Best Horror Movies

Watching a scary movie

The best horror movies can make you scream, cry, sit on the edge of your seat, and even yell things like, "Don't go in there!" at the screen. Whether you prefer a psychological thrill, a ghost story, or buckets of blood, one of these horror movies is sure to fit your need for a good scare.

1. Psycho

Welcome to the Bates Motel. You may never take a shower again.

The accolades pile up for Alfred Hitchcock's top thriller. It holds the number one spot on the American Film Institute's (AFI's) 100 Years…100 Thrills list. It is also the highest-rated horror title at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), it's rated 99% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, and it tops many individual lists from critics and movie fans alike. Reviewing Psycho for his "Great Movie" series, film critic Roger Ebert noted "no other Hitchcock film had a greater impact."

2. The Exorcist

When a young girl is possessed by a demon, her parents call on a higher power to cast it out.

The Exorcist was the highest-grossing film of 1973, and it continues to be popular to this day. Entertainment Weekly voted it the scariest film ever made, and it falls at #3 on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills list. Viewers are drawn to the scary effects like pea-soup projectile vomiting, a creaky demonic voice, and an unmentionable scene with a crucifix. The juxtaposition of sweet little girl and horrible demon adds to the movie's overall creep factor.

3. The Birds

Swarms of birds terrorize a town in a classic yet creepy struggle of man against nature.

The premise of attacking birds may sound silly at first, but it's another Hitchcock classic. Swarms of birds have never seemed so foreboding, earning The Birds a #7 spot on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills list.

4. The Shining

Isolated at a mountain resort, a man descends into madness, putting his family in grave danger.

Stephen King has long been considered the master of horror, and his novel is brought to life by director Stanley Kubrick, with a riveting performance by Jack Nicholson. It is the third-highest-rated horror film on IMDB, and it earned a #29 ranking on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills list.

5. Alien

A strange alien terrorizes the crew of a human spaceship.

A science fiction film may not fit your idea of horror movies, but just because the menace picking off the cast one by one is an alien race instead of a demon or serial killer it doesn't make the suspense any less heart-pounding. It's the second-highest-rated horror title on IMDB, and places sixth on AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills list.

6. Night of the Living Dead

The reanimated corpses of the dead prey on a rural town.

By now you're familiar with the image of the shuffling, brain-craving zombie. While more recent films have added new twists to the zombie genre, like the humorous spin of Shaun of the Dead, this is the one that started it all. In 1999, the movie was added to the Library of Congress' United States National Film Registry as a testament to its cultural importance.

7. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

A 1920 German film depicting the exploits of a mad doctor and his devoted servant as the body count rises in a small village.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a classic film from the silent film era, when horror depended more on atmosphere and storytelling than special effects. Considered by some to be the first horror movie, it's #10 on IMDB's list of the highest-rated horror films.

8. Nightmare on Elm Street

A killer stalks the teens of Elm Street in their dreams. If you sleep, you die.

Introducing the iconic figure of Freddy Krueger, the movie preys on everyone's worst night-time terrors. One of the classic horror movies of the 80s, its place is meant to also give credit to other movie monsters who steal the show while they take lives - Michael Meyers in Halloween, Jason from Friday the 13th, and Pinhead from Hellraiser.

9. Scream

A killer calls his victims, taunting, "Do you like scary movies?"

Not your typical scary movie, Scream is notable for its self-referential discussion of the conventions of the best horror movies while making full use of every last one to terrorize the cast. Director Wes Craven, creator of Nightmare on Elm Street, gives it additional horror movie cred.

10. Saw

Under the control of the sadistic Jigsaw, unfortunate souls face imminent death…unless they are willing to commit horrific acts.

This movie will never place high on any list of the best movies ever made, but it certainly has its appeal to a certain segment of horror movie fans, earning a respectable $55 million dollars at the box office. Saw is tailor-made for those who like their gore realistic, freakish, and in large quantities.

11. The Silence of the Lambs

Only a convicted criminal and cannibal can help the FBI catch a killer.

This 1991 movie won three major Academy Awards and it's #3 on the Hollywood Hills list of 31 great horror movies. FBI agent Clarice Starling is working to track down a killer who skins his victims and has earned the name Buffalo Bill. To understand how Buffalo Bill's mind works, she seeks the help of convicted killer and cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. Lecter isn't straightforward in his help, however, and turns their meetings into a psychological game that ends in his escape.

Best Horror Movies