The demonic possession and exorcism subgenre of horror cinematography has fallen out of favor during the ’80s and the ’90s, mostly due to the recycled plotlines in which the protagonists either become possessed or deal with demonic possession.
And that’s about it. However, that doesn’t mean that the subgenre doesn’t produce good movies—it only means that they’re few and far apart. Keeping up with the theme of the upcoming pagan holiday, here are some of the most terrifying exorcism movies, ranked.
1973’s The Exorcist is the beginning of it all, the movie that inspired countless rehashes that are yet to live up to its iconic nature. Sure, there are scarier and deeper movies, but the fact that this particular release gave birth to an entire subgenre places The Exorcist on the #1 spot on our list.
The movie is an adaptation of a William Peter Blatty novel, in which a worried mother enlists the help of two priests after her daughter begins acting out, speaking in multiple languages, and levitating. Besides numerous nominations and awards, The Exorcist set the stage for the whole subgenre of exorcism movies.
If we’re judging based on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, South Korean The Wailing from 2016 is actually the king of exorcism movies because both the critics and the viewers actually scored it higher than the original Exorcist movie.
Not only that, but it’s also one of the best, and unfortunately, underrated, Asian horror movies—and Asians really do know how to make horror flicks. The whole movie basically revolutionized the premise of a priest locked inside a small room with a demon, and the results are quite impressive. It’s a must for every religious horror fan.
Released in 2013, The Conjuring was incredibly well-received among the audiences, which resulted in the birth of a franchise. The story revolves around a family that moves to a secluded farmhouse—which is a recipe for horror—and begins experiencing supernatural manifestations that result in possession.
The horror elements, apart from the exorcism part, are mostly based on jump-scares, but they’re so well-executed that we won’t hold it against the movie.
The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring 2 wasn’t as good as the original; it lost plenty of its horror through sheer familiarity, but it retained a superb, well-told ghost story. The narrative sees the exorcism due from the previous movie return, but this time, the story takes place in London, with James Wan using London’s dreary weather to emphasize the horrific nature of the haunting and their internal struggles with the malicious demon.
Though it’s basically another installment in a larger franchise, The Conjuring 2 remains one of the best exorcism movies on our list.
The Medium is yet another testament to the fact that Asians know their horror—you’d be shocked to learn just how many horror movies were adapted from their scarier, Asian-made counterparts.
The Medium centers around a family in a Thai village where, within each generation, one person inherits the powers of a spirit they refer to as the Goddess. However, a young girl in the family appears to inherit something else, something more sinister, and the mockumentary/found footage approach to this horror is what makes the whole story even scarier.
The Old Ways
The Old Ways didn’t really fare well with the audiences, but it managed to impress the critics, as it took all the known tropes of exorcism movies, put them in the blender, and what came out is something we often refer to as genius—taking known ingredients and making something entirely new. The story is rather creepy and contains witchcraft and demons, kidnapping, and, of course, exorcism.
The Pope’s Exorcist
The Pope’s Exorcist didn’t really impress the critics, but that’s okay—the movies are made for the audiences, and this one excelled at impressing the masses. Released in 2023, The Pope’s Exorcist is well on its way to becoming a fan-favorite exorcism movie.
It’s based on the memoirs of a real-life former chief Vatican exorcist who claimed to have performed over 50,000 exorcisms. In the movie, however, Father Amorth investigates the possession of a young boy and begins to uncover conspiracies that the Vatican attempted to keep secret for centuries. Definitely worth a watch.