Ranking the scariest horror movies ever made
After being released last year, Hereditary has got audiences all over the world talking. The movie has been dubbed one of “the scariest ever made” since its premiere, which usually makes horror fans feel two things: pure excitement that there could possibly be a new scary movie out capable of turning their bones to jelly, and pure cynicism concerning the hype based on some of the other “scariest horror movies ever made” that turned out not scary at all.
Over the past few decades of horror, there have been a lot of films that garnered hype (and controversy) for being “the scariest film ever made”. Here’s our ranking of 17 of the best films that were added to this category upon their release.
17. The Witch (2015)
Like many other films on this list, the hype surrounding Robert Eggers’s (The Knight) debut feature was buzzed as being one of “the scariest,” but the film didn’t exactly meet those expectations upon its eventual wide release. The film is astonishingly unsettling and creepy, but it’s not one that’s going to get audience’s heart rates racing.
16. Veronica (2017)
Paco Plaza’s Spanish horror caused the internet to have a meltdown earlier this year as the Netflix Originals movie gave streamaholics everywhere nightmares for days. It was quickly branded one of the “scariest” to watch online and as far as SVOD properties go, we’re inclined to agree it’s pretty creepy. But is it the scariest ever? Probably not.
15. Session 9 (2001)
Many diehard horror fans still praise Brad Anderson’s (The Machinist) found footage horror as being one of the scariest movies ever made. It’s definitely creepy and spins a great yarn, but it didn’t exactly give us sleepless nights or white knuckles while we watched it.
14. It Follows (2014)
David Robert Mitchell’s (Under the Silver Lake) debut movie received huge amounts of hype after premiering at Sundance and was subsequently hailed as being “one of the scariest horror films in years” by multiple publications.
It’s only to be expected that this slow-burn atmospheric movie was a disappointment to some fans upon release who were likely expecting something far more conspicuously terrifying. Though not the scariest ever made, we still happen to think the film is an eerie, intelligent masterpiece.
13. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Audiences lost their damn minds when Paranormal Activity was first released, picking up the found footage baton left by The Blair Witch Project and taking it into a new era. Oren Peli’s (Chernobyl Diaries) horror is often snarked upon for being a little too basic and obvious with its scares, but we’d argue the simplicity of the film still works for it. The suspense stays tight throughout the film even if some of the jump scares feel cheap.
12. Ringu (1998)
The scare has definitely become a little blunt over the years – mostly due to the sheer amount of parodies that have been done of it – but at the time the sight of Sadako crawling her broken body out of a VHS movie was the scariest thing ever. Don’t get us wrong – it’s still haunting to see, but it isn’t the same heart-stopping scare it used to be.
11. Hereditary (2018)
Since its Sundance premiere earlier this year, critics and audiences alike have been hyping the terrifying credentials of Ari Aster’s debut indie horror with endless headlines shrieking it as being “the scariest movie” of this year and possibly even of all time. We’re not sure we’d go that far, but the film definitely packs a punch even if it is currently dividing opinion now that it’s enjoying a wider release.
10. The Babadook (2014)
A film so scary even William Friedkin announced it as being the most “terrifying film” he’d ever seen. While there are undoubtedly scary moments – and the figure of The Babadook can be creepy as hell but also kind of fabulous – the film is more of a psychological thriller at times and not exactly a bone shaker (even if it is one of our favorites).
9. Halloween (1978)
Emotionless psycho bro Michael Myers was fucking terrifying in 1978 and he’s still terrifying now. It’s as simple as that.
8. Psycho (1960)
One of the movies that helped to kickstart the slasher genre, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is still scary even by modern, desensitized standards. The tension of the first half is masterfully shattered by the terror of the second, with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) still one of the absolute creepiest motherfuckers in cinema history.
7. [REC] (2007)
Blending the zombie and found footage genres together, this Spanish flick – based in a building in which an outbreak is turning occupants into feral murderous animals – is about as claustrophobic and unsettling as they come. We can also confirm it’s still just as disturbing and tense as you remember.
6. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
It’s weird, unique, and full of scares that threaten every space you thought was safe from monsters (like your own goddamn bed) and there have been few films quite as mercilessly uncanny as Takashi Shimizu’s horror masterpiece since. The film caused such a stir, he did an American remake of his own film just a few years later that was almost as terrifying.
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It’s still so cool to crack jokes about how unscary and cheap and dumb Eduardo Sánchez (V/H/S/2) and Daniel Myrick’s (The Objective) extremely low budget indie hit actually is and we’re not here for any of it. The Blair Witch Project is somber, beguiling, and completely harrowing without having to rely on any big budget trickery or blowout scares.
4. The Exorcist (1973)
The film that every hardass in every middle school across America has likely bragged they “laughed at” when they first saw it, William Friedkin’s devilishly good possession movie is still just as sinister as it was upon release.
People might not be clutching holy water as they watch it or passing out with fright at screenings like they did in 1973, but you’re a goddamn liar if you aren’t still chilled solid at the sight of Regan (Linda Blair) spinning her head 360° while manically cackling.
3. The Shining (1980)
There has never and will never be a moment in time that Stanley Kubrick’s (A Clockwork Orange) beloved horror isn’t one of the scariest movies ever made. Every single moment is underlined with pure tension and mystery. There’s a low humming of dread that fills even the most innocuous of scenes that drives this film into the most irrepressibly unnerving of places.
2. The Evil Dead (1981)
Before Sam Raimi (Darkman) took the film and turned it into the much cherished horror comedy franchise it’s known for being today, The Evil Dead stunned America for its unflinching brutality and savage supernatural storyline. It doesn’t matter how many times we rewatch it or how much we unwittingly swoon for young boyish Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) – it’s still absolutely terrifying.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s (Poltergeist) seminal horror shocked audiences upon releases mostly due to pinning one of those “based on true events” title cards to the start of the film, which turned out to be one of the most nightmarish horrors ever made.
It isn’t just that Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson) and his hideous family are some of the most inexplicably harrowing characters in cinema history – it’s also that the horror depicted is made all the more tangible by a harrowing performance from Marilyn Burns (Helter Skelter).