Ranking horror movies is a terrifying task, not only because of the subject matter, but also the vastness and variety of the material. Horror is an invariably popular genre in film, book, and games. Check out the best.
A comprehensive ranking of the best horror movies would be unfair for many productions. It’s hard to compare the pioneers of the genre to the latest productions, especially after the evolution of the film industry. In this article, we will compile the rankings of the top ten horror movies of the last thirty years, classics of the genre, and productions from Asia. But first let’s answer the question…
What makes horror movies scary?
Regardless of the medium, horror stories operate on similar principles and relate to our most primal reflexes. Fear, even irrational, is supposed to be our impulse to escape from danger and it let our ancestors survive. Today, however, we use it more often as a means of inducing a feeling of relief after it has passed, and scary stories are the best tool to achieve that. However, for such a story to be credible, several conditions must be met. First of all, the protagonist must be someone with whom the viewer himself identifies – fighting with (though mostly fleeing from) a convincing antagonist. The story must be credible enough to make it easier for the audience to suspend skeptical thinking. Also the action should be set in a location familiar, yet somewhat mysterious or so unfamiliar that viewers do not know what to expect. It is very easy to overdo one aspect and ruin the whole effect. And now – to the list!
Top 10 Best Horror Movies After 1990
The date is completely arbitrary, but it had to be put somewhere for us to be able to include all movies that deserve it. Additionally, this is my article, so I can set the limit wherever I want. Soooooo…let us move on to the list without further delay.
10. Midsommar (2019)
A film from director Ari Aster, starring Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor, is set in a unique – for horror movies – environment. Instead of dark and gloomy scenery, we have sunny landscapes and bright colors. Thanks to this, the story being told becomes even more disturbing. A group of friends are going on vacation to a village in northern Sweden to experience the sun festival, which takes place only once every 90 years. Unaware of the consequences, they participate in the rituals during the nine days of celebration, and each ritual becomes more and more disturbing. Masterful play with convention and top-class acting perfectly build the tension that stays with the viewers long after the screening ends.
9. Doctor Sleep (2019)
The adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 book, which is a continuation of the classic horror story The Shining, was not an easy task. The expectations of King’s and Kubrick’s fans were high – unfortunately, both creators had a different vision, which caused a conflict after the premiere of the prequel. Director Mike Flanagan took on the story of an adult Danny Torrance, who still struggles with the demons of the past. Unexpectedly, fate crosses his and Abras Stone paths. Young girl has similar paranormal abilities as Danny. Unfortunately, her powers cause her to be pursued by a secret organization that aims to prolong the existence of its members at the expense of her life.
Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and debuting Kayleigh Curran are great in their roles, conveying an atmosphere of anxiety. The director managed to skillfully combine Kubrick’s legacy and King’s vision. Although the film did not become an instant classic, like its predecessor, it is a successful adaptation of the book by the master of horror.
8. Hereditary (2018)
Another work by Ari Aster on our list, but this time more faithful to the horror convention. The tragedy affects the Grahams when the family’s senior, Ellen, dies. Although it is not her death that disturbs them, but the events following the funeral – more and more mysterious and sinister. The family will have to deal with Grandma’s past and discover the source of the curse they have inherited. The cast, without huge Hollywood names, proved itself perfectly. From the very beginning, the director skillfully builds the atmosphere of horror in such a way that the feeling of terror does not leave the viewer long after the credits roll – although this seems to be characteristic of Aster.
7. Dracula (1992)
The story of the Romanian prince Vlad Dracula is known to almost everyone, but this time Francis Ford Coppola took on the adaptation – so it is clear that the film must be a masterpiece. In addition, the director gathered a group of outstanding actors. The lead role is played by Gary Oldman, accompanied by Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Monica Bellucci, Tom Waits, Cary Elwes and Richard E. Grant. The atmosphere of gothic horror permeates each take, and although we know what will happen, the feeling of terror and anxiety is omnipresent. A perfect film, worth recommending to everyone.
6. The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (2015)
The action is set at the beginning of the 17th century in North America. The colonist family – William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children – settle in the new territory. Unfortunately, they do not know that this land is ruled by supernatural powers. When children begin to disappear and sometimes not return, and the crops die, the family turns against each other, seeking to find the culprit for their misfortunes.
Robert Eggers is the director – one of the most promising filmmakers of the young generation. His dark vision was realized not only thanks to the craftsmanship of Ineson and Dickie, but also Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw. The scenography of the wild and gloomy forest affects the most basic instincts, and the struggle with the unknown stimulates the imagination.
5. The Exorcisms of Emily Rose (2005)
Devout Catholic Emily leaves her hometown for college. One night while she is in her dormitory, she experiences terrifying visions that only get worse over time. Convinced of being possessed by a demon, she asks the priest to perform an exorcism, during which, unfortunately, she dies. Father Moore is accused of manslaughter of a young woman and must prove his innocence in court.
Director Scott Derrickson skillfully plays on the ingrained fear of demons. The film, with a negligible budget for Hollywood, was a huge success.
4. Get out! (2017)
Jordan Peele has made a name for himself as a director of unusual psychological horror films. In Get out! he tells the story of a young black man Chris Washington who comes to the mansion of his partner’s parents. The atmosphere in a predominantly white area is awkward at first and becomes tense over time. At first, Chris blames the Armitage family’s racism, but when he discovers their true intentions – it’s too late. There is no point in looking for cheap jump-scares, the horror of Get out! it is built at a slow but steady pace and does not find an outlet even after the session is over.
3. The Ring (1998)
A Japanese production that opened the door to the global horror market for Asian productions. A unique approach to the subject of horror at that time, with no music suggesting a threat, no liters of blood, no fast-paced action. The film allows you to fully feel the threat to the characters and their fear.
The Ring tells the story of a journalist Reiko who investigates the mysterious cause of her cousin’s death. It turns out that a VHS cassette with a disturbing recording is responsible, after watching which one dies after seven days in unexplained circumstances. In order to save her and her child’s life, she must quickly solve the mystery of the film, which will not be an easy task.
2. A Quiet Place (2018)
A post-apocalyptic story about the survival of a family of four in terrifying conditions. The greatest danger is posed by the monsters that react aggressively to the slightest sound, and the situation is not simplified by the problem of a deaf daughter and a pregnant wife. The survival of the family depends on many external factors, so the level of tension is high at all times.
John Krasinski’s interesting and original idea for a story and presenting it with minimal dialogue was a challenge that was solved perfectly. It is one of the horror films that appeal to a large audience and it has been a great financial success.
1. The Conjuring (2013)
A film that will not revolutionize the horror genre, but draws heavily on proven solutions. The story is also not the most original – a family that wants to lead a peaceful life has to face the ghosts of their house’s previous owners. A couple of professional ghost hunters are called to help, and they have to deal with the extreme situation. Doesn’t sound like the best horror movie material, does it? Everything depends on the execution of the idea, and in this case it is done perfectly.
James Wan, the director in charge of the project, has extensive experience in the film industry. This can be seen in the skillful build-up of tension and the storytelling methods. The cast is a mix of veterans and up-and-coming actors who are a perfect fit – they gave their best in every scene. The film is a masterfully crafted quintessence of horror – that’s why it’s our best horror movie.
Top 10 classic horror movies
While preparing the ranking, we noticed that many of the movies are older than us. For this reason, two listings have been prepared – to give newer productions a chance to break through. With the top 10 horror movies behind us, now’s the time for the top 10 classic horror movies.
10. Possession (1981)
The compilation opens with a psychological horror film directed by Andrzej Żuławski. The film tells the story of Anna who decides to leave her family in favor of her lover. However, it does not specify which lover, because she also breaks off the relationship with the current paramour – Heinrich. The new partner Anna talks about is a humanoid monster living in one of the abandoned buildings houses.
The film focuses on the darkest aspects of human nature. The image of the femme fatale – created by Isabelle Adjani – seduces us and fills us with anxiety. She is accompanied in the work by Sam Neill as Marc, Anna’s husband, and Heinz Bennent, who portrays Heinrich – the lover.
9. Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror (1922)
The 100-year-old film is one of the first horror films in the movie industry, however it is still terrifying. It has been renewed many times, recently even in 3D, and it is as popular as ever. The story is very much inspired by the work of Bram Stoker. A young real estate agent – played by Alexander Granach – sets out for the castle of Count Orlok to finalize the purchase of the estate – played by Max Schreck. The young man does not care about the locals’ warnings about the vampire and the count, and thus enters the territory of Nosferatu.
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One of the first films in the rich legacy of Wes Craven, a popular horror film director, and the first film with Freddy Krueger – a recurring character. The work tells the story of a group of teenagers who experience terrifying nightmares with a psychopathic murderer known from nursery rhymes – Freddy. During one of those nightmarish dreams, teenager Nancy is brutally murdered, starting the struggle of the other heroes according to the principle “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep!”
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you,
three, four, better lock your door,
five, six, grab your crucifix,
seven, eight, can you stay awake?
nine, ten, never sleep again!”
7. The Exorcist (1973)
Medically, young Regan (Linda Blair) is perfectly healthy, but the girl’s increasingly strange behavior worries Chris – her mother (Ellen Burstyn). Desperate, she seeks help from a priest who quickly recognizes the signs of possession by a devil and calls for help from an experienced exorcist (Max von Sydow). The film is full of scenes that have become part of the canon of cinema and are intuitively recognizable.
6. Rosemary’s baby (1968)
One of the most famous works of Roman Polański. Young Rosemary becomes pregnant under disturbing circumstances, experiencing terrifying visions. She is surrounded by the unhealthy interest of her neighbors throughout the entire period of pregnancy, which worries her friend who begins to investigate the matter. Unfortunately, he mysteriously falls into a coma, but before that he managed to warn the future mother about the possibility of using black magic. The skillfully built tension makes the movie an unforgettable experience.
5. Omen (1976)
Possession and the devil motif were very popular in the 1960s and 1970s in cinematography – the Omen is a perfect example of this. We follow the fate of the Thorn family, which is affected by a tragedy. The long-awaited child is born still, and Robert Thorn, fearing for his wife Katherine’s sanity, agrees to adopt a boy born at the same time, whose mother did not survive the birth. During the first years, young Damien Thorn is an ordinary child, unfortunately, with time, strange events around him intensify.
4. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks’s film is an outstanding work about coming to terms with heritage, dealing with the expectations and problems of fitting into society. The grandson of the famous baron von Frankenstein inherits his castle and laboratory. Pushed by curiosity and ambition, young Frankenstein tries to reproduce his ancestor’s success and creates his own monster. In the work of horror, we can admire the acting of Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn. <wink, wink>
3. The Thing (1982)
In an isolated Arctic research base, a crashed alien ship is found. The ship’s passenger had been frozen in an ice tomb, but scientists, pushed by curiosity, freed him, releasing a monstrous threat. An alien can get inside any living organism and then imitate it. The struggle for survival begins, as this thing begins with taking over the dog and then moves on to people.
2. The Shining (1980)
Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same title has the status of a legendary horror film. The Torrance family moves into the Overlook Hotel, which is closed for the winter, where Jack (Jack Nicholson) has been appointed a caretaker. Danny – Jack’s son – has paranormal abilities, thanks to which he knows the hotel is haunted and the ghosts try to drive his father insane. Stanley Kubrick’s masterly storytelling fits perfectly with King’s horror novel. You can’t get rid of the tension long after the screening.
1. Alien – 8. Passenger “Nostromo” (1979)
The film, directed by Ridley Scott, is a perfect example of horror movies. An unknown threat, a mysterious environment and defenseless protagonists make a perfect mix for a horror movie. The crew of the Nostromo ship receives a signal from the surface of the planet LV-240 calling for help. After landing, one of the crew members is attacked by an alien organism that grips its face and is impossible to remove. Attempts to save a companion are ineffective and an alien life form, which is an ideal predator, emerges from his body. Fight for survival begins.
Top 5 Asian Horror Movies
Looking at the above lists, you may get the false impression that cinemagoers in Asia don’t like to be afraid. Horror cinema is popular in these markets , only the approach to it is different. Japanese, Korean or Thai films often focus on building tension slowly, without the frequent moments of its release. In our opinion, here are the best Asian horror movies. And no, The Ring will not be listed, it was before.
5. Kaidan (1964)
The film is an adaptation of four stories by Lafcadio Koizumi Hearn, a Japanese-English writer. He collected old Japanese legends and tales passed down over generations and modernized them for today’s audience. Director Masaki Kobayashi perfectly captures the characters’ uncertainty as to whether what they see is real and the horror of ghosts. A film for a narrow audience. However, it cannot be denied that it is effective in causing fear.
4. Faet (2007)
A Thai production tells the terrifying story of conjoined twins. During the first years, the sisters lived in harmony, but over time, the relationship deteriorated to such an extent that they decided to separate. During the unfortunate operation, one of the sisters dies and does not depart for the afterlife, but begins to torment her twin sister.
3. Dark Water (2002)
Another successful horror film from the creator of The Ring (1998). We follow the story of a mother struggling to win custody over her daughter, and is forced to live in a gloomy and damp apartment. The pervasive dampness disturbs the mother as she begins to experience vision of a little girl. The frightening apparition is the vengeful ghost of a child who mysteriously died in the apartment now occupied by the couple. The director managed to breathe into this film the horror known from his previous works.
2. Ju-on (2002)
A young volunteer accidentally enters a haunted house without knowing its dark history. Unfortunately, anyone who crosses its doorstep is cursed by a brutal spirit that begins to murder the loved ones of the cursed person. A young woman learns that the ghost that torments her is the ghost of a husband that murdered his wife, and then committed suicide. Also living in the house is the specter of their little son, who has never been found. In order to survive, she must help the boy.
1. Shutter (2004)
The main characters – Tun and Jane – run over a woman with a car when they are heading home from a party. The couple does not stop to help the victim – instead they go back to their everyday lives. However, the ramifications of their actions quickly emerge when Jane begins to have nightmares and Tun discovers strange figures in the photographs he has taken. Soon after, their friends begin to die one-by-one. A dark and scary movie, considered by many – including me – the scariest movie they have ever seen.
We will come back to horror movies, because it is an inexhaustible source of interesting topics. Do you agree with the above rankings? Would you add a movie or does any of the above not deserve to be called one of the best horror films of all time? Leave a comment and let us know!