The 35 Scariest Movies of All Time
We sorted through the scariest movies out there and picked the most ghoulish and jaw-dropping horror films. Sleep tight.
One of the scariest movies because: Well… clowns. The latest adaptation of Stephen King’s frightful page-turner surpassed The Exorcist for the highest-grossing R-rated scary movie ever. Remakes often fall short, but this one rebels against that trend. We think this version is absolutely one of the best scary movies of all time.
What the critics say: Even before movie reviews dropped, critic Halleigh Fatouch of Collider tweeted “It’s scary as sh–.” Skarsgard nails Pennywise, she added.
“Beyond killer clowns, It also delves into the grief & anger kids feel when they realize those who should love & protect them do the opposite. These are themes in King’s stories that filmmakers often ignore. But the best adaptations figure out they’re the most vital part.”—Anthony Breznican, EW. This one’s definitely not for children, folks. If you’re looking for some kid-friendly picks, check out the best Halloween movies for kids.
The Exorcist (1973)
One of the scariest movies because: Terrible, terrible things come out of a little girl’s mouth (which happens to be attached to a spinning head, thanks to demonic possession). Audiences were so affected by this fearsome film that some theaters even provided “Exorcist barf bags.”
What the critics say: “The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror. “—Variety. Did you ever know The Exorcist was briefly removed from theatres in the United States? Check out these other movies you never knew were banned in the USA.
The Shining (1980)
One of the scariest movies because: Jack Nicholson is seriously freaky as crazed novelist Jack Torrance, who [spoiler alert] tries to chop his family to little bits after a particularly stressful winter. With the set design, Kubrick-style cinematography, and world-class actors including the wide-eyed Shelley Duvall, it’s no wonder that The Shining is one of the world’s top scary movies.
What the critics say: “Scaring the viewer is easy… What is harder is to accentuate the horrifying aspects of things that are familiar… Kubrick isn’t out for screams, but he manages to make his movie thoroughly unnerving by keeping the horror so close to home.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times. If fake horror movies don’t scare you, binge watch these true crime movies.
One of the scariest movies of all time because: This John Carpenter original is a cold, bloody slasher flick that cuts to the bone; and it’s not afraid to take itself seriously.
What the critics say: “A visceral experience—we aren’t seeing the movie, we’re having it happen to us. It’s frightening.”—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times. If Halloween is your fright trigger, these other scary Halloween movies will rock your world.
One of the scariest movies because: Things aren’t what they seem in Poltergeist: A static TV screen releases evil spirits, invisible beings rearrange furniture, and houses move through dimensions, which might make shadows seem a bit menacing as you settle into bed after watching.
What the critics say: “…a marvelously spooky ghost story that may possibly scare the wits out of very small children and offend those parents who believe that kids should be protected from their own, sometimes savage imaginations.”—Vincent Canby, The New York Times
The Evil Dead (1979)
One of the scariest movies because: It’s so packed with evil that even the trees rip hapless teenagers apart in this pre-Spider-Man flick from director Sam Raimi, which has enough murder and supernatural mayhem to warrant an NC-17 rating.
What the critics say: “Sam Raimi directed this 1983 horror feature fresh out of film school, and his anything-for-an-effect enthusiasm pays off … The film is ferociously kinetic and full of visual surprises.”—Pat Graham, Chicago Reader. Aside from these spine-tingling movies, make sure you add these 15 spookiest songs of all time to your scary movie music playlist.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
One of the scariest movies because: This recent movie lampoons horror conventions while packing in some thrills of its own—a hulking family of zombies is mostly meant to be funny, but they’re sort of disturbing.
What the critics say: “It is by turns moderately horrifying and wickedly funny, offering more nods and winks than a narcoleptic on jury duty.”—Christopher Orr, The Atlantic. If staying in a haunted cabin is your cup of tea, here are 8 haunted houses you can rent on Airbnb.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One of the scariest movies because: Adolescence is tough enough without worrying about razor-armed Freddy Krueger killing hormonal teens in their sleep.
What the critics say: “Tailor-made for those who like their gore leavened with thought-provoking ideas—something that is a rarity in this genre.”—James Berardinelli, ReelViews
The Birds (1963)
One of the scariest movies because: You’ll never quite look at ravens the same way after seeing them descend upon a group of schoolchildren as if they were mealworms. Alfred Hitchcock—a pioneer of the scary movie genre—had a knack for making the scariest movies of all time.
What the critics say: “Genuinely disturbing thriller classic from the master of suspense.”—Kim Newman, Empire
One of the scariest movies because: The suspense mounts until it’s nearly unbearable, and then, finally [spoiler alert!], a bizarre creature rips through a man’s chest. After that, the real horror begins.
What the critics say: “Even with its horrifying villain and scenes of bloody excess, Alien endures as a superior piece of filmmaking, with a pace that’s like watching an art film.”—Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle