the past are prime examples of the giallo sub-genre in horror, and Suspiria is arguably the finest of them.
“Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? It’s fear.”
Director: Michael Powell
Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer
IMDB Plot: A young man murders women, using a movie camera to film their dying expressions of terror.
It’s strange to think that in 1960 Psycho was embraced by critics and audiences while Peeping Tom was widely dismissed – so much so that it destroyed Powell’s career. The film is a masterful look at the topics of voyeurism and sexual repression, able to crawl under your skin and stay there for a long time. Powell’s direction is innovative and Böhm is unforgettable as one of the creepiest serial killers in cinema.
“I can’t help what I do! I can’t help it, I can’t…”
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut
IMDB Plot: When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.
Roger Ebert once said in a review that Lang’s M is a film that “has been credited with forming two genres: the serial killer movie and the police procedural.” It’s that important to world cinema. And while some see it as a crime-thriller today and others as horror (myself included), there’s no arguing over the film’s brilliance. Lorre was an actor with an already peculiar look, but he was also able to make you believe he was his characters – especially in M as the killer Hans Beckert. His final lines of dialogue – and whistling throughout the film — in M are still just as unsettling today.
“We must get this crack mended.”
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser
IMDB Plot: A sex-repulsed woman who disapproves of her sister’s boyfriend sinks into depression and has horrific visions of rape and violence.
Only Polanski’s second feature-length directorial effort, Repulsion remains among the auteur’s signature achievements. The film is patient and quiet but never uninteresting, steadily sinking into the psychological horror of Deneuve’s character’s troubled mind. Repulsion mainly takes place in one apartment location, but Polanski, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and Deneuve truly make the most of the limited space. This is subtle and intelligent horror filmmaking.
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine
IMDB Plot: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
Still the only horror-thriller to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, The Silence of the Lambs is a genuinely chilling classic of the genre. Both Hopkins and Levine are terrifying as serial killers Hannibal Lecter and Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb respectively, and Foster’s Clarice Starling is one of cinema’s more interesting detectives. Many moments of Lambs are perfect, one of my favorites being the night vision scene in the third act.
“What’s in the box?”
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow
IMDB Plot: Two detectives, a rookie and a veteran, hunt a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his modus operandi.
The first of Fincher’s masterpieces (the other two being Fight Club (1999) and The Social Network (2010)), Se7en is that rare perfect blending of crime, thriller, and horror genres on-screen. Cold and darkly captivating from beginning to end, the film has expert craftsmanship in developing its story and characters. The use of yellow glows in the natural lighting, the old-school film noir-like costumes, and the rainy settings all give Se7en a uniquely grim feel. If you haven’t seen the film, look up nothing about it before watching it. That way you can relish the superb surprises – including one of the most jaw-dropping endings in cinematic history. Se7en is the greatest of 90s horror-thrillers.
“Your wife has such a beautiful neck…”
Director: F.W. Murnau
Cast: Max Schreck, Greta Schröder, Ruth Landshoff
IMDB Plot: Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter’s wife.
Originally an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (heirs even sued over it), Nosferatu nonetheless grew in stature over the years and is now the granddaddy of all vampire films. Schreck still holds the most fascinating look of all cinema bloodsuckers as well. Murnau’s silent film jewel is gloomy in its look and classic in its storytelling.
“The future, Madame, is something we should have started on a long time ago.”
Director: Georges Franju
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel
IMDB Plot: A surgeon causes an accident which leaves his daughter disfigured, and goes to extremes to give her a new face.
Eyes Without a Face is an exquisite and poignant film like none other I’ve ever seen. While the subject matter is controversial and chilling, it’s treated in a way that poetically plays to subtle emotions rather than sensationalism. The movie has inspired everyone from Pedro Almodóvar to Billy Idol to John Woo. Think about that range of people for a second. It’s a stunning movie that inches its way into your mind and heart and stays there long after the credits roll.
“Whatever you do… don’t fall asleep.”
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
IMDB Plot: Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.
A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t a masterwork of filmmaking like a few movies I’ve already listed on here, but it ranks higher on here than them because of its entertainment value, re-watchable quality, influence to horror, and the iconic Freddy Krueger. Englund is genius in the role, and the rest of the cast – including Depp in his first role – is good as well. Elm Street is the highlight of director Craven’s terrific career.
“Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors.”
Director: John Landis
Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne
IMDB Plot: Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.
The king of all werewolf movies, An American Werewolf in London is a sharply written and magnificently directed piece of work in the horror genre. Landis isn’t afraid to inject a lot of winking humor into the story, but he also knows when to play to the scary strengths of the werewolf sub-genre. Naughton and Dunne are dynamite as the typical American boys, and Agutter is memorably sweet as a nurse named Alex. The legendary transformation scene is still amazing to watch, curtesy of the incredible practical work by Rick Baker – who won the first ever Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. Also, the surprisingly upbeat soundtrack of rock music is a gem.