Young scared couple watching a horror movie

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Step into the realm of chilling suspense and spine-tingling thrills as we explore the captivating world of horror cinema. From classic masterpieces to contemporary nightmares, the genre has consistently delivered a visceral and immersive experience for audiences. In this article, we unravel the sinister tapestry of fear and highlight the best horror movies that have left an indelible mark on the collective psyche, ensuring sleepless nights and lingering unease.

From zombies to chainsaw-wielding maniacs, many people love to be scared senseless, but why? A study finds fear has a “sweet spot” that can actually cause human pleasure. However, researchers from Aarhus University say it’s a fine line with too many frightful stimuli turning fun into an unpleasant time very easily.

Ready to be scared senseless by classics in the genre? We have taken it upon ourselves to consult the research of 10 expert sources to bring you the top five best horror films of all time for you to enjoy! Don’t agree with our list? No worries! We would love to hear from you and your recommendations in the comments down below!

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The List: Best Horror Movies, According to Fans

1. “The Exorcist” (1973)

The first pick on our list goes to “The Exorcist.” A 1973 masterpiece in the scare genre, “’The Exorcist’ is top-tier horror. The film has long been considered the scariest film ever made and one of the greatest horror classics of all time. Whether ‘The Exorcist’ is still ‘scary’ by today’s standards, the 1973 feature has inspired horror directors for generations. The film has been parodied countless times by the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise, ‘The Simpsons,’ and even the latest season of ‘Chucky,’” says MovieWeb.

“The Exorcist” (1973)

“By the ’70s, horror had divided into two camps: on the one hand, there were the ‘real life’ terrors of ‘Psycho’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ films that brought horror into the realm of the everyday, making it all the more shocking. On the other hand, there were the more outrageous dream horrors popular in Europe, the work of Hammer Studios in the U.K. and Mario Bava and Dario Argento in Italy, films that prized artistry, oddity, and explicit gore over narrative logic. The first film to attempt to bring the two together was ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ but Polanski’s heart clearly belonged to the surreal. The first to achieve that blend with absolute certainty was ‘The Exorcist,’ which perhaps explains its position as the unassailable winner of this poll,” says Time Out.

“It may be cliché to declare ‘The Exorcist’ the best horror film of all time, but that’s only because it is the best horror film of all time. William Friedkin flawlessly directs this adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, which grounds the more horrific and fantastical elements of the horror genre into a compelling and (most importantly) relatable family drama. Dealing with issues of faith, doubt, and the relationship between a mother and her daughter, ‘The Exorcist’ showed that the horror genre could be taken seriously by general audiences and critics alike. It received critical acclaim, becoming the first horror film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture,” adds Bloody Disgusting.

2. “Psycho” (1960)

The second spot goes to Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho.” Revolving around the story of Marion Crane, a secretary who embezzled money from her employer and ends up seeking refuge at a motel. “Because we all go a little mad sometimes. You’d think more than 60 years of knowing all of this Alfred Hitchcock movie’s dirty little secrets would have dulled the shock of it—that being in on what happens to Janet Leigh once she pulls into the Bates Motel and who’s behind it all, and why so many people were terrified of showering after seeing this movie, had somehow robbed ‘Psycho’ of its staying power. Yet Hitch’s ode to gents who love their mothers not wisely but too well has not only endured; it now seems like the major pivot point in horror cinema—the first truly modern scary movie, in which not all monstrosities wore capes, looked grotesque, or rose from the dead. Some of them resembled the boys next door, albeit ones that lived in towering Gothic houses right off the highway, with long staircases and swinging light bulbs in basements,” describes Rolling Stone.

“Psycho” (1960)

“Most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films could be described as suspenseful, but it wasn’t until this 1960 classic that the legendary filmmaker began dabbling in full-bore horror. Anthony Perkins’ amazing performance as ‘mama’s boy’ Norman Bates is only one of this brilliant thriller’s big assets, and that nasty jolt of an ending still packs a punch even if you already know what’s coming,” notes Thrillist.

“Cinephiles are still arguing about which of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies is his best, but there’s no denying which was the most influential. At a time when people sometimes wandered into theaters midway through a movie, Hitchcock mandated that no one be admitted after ‘Psycho’s’ start time. Arriving late would risk missing the movie’s biggest shock: the iconic death of Janet Leigh a mere 45 minutes into the film. ‘Psycho’ set the stage for the slasher genre that would blow up a little over a decade later, establishing Norman Bates as a sympathetic but no less ghastly killer who ranks second on the American Film Institute’s list of the all-time greatest villains. If you’ve never seen ‘Psycho,’ now is the time,” comments Netflix.

3. “The Shining” (1980)

The third spot on our list belongs to “The Shining.” A Stanley Kubrick classic with arguably one of Jack Nicholson’s best performances “The project was an unusually commercially focused one for Kubrick, but the same stylistic elements that defined his earlier films were on full display, and the film remains a haunting and unsettling chronicle of a family man’s psychological breakdown,” observes IGN.

“The Shining” (1980)

Stephen King hates it, of course. Contemporary critics were lukewarm. Initial box-office returns were middling. The Academy Awards flatly ignored it. Stanley Kubrick, unbelievably, was even nominated for a ‘Worst Director’ award at the inaugural Razzies. It wasn’t a fun shoot either, by all accounts. Kubrick forced Shelley Duvall to do 127 takes of one scene, a record according to the Guinness Book of Records. The infamous ‘Here’s Johnny!’ scene took three days and 60 doors. Both lead actors left the shoot exhausted and resentful. What a difference a bit of hindsight makes. As with a lot of Kubrick’s work, time has been kind, and it now seems blindingly obvious that The Shining is a masterpiece without parallel: precise, meticulous, surreal, visually astonishing, and a shimmering study of a descent into madness. The ultimate horror movie,” notes Empire Online.

“The scariest moments in ‘The Shining’ are so iconic they’ve become in-jokes: Jack Nicholson leering psychotically from posters on the walls of student bedrooms everywhere… ‘Here’s Johnny’. Even so, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of execution and claustrophobia still retains the power to frighten audiences out of their wits. Stephen King, on whose novel the film was based, was famously unimpressed. The problem, he said, was that ghost-skeptic Kubrick was ‘a man who thinks too much and feels too little’. He resented Kubrick for stripping out the supernatural elements of his story. Torrance is not tortured by ghosts but by inadequacy and alcoholism. And for many, it’s as a study of insanity and failure that ‘The Shining’ is so chilling,” says Time Out.

4. “Halloween” (1978)

You can’t very well celebrate Halloween without watching “Halloween,” can you? The film that skyrocketed Jamie Lee Curtis to fame, “Michael Myers, may very well be one of the most iconic slashers of all time, even according to Reddit. John Carpenter’s cinematic masterpiece and easily recognizable score have held the title of Halloween staple for generations. Halloween gave horror a home on Halloween night and unknowingly set a standard for survival rules as portrayed by Laurie Strode,” says MovieWeb.

“Halloween” (1978)

“John Carpenter set the bar high by naming his slasher ‘Halloween.’ Luckily, it’s a film that millions of people want to revisit each and every October. This simple yet aggressively suspenseful tale of a plucky babysitter and a masked murderer has been ripped off and remade more times than one can count, but very few films come close to approaching its devious yet classy style of scariness,” writes Thrillist.

“Goodness, we could put just about every movie from director John Carpenter’s heyday on this list. And we could put a handful of others from the long-running ‘Halloween’ franchise on here, too. But you’ve got to go with 1978’s original ‘Halloween’ if given the choice, right? The battle between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode has been raging for nearly 45 years at this point, and this is where it all started. A horror masterpiece,” adds Men’s Health.

5. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)

The last spot goes to 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and horror doesn’t even begin to describe how truly disturbing this film is. “Some movie titles are vague, letting you gradually work out their meaning as the narrative slowly unfurls in front of your eyes like a delicate flower in tea. Then there’s Tobe Hooper’s grim, sweaty horror movie. There is nothing delicate here. Its titular weapon needs to be sharp, but ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ is a blunt instrument of horror. This is a tour de force of violence as five young people leave the safety of the world behind and journey into dusty Americana. What they find in one house when they innocently enter looking for gas is such death and depravity that the movie is still, decades later, a disturbing endurance test,” describes GamesRadar.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)

“‘Who will survive… and what will be left of them?’ It’s a question that applies as much to the audience for Tobe Hooper’s relentless stalk-and-saw shocker as to its doomed, hapless characters. Horror had never been this raw before, and it could be argued that it hasn’t since, with the sheer grimy ugliness of the piece leading some to walk out, others to cry sadism, and many more to acclaim the film as a modern masterpiece—horror in its purest, most unforgiving form. Sequels and remakes have come thick and fast, but nothing will ever match your first encounter with the original and its brutal, hammer-over-the-head power,” explains Time Out.

“There are lots of scary movies out there, and then there are movies that drop you head-first into an actual nightmare. Tobe Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ opens with a gruesome sight, slows down just a bit for some mildly creepy set-up, and then dumps five clueless kids into a cannibalistic nightmare that simply doesn’t let up until the final credits. For my money, it’s one of the purest examples of horror cinema. The movie still creeps me out to this day,” concludes Thrillist.

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. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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41 Comments

  1. Thomas McCallen says:

    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. David Randall says:

      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.

  2. Fred says:

    Saturday Night Fever.
    That was some scary stuff, son.

  3. Dean Screamer says:

    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.

    1. CA says:

      The Exorcist was based on a true story and that makes it the scariest! Your scary list are make believe and cannot be taken seriously.

  4. Maria Cantwell says:

    What, no Psycho? Philistines!

  5. bradley says:

    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. Frankenstein says:

    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

    1. BP says:

      3. Night of the Living Dead

  7. MG39 says:

    Thanks to all for expanding the list!! Awesome.

  8. Jodeo says:

    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.

  9. Laszlo A. Voros says:

    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.

  10. Robert I. Kabakoff says:

    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.

  11. Scott M says:

    Insidious?

    The conjuring?

    The original Rec?

    The French movie Inside?

    What’s with this garbage list with it follows and paranormal activity on it?

  12. BP says:

    Night of the Living Dead
    The Thing From Another World
    Alien
    Terminator