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The 50 Best Horror Movies Ever

Is this the definitive ranking of the 50 best ever? In 2017, as a team, we offered this list as being just that.
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By  · Published on October 27th, 2017

20. Dawn of the Dead (1978, USA)

Watching Dawn of the Dead for the first time might be underwhelming for some. If for no other reason than to witnesses just how much has been copied and ripped-off from the horror classic. Every signature beat of this film has been seen elsewhere since its release whether that is the form of video games, television shows, or other zombie films. Dawn of the Dead is the iconic start of many zombie tropes we see today. The film takes place years after the events of Night of the Living Dead and follows four survivors as the try to make a life for themselves inside an abandoned shopping mall. While director George Romero’s previous work was in B&W, Dawn of the Dead is in full gory color. Behind the effects was Tom Savini, whose work was instrumental in capturing the horror of the zombie apocalypse. Outside of the blood and gore, Dawn of the Dead worked as a social commentary on material processions. There’s no question of Dawn of the Dead’s influence on the genre and how it remains a cornerstone of horror films to this day. – Max Covill

19. Let the Right One In (2008, Sweden)

This Swedish original, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a quiet look at a young, isolated boy, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant). He’s bullied and has no real connections. In fact, he’s starting to develop some troublesome behaviors. Then, Oskar finds solace in the company of a new arrival. A young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is also a loner. And, unfortunately for that town, a vampire. Despite this being a vampire movie, we spend most of our time with Oskar. Alfredson wants you to focus on Oskar and understand him. After all, he’s considering becoming the companion of a vampire. We really should have more movies about Renfields. He does give you details and plot points outside of Oskar’s experience, but my read on the film says Oskar’s choice is the one we’re meant to focus on. In fact, in one of the most violent scenes in the film, the camera stays with Oskar, hidden under water, as Eli lays waste to his tormentors. We really only see the aftermath. A missed opportunity to go full gore, or a desire to force you to consider Oskar’s perspective? If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the ending. I’ll just leave you with the question that keeps me interested in this film long after the credits roll: is this a happy ending? – William Dass

18. The Babadook (2014, Australia)

Ba ba dook! Give me more of that gravelly, distorted monster growl. BA BA DOOK! Let them hear it in the back. DOOK DOOK DOOK! Real talk, writer/director Jennifer Kent made one of the best films of that year. A single mom is dealing with major behavioral issues with her son. As her son’s birthday (also the anniversary of the car accident that killed her husband) approaches, the family begins to break. Mother and son descend into madness and chaos. Is this the work of an otherworldy pop-up book monster brought to life? Or, maybe it’s just a tooth infection. At the end, it’s more than a jump-scare-in-the-bedroom flick. Each of it’s many interpretations works back to the very singular theme of dealing with the long term consequences of loss and grief. Essie Davis is brilliant as the mom, and Noah Wiseman was deeply impressive as the son. The film is as terrifying as it is moving. For that, my new found fear of the dark corners of my room is as unabiding as the empathy I have for that family. – William Dass

17. Shaun of the Dead (2004, UK)

Shaun of the Dead is Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s first film, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at it. The first of the now-historic Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, it remains my favorite (of the trilogy and, possibly, of all films). Shaun of the Dead is a lot of things — a pitch-perfect love letter to the horror genre, a tightly written and even more tightly edited comedy, and a very real examination of love, friendship, and adulthood. It’s also genuinely a little scary. It could be said that Shaun of the Dead has something for everyone, but it’s maybe more appropriate to say that it has everything for anyone. It’s a fantastic film that happens to double as a horror movie, not the other way around. – Liz Baessler

16. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Germany)

Arguably one of the most influential horror films of all time, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari‘s legacy is one of style and storytelling that goes far beyond the confines of silent cinema. Chilling settings, production design, and makeup help make this film scary even for today’s audiences. – Emily Kubincanek

15. The Exorcist (1973, USA)

When young Regan’s disturbing behavior begins to escalate, her mother calls upon the help of two priests. What an excellent day for an exorcism. Whether you think it’s a straight-up horror movie, a psychological thriller, a meditation on faith, or some unholy combination of all three, one thing’s for sure: The Exorcist is unnerving as all hell. For me, the other shoe drops the moment the gargling, satanic vocal stylings of Mercedes McCambridge enter the picture. Whichever way the wind blows for you personally, to watch The Exorcist is to enter into a theological battleground and all the pain, puke, and trauma that entails. – Meg Shields

14. Poltergeist (1982, USA)

Proof a horror movie doesn’t need an R rating. In fact, it can be PG and scar you for life with well-executed scenes involving clown dolls, rotting meat, rotting faces, man-eating trees, long-legged skeletons in the closet, actual skeletons in the unfinished pool and so much more. Of course, Poltergeist would be at least PG-13 if made today, but it’s still one of the scariest movies for any age, feeding on universal fears about home and family whether you’re 5 or 50. Beneath the incredible practical effects is a very strong narrative foundation. Whoever really directed it, the movie works first because it does a good job of balancing children’s and adults’ perspectives of a haunted house with terror escalating to levels that have yet to be topped. – Christopher Campbell

13. Night of the Living Dead (1968, USA)

Night of the Living Dead helped usher in so many classic horror tropes: the house as fortress, the fight for the role of patriarch , the “Oh no! The phones are broken!”, and of course the moral of many zombie films: emotion is your worst enemy. And of course, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the film was made at the height of the civil rights movement. George Romero claims that the casting of Duane Jones, the black actor in the lead role — the last man standing until he’s fatally shot by the police – was totally random and was simply because Jones gave the best audition. Yeah, ok, George… – Sarah Foulkes

12. The Cabin In the Woods (2012, USA)

Meta horror is one of the quickest ways to derail a film, but when talented filmmakers make it work (Wes Craven’s Scream) the results can be magical. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s incredibly smart, funny, and creative love letter to horror films is one of those rare successes in the way it deconstructs genre tropes in brilliant ways while still delivering a masterfully entertaining genre film. Incredibly sharp writing spins an apocalyptic tale built on horror film history, and the death and mayhem is paired with wonderfully designed creatures and scenes of bloodletting. Not content with delivering a great and gory horror movie, Goddard and Whedon also layer it with laughs both big and wise. Neither half intrudes on the other, and instead the horror and comedy blend seamlessly together to terrific effect. – Rob Hunter

11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, USA)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is “an exercise in the pornography of terror.” At least that is what James Ferman of the British Board of Film Certification called the film. He meant to criticize the film, but man is that a compliment to a horror movie. It’s got all the teenager interest sparking buzzwords like porn and terror. Plus, its a rebuke from a film rating board. However, what separates the film from the pack of pretenders is not only that it was the game-changing first, but that it is the best. The film doesn’t just elicit an emotional response it demands it. Whether its the dark humor of the dinner scene, the horror of Leatherface’s initial reveal, or the relief when our blood-soaked final girl scrambles away. Over 40 years later, Tobe Hooper‘s classic slasher is still a visceral experience of bodily horror. The iconography is so entrenched in our collective fear that a chainsaw is the most nefarious sounding power tool cluttering the aisle of your local hardware store. While Silence of the Lambs had Hannibal Lecter turned cannibalism bourgeoisie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre wriggled it around the Texas dirt like pigs. That’s the beauty of the film; its violence is tactile. Close at hand in the corridors of the Sawyer family home, unprepared hippies beware. – Francesca Fau

On the next page, the 10 best horror movies ever made… >>

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