Best Horror Films: Top 5 Scary Movies Of All Time, According To Experts

Horror is a particular genre. It’s not just a creeping fear, rather an adrenaline rush of pure shock, excitement, and terror. It’s why scary movies for many people are the ultimate source for fun. While there’s no better time than Halloween to give yourself a fright, we have to ask ourselves– why do we enjoy something that would cause such apparent discomfort?

A recent study indicates that fear has a “sweet spot” that can actually cause pleasure for humans. Researchers from Aarhus University say it’s been long suspected that a physiological arousal plays a role in why people find horror movies and haunted houses so appealing. This arousal would include a quickening pulse and a release of hormones in the frightened person’s brain.

Spirits of former lives are also a major focal point in many horror films, which is surely fascinating to the half of Americans who believe they’ve encountered a ghost from the great beyond. In fact, a recent poll indicates that 63 percent of Americans believe in the paranormal in some form.

Horror films gained increased popularity in the U.S. starting in the 1970s, and over the past five decades filmmakers have flooded the movie industry with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

With thousands of scary movies to choose from, it can be easy to waste hours of your coveted autumn evenings watching garbage, and who’s got time for that?

StudyFinds set out to compile a list of the absolute best horror films to watch this spooky season. For our findings, we visited 10 popular websites to see which horror films are rated the highest. Our list is ranked based on the most fright-inducing scary movies across these sites. Sit back and relax… if you can.

The List: Top 5 Horror Movies Of All-Time, As Ranked By Experts

1. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is well-respected as one of the greatest horror films of all time, based on the story of a Catholic-sanctioned exorcism of a 12-year-old girl that makes for a literal head-spinning horror movie.  “If The Exorcist can still make its original 1973 viewers shudder at the thought of it decades later, there’s clearly something possessing about this film,” Esquire writes.

Many Americans even consider it to be the greatest film of all time in its genre. A recent survey of 2,000 American adults, commissioned by video streaming service Vudu, found that those polled consider The Exorcist to be the most terrifying film ever created.

“The Exorcist is most definitely a horror film: though it may be filled with rigorously examined ideas and wonderfully observed character moments, its primary concern is with shocking, scaring and, yes, horrifying its audience out of their wits – does mainstream cinema contain a more upsetting image than the crucifix scene?” Time Out writes. 

2. Halloween (1978)

Halloween is among the top chilling slasher masterpieces that have kept viewers up at night for ages. It may just be a crazy person in a white mask, but that was enough to captivate audiences for years.

“Forget all the masked wannabes and knife-wielding suburban loonies that came after, and marvel at the streamlined power of Carpenter’s film: the gliding camera, the concealing shadows, the single-minded presence of masked villain Michael Myers, as perfect a killer as the shark in Jaws. Almost four decades later, it’s still close to flawless,” Time Out writes.

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Halloween is the perfect opportunity to cozy up, break out the popcorn, and learn why this film tops so many critics must-watch films. 

“Scary, suspenseful, and viscerally thrilling, Halloween set the standard for modern horror films,” Rotten Tomatoes writes in its critics consensus

3. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity is a horror film fan-favorite, especially for those who are keen on ghost films. The story unfolds as a couple moves into a suburban home and learns they are being terrorized by a supernatural presence. 

“Paranormal Activity breathed new life into the popular found-footage concept, setting its tale of demonic harassment not in an obviously creepy locale a la The Blair Witch Project, but rather in the bland confines of a Southern California tract home,” Rolling Stone writes. “Never has the unexpected click of a hallway light been so disconcerting.” 

The filmmaking and story-telling may be up for debate, but audiences and critics agree that it will scare you senseless. 

“Using its low-budget effects and mockumentary method to great result, Paranormal Activity turns a simple haunted house story into 90 minutes of relentless suspense,” Rotten Tomatoes writes in its critics consensus

4. The Shining (1980)

The Shining is a classic for a reason. A troubled writer heads to a creepy hotel which soon spirals into horrifying scenes of a psychologically twisting narrative. 

“Not only does director Stanley Kubrick cripple the senses with effects and imagery (even if you haven’t seen the movie, you know the corridor of blood-gushing nightmares), but he also weaves a tale so rich in symbolism it’s still picked apart today, and so skewed in perception that by the time it’s over, you—like our dull boy—have gone completely mad,” writes Harper’s Bazaar. 

Axes in doors, a creepy pair of twins you’ll never forget, and “Red Rum,” what’s not to love?

“Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of execution and claustrophobia still retains the power to frighten audiences out of their wits,” Time Out writes in its review. 

5. It Follows (2014)

It Follows is a more recent addition to the list of movie critics’ most-loved horror films. The metaphorical story takes you through varying perspectives of being tortured by a shapeshifting monster. Sounds fun, right?

“Stylish and striking, this felt like nothing else on the American horror market in 2014, really ushering in the era of what is now called ‘elevated horror.’ Whatever you call it, It Follows is still an unforgettable genre flick,” Vulture writes.

Director David Robert Mitchell won over critics for taking every opportunity possible to serve consistent thrills throughout the movie. 

“Throughout, there’s a sense of true, doom-filled inescapability; that no matter where our teen protagonists run, the monster will eventually catch up with them,” Teen Vogue writes. “…Regardless of how you interpret it, It Follows is sure to serve up some serious, and seriously creative, scares.”

Sources

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About the Author

Meaghan Babaker

Meaghan Babaker is a journalist and freelance writer previously based out of New York City while working for CBS New York, CBS Local and MSNBC. After moving to Geneva, Switzerland in 2016, she went on to write for Digital Luxury Group, The Travel Corporation and other international publications before joining the editorial team at StudyFinds.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer

Comments

  1. Exorcist is a great film. Five stars. The rest? Not for me. Slasher films don’t scare ne. They bore me. Take a look at Eyes With a Face (1960) and Carnival of Souls (1962). Also, the original Nosferatu (1922). They’re still frightening.

  2. Stephen King never liked Kubrick’s version because Kobrick did not follow the story, he did his own version. he went off rails. Yes, the twin girls were creepy, Jack Nicholson was superb. Lloyd the bartender was eerie , (He never blinks). Nicholson and Grady in the Gentleman’s room was, creepy, But the ending made no sense, and the TV version was closer to Stephen King’s book. Of course, he wrote the screenplay. Steven Weber was cool and Rebeca de Mone made a better Wendy. And how could they miss A. Jaws. Great White Sharks are real and my friend Justin, a devout fly fisherman, wouldn’t go near a lake for two whole weeks after seeing it. B. Carrie. The one with Sissy Spacek. Not the Chloe Moretz nonsense. It took you in and grabbed hold and scared the living hell out of you. I actually screamed right out loud, and I don’t scream right out loud at horror movies. C The Haunting. The Robert Wise one not the Liam Nesson disaster. Without super special effects it still manages to scare you silly. D. Horror Hotel. A girl investigating witchcraft in New England in Whitewood. With the immortal Christopher Lee. It’s my favorite scary movie. It’s atmospheric, creepy, and terrifying. TCM will show it at Halloween. E. Vincent Price The House of Wax. Best to see it in 3D. I have. A work of art. The remake made no sense whatsoever. F. John Carpenters The Fog. guaranteed to keep you up all night. The remake was crap. I have Linda Blair’s autograph, the Holy Grail for a Horror Movie fan. And good as the movie was, Tim Curry’s Pennywise The Dancing Clown in the TV movie version was sheer genius. And Richard Thomas and the others playing children at first and then adults back to battle Pennywise was beautifully done.

  3. WAIT— Bennifer’s “Gigli” isn’t on the list??? Nearly no one can even make it through the entire movie.

    I can’t believe I have to get mad about this.

  4. 1. Exorcist
    2. The Shining
    2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
    3. Night of the Living Dead
    5. Halloween
    5. Hostel
    6. Faces of Death
    7. Friday the 13th
    8. Saw
    9. Poltergeist
    10. Final Destination

  5. According to “experts” in… WHAT, exactly? Rummaging through their parents’ dvd collection? Like a stopped clock being right twice a day, a couple of the films on the list do actually belong there. As for the rest, Meaghan, please stop writing articles on subjects you know nothing about.

  6. 1. The Shining
    2. Deliverance
    3. Misery
    4. The Thing (John Carpenter version)
    5. Train to Busan

    And, oh yeah, The Exorcist is massively overrated nonsensical garbage.

  7. It took a few posts but Rosemary’s Baby made the list. Deservedly.
    Superb cast. A & B listers in that era.
    It is not bloody or gory. It is haunting.
    Could this really happen ? Has it happened ?

    Worth the effort to locate. You will be rewarded.
    T. McC.

    1. Speaking of no gore, no mysterious flying knives or ghosts in digital sheets, but a slowly turning screw of mind, Robert Wise’s 1963 low budget b/w adaptation of Shirly Jackson’s The Haunting takes the cake. First and best of its genre, the disturbed house under investigation. I watch it nearly every year.

  8. They are half right. The top 5 in no particular order

    1. The Exorcist
    2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
    3. Alien
    4. Halloween
    5. The Shining

  9. For its time Dracula and Frankenstein still hold up as horror masterpieces. Herzog’s Nosferatu is also memorable.

  10. Love it or hate it The American version of The Ring was my favorite all-time best horror movie followed by Hereditary and Yellow Brick Road.

  11. I don’t understand why “It Follows” is on any top horror film list. I watched it with my kids a couple of weekends ago expecting a great horror movie and was greatly disappointed. It’s not scary – at all – and the acting is terrible.

  12. The accuracy of this list can be summarized with the observation that a mid-2000s corporate franchise film in Paranormal Activity not only appears in place of the most influential found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project (which, like it or not, brought the handheld documentary style of older films such as The McPherson Tape into the mainstream and established the genre as it is known today) but is perversely ranked above Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The obligatory bias for The Exorcist over the superior Satanic horror film The Omen (1976) is mere icing, and the complete absence of Rosemary’s Baby is equally bizarre. This reads like a list of the only five horror movies a college student can name from memory.

  13. Do you know why critic’s picked it as Number one….”The Power of Christ compelled them!!!!!!”

  14. This article is blasphemy! How could you leave out a ground breaking movie that spawned an entire category in the horror genre: George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”.

  15. We just finished watching FALL and all I can tell you is I am so relieved I didnt see it in a theater. The movie was terrifying and nauseous at the same time. 12 stars.

  16. The Exorcist deserves the #1 slot. My wife and I plus a buddy and his wife viewed the film together. My wife, a Catholic, had difficulty keeping her eyes on the screen. Midway in the film, my buddy got up “to go to the toilet” he said. He got to the aisle and passed out.

  17. This is wrong. Whatever this study is, is wrong. If the thing by john cpartenter is not on here and paranormal Activity is then there is something wrong with the study.

    1. Meagan, Meagan, Meagan… .

      “Alien” didn’t make the cut–or the original “The Thing” (nor did “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).

      What was the criteria?

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