We all remember our first traumatising horror movie experience. Mine was I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), where my siblings decided that it would be a great idea to let an eight-year-old watch a bloody slasher fronted by a hook-wielding killer. I had recurring nightmares for years.
In hindsight, this kind of casual trauma is what sparks many of our love for horror movies. There's something extremely visceral about horror — it transforms your dreams into nightmares, makes your skin crawl with goosebumps, and has you hiding beneath a mound of blankets, desperate to protect yourself from what's on the screen.
But there's also something incredibly complex about horror. Yes, it's a great way to get a cheap thrill and watch someone be impaled by a metal pole à la House of Wax (sorry, Paris Hilton), but they can also be the perfect arena to provide haunting social commentary about what it's like to be a Black person (thank you, Jordan Peele). They're tacky and gory, silly and sexy, impactful and powerful — and often the purveyors of social change.
Ahead, we've rounded up the 51 best horror films of all time, written by a film major. Whatever you're looking for — a fun teen slasher film, Grindhouse, a horror film made by a woman, a psychological thriller, a horror based on a true story, something gore-free, female horror villains or zombie-fuelled nightmares — we've got you covered.
1. Get Out (2017)
Whilst some people might tout Hitchcock or Kubrick as the best horror filmmaker of all time, you'd be amiss not to note another director that's revolutionised this space — Jordan Peele. Get Out is proof of his prowess, seamlessly using social commentary to tell one of the most well-written horror films that has ever been made.
2. Hereditary (2018)
Easily one of the best horror movies out there. Toni Colette excels as a grief-stricken mother with a performance that will genuinely make you uncomfy. It's generational trauma with a dash of supernatural, laced with gore that'll have you reaching for the pause button, just so you can digest it.
3. Psycho (1960)
While it was released over 60 years ago, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho has easily cemented itself as the greatest horror movie ever made. It's made its way into pop culture so well that even if you haven't seen Psycho, you still know Psycho. It's proof of how integral music is to the horror movie experience, seen most clearly in the infamous shower scene, which is one of the most impactful scenes in horror films, let alone film history.
4. 28 Days Later (2003)
This isn't just one of my favourite horror films — it's also one of my favourite films of all time. The blueprint of what zombie films became to be in the 21st century, 28 Days Later doesn't just tackle the impacts of a world-ending zombie virus; it also examines the dark side of humanity. The first few minutes boast one of the most impressive opening scenes as Jim (Cillian Murphy) walks through a completely abandoned London city.
5. The Babadook (2014)
Behold, Australia's best horror movie. If there's one thing we do well, it's horror, and The Babadook is proof of that. It follows a widow (Essie Davis) and her son as they discover that one of the monsters from his children's book has managed to enter their real-life home.
6. The Shining (1980)
An instantly quotable film that's sparked countless Halloween costumes and parodies from The Simpsons, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a classic for a reason. It follows a man's (Jack Nicholson) slow descent into madness as he begins to see disturbing visions and psychic premonitions, all in an attempt to release his writer's block (and like, same, dude). It culminates in one of the most iconic homicidal maniac spree that we've seen on the screen — get your axes ready, Johnny.
7. Carrie (1976)
With Stephen King as your source material, it's really hard to go wrong. Withdrawn teen Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is relentlessly bullied by her classmates at school and her mother at home. But after she discovers she has supernatural powers, the audience is gifted with probably one of the best prom scenes in a horror flick.
8. Alien (1979)
Put Sigourney Weaver on the screen and you're bound to be met with pure magic. Add Ridley Scott into the equation and you've got a film that's an essential piece of pop-culture history. With perfect pacing, an alien that is actually nightmare-inducing, and a kickass female protagonist, Alien is a must-watch for anyone after a thrill.
9. Cabin In The Woods (2012)
The MVP of subversion. It's your classic 'teens arrive in a cabin and slowly get killed off' vibe, but with a lot more going on behind the scenes (literally). Its self-awareness makes it a truly refreshing horror, whilst still tickling all those gruesomely satisfying boxes that we ache for. Stop reading this, and start watching.
10. The Ring (1998)
Behold, the movie that traumatised me most as a child. Who decided that it was a good idea for a ten-year-old to watch this film? Me, probably. While I grew up on the 2002 American remake, it's the 1998 Japanese rendition that (unsurprisingly) cements this film as one of the greats. But be warned — you'll have a sudden urge to move your television out of your bedroom.
11. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Before Paranormal Activity, REC, and Host, there was The Blair Witch Project. The film that sparked the 'found footage' trend is cinema isn't one to gloss over. It's so great, it even managed to sneak its way into our best movies of all time roundup.
12. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Ask any millennial and they'll remember the craze that followed the release of Paranormal Activity. The excitement of a cinema visit was taken to the next level, knowing you were about to scream and shout with your friends for the next 86 minutes. For so many of us, Paranormal Activity was the film that really kickstarted our horror obsession.
13. The Witch (2016)
Steadily cementing his place as the new horror guy on the block, Robert Eggers' debut film, The Witch, is proof of his potential. Set in the 1600s, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is blamed for the disappearance of her younger brother, and labelled a witch. It's a slow build, but one that's undeniably worth it.
14. Suspiria (1977)
Don't overlook the Italians — they know what they're doing when it comes to the scary game. Doused in bright neons and a trance-inducing score, the original is an absolute feast for the senses. It's so good that KVD Cosmetics named my favourite liquid lipstick after it. No biggie.
15. A Quiet Place (2018)
Cast your mind back to 2018. It's pre-pandemic and you're heading to the cinema, ready to watch the newest horror flick to grace our screens — A Quiet Place. You head to the candy bar and treat yourself to a large popcorn, pay an exorbitant $13, and find your seat. Little do you know that you won't touch that popcorn for the next hour and a half, for fear of making even the tiniest sound. A Quiet Place is proof of the spectacular sensory impact horror has on us. We feel it in the tension in our bodies, the quickening pace of our breath, and the silence we desperately cling to.
16. It Follows (2014)
The monsters we usually meet in horror are aliens, ghouls and zombies, but It Follows takes a different approach, resulting in one of the scariest villains yet — the Entity. In It Follows, victims are plagued with a curse that is passed through sexual intercourse, where they're followed by the Entity until they're killed. The only way to break the curse? Shag another person. It's got some really gripping commentary on sexuality, intimacy and STDs, but it also employs gorgeous cinematography that makes it an absolute treat to watch.
17. Jennifer's Body (2009)
And the award for the most widely misunderstood horror goes to… Jennifer's Body! After earning a neat 44% on Rotten Tomatoes after its premiere, Jennifer's Body has been undergoing a renaissance as of late, being praised for its intelligent commentary on "girl-on-girl hatred, sexuality, and the death of innocence". This is why you don't let old white men market movies that were made for women.
18. Train To Busan (2016)
Zombie fans, rise up. Train To Busan is a unique take on our favourite genre, with passengers trapped on a speeding train during a zombie outbreak in South Korea. It's intelligent and surprisingly emotional without compromising on the fun and silliness that makes zombie movies so bloody good.
19. Nosferatu (1922)
Before Twilight, there was Nosferatu. One of the silent era's most influential films, Nosferatu is the OG of horror cinema, birthing an entire genre in its wake.
20. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Throw away everything you know about its predecessor, Cloverfield. This movie is nothing like it. And that's not a bad thing. While I'll be a forever fan of anything in the found footage genre, 10 Cloverfield Lane breaks the bounds of what a Cloverfield film — and franchise filmmaking — should look like. Inside, you're met with a perfect sci-fi/horror about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up in an underground bunker after a car accident. But what's scarier — the outside world with its unbreathable air, or the people she's living with?
21. The Lighthouse (2019)
Featuring two powerhouse performances from Willem Dafoe and the internet's favourite boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse follows two lighthouse keepers who attempt to maintain their sanity while living on a remote island. It's a challenging watch (as most psychological horrors are), but it's almost two hours of filmmaking that you won't easily forget.
22. IT (2017)
If you've ever wanted to be confused about your sexuality, just watch Bill Skarsgård star as the infamous Pennywise in 2017's rendition of IT. Stephen King's story is pretty much folklore by now, but the 2017 film manages to capture IT's quintessential creepiness without compromising on its childhood charm.
23. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Both Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are both widely regarded as the birthplace of horror cinema. That's a pretty cool thing. This horror flick is still terrifying over 100 years after it was released, but it's also pure art. Influenced heavily by Cubism, German expressionism, and film noir, Dr. Caligari is a must-watch, even for those who aren't self-professed film snobs.
24. Us (2019)
The king of horror, Jordan Peele, truly upped the ante with his follow-up to Get Out with Us. It takes the concept of a doppelgänger to bigger — and scarier — heights. Featuring epic performances from the inimitable Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke, it's a classic that demands multiple viewings.
25. The Invisible Man (1933/2020)
It's hard to pick which rendition of The Invisible Man comes out on top — the classic horror found in the 1933 film with a particular emphasis on its monster, or the 2020 version which approaches the concept from a psychological thriller standpoint. Whichever path you choose to walk down, you're going to meet a freaky, violent villain that enjoys tormenting his victims.
26. Hush (2016)
You know when you're home alone and you're convinced that someone's about to come through your back door and kill you? Well, Hush might just hit a sore spot. It follows a woman who is deaf (played by Kate Siegel) as she's stalked by a killer in her home. It's a clean thriller and modern slasher with such perfect execution of tension, you won't even realise you were holding your breath.
27. Jaws (1975)
Jaws isn't just a classic blockbuster Spielberg film — it's also one of the most influential horrors out there. After all, what's not scary about a huge killer shark that really loves eating humans? It's a case study in perfect filmmaking — flawless scores, fantastic performances and a mastery of thrill and suspense.
28. Let The Right One In (2008)
Twilight girlies, this one's for you. Let The Right One In provides a much-needed revitalisation to the vampire genre, capturing a coming-of-age story in a haunting, gritty fashion. It's beautifully made and is surprisingly moving, but don't worry, you'll still be satisfied by the level of bloodsucking on screen.
29. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Putting Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins on the same screen together is a recipe for perfection, and this is most clearly seen in the cinematic classic, The Silence Of The Lambs. Hopkins seamlessly provides a career-shaping performance that reshapes popular culture, even thirty years on. It's an intelligent and scary thriller without compromising on a good amount of cannibalism.
30. Scream (1996)
Scream is a reminder of why we're so obsessed with slasher films. From start to finish, it's iconic, eventually cementing itself as one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. It's fun, bloody, and clever — the perfect Friday night flick.
31. The Evil Dead (1981)
The best horror films are often the ones with depressing low budgets, and The Evil Dead is no exception. When Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his friends go to a cabin for a night away, they accidentally reawaken the dead. Oops. Director Sam Raimi (better known for the Spider Man trilogy) embraces the campiness, delivering a zombie flick that shouldn't work, but does.
32. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
If the sight of blood, guts and gore makes your skin tingle, consider The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as the ultimate test. The chainsaw-wielding Leatherface is a villain that'll plant himself in your nightmares. It's disgusting and gross, but in the best possible way. (If you're more of a gore-free horror fan, you'll want to stay away).
33. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
From Persian director Ana Lily Amirpour comes A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, an effortlessly cool bloodsucking flick that follows a skateboarding vampire who preys on men that disrespect women. With powerful aesthetics and style oozing from its core, it's the ultimate it-girl flick.
34. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Inspiring three different iterations, the original Dawn of the Dead is the blueprint for zombie films. As hordes of zombies take over the US, a group retreats to a shopping centre in the hope of surviving. Sign me up.
35. X (2022)
A 70s-inspired porno slasher film? Count me in! A group of actors set out to make a porno in Texas, but after an elderly couple discovers them in the act, shit really hits the fan. There's something incredibly special about pure sex-crazed adrenaline coming face-to-face with a modern take on a Grindhouse film. Let there be gore!
36. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
In Wes Craven's ultimate slasher film A Nightmare On Elm Street, we meet the infamous Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who kills teenagers in their dreams. It's got the perfect recipe for a fantastic horror — a witty script, excellent suspense, a nice dose of slasher and a huge amount of fun. You'll just never want to fall asleep again.
37. Halloween (1978)
You can't talk about Freddy Kreuger without talking about the other most infamous monster of 70s horror cinema — Michael Myers. Donning coveralls and his iconic white face mask, Myers gifts us with enough jumpscares and screams to keep our adrenaline pumping for days. John Carpenter's classic set the standard for the slasher genre, sparking countless iterations in the years to come.
38. Host (2020)
One of the best things about horror is that it's often filled with nonsensical events that could easily be solved by calling the police, not going into a creepy basement, or in this case, just turning on a light. But that's why we love it. Host is a suspension of reality, where six friends accidentally invite demons into their houses after performing an online séance. A classic mistake, really. Born out of quarantine, this film is the best horror to emerge out of lockdown.
39. The Exorcist (1973)
Fans of supernatural horror, look no further. This is the original. Based (very) loosely on a real story, The Exorcist follows a girl (Linda Blair) after she starts speaking in tongues and casually levitating. Her worried mother (Ellen Burstyn) employs the help of a priest, who believes that she's possessed by the devil. Cue: exorcism. It's definitely a flawed movie, but it's also one that has sparked an entire genre, effectively birthing modern supernatural horror films.
40. Fresh (2022)
I've never met a film that could make cannibalism feel kinda appealing... until Fresh. After Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) meets the charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) at a grocery store, she takes a chance and goes out on a date with him. But when they go on a weekend away, Noa discovers that he's actually a raging cannibal. Hell yeah. Stan and Edgar-Jones together almost make me wish I could be in a messed-up ménage à trois dinner with them. I'll bring the meat.
41. The Mist (2007)
At first glance, The Mist appears to be your typical early 00s horror/sci-fi blend. Based on the Stephen King novel, it follows a family trying to survive after a thick, mysterious fog ingulfs the town. Yes, it's a bit campy and cliche at times, but at its culmination, the realisation dawns on you that this is actually one of the most frightening, gripping, and quite frankly, fucked up horrors that you'll watch. Whilst the film has a significantly different ending than King's source material, even he wishes he'd thought of it, praising it as being "anti-Hollywood".
42. House Of Wax (2005)
Boasting an impressive 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, the 2005 House of Wax remake is an objectively bad movie. But that's exactly what makes it so good. While it isn't exactly the most intelligent film, nor does it boast spectacular filmmaking, it doesn't pretend to. It has Paris Hilton in it, for god's sake. At their core, teen slasher films are meant to be fun, gory, silly, and show a bunch of hot people in tank tops. And this one checks all the boxes.
43. The Fly (1986)
Yes, murderers and zombies are scary, but can I tell you what's scarier? Humans thinking they can mess with science and human nature without consequences! David Cronenberg — or the king of the body horror genre — explores this concept in his best work, The Fly. It stars a very young part-man, part-fly Jeff Goldblum, who accidentally merges himself into a fly.
44. The Host (2007)
If there's one thing Bong Joon-ho is good at, it's blending horror with comedy. A monster movie to end all monster movies, The Host follows a creature born in chemical-infused waters who abducts a girl (Go Ah-sung). What follows, in true Joon-ho fashion, is a dysfunctional family comedy and political satire — a monster movie with intelligence and guts.
45. Men (2022)
46. The Lodge (2019)
Riley Keough excels as Grace in The Lodge, where she's forced to take care of two children after a blizzard traps them inside. It's an unsettling exploration into her dark past, and key for fans of dark atmospheric horror. It's one that'll keep you guessing, right until the credits roll.
47. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Nestled in the space between horror and comedy lies Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright's best. A regular guy, Shaun (Simon Pegg), and his best friend (Nick Frost) discover that their town is overrun by zombies, viciously devouring their friends and loved ones. You're constantly oscillating between having tears in your eyes from laughing so much, to having tears in your eyes as a beloved character is torn to shreds by zombies. An instant classic.
48. Midsommar (2019)
Jostling the line between reality and a dream, Ari Aster's Midsommar has a way of seeping into your subconscious. It's a disturbing story of nature-worshipping pagans that reveals that the real villains, as usual, are humans.
49. Saw (2004)
Perhaps dampened by its watered-down successors, Saw is an intelligent horror that combines gore with mystery. As two men realise they're trapped by the infamous clown-faced serial killer, Jigsaw, they must play his game in order to live. Oh, what I would do to go back and watch Saw's big reveal for the first time.
50. Revenge (2017)
After being raped and left for dead by two of her boyfriend's friends, Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) begins a quest for bloody revenge. Directed by Coralie Fargeat, Revenge is the French bloody rape-revenge film you've been waiting for. It's extreme, brutal, and beautiful all at once, transforming a usually exploitative subgenre into an intelligent one.
51. Ghost Stories (2020)
Although this four-part horror anthology received mixed reviews (it has a 33% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Bollywood's take on horror is well worth a watch. The stories are haunting, even if they're not your typical Hollywood horror fare.