Halloween Thrills & Chills: Ranking the best scary movies of the last 20 years

October 31, 2019

June 3, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

Happy Halloween! It’s the perfect time to munch some popcorn, curl up on the couch and catch a flick for fright night.

For years, we’ve ranked the best scary movies of all time with “The Exorcist,” “The Shining,” “Psycho,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”

But this year we decided to shake things up and rank the best of the modern era.

How did we define modern? We capped it at the last 20 years, so 1999 and later.

Full disclosure: the recent remakes of Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers didn’t make the cut (I still hold up the originals!), although we made an exception for “It,” which had never hit the big screen before (only a two-part TV miniseries).

So without further ado, here are the best scary movies of the modern era:

50. Bird Box (2018) — Susanne Bier

Love it or hate it, a social media phenomenon with a blindfolded Sandra Bullock.

49. Don’t Breathe (2016) — Fede Alvarez

A trio of thieves break into the home of a blind man who ferociously fights back.

48. Jeepers Creepers (2001) — Victor Salva

A blaring truck horn and a hat-wearing figure still cause us nightmares.

47. The Skeleton Key (2004) — Iain Softley

Kate Hudson’s hospice nurse tackles Voodoo at a New Orleans plantation.

46. Insidious (2010) — James Wan

A family move traps a comatose child in a spirit realm called The Further.

45. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) — Eli Craig

Preppy teens mistake lovable hillbillies as cabin killers in horror comedy.

44. World War Z (2013) — Marc Forster

Brad Pitt navigates the zombie apocalypse in an adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel.

43. Split (2016) — M. Night Shyamalan

James McAvoy plays 24 split personalities in a surprise sequel to “Unbreakable.”

42. Us (2019) — Jordan Peele

Lupita Nyong’o and family battle dopplegangers who haunt their beach vacation.

41. The Purge (2013) — James DeMonaco

Ethan Hawke weaves social commentary as crime becomes legal for one day.

40. Scary Movie (2000) — Keenen Ivory Wayans

“Scream” spoof finds the Wayans Bros. at the top of their horror-comedy game.

39. Crimson Peak (2015) — Guillermo del Toro

Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain carry this tale of a bloody haunted house.

38. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) — Scott Derrickson

Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson argue a homicide case over a priest’s exorcism.

37. It (2017) — Anthony Muschietti

Pennywise the Clown returns in the first big screen take on Stephen King’s novel.

36. The Host (2006) — Joon-Ho Bong  

Before “Snowpiercer” and “Parasite,” Bong delivered a Korean monster movie.

35. The Strangers (2008) — Bryan Bertino

Liv Tyler and husband are tormented by strangers in an isolated vacation home.

34. The Descent (2005) — Neil Marshall

A caving expedition unravels as explorers are pursued by an underground breed.

33. Wolf Creek (2005) — Greg McLean

Backpackers face spine-tingling horrors in this Australian take on the Outback.

32. The Village (2004) — M. Night Shyamalan

Bryce Dallas Howard faces wooded creatures in an isolated countryside village.

31. Warm Bodies (2013) — Jonathan Levine 

This horror comedy flips conventions by turning a zombie film into a romance.

30. What Lies Beneath (2000) — Robert Zemeckis

Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford are haunted at their lakeside Vermont home.

29. Under the Skin (2013) — Jonathan Glazer

Scarlett Johannson seduces #MeToo men to their liquid deaths in Scotland.

28. The Witch (2014) — Robert Eggers

Anya Taylor-Joy’s family is torn apart by witchcraft in 1630s New England.

27. Hereditary (2018) — Ari Aster 

Toni Collette carries a grieving family haunted by tragic and disturbing events.

26. Ready or Not (2019) — Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet 

Samara Weaving’s wedding night turns into a deadly game of hide and seek.

25. Cabin in the Woods (2011) — Drew Goddard

Joss Whedon’s script flips conventions as five friends visit an “Evil Dead” cabin.

24. Shaun of the Dead (2004) — Edgar Wright

Simon Pegg roasts the zombie genre by cracking skulls with a cricket paddle.

23. The Grudge (2002) — Takashi Shimizu

This Japanese J-horror was so freaky that it became a Hollywood blockbuster.

22. Signs (2002) — M. Night Shyamalan

Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix wrestle with faith amid mysterious crop circles.

21. Paranormal Activity (2007) — Oren Peli 

This found footage hit not only launched a franchise but a studio in Blumhouse.

20. Saw (2004) — James Wan

Jigsaw took the premise of “Se7en” and launched the “torture porn” subgenre.

19. Hostel (2005) — Eli Roth 

European travelers thought twice about lodging after watching Eli Roth’s horror.

18. The Babadook (2014) — Jennifer Kent

Australian gem finds a single mom and her son haunted by a children’s book.

17. Nightcrawler (2014) — Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy cameraman stages crime scenes: “if it bleeds, it leads.”

16. Zombieland (2009) — Ruben Fleischer 

Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson whack a zombie Billy Murray.

15. 28 Days Later (2002) — Danny Boyle 

“Trainspotting” director teams with “Ex Machina” writer for zombie gold.

14. Gone Girl (2014) — David Fincher  

Rosamund Pike delivers the freakiest femme fatale since “Fatal Attraction.”

13. The Conjuring (2013) — James Wan

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson shine as a pair of paranormal investigators.

12. American Psycho (2000) — Mary Harron

Christian Bale’s white-collar killer hacks his victims to Phil Collins tunes.

11. Audition (1999) — Takashi Miike  

A widower auditions new brides until it backfires in this shocking Japanese flick.

10. The Blair Witch Project (1999) — Dan Myrick, Ed Sanchez

This low-budget film stormed Sundance and birthed the found footage genre.

9. The Ring (2002) — Gore Verbinski

Naomi Watts leads a remake about a videotape that kills you in seven days.

8. Prisoners (2013) — Denis Villeneuve 

Hugh Jackman and Viola Davis search for abducted kids in chilly suburbia.

7. The Others (2001) — Alejandro Amenabar  

Nicole Kidman cares for her photosensitive kids in a dark, WWII-era estate.

6. The Orphanage (2007) — J.A. Bayona 

Spanish horror gem explores a haunted orphanage for handicapped children.

5. Black Swan (2010) — Darren Aronofsky 

Natalie Portman braves ghostly stalkers, body horror and split personalities.

4. A Quiet Place (2018) — John Krasinski

Emily Blunt must give a silent bathtub birth in this masterful creature feature.

3. Let the Right One In (2008) — Tomas Alfredson

A child vampire loves and protects a bullied boy in this Swedish masterpiece.

2. The Sixth Sense (1999) — M. Night Shyamalan

Haley Joel Osment “sees dead people” in the greatest ghost story ever told.

1. Get Out (2017) — Jordan Peele

You haven’t seen this “Sunken Place” masterpiece until you’ve seen it again.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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