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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

10. An American Werewolf in London (1981, USA)

Leave it to John Landis to throw ’80s John Hughes charm and The Howling in a blender. After an animal attack leaves him mutilated and his best friend dead, a young American backpacker becomes a werewolf. Featuring extraordinary special effects by Rick Baker (who won the first official makeup Oscar as a result), the scene where David transforms in agony to the tune of “Blue Moon” is as lucid and poetic as it is absolutely horrifying. That and David’s undead victims cheerfully urging that he commit suicide before he kills again (“thank you, you’re all so thoughtful”). Offering some truly frightening practical effects for a horror comedy, American Werewolf in London is a howling good time. – Meg Shields

9. Scream (1996, USA)

By the mid-nineties, there was no denying that horror was getting played out; creature features, Hitchcockian thrillers, B-movies, cult and camp, and teen slashers had all been done to death. Then Wes Craven’s Scream flipped the script by taking meta-horror mainstream, proving that one can make a scary movie and make fun of scary movies at the same time. The killer’s film-buff-baiting question, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” and Drew Barrymore’s prompt disembowelment kicked off a franchise that has so far included three sequels and a TV series. For horror fans, so much of the joy of Scream comes from seeing genre tropes (virgins live, partiers die, and for the love of god, don’t split up) deconstructed by teens with way better survival skills than most slasher protagonists. The original cast, including Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, and Rose McGowan, have the best group chemistry of any ‘90s horror ensemble, and keep the And Then There Were None-but-in-high-school plot fun and freaky. – Valerie Ettenhofer

8. Bride of Frankenstein (1935, USA)

There aren’t many sequels that truly surpass a great original. Movies such as Godfather 2 or Terminator 2 are rare examples of that feat. Certainly, James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Continuing moments after the original Frankenstein, Bride continues the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his misunderstood creature. Frankenstein is willing to forget his devious crime of reanimating the dead, but his old mentor Doctor Septimus Pretorius has other plans in mind. He wants to continue Frankenstein’s work and create a Bride for Frankenstein’s creature. Bride of Frankenstein hits many of the same notes as the original but continues the story in an organic way that makes a ton of sense. It stands as the crown jewel of the Universal Monsters movies and an ingenious sequel. – Max Covill

7. Alien (1979, USA)

With so many slasher films, you wonder why the terrorized parties don’t just run as fast they can out of the situation. What makes Alien particularly scary is the idea that the Nostromo crew have nowhere to go. They’re on a spaceship in which a sneaky monster is out to kill for its own evolutionary survival. And yes, Alien is basically a slasher movie in space, with Ripley being more final girl than action heroine in her first installment. But it’s not just a proto Jason X, as the movie is also pure science fiction, as well, with its believable scenario of a blue-collar space mission, bureaucratic android, and the wonder of life beyond our galaxy — emphasizing the fear and danger of the unknown that comes along with the curiosity. – Christopher Campbell

6. The Shining (1980, USA)

Stanley Kubrick’s smorgasbord of horror is perhaps the only non-franchise film that has inspired enough imitators, documentaries, recuts, and homage episodes to populate a multi-day viewing marathon–plus a horror film festival set at two of its iconic hotels to boot. The story, based on one of Stephen King’s earliest novels, is creepy in itself, overstuffed with silent twins, waterfalls of blood, a sweet-but-spooky psychic kid, and much more. But with Kubrick’s deliberate pacing, John Alcott’s vivid cinematography, and Jack Nicholson’s frenzied performance, the surreal, claustrophobic experience builds to a perfect fever pitch. Every moment of this movie, from “Here’s Johnny!” to “REDRUM” to “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” have been co-opted as pop cultural signifiers that seem unlikely to ever die, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. – Valerie Ettenhofer

5. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, USA)

An adaptation of Ira Levin’s best-selling novel of the same name, Roman Polanski’s first foray into Hollywood is a masterclass in paranoia and satanic panic. When it was released in 1968, Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan were in the mainstream consciousness and inciting fear of devil-worship among concerned citizens. Polanski’s film tapped into this hysteria marvelously, thus creating a timely nerve-shredding conspiracy thriller told from the point-of-view of a petrified, pregnant, protagonist. Polanski successfully puts the viewer in her shoes and we experience her ordeal as the horror unfolds. The movie also inspired the satanic cult subgenre of the 1970s, which is another reason to be thankful for the existence of Rosemary’s Baby. – Kieran Fisher

4. Halloween (1978, USA)

In the late 70’s, director John Carpenter was hired to direct a horror film intended to have the same impact as The Exorcist. With the assistance of then-girlfriend Debra Hill, Carpenter got to work on a script titled The Babysitter Murders. Fortunately, that awful title was scrapped and replaced with Halloween and a legend was born. Michael Myers is the villain of Halloween, but the film is less about a serial killer than what he represents. Michael is pure evil — and pure evil needs no motive and cannot be stopped. It was only his third feature, but Carpenter showed he had already mastered the craft. The film’s minuscule budget of $300,000 could’ve been a hindrance, but Carpenter used it to his advantage. This isn’t an overly violent and bloody slasher. There are no disposable characters here. When there is a kill it serves a purpose, it means something and it creates a beautiful rhythm and pace to the movie. It wasn’t the first and it certainly wasn’t the last, but when it comes to slashers Halloween is a cut above the rest. – Chris Coffel

3. Jaws (1975, USA)

“It’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.” It’s the simplest and most elemental of fears. There’s an infinite ocean resting just outside your doorstep, and escaping the horrors of your daily life is as easy as plunging into its cool graces. Clothes optional. But what evil lurks beneath its welcoming, warm waters? Nature. Hungry, and without remorse for your attachment to dogs or children. Steven Spielberg established himself as one of our great, populist directors by embracing B-Movie schlock with A-Movie craft. Jaws earns its fears through the aquaphobic police chief at its center. In witnessing Brody’s failure to save the Kintner boy from the belly of the beast we immediately relate to his sense of shame, and the eventual mission to hunt down the monster. He may need a bigger boat, but at least he has a couple of miscreants mad enough to join him on this venture. When John Williams’ relentlessly iconic score finally pays off with that chum chomping maw we’re all ready to face down the leviathan with Chief Brody. Horror gives way to heroism and it has to be one of the most satisfying climaxes in movie history. “Smile, you son of a bitch.” – Brad Gullickson

2. Psycho (1960, USA)

Alfred Hitchcock’s roadside motel classic is a masterwork in suspense and structure, a film school staple that’s both technically flawless and narratively fulfilling. Anthony Perkins is hypnotizing as Norman Bates, the iconic disturbed motel manager with major mommy issues, and Janet Leigh deserves praise for an impressive performance that goes beyond the infamous shower scene she’s remembered for. Psycho is at its core a study in duality, so perhaps it’s appropriate that, with its 1960 release, it denotes a fissure between the candy-colored Hollywood hits of the 1950s and the emergence of the newer, edgier film diaspora of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Psycho isn’t often considered Hitchock’s best (that title usually goes to Vertigo), but its potent mix of visual misdirection, precisely orchestrated suspense, and powerful, lived-in performances can’t be beat. – Valerie Ettenhofer

1. The Thing (1982, USA)

News of remakes is typically met with derision sight unseen, and while Hollywood has earned than cynicism over the years even a casual glance at some of cinema’s best and most memorable films reveals more than a few remakes among their ranks. Our list here features four, and each stands not only against the original but also proudly in the genre itself. Like Invasion of the Body SnatchersJohn Carpenter‘s 1982 fusion of horror and sci-fi builds much of its fear and tension through ideas of paranoia and mistrust, but its minimal cast of characters and isolated locale add an extra layer of hopelessness. Toss in a mesmerizing cast of performers (including Kurt Russell in his third of five collaborations with Carpenter) and a master-class in practical effects from Rob Bottin that still captivates to this day, and you have an endlessly suspenseful and thrilling experience. Ignored upon release, as great works of art sometimes are, the film has long since come to be revered for the classic it is. Whether viewed as a remake or simply as a new adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story, the movie remains a masterpiece. – Rob Hunter

On the next page, you’ll find the individual lists from the members of our team who contributed to this article.

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