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)
“Ok, I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand here. Do not read the Latin!”
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz
IMDB Plot: Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.
The best horror film of the new decade so far in my opinion is The Cabin in the Woods, which features one of the smartest screenplays in the horror genre in years – curtesy of director Goddard and Joss Whedon. What begins as a typical backwoods horror film with every cliché in the book, Woods quickly lets you know that it’s one giant homage and criticism of the horror genre as a whole. Go into this one without knowing much about it and enjoy all of the clever, meta surprises it has up its sleeve. Bonus: Kranz is awesome as Marty, arguably the best stoner character in all of horror.
“Let’s me and you go for a ride, Otis.”
Director: John McNaughton
Cast: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles
IMDB Plot: Henry, a drifter, commits a series of brutal murders, supposedly operating with impunity.
Loosely based on the real life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a disturbing account of a dark mind from beginning to end. The film is decidedly matter-of-fact and realistic – rather than sensational – about its violence, making it all the more unnerving and brilliant. It’s also scary how the film paints some of Henry’s home life as normal, even getting you to slightly feel for him in his nervousness in liking his female roommate. Rooker made his film debut with Henry and immediately established himself as an actor to reckon with; it still ranks among his greatest achievements in acting.
“Don’t they ever stop migrating?”
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette
IMDB Plot: A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people.
Only a director like Hitchcock could take an out-of-left-field plot like the one in The Birds and fashion it into innovative and entertaining horror gold. Some of it (the running scenes in particular) looks silly and dated today, but for the most part The Birds remains pleasing throughout. Plus who could forget Tippi Hedren – so good — as Melanie?
“Okay, Jim. I’ve got some bad news.”
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson
IMDB Plot: Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.
Danny Boyle, like Stanley Kubrick, is a director who enjoys playing around in different film genres and leaving his unique stamp on each of them. His horror effort, 28 Days Later, is a terrifying and relentless account of post-apocalyptic survivors in England. The fast and rage-filled zombies at the center of the outbreak are truly scary, and later influenced other movies with quicker monsters. The London walk sequence – eerily similar to the beginning of The Walking Dead – and Murphy’s star-making performance as Jim highlight Boyle’s remarkable film. The sequel — 28 Weeks Later (2007) — is damn good as well and almost cracked the top 100, but this original remains champ.
“Game over, man. Game over!”
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen
IMDB Plot: The moon from Alien (1979) has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, the rescue team has impressive firepower, but will it be enough?
A great sci-fi film and a perfect action film, Aliens is also a dynamite horror film. Cameron’s movie is among my ten favorite films of all time, only ranking at number 36 here because some movies admittedly outdo it in terms of strictly being horror. Still, it’s scary and intense as hell once it gets into the thick of things around the one-hour mark. The technical qualities are incredible across the board and still hold up to this day. It’s even better that the plot, characters, and dialogue pop as well; Weaver makes Ripley arguably the most badass female character of cinema with this film.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T. Nelson
IMDB Plot: A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts.
Co-written and co-produced (and probably co-directed) by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist features a scene that could give clown-haters a heart attack. But it also has a focus on heart and the power of family as well. That’s one thing that elevates it above regular horror fare. Plus the palpable spookiness and genuine scares are terrific.
“I believe a man lost in the mazes of his own mind may imagine that he’s anything.”
Director: George Waggner
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi
IMDB Plot: A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him can not possibly exist.
One of the top Universal Monster movies, The Wolf Man is 70 minutes of excellent werewolf entertainment. Gravediggers, gypsies, creepy poems, and silver-headed walking sticks are just a few of the classic horror elements that make appearances. Chaney’s signature role as Larry Talbot is still moving and memorable today.
“Doc, I’ll let you have the house cheap!”
Director: Robert Wise
Cast: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn
IMDB Plot: A scientist doing research on the paranormal invites two women to a haunted mansion. One of the participants soon starts losing her mind.
Quite possibly the epitome of haunted house movies, Wise’s The Haunting has all of the wanted characteristics of the sub-genre: interesting characters and dialogue, spooky music and noises, well-framed camera angles for maximum effect, and, of course, an amazing house setting with a horrible history. The film also adds in another unique touch for the era: Bloom’s character Theo is a lesbian and is painted in a positive light. Only complaint: Some of Harris’ narration feels unnecessary.
“In there, the more you carry, the quicker you get tired, the sooner you die.”
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Cast: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
IMDB Plot: During a rescue mission into the Amazon rainforest, a professor stumbles across lost film shot by a missing documentary crew.
After misleadingly (and hilariously) opening on beautiful music playing over gliding shots of the Amazon, Cannibal Holocaust sets out on a path to become one of the most gruesome films ever made. Seriously, this bloody beast makes Hostel (2005) look like a kid’s cartoon. It features scenes of rape with sharp objects, real-life mutilation of animals, impaling, decapitation, the eating of human flesh, and so on. Holocaust is obviously not for the faint of heart, but it is a very skillfully made film that provides commentary on cultural differences and the animalistic instincts of man; it may just be the greatest of all found footage films. Not often is a film so gritty and believable that the director is actually arrested because audience members thought he really murdered the actors.
“To a new world of gods and monsters!”
Director: James Whale
Cast: Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, O.P. Heggie
IMDB Plot: Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived: Dr. Frankenstein, goaded by an even madder scientist, builds his monster a mate.
A golden egg of a sequel, Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein matches the original in quality in many of its scenes. Best of all to me: an extended scene where Frankenstein’s Monster (Karloff) and a blind hermit (Heggie) share their love of music. The film is classic monster movie entertainment from first frame to last.