No matter how warm it is outside, scary movies can still give you chills! The best scary movies prey on our most basic fears (annihilation, mutation, loss of autonomy, ego-death, etc.) and trick our brains into releasing adrenaline and even raise our heart rates. If you’ve ever watched a scary movie and felt your heart racing, you are well aware of this fact! Additionally, research has shown that the cathartic ending of a horror movie, after the stress it’s induced has ceased, causes our bodies to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.
All of this to say, scary movies elicit a physiological response in our bodies, making them some of the most unique, rewarding, and fun to watch. So, what are the best scary movies to watch today? There have been excellent scary movies released over the last several decades that come from all around the world. Let’s take a look at some of the scariest scary movies from the 1950s to the present! From arthouse classics to slasher fare, we’ve got some creepy stuff for your to discover.
Scary Movies from the 1950s & 1960s
Alfred Hitchcock’s twisty thriller, Vertigo is not included on very many scary movies lists, but it’s a clever film with plenty of unnerving moments that amount to an inescapable feeling of dread. If you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, this would be a fine one to start with.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Georges Franju’s terrifying classic Les yeux sans visage is as beautifully poetic as it is terrifying. This French classic centers on a surgeon who causes an accident that leaves his daughter disfigured. How far will he go to give his daughter a new face? You’ll have to watch to find out!
“A boy’s best friend is his mother,” character Norman Bates, owner of the Bates Motel, says in Psycho. Probably Hitchcock’s best-known film, Psycho is a must-watch. It’s well-paced, creepy, and stylish. Anthony Perkins’ performance as Bates is just so good!
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
We have George A. Romero to thank for our zombie-horror obsession today. It’s not a stretch to suggest that blockbuster properties like The Walking Dead would have never been made without Night of the Living Dead. The little indie that could, the film proved that you do not need a big budget or well-known actors to successfully deliver scares. If you’ve never seen the zombie apocalypse film that opened the door for countless others, treat yourself to this American classic.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Do nosey neighbors give you the creeps? You will definitely need to check out Rosemary’s Baby. The movie follows a young couple who are trying to get pregnant as they move into a building filled with peculiar neighbors. Mia Farrow’s work on this film is reason enough to give it a shot but this atmospheric gem was said to be one of Stanley Kubrick’s favorite movies.
Scary Movies from the 1970s & 1980s
The Exorcist (1973)
Considered one of the scariest scary movies ever made, The Exorcist tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl who is possessed by a mysterious entity. Her mother enlists the help of two priests in hopes of getting her baby girl back. It was such a huge hit that it became a cultural phenomenon following its release in 1973 with audience members passing out in the aisles of theaters from sheer terror. Fun!
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
A horror movie with arthouse appeal, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre invented a trope that lives on today in scary movies: the Final Girl. Sally, the protagonist of the film is tough, a fighter who can confront the antagonist(s) and actually survive. It’s presumed that the film’s narrative is structured around the character’s own experience as if she’s retelling it to the viewer. Feminist film theorist Carol J. Clover coined the term and we’ll discuss it further as the list goes on.
Steven Spielberg’s most celebrated foray into the horror genre, Jaws is the perfect summertime scary movie, but don’t watch it if you’re at the beach on vacation. It will ruin your trip. Jaws tells the story of a sleepy New England town that comes to life in the warmer months as a beach community that caters to tourists. However, a great white shark crashes the party! One of the most famous zoom shots ever happens early on in the film and yes, you’ll know it when you see it!
Some Stephen King adaptations are much better than others (have you ever tried to watch Maximum Overdrive?). Carrie proves to be one of the most successful. Director Brian De Palma said that he did not treat the script as a horror film and instead just wanted to tell Carrie’s story as honestly as possible. But, there’s no denying the terror is real with this supernatural movie that features the worst prom night ever imagined. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s nuanced performances are incredible in this classic!
If you’ve never dipped your toes into the world of Italian Giallo, you should start with this classic from Italian horror auteur Dario Argento. Suspiria tells the story of a young dancer who travels to Germany to attend an elite dance company. Are all of the instructors of the school preying on their dancers? Yes. The movie is very weird and arty in all the best ways. If you check this one out and would like a next step, try Argento’s The Bird with Crystal Plumage.
Yes, Halloween is best enjoyed on the holiday, but it’s a classic that’s worth your watch no matter what time of year you find yourself in. Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Laurie a high school student who is tasked with babysitting a neighbor’s child on Halloween. However, there’s a serial killer on the loose who is stalking her and her classmates. Laurie is the cleanest example of the idea of a Final Girl and she really puts up a fight in this movie that holds up surprisingly well 40 years later.
“In space, no one can hear you scream,” was the promotional tagline used for this sci-fi and horror hybrid which finds another Final Girl, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), on board a spaceship that’s been infiltrated by a very gnarly alien. The movie launched Ridley Scott’s career and made him an authority on sci-fi narratives.
The Shining (1980)
The only film from the 1980s on this list (sorry, not sorry) The Shining is likely the best Stephen King adaptation even though he hated it. Director Stanley Kubrick delivers one of the most highly-regarded scary movies ever made. It’s got everything you want in a horror movie: a psychic kid, a deranged father, ghosts, Shelley Duvall. As with many of these classics, you likely know the premise but if you have never seen it, do yourself a favor and take your first trip to the Overlook Hotel.
Scary Movies from the 1990s
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
One of the very few horror movies to win Best Picture at The Academy Awards, The Silence of the Lambs is a slick film with amazing performances from the entire cast but particularly from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins who both took home Oscars for Best Actor and Actress. You likely know the premise but it involves a rookie FBI agent who works with a cannibal psychologist to solve a particularly gruesome set of crimes. It’s truly one of the best scary movies on this list that you should check out if you’ve avoided it.
Candyman was a controversial film when it was released in the 1990s, viewed by many as demonizing residents of community housing in Chicago. Black scholars have recently taken a second look at this film to explore why it feels both exploitive and also revelatory.
If you have not seen the excellent documentary, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, you should give it a try. Candyman‘s cultural impact and its lasting legacy are discussed with great care. Candyman is a supernatural horror film that follows a skeptical grad student who summons a murderous entity with a hook for a hand.
A teen horror movie about teen scary movies, Scream stands out among a slew of 90s horror films that were released at the time. While this film is not as atmospherically frightening as others on this list, it does an excellent job of planting breadcrumbs to keep viewers guessing about who might be the masked killer who is terrorizing a bunch of high schoolers. If you live for a twist, how have you not seen this yet?
One of the most unnerving scary movies on this list, Audition is a Japanese import that finds a widower screening potential new wives only to discover that the woman he most wants to be with is not who she appears. This movie is so incredibly tense that you will find yourself wishing for horrible things to happen simply to defuse the tension.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
A film that inspired about a million more found footage scary movies, The Blair Witch Project was a groundbreaking film. An indie that was made on a shoestring budget, Blair Witch proved a huge commercial success. The film worked due to a marketing gimmick that convinced some that the footage they were watching was real. The film finds a young trio of filmmakers documenting a mysterious local legend, the Blair Witch who is said to haunt a forest. The filmmakers venture to find her and she finds them instead.
Scary Movies from the Aughts
The Others (2001)
A haunting and romantic entry, The Others was a departure for audiences who were treated to a period horror film that felt like the classics of Gothic horror. At the time, there were many scary movies using tons of CGI to create movie monsters and The Others was a quiet, meditative, psychological horror story that audiences had not been treated to in decades. Nicole Kidman slays in this slow-burn about a mother and her two children who fear their home is being haunted.
The Ring (2002)
There have been several American remakes of Japanese horror movies but none have been as popular or as successful as The Ring. The opening sequence of this film is so terrifying! The film tells the story of a journalist who investigates a mysterious VHS tape (with some very freaky visuals). Seven days after the tape is watched, the viewer(s) die.
28 Days Later (2002)
A stylish zombie apocalypse film from Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later finds a group of survivors who travel across the UK to find safety from some very fast, very scary zombies. The “rage” zombies are bad but could the sentient characters even worse?
Found footage adjacent, [REC] follows a television reporter and her cameraman into a dark apartment building as first responders try to help a woman who called after being trapped in her apartment. The reporter and the responders find themselves locked inside the building and must escape because they are not alone. This entry from Spain will leave you frazzled! If you’re looking for films to pair together, 28 Days Later and [REC] would makes for a chilling double feature.
We’re on a bit of a European tour here as we’ve gone to the UK, Spain, and now France with Inside (À l’intérieur). The film is an extension of what Artforum film critic, James Quandt called “New French Extremity.” The term names a collection of transgressive French films that premiered in the 2000s that are particularly brutal. Inside tells the story of a pregnant widow who is trapped inside her home by a mysterious woman who wants her unborn child. It’s a gruesome one that you will likely see one time and never want to see again.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Låt den rätte komma in is the original Swedish title for this poetic and tender horror film about a neglected and bullied little boy who finds companionship with a mysterious new neighbor named Eli. It quickly becomes clear to the boy that Eli is different from the other boys and girls their age. It’s one of the most heartfelt scary movies on this list.
We’re finally off the European continent and now will discuss one of the best-known scary movies from South Korea, Thirst. The most original vampire movie you’ll ever see, Thirst finds a priest who suffers a failed medical procedure that leaves him with vampirism. This film from Park Chan-Wook (The Handmaiden, Oldboy) is an absolute stunner.
Scary Movies of the 2010s
You’re Next (2011)
If you’re looking for one of the most playful scary movies, look no further than You’re Next! It’s essentially a home invasion horror movie in which a large family is terrorized by masked murderers. We promise it’s a lot more fun than that sounds.
We Are What We Are (2013)
We Are What We Are is an American remake of a Mexican film, Somos lo sue hay. The original is fantastic but we find the 2013 remake to be just as rewarding as the original. A mysterious family with even more mysterious customs finds their way of life threatened following a torrential downpour. The two young daughters of the family must assume new responsibilities that no teens should ever have to shoulder!
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
A black-and-white entry for this list, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut and it is a strong one! The film follows an unnamed girl as she stalks an Iranian ghost-town. The girl just happens to be a lonesome vampire. A beautiful, eery, and nuanced movie, this one’s fit for the arthouse but appeals to all audiences.
The Guest (2014)
A movie that gets lumped into the action genre, we firmly believe that The Guest is actually a horror film. The film is directed by Adam Wingard who also helmed You’re Next. He brings an equal amount of tension and suspense to this feature which tells the story of a stranger who comes to stay with the Peterson family after the death of their soldier son. The family, still not over their loss, takes the stranger in only to discover that death seems to follow him. The climax of the movie is a cat-and-mouse chase through a room full of mirrors that is so scary, you’ll agree that this film is doing more than just flirting with horror.
Goodnight Mommy (2014)
When’s the last time you watched an Austrian movie? Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh) is a German-language film set in Austria. A mother who is recovering from plastic surgery to her face moves to a new home with her twin sons. Things get weird when the twins suspect that the woman underneath the bandages is not their mother and is instead an imposter. There aren’t a ton of Austrian scary movies that get an international release but this one is a gem!
The Babadook (2014)
There are a number of great Australian scary movies (Wolf Creek, The Loved Ones, Pack, etc.) but the most spectacular has to be The Babadook. This meditation on motherhood, grief, and paranoia is written and directed by Jennifer Kent who truly captured the horrors of parenting that no one talks about. A single mother and her son discover a weird children’s book only to find that a character from the book haunts them. “If it’s in a word, or if it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
It Follows (2014)
The final film from the banner year for horror that was 2014, It Follows premiered at the prestigious Cannes film festival in 2014 to international acclaim. One of the most unnerving scary movies in recent memory, the film follows a young woman who is stalked by a mysterious supernatural force after a sexual encounter. The only way for her to shake the curse is to pass the entity to someone else.
Green Room (2015)
Another action thriller that was not marketed as a horror film but certainly is one, Green Room is one of the most gruesome movies you’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing. The monsters in this film are different from other scary movies as they are not supernatural entities but instead skinheads. A band books a chance gig at a secluded venue only to discover it’s filled with militant white supremacists. After members of the band witness a crime, they must try to escape the green room that they are trapped inside.
The Witch (2015)
One of the most polarizing scary movies on this list, The Witch is scary as hell for some people but others can’t get past the period dialogue. However, we find this film an artful one. A family in 1630s New England is banished from their town into the wilderness. They encounter dark forces that are attributed to a witch, but is the real evil coming from within the family?
Under the Shadow (2016)
An absolute treasure of a film you might have seen on Netflix, Under the Shadow tells the story of a mother and daughter who find their home haunted by an evil presence. The film is set in post-revolution Tehran in the 1980s. If you like your scary movies with a side of social commentary about the lingering effects of war and trauma, this is the one for you!
Julia Ducournau’s first feature feels as relevant as it does timeless. The cast of young people inject life into a story of transformation to something darker. Sensual, pulsing with energy, and beautifully shot, we expect this film to remain a favorite for horror fans for years to come.
Get Out (2017)
This movie deserves every bit of praise it receives and then some. Jordan Peele’s first feature film won him a ton of awards and an army of dedicated fans. Get Out tells the story of Chris who is Black and his girlfriend Rose who is white. After Chris agrees to accompany Rose to her parents’ home, he begins to sense an unease with his presence and very strange behavior from all around him.
One of the scary movies on this list we wish would have been more commercially successful, Suspiria is a remake to a film we shared with you earlier on the list. Come for the Tilda Swinton and stay for the Tilda Swinton. She starts as no fewer than three characters in this film that is perfect for fans of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and New German Cinema. Yes, there be witches in the remake too.
Toni Collette swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park in Hereditary. It’s genuinely one of the scary movies if not the scariest movie to be released in the 2010s. The film follows a grieving family who are haunted by their grief, trauma, and a good old-fashioned demon. If you somehow have not seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and ruin your own night with it.
Ari Aster’s followup to Hereditary, Midsommar proved that he’s one of the most exciting and ambitious directors working in the horror genre today. The film feels like a thematic sequel to Hereditary in that it is also about loss. Dani is mourning the death of her entire family and decides to travel with her boyfriend and a group of other college students to Sweden for a festival. As she is looking for fresh perspective what she finds is something else entirely.
There you go! Did you find some scary movies to watch? We hope you enjoyed this list of the best scary movies and will treat yourself to one of these chilling films tonight.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
- 1 Scary Movies from the 1950s & 1960s
- 2 Scary Movies from the 1970s & 1980s
- 3 Scary Movies from the 1990s
- 4 Scary Movies from the Aughts
- 5 Scary Movies of the 2010s
- 5.1 You’re Next (2011)
- 5.2 We Are What We Are (2013)
- 5.3 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- 5.4 The Guest (2014)
- 5.5 Goodnight Mommy (2014)
- 5.6 The Babadook (2014)
- 5.7 It Follows (2014)
- 5.8 Green Room (2015)
- 5.9 The Witch (2015)
- 5.10 Under the Shadow (2016)
- 5.11 Raw (2016)
- 5.12 Get Out (2017)
- 5.13 Suspiria (2018)
- 5.14 Hereditary (2018)
- 5.15 Midsommar (2019)
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