The most terrifying horror movies include The Exorcist, Jaws, The Shining, Psycho and more.
How do you like your scares served up? Do you prefer them on a platter as a jump-scare or would you rather have them a little more thought-provoking? What about a chase scene where the killer is making up ground on a victim who continues to trip over nothing? Perhaps you prefer your scares from the unknown – what lies beneath the ocean’s surface – or maybe it’s a supernatural thing or a dose of reality. There are plenty of ways to get your scares from the movie screen and here are our 10 most terrifying horror movies of all time that will help elicit those scares you so crave.
10 MOST TERRIFYING HORROR MOVIES OF ALL TIME
10. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter spared no expense in gore and shock in his 1982 horror film, The Thing, starring Kurt Russell as one of the leaders in a frozen outpost in Antarctica who happen to come up against an alien entity that has the ability to mimic just about any warm-blooded creature to include humans.
Carpenter expertly plays out the paranoia of the group of researchers on the isolated outpost as one by one, they fall victim to the Thing. Carpenter’s use of music and state-of-the-art (for its time) practical special effects to show just what this alien is capable of and why Russell’s R.J. MacReady goes to the lengths he does to make sure this alien does not live outside of the frozen research facility.
9. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski wrote and directed this truly terrifying 1968 film, Rosemary’s Baby, which was based on the 1967 Ira Levin novel of the same name. The film stars Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as a young married couple who recently relocated to a large New York City apartment building. Although Rosemary (Farrow) loves the building, it’s the elderly neighbors she finds troublesome.
Polanski weaves a tale of paranoia mixed with the occult and does it well. When Rosemary gets pregnant, Polanski ramps up the paranoia Rosemary is feeling, only to discover her thoughts were dead on. There is something wrong with the tenants in her apartment building and now her husband is acting just as strange. Then, there’s Rosemary’s baby.
8. The Babadook (2014)
Writer/director Jennifer Kent made her feature film directorial debut with The Babadook, a psychological horror movie that can easily lay claim to being one of the most terrifying films of all time. Kent filmed The Babadook in Australia, with Australian actors, so no big American names took part in the film, though it doesn’t lessen the chills in the least.
The story follows a widowed single mom and her son who are trying to fight the existence of a menacing monster in their home. Essie Davis stars as Amelia Vanek, a single mother who lost her husband in a car crash as he was driving her to the hospital while she was in labor with their son. Seven years later, Amelia is still not over the loss.
One night, her son Sam asks her to read Mister Babadook, a pop-up book that contains the monster, the Babadook. Not long after reading the story, strange occurrences begin to manifest at their home, leading to a showdown with the Babadook.
7. Hereditary (2018)
Hereditary is filmmaker Ari Aster’s feature film debut and what a debut it was. Aster, whose other two credits include the 2019 Midsommar, and the recently released Beau is Afraid, went for the creepy vibe in this horror movie that stars Toni Collette (who knows a thing about creepy movies), Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro.
With Hereditary, Aster makes fine use of decapitations as he mixes grief, mourning, and loss with a supernatural element that is sure to leave a lasting image or two. Collette is game as Annie Graham, who is trying to come to grips with the loss of her mother, an emotionally distant woman and far from the perfect mother figure.
Strange things begin to happen as Annie starts to understand what shocking things her mother, and now her family, were involved in.
6. Jaws (1975)
When Steven Spielberg brought Jaws to the big screen in the summer of 1975, little did he know of the terror he was creating. Yes, he was hoping for a fun thrill ride at the local cineplexes, but he wasn’t aware of the sheer terror he’d create at beaches around the country.
What Jaws did was tap into our innate fear of swimming in the ocean and not knowing what lurks beneath us. Throughout the years, especially since the film premiered and is in constant rotation on television once the warm weather hits, beachgoers have become more and more aware of those terrifying beasts in the ocean.
We have seen shark attack after shark attack and those, coupled with the most terrifying shark movie in existence have made thousands of people, if not more, scared to go into the ocean.
5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
This is the original story of Leatherface, the monster behind the Texas Chainsaw Massacres. Horror director icon Tobe Hooper brought the story of Leatherface to life in 1974 in a story that was inspired by the gruesome crimes of Ed Gein.
Hooper directed this very low-budget horror movie (made for less than $140,000) that told the story of a group of five friends who fall prey to a family of cannibals, led by Leatherface, who masks himself with the skin of his victims. The film is brutal in its low-budget approach but thoroughly effective as one of the most original terrifying horror movies of its time.
4. Alien (1979)
You know you are going to be in for a terrifying ride with Ridley Scott’s Alien and its tagline consisting of, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” What you get from that is a horror movie where your screams will definitely be heard.
The movie follows the crew of a space tug called Nostromo, whose venture to an uncharted planet has them all fighting for their lives after a deadly alien species finds its way on board. Sigourney Weaver stepped into the pantheon of heroic alien fighters as Ripley, a crew member who ends up going toe-to-toe with the alien.
The film includes one of the most horrific scenes involving John Hurt and a little alien who is just dying to get out and play.
3. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock, the man known for creating suspense in the movie theater, ups his game with this 1960 horror movie, Psycho. Never were showers so intimidating and scary after Hitch let Norman Bates loose on unsuspecting Marion Crane.
Anthony Perkins expertly played Bates with a touch of melancholy and hidden menace as he constantly battled “mother” who lived in the second story of their home and who was not fond of any guests.
The Bates Motel became famous, as did Norman after Marion goes missing and her sister and Marion’s boyfriend show up searching for her. Add in a private investigator and you have a very unhappy mother.
2. The Shining (1980)
Depending on who you are, Stanley Kubrick’s version of the massive Stephen King bestseller, The Shining, you will either find the film scary as hell or a poor take on a great novel. If you have read the book and can disregard King’s story, you may have a chance. If you’ve never read King’s book, then you just might consider Kubrick’s film a masterpiece.
The film stars Jack “Here’s Johnny” Nicholson as writer Jack Torrance who, with his family, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young Danny (Danny Lloyd) arrives at the Overlook Hotel to be its caretakers for the winter while it shuts down. Jack is a recovering alcoholic while Danny has a gift known as the shining, something that allows him to see ghosts.
The Shining departs from King’s story in a number of different ways, but it is, nevertheless, a frightening watch as Jack begins to fall back into the bottle while turning into a menacing presence as the hotel and its evil take over.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
For when this film debuted in 1973, it was immediately one of the most frightening to ever hit the big screen and many consider it to be the crème de le crème when it comes to horror movies. The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty which he based on his own novel, tells the story of 12-year-old Regan Mac Neil, who becomes possessed by the demon Pazuzu.
The film is graphic in its depiction of Regan’s possession and its bloody scene of her masturbating with a crucifix along with her turning her head backward forced many in those 1973 audiences out of the theaters in fright. The film now has a director’s cut that includes scenes that were considered too frightening in 1973, which is why they were removed from its theatrical release.