The Greatest Horror Films of All Time…

Perhaps the least acknowledged/respected category by the Academy and film aficionados in general, horror films are actually one of the most fertile playgrounds for interesting ideas and creative filmmakers.  It’s also a genre home to more classics than one might initially realize.  It’s actually one of my favorite genres overall, so you can count me as a fan.  With Halloween right around the corner and films like ‘Paranormal Activity 3’ hitting theaters to represent opportunities to scare everyone, I thought it couldn’t hurt to turn our attention to the horror genre and look at the best that it has to offer.  I’ll provide a list of my all time favorites at the end (remember it’s a personal list, not an objective one), but for this piece I’m going to separate them by category a bit, highlighting the oldies but goodies and the new guard of terror, along with a few words on the genre’s history.  Consider this my guide to the best and brightest of the darkest types of movies out there.  Hopefully some of these films will inspire you to check them out, as they’re all of the highest quality.  Come along with me as I praise the films that make you leave the lights on when you go to bed at night.  Try not to scream!

Vintage horror films:

Any conversation about the genre has to begin with films like ‘Psycho’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Alien’, ‘The Shining’, both ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Halloween’, ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Suspiria’, and ‘Eyes without a Face’.  These are among the best ever made, and they’re also the most influential of the cream of the horror crop.  Many consider either ‘Psycho’ or ‘The Exorcist’ to be the best of all time, and they’re terrific, but I want to give special mention to ‘Eyes without a Face’, since it is the grandaddy of every slasher flick to come after it.  As amazing as ‘Halloween’ is, it owes its very existence to ‘Eyes Without a Face’.  Of these highlights, this is probably the least known of the bunch, but I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s a true classic and a landmark moment in the genre’s history.  These earlier works in horror’s history worked more on atmosphere and directorial skill than on graphic visuals.  Many see these movies as the best horror ever had to offer.  I don’t know that I go that far, but I recognize that the 60’s and 70’s (even into the 80’s) especially were a real special time to be a horror fan.  Lots of great filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski were playing around in the genre, not to mention masters of terror like John Carpenter and George A. Romero.  Horror fans too young to be there for these films when they first opened look back at this time and smile.

The new classics:

In the last 25 years or so, horror has changed a lot.  Many will claim that things aren’t what they used to be and are worse for it, but I actually disagree.  I think that some of the best of all time have come out since the 90’s.  In fact, 3 of my 10 favorites to date are from this time period.  To be sure, this was a transitional period in horror, but that didn’t stop filmmakers from putting out some absolute classics.  Movies like ‘The Blair Witch Project’, ‘The Strangers’, ’28 Days Later’, ‘Wolf Creek’, and ‘Scream’ did very interesting things and won over plenty of hearts and minds.  Honestly, I really think that some of the very best of the genre has come out since my birth. To spoil things, I consider ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ to be the best horror movie ever made, and go figure…it’s the only one ever to win Best Picture.  Two more of that ilk are David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’, which never got true prestige status then, but is looked at as an awards worthy film now, and ‘The Sixth Sense’, which was the rare scary movie to capture the Academy’s attention.  There’s also the increasing foreign influence, with ‘Audition’ and ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ being highlights of that.  The thing most people take notice of from this era is how gory the films got, leading to the “torture porn” moniker to be coined.  For my money, ‘Saw’ is an absolute classic and deserves high praise as a franchise in and of itself besides just speaking of the high quality of the original.  Honestly, how many other franchises avoided outright sucking by the time they surpassed a half dozen movies?  Mention also must be made of the franchise du jour of the moment…the ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies.  The first one is one of the most effective horror movies in years, so it gets a thumbs up from me.  Another from the last decade or two that I think deserves more recognition is ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’.  It’s a throwback to the older generation, but with a modern sensibility.  The less you know about it, the better, but it’s a chiller character study of evil incarnate.  Seek it out…

It’s interesting to look at the evolution of the genre.  What started with classic monster movies like ‘Dracula’ and ‘The Wolfman’ moved to the predecessor of slasher flicks in ‘Eyes Without a Face’ to actually slasher films like ‘Halloween’, before sequels became all the rage.  Every iconic villain kept getting more movies until parody was reached, culminating in the ‘Scream’ trilogy that both honored and satirized the slasher sub genre.  Then, things got even more interesting as the Asian influence became a big deal with ‘The Ring’, before extreme violence in ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ took over.  Finally, we’ve kind of moved back with remakes being all the rage these days.  Their quality is decidedly hit or miss, but it is what it is.  The best of the bunch include remakes of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Funny Games’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘The Last House on the Left’, and Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’.  As just mentioned, there’s still lots of good stuff hitting theaters these days to scare the crap out of you (unlike ‘The Human Centipede 2’, which just tries to use crap to scare you).  A few years back I looked into teaching a course on film genres, and had I gotten to do a semester on horror, I had prepared a collection of 15 flicks to take the class on a journey through horror’s history.  It would have gone like this: ‘Night of the Living Dead’, ‘Psycho’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Eyes Without a Face’, ‘Halloween’, ‘Alien’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Se7en’, ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’, ‘Audition’, ‘Saw’, ‘Wolf Creek’, ’28 Days Later’, ‘The Strangers’, and ‘Paranormal Activity’.  Alas, the course never materialized, but feel free to simulate it yourself at home!

Finally, here’s my personal list of the greatest horror films of all time.  It covers all that I’ve mentioned above, and more.  It’s a top 50 list, but I’m sure it will miss plenty, so that’ll be all of your cues to chime in and let me know what I snubbed.  I considered including a bottom 10 list as well, but that would mostly just be me complaining about ‘A Serbian Film’ more.  Anyway, I look forward to that upcoming discourse, but without further delay, my list of the 50 greatest horror movies of all time:


1. The Silence of the Lambs

2. Psycho (1960)

3. The Exorcist

4. Alien

5. The Shining

6. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

7. Se7en

8. Rosemary’s Baby

9. Saw

10. Halloween (1978)

11. The Strangers

12. Aliens

13. Jaws

14. 28 Days Later

15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

16. Eyes Without a Face

17. The Sixth Sense

18. Wolf Creek

19. The Blair Witch Project

20. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

21. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

22. Audition

23. Dawn of the Dead (1978…but special mention to the 2004 remake)

24. Scream

25. Friday the 13th (1980)

26. May

27. The Wolf Man (1941)

28. Suspiria

29. Paranormal Activity

30. Carrie

31. 1408

32. An American Werewolf in London

33. [REC]

34. The Mist

35. Cloverfield

36. The Descent

37. A Tale of Two Sisters

38. Dracula (1931)

39. Trick r’ Treat

40. High Tension

41. Drag Me to Hell

42. Hostel

43. The Last House on the Left (1972)

44. Videodrome

45. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

46. Bride of Frankenstein

47. The Thing

48. Martyrs

49. Evil Dead 2

50. The Devil’s Rejects


There you have it, but of course this isn’t the end of the conversation, not by a long shot.  I can think of at least a dozen movies I didn’t include that would likely be in someone’s personal top 10 list.  Anyway, now it’s your turn to tell me about your favorite horror flicks.  What did I miss on my list?  What was too low?  What was too high?  Have at it!

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