Best Horror Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best horror movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999) – Dan Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

This highly profitable low-budget indie birthed the “found footage” genre of “Paranormal Activity,” blurring fact vs. fiction by planting articles online and missing person fliers at Sundance.

29. ‘Saw’ (2004) — James Wan

“Wanna play a game?” The instantly iconic villain Jigsaw launched the “torture porn” era, catapulting director James Wan to “The Conjuring” and screenwriter Leigh Whannell to “The Invisible Man.”

28. ‘The Orphanage’ (2007) – J.A. Bayona

Before “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls,” J.A. Bayona delivered a Spanish masterpiece about a woman who returns to the haunted orphanage of her childhood and discovers the secrets within.

27. ‘Suspiria’ (1977) – Dario Argento

Argento’s highly stylized, candy-colored film remains the crown jewel of Italian Gaillo horror, as an American ballet student transfers to a German dance academy only to discover it’s run by a coven of witches.

26. ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981-1987) – Sam Raimi

Sam Raimi launched his career by pitting Bruce Campbell’s Ash against hungry zombies in a remote cabin in the woods, then had him chased by his own zombified hand in the arguably better sequel “Evil Dead 2.”

25. ‘A Quiet Place’ (2018) – Jon Krasinski

Jon Krasinski delivered a virtually silent creature feature where a post-apocalyptic family can’t make a sound or else they’ll be instantly devoured by monsters, while Emily Blunt tries to hold in a pregnancy in a bathtub.

24. ‘The Thing’ (1982) – John Carpenter

The bodily mutations of “The Thing” will make you squeamish as dog jowls mix with human arms in a rapidly-evolving alien creature that makes this remake better than its original, “The Thing from Another World” (1951).

23. ‘The Ring’ (1998) – Hideo Nakata

You answer a ringing phone and a creepy child whispers: “Seven days.” That’s how long you have left to live after watching a cursed videotape in this J-horror gem later remade by Gore Verbinski starring Naomi Watts.

22. ‘Poltergeist’ (1982) – Tobe Hooper

“They’re here!” Heather O’Rourke gets sucked into an alternate dimension through a static TV, while a suburban family is haunted by their house being built on a Native American burial ground, adding social commentary to the opening “National Anthem.” Conjure up the ghost hunters: “This house is clean.”

21. ‘The Haunting’ (1963) – Robert Wise

In between his lavish musicals “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music,” Robert Wise directed this haunted-house masterpiece that scares the hell out of us without ever having to show us a damn thing. If you like this, also check out William Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” (1959) starring Vincent Price.

20. ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980) – Sean Cunningham

Before Jason Vorhees appeared in his iconic hockey mask and machete, his mother massacred Kevin Bacon and company at Camp Crystal Lake for a pop-culture smash and one of the great jumpscare endings of all time.

19. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984) – Wes Craven

To this day, New Line Cinema is known as “The House That Freddy Built” as the burnt flesh of Freddy Krueger entered our nightmares and clawed his way into a long-running slasher franchise.

18. ‘The Birds’ (1963) – Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock directed textbook suspense as crows gathered on a jungle gym, but the film is really about Tippi Hedren’s relationship with potential mother-in-law Jessica Tandy, the story ending when that bond is healed.

17. ‘The Fly’ (1986) – David Cronenberg

Cronenberg’s ultimate “body horror” sees Jeff Goldblum transform into a man-fly hybrid during a botched science experiment. Geena Davis delivers the best tagline in horror history: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

16. ‘Carrie’ (1976) – Brian De Palma

“They’re all gonna laugh at you!” Stephen King’s first book-to-film adaptation introduced a fiery Sissy Spacek and her Bible-thumping mother Piper Laurie. Brian DePalma directed a slow-mo opening in the steamy locker room, an impressive Figure-8 shot at prom and a final grave scene shot in reverse for an eerie effect.

15. ‘Let the Right One In’ (2008) – Tomas Alfredson

This unique chiller took the unique approach of a child vampire’s relationship with her oft-bullied neighbor, artfully painting the white snow with red blood and building toward a shocking underwater swimming pool finale.

14. ‘Dracula’ (1931) – Tod Browning

“Children of the night! What music they make.” It’s hard to find horror monsters more iconic than Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula, who creeps around Bram Stoker’s castle in Transylvania in the vampire footsteps of “Nosferatu” (see our “Silent” film category for more on the German original).

13. ‘Frankenstein’ (1931-1935) – James Whale

“It’s alive! It’s alive!” Boris Karloff turned Mary Shelley’s literary classic into an iconic monster for Universal Studios. Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein memorably watched him come alive, while Elsa Lanchester enchanted in the sequel “Bride of Frankenstein.”

12. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) – George Romero

Long before “The Walking Dead,” Romero single-handedly invented the zombie genre with this franchise, offering social commentary as “Dawn of the Dead” zombies resemble Black Friday shoppers.

11. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) – Tobe Hooper

Loosely based on real-life Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, Hooper’s gritty style lent a documentary feel to Leatherface and his house of horrors, convincing a generation of audiences that they were watching a real massacre.

10. ‘Halloween’ (1978) – John Carpenter

Masked killer Michael Myers escaped Donald Pleasance’s insane asylum and returned to his childhood neighborhood to stalk Jamie Lee Curtis’ virginal babysitter in this slasher classic. Did you know that director John Carpenter wrote the iconic piano theme himself?

9. ‘Scream’ (1996) – Wes Craven

“Do you like scary movies?” Drew Barrymore’s opening slaughter by the Ghost-Faced Killer was downright horrific, while Wes Craven’s satirical script taught us the rules of horror: (1) Never have sex, (2) Never drink or do drugs, and (3) Never say, “I’ll be right back.” It was such a success that the Wayans Brothers spoofed it in “Scary Movie.”

8. ‘The Omen’ (1976) – Richard Donner

Few film moments are scarier than Gregory Peck trimming the hair of his adopted son Damien, looking for the Anti-Christ’s “666” as his demonic nanny slept in the adjacent room, all backed by Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning choir of “Ave Satani.”

7. ‘Alien’ (1979-1986) – Ridley Scott, James Cameron

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” H.R. Giger’s biomechanical alien face-hugger bursts from a chest in a horrific example of science friction, but it meets its match in feminist icon Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who returns to kick the Queen Alien’s ass in James Cameron’s action-packed sequel “Aliens.”

6. ‘Get Out’ (2017) – Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning masterpiece of slow-burn suspense was a chilling social commentary packed with dialogue full of double meanings and symbolic images, from deer antlers to American flag wardrobe to cotton-picking escapes. It very well might be the best film of the 21st century so far.

5. ‘Jaws’ (1975) – Steven Spielberg

While it becomes a “Moby Dick” adventure in the second half, the first hour rivals the scariest stuff ever put on screen with underwater P.O.V. shots signaling bloody shark attacks to John Williams’ iconic two-note score.

4. ‘The Shining’ (1980) – Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is utterly claustrophobic, as Jack Nicholson discovers the horror of Room 327, Danny encounters twin girl ghosts on his tricycle and Shelley Duvall flees her ax-wielding husband screaming, “Here’s Johnny!” You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

3. ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) – William Friedkin

Deemed by many the scariest movie of all time, “The Exorcist” mines slow-burn suspense from the mystery of faith, then jolts us repeatedly with the most grotesquely shocking, head-spinning jump scares ever put on film.

2. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) – Roman Polanski

“The Exorcist” would not exist without this haunting tale of newlyweds Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes moving into the Dakota Building, where the Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon appears in the peephole, plunging Rosemary into a trippy hallucination, a mystery of cult conspiracy and a shocking reveal of biblical proportions.

1. ‘Psycho’ (1960) – Alfred Hitchcock

The most important horror movie of all time, Hitchcock single-handedly invented the slasher genre with “Psycho.” Audiences screamed so loud at Janet Leigh’s shower demise that they couldn’t hear Bernard Herrmann’s famous theme, leaving dutiful mama’s boy Norman Bates to pick up the shocking pieces.

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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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