50 of the Best Halloween Movies of All Time for Spooktacular Chills and Thrills
Get ready for some serious scares with these eerie-sistible horror classics you’ll want to binge-watch on Halloween and beyond
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
rd.com, via amazon.com (9), via hbo.com
‘Tis the season … for scares!
Grab a comfy blanket, a big bowl of candy and maybe a flashlight—just in case! Halloween is creeping up on us, which means it’s time to scare yourself silly with the best Halloween movies. (Hey, who needs to sleep?) Whether you’re looking for something truly terrifying or something on the funny-scary side, we’ve got just the thing for you on this list of the best Halloween movies of all time. These are the cult hits and undying classics that scream fiends revisit again and again. Once you watch them, you’ll see why—even if you do cover your eyes occasionally.
We’re talking classic Halloween monsters like vampires, werewolves and zombies, along with iconic horror-movie villains wielding sharp, shiny objects. With a little help from Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and Freeform’s “31 Nights of Halloween,” these films will help you properly celebrate Halloween from the comfort (and safety) of your own couch. That said, if you’re looking for something a little lighter, you might want to try these witch movies, kids Halloween movies or Disney Halloween movies to enjoy with the little ones. Either way, you’ll also need a great soundtrack at this time of year, so you’ll want the best Halloween songs playing on a loop when these movies aren’t on your screen.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.
Go back to the original slasher classic starring Jamie Lee Curtis to experience one of the best Halloween movies of all time. The opening shot of Halloween starts with the point of view of a creeper who peeks into windows, enters a house, then stops in the kitchen to grab a big carving knife. Scared yet? If not, you will be soon! You won’t want to miss out on one of the best movies ever.
What’s your favorite scary movie? It’s Halloween night, and your vocal cords need exercise. Time for Scream. Why is screaming fun? Just ask the teens who face off with Ghostface in this thriller that gets meta with the slasher-film genre when the victims watch horror movies while they’re in one. Get the Scream mask for an easy, scary Halloween ensemble, or check out these other terrifying costume options.
Travel back to the creepy origins of vampire movies with the silent cinema masterpiece Nosferatu. You’ll be mesmerized by the nightmare visuals as the vampire count terrorizes a small town, and you’ll recognize the shadowy visual style that still influences horror movies today. Take note as the creature’s sharp nails and pointed ears appear on surfaces before he does, creating symbolic violence that foreshadows the doom to come.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The iconic, cult-favorite captures the magic and malevolent spirit of Halloween—but keeps it cute. Goth guru Tim Burton came up with the story for this whimsical, watchable fairy tale about holidays and the creatures who are in charge of them, like the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, who gets into trouble when he tries to take over Christmas.
Why do we call pumpkins “Jack,” anyway? Here’s the scoop on Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. Not to mention, The Nightmare Before Christmas is perfect to have on in the background while you enjoy Halloween party games or even Halloween bingo!
Tim Burton’s live-action adaptation of Washington Irving’s classic of American literature, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, ups the ante on atmospheric gloom and won an Oscar for Art Direction. Sleepy Hollow, which offers stylized Gothic Americana in its retelling of Headless Horseman lore from 1799, stars Johnny Depp as the hapless Ichabod Crane. This haunting tale takes place in New York, by the way. These are the spookiest ghost stories in your state—and every other.
Return to the original out-of-control mad-scientist flick with one of the best Halloween movies that’s been influencing monster films since its release. Based on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s epic Gothic horror novel, it’s a story that asks “Why not bring the dead back to life?” The classic horror movie, Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff, has inspired many types of Halloween costumes and continues to spawn countless sequels and remakes, including one of the greatest follow-ups in cinema history, 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein.
They’re heee-eere! This PG-rated haunted-house flick scared your socks off in the ’80s. (We know you were covering your eyes and pulling up your legs so the monsters under the theater seat couldn’t grab you!) Well, guess what? The original Poltergeist is still terrifying. Make sure you’re not living on top of a burial ground and you aren’t the owner of a cursed pool before you watch this one. These Halloween quotes will also get you in the spooky spirit.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
You might not initially think of E.T. as a Halloween movie, but it definitely qualifies: It takes place during the lush fall season, and in one of the most iconic movie scenes of all time, the little alien wears his Halloween ghost costume as Elliott flies across the full moon. His bike might as well be a broomstick. Toss in some Reese’s Pieces, and the whole vibe is fall season, October magic. If you don’t have your very own alien, then your pet will have to do. Here are the absolute best Halloween costumes for dogs.
It’s the ol’ killer-meets-doll setup: Killer transfers soul into doll. Doll goes on rampage. Because dolls apparently weren’t creepy enough, in this movie they’re brought to life, given knives and try to stab you. This scary concept from Child’s Play spawned the Chucky series cultural phenomenon. For a can’t-miss idea, get dolled up as Chucky or any of these punny and funny Halloween costumes.
Chris Sarandon, at the height of beefcake-dom, stars as a seductive next door neighbor in this ultimate frightfest. In Fright Night, Roddy McDowell plays a TV horror host and fictional vamp hunter who has to face that vampires are, yes, real when a teenager asks him for help. You’re going to need to lighten the mood after you watch, because it’s truly frightening, even though it’s infused with some tongue-in-cheek humor. Our suggestion? These corny Halloween jokes to help take the edge off.
How many spiders does it take to make you jump? If you’re in the mood to get your skin crawling, then tune in to the cult classic Arachnophobia. It offers several horrible ways to cure (or cause) arachnophobia after aggressive and deadly arachnids take over a rural enclave and make it their breeding nest. Eeeeek! Time to calm down with some Halloween memes.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Cute. Classic. Completely adorable. Make a snack mix with peanuts and popcorn and fall full-force into Snoopy nostalgia with your traditional, seasonal rewatch of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Linus believes so strongly in the Great Pumpkin that he waits all day and all night for the mystical pumpkin to appear, despite comments from naysayers. This one is proof that the best Halloween movies don’t have to scare the living daylights out of you.
Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero’s low-budget, black-and-white zombie movie inaugurated a new era of flesh-eating killers who stumble forward to eat you, even if you’re family—especially if you’re family! Night of the Living Dead is still scary, and it’s also chock-full of cultural commentary about the masses as the walking dead. To keep your blood pumping, check out these thriller movies.
So, what’s a babadook? Just a harmless kids book! Right. In this ominous study in terror that gives horror books a whole new meaning, a newly widowed, grieving mom tries to care for her child while haunted by an increasingly terrifying entity. Critics loved the weirdo freakiness of The Babadook when it was released in 2014, and soon audiences around the globe caught on to the inspired terror of this stylish Australian movie that bridges the arty and the scary. For a truly harmless book, try this list of spooky, silly Halloween books for kids.
Time to screen this chilling, cover-your-eyes horror masterpiece from director Jordan Peele. But first, look outside. Make sure it’s dark. Now check to see if you and your fam’s exact doppelgängers dressed in orange jumpsuits are just standing there, staring at you. (Hopefully not!) Us is a psychological thriller that will make you smarter while it scares your socks off.
In Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Pinhead (who didn’t get his very literal name until subsequent films) and his merry band of Cenobites wreak grisly havoc on the living. This ’80s horror hit spawned a cult following and a film franchise. Helpful tip: If you stumble upon a demonic and complicated Rubik’s cube, just leave it be! Do not open the portals to hell or wait to hear Pinhead say, “The box. You opened it. We came.”
David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly rivals the 1958 original starring Vincent Price as the brother of a man whose head fuses with a fly’s body. Help me! The update is a gorefest with Jeff Goldblum perfectly cast as another obsessive scientist. Don’t mess with science. And if you must, don’t science yourself into an insect hybrid. That’s gross—but also the reason audiences love this movie.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Why carry one knife when you can attach four to each of the fingers on your slashing hand? Efficiency! This dreamscape horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street will keep you up all night on Halloween. Perfect! After all, that’s the only way you’re safe from iconic baddie Freddy Krueger. The first film in the long-running franchise was an immediate box office hit that hasn’t slowed down since, with several sequels, a TV spinoff and a remake. The knife-fingered villain remains the top pop-culture monster who just won’t go to sleep.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Based on the bestselling children’s books, this horror flick goes full-throttle on gore and ghastliness while still managing to keep it PG-13. That said, while it’s one of the best Halloween movies for tweens and teens, make sure to keep little ones away from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark—no matter how much they beg to watch with their older siblings. Three teens stumble across a possessed book that writes scary stories that come to life in terrifying ways. Watch out for hugs from hallway monsters and acne that comes with spiders. Here are more spooky stories that will keep you up at night.
Ah yes, the “children of the night.” Howling. What music they make! In Dracula, Bela Lugosi stars as the ultimate blood-sucking royalty in this masterpiece filled with gorgeous black-and-white visuals that express deadly horror and entrapment in beautiful ways. Looking for a costume for the big day—or a big party? You can’t go wrong as a vampire, especially if you follow the directions for these easy Halloween makeup ideas anyone can master.
What if therapy involved giving birth to your traumas—literally—and then they ran around in pastel, hooded onesies killing people? The Brood gains cult status from its over-the-top psychological and physical horror. A woman goes through intense psychoanalysis during a divorce and custody battle and develops “exowombs” that produce offspring she can psychically control. Watch at your own peril.
The Houses October Built
Every year, those terrifying haunted houses appear, and who takes those seasonal jobs as the monsters paid to scare you? The Houses October Built asks “What if those employees took their jobs very, very, very seriously—and the scaring was no longer pretend?” The film uses a found-footage documentary style that will make you wonder if the whole thing is real. If you’re scared of clowns, you might want to avoid this one!
Telekinetic powers. John Travolta as prom king. Sissy Spacek as a super angry teen who just wants to fit in. These are the oh-so-perfect ingredients in this classic adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. In an iconic scene, mean girls drench Carrie with pig’s blood at the school dance. Then it’s time for Carrie to unleash her powers in an uncontrollable revenge rampage. It’s hard not to love this classic cult horror with its sympathetic heroine at the center—while still being completely terrified at the same time.
Illustrious thespian and opera all-star William Marshall gives an epic performance as an African royal who wakes up in 1970s Los Angeles as a vampire after he was bitten and boarded up in a coffin centuries earlier. Early Blaxploitation style mixes in with this misunderstood masterpiece. Marshall imbues Blacula with a transcendent gravitas as he wreaks poetic, blood-sucking justice, and the ending is a surprising tearjerker for a vampire movie.
Shadow of the Vampire
In Shadow of the Vampire, a film about the making of Nosferatu, Willem Dafoe stars as Max Schreck, the actor who played the vampire in the silent cinema masterpiece. In this fictionalized rendition of the production, vampires are actually real, and the lead actor is one of them. John Malkovich stars as the film’s obsessive director in this freaky retelling that’s perfect for fans of the vampiric. If you haven’t started decking your halls with all things spooky, now is the time to start! Try these budget-friendly DIY Halloween decorations for just the right touch.
Children of the Corn
He who walks behind the rows is a seriously sinister monster out to get grown-ups. Based on one of Stephen King’s terrifying literary works, Children of the Corn stars Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton as rural road-trippers who stumble upon a cult of religious children who murder all the adults as a sacrifice to their angry cornfield deity. While we’re talking about the legendary author, check out this list of Stephen King’s best quotes—which are alternately profound, inspiring and terrifying.
If you like your cult films unhinged and hilarious, then don’t miss this Japanese horror-comedy, House, from Nobuhiko Obayashi. It’s indescribably original and spiked with weirdness, gore and charm. Teen schoolgirls visit a summer home that’s haunted by a grieving aunt and her fluffy white cat, and madcap violence ensues. We’re talking horrors such as monster mattresses, deadly chandeliers and a flood of blood.
In the satanic classic The Omen, Gregory Peck plays a distraught man who replaces his own stillborn child with an orphaned newborn without his wife’s knowledge. This seems like a harmless godsend, except the replacement is Satan’s kid. Prepare for an iconic entry in the evil-brat genre.
The Wolf Man
Universal Studios’s classic monster movie The Wolf Man offers the perfect blend of terror and pathos as a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) contends with the horror and guilt of his actions. Delight in iconic visuals of black-and-white violence in gloomy, foggy woods. This one’s famous for the early-special-effects monster transformation from wolf creature to man. Claude Rains stars as the desperate father of the doomed beast in this 1940s classic. Don’t miss these vintage Halloween costumes that could still be worn today.
Eyes Without a Face
This subtitled French horror film Eyes Without a Face follows the terrible exploits of yet another mad scientist. He’s a surgeon who removes the faces of women in the on-site laboratory of his luxurious Gothic mansion. He’s trying to help his daughter whose own face was disfigured in an accident. Come for the freaky mannequin mask, and stay for the grisly facial surgery. This cult classic is truly a fright! Watch if you dare.
Halloween aesthetics can make idyllic farm pastures and rows of corn very scary. In 1922, a woman wants to sell said idyllic farm and move to the city. Her husband is not having it, and from there things get ghostly and grisly in this film adapted from a Stephen King novella. It’s both one of the best ghost stories and best King adaptations of late.
Slow-burn chills fill this creepy classic adapted from Henry James’s ghost story novella, The Turn of the Screw. In The Innocents, Deborah Kerr gives an iconic performance as the governess of two sinister kids caught up in ghostliness and a waking nightmare after their servants die. The visuals are breathtaking and totally chilling, even all these years later.
The Lost Boys
Time for vampire-mullet mania and lots of hair gel! Eighties horror schlock was never as rad as it was in The Lost Boys. Jason Patric is, like, totally awesome as a teen bad boy who gets pulled into the beach lair of wilding adolescents led by Kiefer Sutherland, who plays a motorcycle-gang delinquent of the night.
The original Japanese scary movie Ringu, which inspired The Ring, also involves scary VHS tapes that curse you if you watch them. If you love the series, try this chilling cult hit to find a terrifying ghost girl who crawls soaking wet out of your television set. Long, black hair covering her eyes. White nightgown. Nightmare time. For some real-life scares, read these creepy Ouija board stories that people swear actually happened.
House on Haunted Hill
Vincent Price seethes with his characteristic creepy charm as a millionaire who promises a cash prize to five strangers if they can last a single night locked inside a haunted mansion—the site of several grisly murders. House on Haunted Hill still chills with surprise twists and jump scares that will keep you on edge. Foreboding visuals, like guns resting in mini-coffins, fill every frame with dread and shadow.
An American Werewolf in London
In An American Werewolf in London, a lovely stroll on the moors turns terrifying when two American tourists get attacked by a lunatic hound. One survives the bite and finds himself afflicted with werewolfism. In the iconic scene, scored by the soft croon of Sam Cooke singing “Blue Moon,” you witness the horrifying mysteries of violent transformation brought on by the full moon. FYI, these are the most haunted places in America, according to paranormal experts.
The shocking horror film Suspiria brims with intense psychological terror as a young ballerina finds herself enmeshed with an evil sect. Famed Italian director Dario Argento saturates images with striking color and diabolical dread. The 2018 remake with Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson also sizzles with stylish terror, but watch the earlier one first for the full cult experience.
A stylish psychological thriller, The Others takes place in an ominous, enormous English estate that seems haunted. Nicole Kidman plays a mother alone with two children who begin to notice sinister happenings in the grim and gloomy manse. Tune in for the slow-burn mystery and chilling style.
Ready or Not
Set in a gigantic mansion filled with endless wood-paneled rooms and decorated with weaponry, Ready or Not tells the story of a newly married bride who’s cajoled into playing a game with her new in-laws. If you like Halloween movies that make you avert your eyes and hope it’s all over soon, then by all means, say “I do” to this rowdy thriller. Planning your own spooky soiree? These Halloween party ideas will provide a scary-good time that everyone will actually love.
Amp up Halloween with the best suspense thriller from iconic director Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho basically invented modern slasher cinema and stylized cinematic screaming. To this day, it’s still one of the best Halloween movies to watch because it remains the gold standard for truly disturbing cinema that will fill your night with a menacing mood.
Looking for realistic chills? This home-invasion cult classic finds Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman playing a young couple who are terrorized by masked intruders in their remote summer home. But what makes The Strangers even scarier? It could actually happen.
Trick ‘r Treat
Ghosts. Werewolves. Serial Killers. Jack-o’-lanterns. And a healthy dose of Halloween atmosphere. Yep, this one has it all. So trust us when we say that this cult-classic anthology film is one of the good Halloween movies out there. Trick ‘r Treat tells five very different tales set on Halloween that intertwine in a clever and eerie fashion.
Sistas! Not only is this hilarious and campy romp one of the best halloween movies for all ages, but it’s a bonafide classic. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy deliver as the Sanderson sister witches who come back from the dead and wreak havoc on modern-day Salem. Hocus Pocus managed to capture quite the spell on viewers. So much so that Disney revived the trio for a sequel, Hocus Pocus 2, nearly 30 years after the original. And after watching, you won’t be able to resist reciting some Hocus Pocus quotes.
28 Days Later
Send some adrenaline through your veins with one of the best modern-day zombie movies, 28 Days Later. The British horror film raised the stakes when it comes to flesh-eating zombies. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, the zombies here are no longer slow-moving corpses like the ones featured in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Instead they’re fast-running (very fast), cold-blooded hunters that will do pretty much anything to take their next bite. Yikes!
The Amityville Horror
Looking for one of the most classic Halloween movies out there? Look no further than The Amityville Horror for a true story that has baffled true-crime buffs and paranormal investigators for years. In November 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family as they were asleep in their quaint Long Island estate. One year after the tragedy, newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz, along with their three children, moved into the house only to flee the property 28 days later—leaving all their belongings behind, never to return. The reason for their swift exit? They claimed they were terrorized by ghosts. Their story shocked the nation when it went public in the late ’70s, and it spawned a horror franchise that spans more than a dozen sequels and even a remake starring a shirtless (and very fit) Ryan Reynolds. Our suggestion? Watch the original and the 2005 remake, and skip the rest.
With witches, cults and one of the most shocking deaths in recent cinematic history, Hereditary is enough to fill you with a sense of dread that will leave you uneasy for days. The only thing more terrifying than the trauma depicted in this film is the criminally underrated performance by lead actress Toni Collette (Knives Out, The Sixth Sense).
The Blair Witch Project
Want to go for a hike in the woods? Think again. The original found-footage phenomenon, which centers around three student filmmakers who get lost in the woods, fooled the internet (and the world) into thinking the horrors depicted on-screen were real. Two sequels have tried to continue The Blair Witch Project legacy, but neither of them effectively out-scare one of the scariest movies of all time.
Ghosts. Demonic possession. Creepy dolls. And a visit from famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. These make up the effectively simple formula for James Wan’s terrifying haunted-house movie The Conjuring. Not only is it a modern classic, but the film, which is based on a true story, spawned an entire cinematic universe that will make you keep the lights on for many nights to come.
When it comes to scary Halloween movies, the Halloween franchise has remained at the top of the list (even after countless sequels, various timelines and a remake), delivering plenty of spooky tricks and creepy treats. And for the (supposed) final film in the long-running franchise, Halloween Ends, serial slasher Michael Myers faces off against the ultimate final girl, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), in one last bloody showdown.
When a young couple begins to experience mounting supernatural phenomena in their home, they make every effort to document the bizarre and unexplainable occurrences. But as autumn sets in and the days get shorter, it becomes apparent that there is something far more menacing behind the bumps in the night. Paranormal Activity spoiler alert: sleep with your feet under the covers. On another note, if you’re a frequent movie-goer, consider getting a MoviePass to help save while you enjoy your favorite movies in theatres.
Next, see if you can answer these Halloween trivia questions.
Additional reporting by Alex Aronson.