Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!
From 'Nosferatu' to 'Get Out': The best horror movies of all time
There are a lot of great horror films out there, but some still rank among the best of the best.
This month, Alfred Hitchcock's legendary slasher precursor Psycho arrives on Peacock. Longtime fans will be able to watch the film all over again and newcomers to Hitchcock's dark world will have a chance to experience the film's mayhem for the first time. Even if you've never seen it, just about anyone with any level of familiarity with the horror world has heard of Psycho, because it's simply that impactful. From its influence on future horror releases to its style choices to that iconic shower scene, it still ranks as one of the best pieces of horror cinema ever crafted, and that's worth celebrating even decades later.
Thinking about all of that as it relates to Psycho got us thinking: What other films should join it on the list of the greatest horror movies ever made? It's an entirely subjective question, of course, and everyone has their own picks for the best of the best, but when you think about influence, impact, and sheer scare value, these are the films that rise above the rest. These are (for now, anyway), the best horror films of all time, in chronological order.
Yes, F.W. Murnau's legendary (unauthorized) Dracula adaptation is important. In terms of its impact on generations of moviegoers, movie scholars, and movie makers, it's one of the most vital horror films ever made, so naturally, it's on the list. But it's not just about cultural cache. Even now, more than a century after it was made, Nosferatu is just plain scary. Shots of Max Schreck standing wide-eyed in the corridors of his ruined castle can still make your hair stand on end no matter how many times you've seen them, and that's an incredible achievement for one of the most-referenced works of cinematic art ever.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
After the formula of the Universal Monster movies was established in the 1930s, the time came for filmmakers to go back and start to play with it, finding new ways to express the roles of the title characters and creatures which inhabited the world. With Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale took on the horror elements of his original film and dialed them into blackly comic territory, delivering a horror masterpiece that's as funny and strange as it is genuinely creepy.
RELATED: Universal Monsters, ranked
After years of successful Technicolor thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock got together with the crew from his TV series and shot an intimate, deeply disturbing black and white film set at a roadside motel, and made horror history in the process. Psycho is not the first slasher story, nor is it the first precursor to the slasher genre that would blossom 15 years later, but it is still one of the most impressively dread-filled meditations on a killer in cinema history. All these years later, even when you know the shocks are coming, they still land.
Black Sunday (1960)
The horror cinema of Italy would prove broadly, delightfully influential around the world throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and it arguably all starts with Mario Bava's occult masterpiece. Featuring a tremendous villain performance by Barbara Steele, and some of the most beautiful photography of Bava's entire career, Black Sunday remains one of Italy's greatest genre cinema triumphs, and has influenced everyone from Dario Argento to Tim Burton.
The Haunting (1963)
Robert Wise's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is just one in a long line of new takes on not just the original story, but the formula perfected by that story. Like many films that followed, it's the story of a group of people visiting a spooky old house to try and find evidence of ghosts, and getting more than they bargained for in the process. But no other film since The Haunting has been able to do it in such an achingly, dreadfully beautiful way. In Wise's subtle hands, Hill House becomes a character in frightening new ways, and the film keeps your pulse high without ever revealing a single actual ghost.
There's no shortage of Japanese horror masterpieces in the world, but Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan remains a masterpiece among masterpieces. Arguably the greatest horror anthology ever made, this epic film and the four ghost stories it contains is as terrifying as it spellbinding, and features some of the most beautiful photography in any horror film you've ever seen.
The Exorcist (1973)
I know, I know, The Exorcist is on ever "Best Horror Movies Ever" list in the same way that Citizen Kane is on every "Best Movies Ever" list, almost like it's compulsory and not something we really think about anymore. But here's the thing: William Friedkin's possession masterpiece really is that good, from its haunting photography to its remarkable practical effects by Dick Smith and everything in between. It remains a truly disturbing, truly well-crafted, watershed moment for horror cinema.
The Wicker Man (1973)
The greatest folk horror movie ever made, Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man has barely any violence, and very little in the way of gore. What it does have is an overwhelming, all-encompassing sense of dread tinged with haunting natural beauty and the unnerving power of its smiling villains. It's a 90-minute, nail-biting buildup to one unforgettable ending, and even when you know that ending's coming, its power isn't diminished.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Fans of Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic about a group of youths who run afoul of a family or murderous Texas cannibals will talk to you all day about how the film's reputation as a shocker isn't earned, because there's almost no blood, and no gore at all, in the movie. That's true, but what makes Texas Chain Saw work isn't just how effective it is at implied violence. It's that in many cases, the film doesn't need violence to be terrifying. Decades after its release, the scariest parts are often looks, screams, and the sense that we the viewer are trapped in the house with Leatherface and his kinfolk.
Jaws is one of several major horror films that fans still argue over, not in terms of its greatness, but in terms of whether or not it actually fits the "horror" mold. Well, you can call it a thriller all you want, but Steven Spielberg's breakthrough film about a New England town plagued by shark attacks is undeniably scary. From underwater jump scares to great creature effects and one of the most unsettling opening kills of all time, Jaws has horror in its soul, and that means it belongs here.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
With Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero essentially invented the modern zombie genre. With Dawn of the Dead a decade later, he cracked it wide open. Presented in vivid color and with often jaw-dropping scale, Romero's sequel to his original black-and-white classic dials up everything about the first film to great effect, and is as frightening as it is fun.
Call it a creature feature, call it cosmic horror, call it a haunted house movie in space. Whatever you call it, Ridley Scott's Alien remains what might be the best expression of sci-fi horror ever produced, and a deeply chilling experience even decades after its release. From Sigourney Weaver's lead performance to H.R. Giger's legendary xenomorph design, it's a masterpiece through and through.
The Shining (1980)
Stephen King famously dislikes Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his haunted hotel novel, but King's quibbles with the screen translation aside, The Shining just works. There's something unearthly about it, which explains why the film has spawned decades of analysis and even conspiracy theories. For a film that takes place at a resort in a very real place like Colorado (albeit it one with a less-haunted history), it retains the feeling that it was beamed in from another, creepier planet.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Some films start with a great idea, and then just get every little piece of the execution right along the way, from the casting to the humor to the horror visuals to the soundtrack. An American Werewolf in London is one of those films. It's just flawlessly put together from start to finish, which means every little piece of this relatively simple story gets to shine in uncanny ways.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter cemented the slasher genre with Halloween, but while that film is possibly his most influential, it's not his best in terms of sheer terror craft. That honor goes to The Thing, a paranoid creature feature masterpiece about isolation, resentment, and the very nature of fear. Rob Bottin's legendary creature effects, the ensemble cast, and Carpenter's own finely tuned sense of human nature all come together to create one of the most rewatchable and consistently frightening films ever made.
The Fly (1986)
No one else makes horror films quite like David Cronenberg. It's not just that he's the king of body horror. It's that there's a sense of fascination with the ways in which we as a species can change, grow, and even destroy ourselves which gives his filmography the sense of being one long, gleefully devilish experiment. The Fly, featuring great lead performances from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, is perhaps the purest expression of this feeling, and the result is the best body horror movie of all time.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed with peerless intensity by Jonathan Demme and starring the brilliant duo of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs gets lumped in with the thrillers far too often, maybe because it's that rare scary movie to be taken seriously by the Academy. But despite all the trappings of crime thrillers around its narrative, it's still near-mythic story of a woman who must use one monster to catch another, more terrifying one, and when those monsters come out to play, it's a deeply frightening experience indeed. Horror can, and should, claim it as its own.
Wes Craven knew all the slasher rules. He'd played by them himself, several times, so when he took on Kevin Williamson's brilliant script for Scream, he was able to both deliver the goods and subvert everything we thought we know about a well-trod horror formula. It's been 25 years, and the result of this collaboration is still one of the smartest, most fun horror films ever, not to mention one of the most influential.
Let the Right One In (2008)
One thing you can't ever get over about Let the Right One In is how unbelievably, relentlessly beautiful it is. Whether director Tomas Alfredson is filming an outdoor snowscape or a hospital room, there's tremendous care put into each and every moment, a patience to the film that shines through even when the pace picks up. That means that even when things get horrific -- and they do get horrific -- you remain transfixed, mesmerized by the careful power of this unforgettable horror romance.
Get Out (2017)
When it comes to talking about the greatest anything of all time, people get concerned about recency bias. There's a sense that we don't have enough context to understand the impact of something after just a few years, so there's no use lumping it in with something that's had decades to work its magic. That's a fair point, but when it comes to Jordan Peele's horror debut, two things are inarguably clear: One, Get Out is a great film featuring wonderful tension, rich symbolism, and great performances. And two, Get Out changed horror. That's obvious even five years after its release. This film was a clear inflection point in the horror landscape, not just for Peele, but for many up-and-coming filmmakers who would follow him into the "social horror" arena. It's a masterpiece, and its influence already packs a whallop.
Stream Psycho on Peacock