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The 39 Best Horror Movies of All Time

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Ah, the thrill of fear! Cold sweats, nervous laughter, tense muscles, muffled screams—if everything goes well, a night where sleep becomes elusive. These are some of the effects that horror movies have on our bodies and minds. For some reason, we love to experience fear enclosed in a movie theater.

The Ranking of the Best Horror Movies in History

While we try to unravel the mystery behind our taste for horror and adrenaline rushes on the big screen, let’s take a look at this list of the 39 best horror movies of all time. We’ll find timeless classics from genre masters like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and David Cronenberg. This list also includes gems from all corners of the world, including Italy, Japan, and of course, Spain.

And if you want to continue enjoying the feeling of fear, make sure to check out our carefully selected genre recommendations available on platforms like Netflix or Disney+. You can also explore our lists where we choose the best horror movies of 2021, the previous decade, or the entire 21st century.

“The Shining” (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone…

Stanley Kubrick, the indisputable genius, mastered every genre he tackled throughout his career. It’s no wonder that his incursion into horror resulted in a masterpiece like “The Shining.” This film is a technical, formal, and conceptual feat that immerses you in the impossible corridors and rooms of the Overlook Hotel. It invites you to lose your mind alongside the deranged Jack Torrance in a high-level nightmare.

“Halloween” (1978)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards…

Filmed in just 20 days with limited resources— they even had to reuse the leaves on the street between shots—master John Howard Carpenter revolutionized the horror genre. “Halloween” became a timeless cult classic, setting a new standard for slasher films. It offered a ghostly look at pure evil, embodied in the enormous Michael Myers, who has remained a popular figure for four decades.

“The Thing” (1982)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat…

Although my personal favorite by John Carpenter is the brilliant “In the Mouth of Madness,” I must admit that the master of horror reached his peak in 1982 with this remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film, “The Thing from Another World.” With “The Thing,” Carpenter refined his personal touch to perfection, unleashing terror in the middle of Antarctica. The film still fascinates with its stunning visual effects and its portrayal of a malevolence that transcends human limits.

“Psycho” (1960)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Vera Miles, John McIntire…

What could we expect from someone known as the “master of suspense” if not a masterpiece like “Psycho”? In addition to laying the foundations of the slasher genre—albeit debatably—Hitchcock shattered the nerves of the early 1960s audience with one of the most celebrated plot twists in history. It was executed in a scene that continues to be engrained in collective imagination, thanks to a knife, a shower, and an unfortunate woman.

“Peeping Tom” (1960)

Director: Michael Powell. Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Esmond Knight…

If we have any doubts about whether “Psycho” is the “mother” of the slasher genre, it’s because in 1960, “Peeping Tom” was also released. This fascinating work by the always brilliant Michael Powell explored the psyche of the canonical serial killer, combining perversion, violence, and cinema like few have achieved to this day. It’s a grotesque study of the creative process and the figure of the author, atypical and outstanding.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper. Cast: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Allen Danziger, Gunnar Hansen…

The most vivid representation of the raw brutality that prevailed in horror during the 1970s was this brave, wild, and horrifying debut film. Tobe Hooper marked new paths to follow in the genre with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Above the eternal Leatherface, we remember the heartbreaking screams of the charming final girl played by Marilyn Burns. The film’s unique formal style, with its almost documentary-like camera work and gritty 16mm film, is also unforgettable.

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“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

Director: Roman Polanski. Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, Sydney Blackmer…

One word best describes “Rosemary’s Baby”: nightmare. Throughout its slightly over two-hour runtime, this Roman Polanski classic delves into the mind of Rosemary Woodhouse. It explores her most earthly fears that arise after her pregnancy, while immersing the story in an unhealthy atmosphere that contains something beyond logic. The film continues to send shivers down the spines of even the most seasoned cinephiles.

“The Omen” (1976)

Director: Richard Donner. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Leo McKern…

The figure of the demonic child has always been closely linked to horror movies, but few films have portrayed it as iconically and enduringly as “The Omen.” Directed by the great Richard Donner, starring Gregory Peck, and featuring one of the best horror film soundtracks by Jerry Goldsmith, the story of Damien deserves a prominent place in the genre’s hall of fame.

“The Changeling” (1980)

Director: Peter Medak. Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Barry Morse…

This cult classic by Peter Medak demonstrates that with intelligence, skillful direction, and a complete mastery of creating atmosphere, you can make a bouncing ball on a staircase freeze the audience’s blood. “The Changeling” is a magnificent and quintessential ghost story that embraces the classics of the genre. It shapes a spine-chilling, tragic, and even emotional film.

“The Innocents” (1961)

Director: Jack Clayton. Cast: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Pamela Franklin, Martin Stephens…

Based on Henry James’ novel “The Turn of the Screw,” adapted for the screen by Truman Capote, “The Innocents” elevated supernatural horror to a new level. In addition to its impeccable visual narrative and its expressionistic black-and-white photography, this Jack Clayton classic stands out for its precise and controversial readings of childhood isolation and sexual repression.

“Scream” (1996)

Director: Wes Craven. Cast: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore…

Just when it seemed like everything had been said in the slasher subgenre, Wes Craven appeared to completely revitalize it. “Scream” transcended as a cult classic and became one of the greatest representatives of 90s horror. While its sequels may have perfected the formula, the original “Scream” breathed new life into masked killers with a wonderful touch of cinephilia in every frame.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

Director: Wes Craven. Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Lin Shaye, Joe Unger, Charles Fleischer…

It’s hard to think of iconic horror characters and not include the beloved Freddy Krueger, played by the endearing Robert Englund. With “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Wes Craven brought terror into the world of dreams. This film remains brutal in its intensity and possesses a powerful imagery that solidifies Craven’s position as one of the titans of horror cinema.

“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez. Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard, Patricia DeCou, Sandra Sánchez…

While there were great films that played with the mockumentary style of found footage before 1999, such as “Cannibal Holocaust” or the fantastic “Man Bites Dog,” “The Blair Witch Project”—excluding the TV movie “Alien Abduction,” released a year earlier—pioneered the use of found footage as we conceive it today. In addition to being a turning point in filmmaking, this film stands out for its innovative campaign and its play with off-screen elements, culminating in a chilling final act.

“Jaws” (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton…

There’s not much left to say that hasn’t already been said about this masterpiece, not only in the horror genre but in the history of cinema. “Jaws” is a masterclass in direction and suspense, shining both as a horror film concentrated in its first half and as a maritime adventure in the second half, as its charismatic trio embarks on a hunt for the monster that terrorizes Amity’s beaches.

“Alien” (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm…

Based on the simple yet intriguing idea of transporting “Jaws” onto a spaceship, “Alien” was born in 1979 and went down in history as one of the scariest films of all time. This is not only due to H.R. Giger’s horrifying design of the xenomorph but also to Ridley Scott’s exceptional direction, which gave birth to some of the most impactful images in the genre. Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay explores psychosexual themes that make audiences uncomfortable and prey on their unconscious minds.

“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

Director: George A. Romero. Cast: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne…

Drawing inspiration from Richard Matheson’s vampire creatures in the novel “I Am Legend,” George A. Romero brought to life what we now know as the modern zombie. These slow, relentless beings driven solely by their hunger for human flesh transmit their living-dead condition to anyone they bite. With this low-budget classic, Romero influenced countless generations of filmmakers, fueling a myth that still thrives in cinema today at slightly quicker speeds.

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“Nosferatu” (1922)

Director: F.W. Murnau. Cast: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröeder, GH Schnell…

This fantastic, unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is simultaneously a masterpiece of German expressionism. With its terror, romanticism, and enduring images—such as the shadow of the cadaverous Max Schreck as Count Orlok climbing the stairs—this raw diamond continues to captivate audiences. It birthed many key elements of the genre’s narrative that remain relevant to this day.

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920)

Director: Robert Wiene. Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Rudolf Klein-Rogge…

Another big example of how German expressionism laid the foundation of terror that has resonated to this day is this gem directed by Robert Wiene in 1920. It’s a true technical and artistic feat with impressive sets and nightmarish landscapes. Its astounding visuals are overshadowed by a script that culminates in a twist that continues to surprise and repeat to this day. It was truly ahead of its time.

“M” (1931)

Director: Fritz Lang. Cast: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustav Gründgens, Theo Lingen, Theodor Loos, Georg John…

We couldn’t talk about German expressionism without briefly focusing on Fritz Lang and, more specifically, his still disturbing “M.” The film keeps its impact intact, offering a peculiar approach to the figure of the protagonist killer, brilliantly portrayed by Peter Lorre, who brings an unexpected humanity to his character. It’s a glorious film.

“Frankenstein” (1931)

Director: James Whale. Cast: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward van Sloan, Dwight Frye…

Amidst all the different interpretations that various filmmakers have brought to Mary Shelley’s original novel, “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus,” James Whale’s 1931 film stands out. Under my perspective, it’s the most iconic film in Universal Pictures’ classic monster series. The eternal characterization of Boris Karloff as the creature, more iconic than even Lugosi’s Dracula, is the face of one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.

“Suspiria” (1977)

Director: Dario Argento. Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier, Miguel Bosé…

Dario Argento, one of the greatest exponents of the Italian giallo, must be included in this compilation. While there were plenty of worthy options, such as “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage,” “Deep Red,” and “Phenomena,” I decided to go with the magnificent “Suspiria” to represent him. It is a unique exercise in style, beautiful in its own way and exquisitely directed.

“The Beyond” (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci. Cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees…

Although its script, dialogues, and some performances may not be up to par with other films on this list, Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” deserves to share the stage with the great works of the genre. It contains the culmination of his distinctive Italian gore style, concentrating all his obsessions into an hour and a half of stylized violence and harrowing surrealism. It culminates with a deranged third act.

“The Fly” (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson…

This film proves that remakes can give us memorable works. “The Fly” is a cathedral of body horror created by the master David Cronenberg. While other notable films by the director, such as “Videodrome” or “Dead Ringers,” could have been included, the monstrous transformation of the imposing Jeff Goldblum and the cruel and devastating interpretation of disease, aging, and deterioration to which we are all condemned, place “The Fly” at the top of the podium.

“Evil Dead” (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Richard DeManincor, Theresa Tilly, Scott Spiegel…

This tiny, self-financed movie made with nothing but talent, dedication, and passion for the medium became one of the greatest horror movies of all time. “Evil Dead” is remembered as one of Sam Raimi’s best works, creating an iconic myth embodied by Bruce Campbell, who still resonates in the hearts of fans today. It is an impeccable debut with an unmistakable style of its own.

“Diabolique” (1955)

Director: H.G. Clouzot. Cast: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Jean Brochard…

Like “Psycho,” “Diabolique” straddles the fine line between thriller and horror. However, this magnificent film shares more than just its genre with Alfred Hitchcock. Its exceptional direction and its magnificent and intriguing script make H.G. Clouzot’s work comparable to the best films by the master of suspense. This can only be synonymous with excellence.

“Onibaba” (1964)

Director: Kaneto Shindô. Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satô, Jukichi Uno, Taiji Tonoyama, Kentarô Kaji…

The first encounter with “Onibaba” captivates you with its marvelous formal treatment, remarkable black-and-white photography, and camera work that moves in the realms of Japanese visual poetry, often associated with the country’s most renowned directors. But beyond being a beautiful package, it contains simple and primitive terror, condensed in the mundane and earthly darkness that resides within human beings.

“Eyes Without a Face” (1960)

Director: Georges Franju. Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob, François Guérin…

In his second feature film after “Head Against the Wall,” French director Georges Franju constructed a brilliant deconstruction of the archetypal mad scientist. “Eyes Without a Face” is driven by grotesque, almost poetic willpower and overwhelmingly oppressive atmospheres. The crime driven by guilt and paternal love is the central axis of a masterpiece that remains untouched and far from obsolescence.

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“[REC]” (2007)

Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, Jorge Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert…

I remember watching “[REC]” for the first time, eleven years ago, at the Sitges Film Festival in a crowded screening. The general screams, nervous laughter, applause, and moments when nobody in the audience could even breathe due to the unbearable tension were enough signs that we were witnessing something unprecedented, unique, and intensely thrilling. Plaza and Balagueró made history in horror within an apartment on Rambla Catalunya in Barcelona. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Who Can Kill a Child?” (1976)

Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Cast: Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome, Antonio Iranzo, Maria Luisa Arias, Miguel Narros…

And since we’re talking about the Spanish infected—sorry, infected—revolution, we cannot overlook one of the great treasures of our national cinematography. This marvel directed by Chicho Ibáñez Serrador and based on the novel by Juan José Plans is an intense exploration of the horrors brought about by violence against children. It cleverly combines tension and narrative ingenuity—an unmissable piece of cinema.

“The Babadook” (2014)

Director: Jennifer Kent. Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West…

One of the greatest surprises in recent years in the horror genre is this Australian masterpiece directed by Jennifer Kent. “The Babadook” is a terrifying tale that explores the meaning of grief after the loss of a loved one. It combines horror and a unique love for silent terror from the early 20th century. Special mention goes to Essie Davis, who delivers an exceptional performance as a tormented mother.

“The Descent” (2005)

Director: Neil Marshall. Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder…

British filmmaker Neil Marshall has become one of those artisans you call when you have an ambitious production with a very tight budget. With a few coins, Neil can film the Battle of Blackwater from “Game of Thrones” or plunge you into a cave with a group of spelunkers in one of the most claustrophobic and terrifying films of the 21st century. Brilliant characters, brutal and raw terror, and a mid-point that turns the film into a true and highly entertaining nightmare.

“28 Days Later” (2002)

Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston…

Although there were a few precedents, it was Danny Boyle, along with Alex Garland confined to the writing room before his success with “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” who popularized fast zombies and infected them in his spectacular “28 Days Later.” This gem of the subgenre hybridized video and 35mm, playing with shutter speeds to give the film a unique look that enriched its brutal and chaotic violence.

“Martyrs” (2008)

Director: Pascal Laugier. Cast: Mylène Jampanoï, Morjana Alaoui, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne…

While “Inside” by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury may be the greatest representative of the French extreme horror wave known as “New French Extremity,” my personal taste leads me to include Pascal Laugier’s brutal “Martyrs.” It is one of the last “ambulance-in-front-of-the-theater” movies I remember from the Sitges Film Festival. It boasts insane violence and an ending that can be described as both genius and stupid, never leaving the audience indifferent.

“Let the Right One In” (2008)

Director: Tomas Alfredson. Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist…

Nordic horror converges exceptionally well with Nordic author cinema in this adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel. Celebrated worldwide for its superb technical execution, remarkable use of depth of field, and charmingly violent friendship—classic romance—between the young Oskar and the sinister Eli. This film is a prime example of how horror can effectively cross genres.

“The Lords of Salem” (2012)

Director: Rob Zombie. Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Christopher Knight, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, Udo Kier…

The first time I saw “The Lords of Salem” at the Sitges Film Festival, I left the screening deeply disappointed. After letting it sit for a while, I gave it a second chance, and I found a film full of atmosphere, surrealism, blasphemy, and horror that Rob Zombie crafted in 2012. It’s a true psychedelic bad trip that extends the essence of Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” to the extreme. It’s a golden nugget that requires an open and receptive mind.

“The Witch” (2015)

Director: Robert Eggers. Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger…

With classicism, sobriety, and skills in direction rarely seen in a debut filmmaker, Robert Eggers gifted us with one of the best horror films of the decade. “The Witch” slowly builds an oppressive atmosphere as it tells a folktale story. Horror, evil, and paranoia roam the forests of New England, lurking, driving us mad. The film’s third act is jaw-dropping.

“Hereditary” (2018)

Director: Ari Aster. Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd…

The latest great horror film released to date is also one of the best of all time. After watching it for the second time, I can confirm that the feelings it transmitted to me the first time were not just due to enthusiasm: “Hereditary” is a true marvel—complex, sophisticated, highly intelligent, and, most importantly, terrifying. A special mention goes to Toni Collette, who crowns a film that marks a before and after in the genre’s history and remains deeply ingrained in my mind.

“The Entity” (1982)

Director: Sidney J. Furie. Cast: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, George Coe, Margaret Blye…

This allegedly based-on-real-events horror film from 1982 may not be the subtlest, but its 100 minutes leave you with one of the worst post-viewing experiences you can encounter. The constant sexual assaults that a supernatural being imposes on the protagonist are not only shot with unprecedented crudeness but also articulate a feminist discourse that, sadly, has not aged. Pay attention to Charles Bernstein’s suffocating soundtrack, which Quentin Tarantino even recycled in “Inglourious Basterds.”

We could spend hours and hours compiling the best horror films that have shaped the history of our beloved genre, but I had to choose what I believe are its best representatives. That said, I invite you to share with us your picks for the best horror movies of all time. After all, there are never enough good scares we can experience in front of the silver screen.

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