The 1990s have a bad reputation when it comes to horror movies, but that reputation isn’t entirely warranted. Sure, the 90s had the unfortunate position of following the 1980s, one of the greatest and craziest decades in horror, but the 1990s had its own share of great and crazy fright films.
Naysayers may look at the increasing use of computer effects that weren’t quite there yet in terms of believability. Or they may look at the campy and increasingly goofy horror villains that were a product of the struggling slasher subgenre grasping for attention as the decade began. Those are completely valid points, but it’s also leaving out the many incredible horror films that could only have been made in the 1990s.
Overall trends in 90s horror include a great sense of fun and experimentation. From gory horror comedies, to bloody sci-fi action, to outlandish new takes on classic subgenres, it can’t be said that the 1990s lacked for variety or exuberance. The 1990s also had its fair share of innovation with franchises and trends that carried on beyond the end of the decade. To illustrate how great the 90s were, here are the top 60 horror movies of the 1990s, ranked.
Best Horror Movies of the 1990s
60. Anaconda (1997)
As with many movies that get famously knocked for being “terrible,” Anaconda isn’t as bad as the prevailing commentary about it would indicate. Still, one has to wonder how Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Danny Trejo, and Owen Wilson all ended up in this creature feature about a killer snake. Of course Anaconda is not a traditionally “good” 90s movie, but the tongue-in-cheek plot, and all the celebrities make it a gem of 90s nostalgia. Supposedly, it’s also quite scary if you have ophidiophobia.
59. Mindwarp (1991)
It’s the year 2037. The world has been devastated by a nuclear apocalypse, but most of the surviving humans on the planet don’t realize it because they are hooked up to AI machines that give them the impression that they live in a utopia. Marta Martin stars as Judy, a woman who seeks to free herself from the virtual-reality shackles, only to be exiled to a nuclear wasteland ruled by mutant cannibals. When she finally reunites with her long-lost father, she learns to her horror that he intends to impregnate her in his sick quest to repopulate the planet with humans.
Armed with enough weapons to take on an army, a group of sea bandits board a luxury sea liner in the South China Sea, only to realize the ship has already been invaded by a group of gigantic, carnivorous creatures who do not appreciate the sudden competition. The action-packed horror of Deep Rising owes a lot to monster movies like Aliens (1986), giving audiences the exact kinds of genre thrills they expect. The movie failed at the box office, but it gained a decent following on home video.
In this effects-heavy supernatural horror movie executive produced by Wes Craven, a demonic Djinn is released from an ancient jewel while it’s being appraised by an auction house. Appraiser Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren) is mystically connected to the Djinn and sees visions of every twisted wish the Djinn grants. It’s now a race against time as Alex attempts to stop the Djinn before he can bring the rest of his kind to Earth to destroy humanity. Wishmaster is fun, and it features multiple appearances by genre-film favorites including Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Angus Scrimm, and more.
56. Mikey (1992)
Owing a lot to The Bad Seed (1956) by way of the late-80s/early90s trend of films featuring adults learning lessons from little kids, Mikey is about a young boy who appears sweet on the outside, but he has a habit of murdering people when he doesn’t get what he wants. Mikey is a good psychological horror movie worth a watch as part of a mini-wave of killer-kid movies that also includes Benny’s Video (1992), The Good Son (1993), and The Paperboy (1994).
55. Kolobos (1999)
Kolobos can best be described as MTV’s The Real World but with lots of violent death. Five young adults answer a newspaper ad for participants in an experimental film where they will share a house together for three months while all of their actions are recorded. Personalities begin to clash once everyone is inside the house, but personal issues quickly become the least of their worries as the five people find themselves locked inside with a bevy of deadly traps. Kolobos is a nice snapshot of low-budget 1990s filmmaking, and it’s surprisingly enjoyable with its enthusiastic young actors and cheesy gore effects.
Set in the then-near-future of 2003, Death Machine is about a morally bereft high-tech weapons designer, Jack Dante (Brad Dourif), and the person trying to stop him, Hayden Cale (Ely Pouget). As Cale closes in, Dante unleashes a huge robot dinosaur to kill everyone that opposes him. Many bullets are fired and much blood is spilled in this gloriously cheesy sci-fi/action/horror movie that could only come from the 1990s. Genre-film fans will surely recognize many of the characters’ names which range from unsubtle homages (Jack Dante = Joe Dante, Scott Ridley = Ridley Scott) to simply naming characters directly after filmmakers (Sam Raimi, John Carpenter).
53. Trauma (1993)
In what is famed Italian horror director Dario Argento’s first full-length American production, a young man encounters a teen girl (Dario’s daughter, Asia Argento) who appears to be attempting suicide after escaping from a psychiatric hospital. The girl is returned to the hospital, but the hospital soon becomes the connecting point of a string of violent murders. Critics weren’t very kind to the movie when it came out, but even a sub-par Argento film is still a very good movie.
Before he achieved fame with South Park, Colorado native Trey Parker wrote, directed, and starred in this horror-comedy about the notorious Alferd Packer, who cannibalized others during a failed expedition in Colorado. Cannibal! The Musical was produced by Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment, and it’s every bit as ridiculous as you might expect. It’s bloody, goofy, and it shows off Parker’s penchant for musical comedy, something that has been part of his and Matt Stone’s work ever since. Musical numbers includes titles such as “Shpadoinkle,” “Hang the Bastard,” and “Let’s Build a Snowman.”
Sleepwalkers is a bonkers mash-up of vampire and werewolf movies from the mind of Stephen King. Mary and Charles are a mother and son who move to a small Indiana town after getting into some trouble. You see, Mary and Charles are sleepwalkers (shapeshifting werecats who feed off the mystical life force of virgin women), and they tend to leave suspicious deaths in their wake. Trouble ensues as they seek to feed, and they must fight against local townspeople as well as their mortal enemies: housecats. Sleepwalkers is truly an oddball movie, but it’s pretty great in its weirdness.
In a somewhat loose adaptation of the the novel of the 1955 novel of the same name, Body Snatchers takes place on a military base in Alabama where alien pods are secretly replacing people with near-identical duplicates. The film was directed by Abel Ferrara, a director known for his gritty and sometimes controversial films including Bad Lieutenant (1992), Ms .45 (1981), and The Driller Killer (1979). Ferrara was able to transpose his dark sensibilities into this version of Body Snatchers, giving the movie a suitably bleak and oppressive atmosphere.
Director Wes Craven says he was inspired to make The People Under the Stairs after reading a real-life newspaper account of burglars who broke into a house, leading police to discover children who had been locked in the basement by their parents. Craven’s film has the same basic premise as the real story, but the details are taken to extremes. In the movie, two men and a young boy break into a home and are quickly attacked. The boy discovers a group of cannibalistic children locked in the basement, but that’s only the beginning. Things get real weird, quite violent, and pretty funny, making The People Under the Stairs a classic of Wes Craven’s style.
A group of scientists in an underwater facility are studying the brains of mako sharks in hopes of reactivating dormant brain cells in humans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A couple of the scientists go rogue, genetically altering the brains of the sharks which increases their intelligence and their ferocity. Now the crew are in a fight for their lives as they attempt to escape. Deep Blue Sea can get rather silly, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a blast to watch, and it’s easily one of the more memorable shark movies out there.
47. The Craft (1996)
The Craft is a supernatural teen horror movie that follows Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) as she starts at a new high school. Sarah falls in with a trio of outcasts who dabble in witchcraft, and the four of them quickly gain increasing magical powers. Their spells come with consequences though, and the four young women find themselves at odds with each other as their powers grow darker. The Craft was a surprise hit, capturing audiences’ attention with great young actors, a very 90s soundtrack, and a story based in relatable angst.
Years later one of the four leads, Rachel True, revealed that during the peak of The Craft‘s popularity Hollywood treated her differently than her white costars. At the MTV movie awards that year, the three other leads were presenters while True wasn’t even invited. She ended up going as someone’s guest.
Halloween (2018) wasn’t the first of the Halloween movies to attempt a sequel that ignored other sequels within the franchise’s continuity. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, the seventh film in the series, is a direct sequel to Halloween II (1981) that ignores the events of parts 4, 5, and 6 (and 3 doesn’t count since it’s not even a Michael Myers movie).
Twenty years after Michael Myers tried to kill his sister, Michael once again stalks Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) who is leading a new life with a new name and a teenage son (played by Josh Harnett). Halloween H20 exists in a post-Scream world, and as such it has a very similar feel to many other teen slashers of the time. Even so, Halloween H20 is a very entertaining movie that does a nice job of honoring the original films and their inspirations while giving us all a good scare or two.
Lake Placid has nothing to do with the real Lake Placid in New York, but that is just the first of many wonderful quirks that make the film such a fun and comedic monster movie. Lake Placid takes place in Maine where the calm, usually placid waters of Black Lake are being disturbed by a gigantic crocodile who has a taste for humans. An investigation is conducted by a group of people including the town sheriff (Brendan Gleeson), a fish and game officer (Bill Pullman), a paleontologist (Bridget Fonda), and a professor (Oliver Platt), and they try to survive not just crocodile attacks, but also the constant sarcasm everyone is throwing at each other. The dialogue is great, the monster is fun, and Betty White shows up periodically to steal the show. What’s not to love?
Tales from the Hood is a horror anthology in the style of films like Creepshow (1982) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). The movie features four short stories contained within a frame story about a trio of drug dealers who encounter a very talkative funeral director. The stories tackle different social issues relevant to the African-American community, addressing serious themes with humor and horror. The film is a cult classic that has gained more and more fans over time thanks to its timeless appeal and incredibly fun storytelling. Renewed interest in Tales from the Hood eventually led to sequels in 2018 and 2020, both directed by original director Rusty Cundieff.
Loosely based on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, Sleepy Hollow stars Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, a police constable who is sent to the secluded upstate village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the recent decapitation murders of three locals. Though the film takes plenty of liberties with the original story, director Tim Burton created a nicely gothic horror movie with an extremely strong visual design.
42. Species (1995)
Canadian actress and model Natasha Henstridge (in her film debut) stars as Sil, a beautiful killer alien–human hybrid whose urge to mate with human males is quite strong. A team (including actors Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Michael Madsen, and Marg Helgenberger) is dispatched to hunt down and kill Sil before she can give birth to an offspring with the potential to wipe out humankind. The film borders on being campy at times, but its cast, its creature effects, and its endearingly simple plot that often seems like little more than a path to get to the next nude scene make Species a 90s-era classic.
Leprechaun might not be the most well-made movie on this list, but it earns its spot thanks to its blending of ridiculous comedy, absurd kills, and, most importantly, Warwick Davis. The movie features Jennifer Aniston in her first lead role in a feature film, but Warwick Davis is the true star as a gleefully evil leprechaun who is as funny as he is menacing. Davis can get downright frightening in this movie, which is no small feat considering how goofy the premise is.
City girl Tory (Aniston) moves into an old house out in the country with her father, but unknown to either of them, there is a leprechaun trapped in a box in the basement. When the four-leaf clover trapping the leprechaun is brushed aside, the diminutive killer sets out on a murderous rampage to find his missing gold. Leprechaun is a standout horror comedy that led to a long-running franchise as well as inspiring other fairy tale horror movies including Rumpelstiltskin (1995) and Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996).
40. Cube (1997)
A small group of strangers awake to find themselves in a metallic, windowless, 14-by-14-by-14-foot cubic-shaped room. They have no idea how they got there, and they soon realize that each door they find leads to another room nearly identical to the previous room. Even worse, many of the rooms are traps, leading to some gruesome deaths before the group comes together to try to find a way out of the maze they are trapped in. Cube is a remarkable independent film that makes great use of its limited budget. It is a tense, character-driven horror movie that stands up with the best films about a small group of trapped in an isolated location.
In this film by exiled director Roman Polanski, Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, a dealer in rare books who is tasked by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to locate the last two remaining copies of a satanic manuscript published in Venice in 1666 called The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom. As he searches for the book, Corso finds himself drawn into a dark world of murder and Satanism to the point where he finally encounters the Devil himself. The movie has an oppressive film-noir feel, and it’s a good watch for fans who like a bit of intrigue with their horror.
Subspecies is a straight-to-video vampire movie that feels like a welcome throwback to the heyday of gothic horror. The story follows three female college students as they travel to Romania to study the country’s culture and superstitions. The three young women explore what they think are just old ruins in the Romanian countryside, but the ruins are actually home to Radu, a vampire who is in the midst of a struggle for power with his brother Stefan. Subspecies, could have easily been just like any other vampire movie, but its setting (shot on location in Romania) and atmosphere help to elevate the movie to another level. Also, Anders Hove’s performance as the evil Radu is excellent, helping carry the franchise to a number of sequels throughout the 1990s.
In this horror-comedy—one reviewer referred to it as a “thrillomedy”—a killer spider form South America travels to the United States in a coffin and begins breeding and terrorizing the denizens of a small American town. Jeff Daniels stars as a bright young doctor afflicted with such a fear of spiders that it literally paralyzes him, and John Goodman gives a fantastic performance as a wisecracking, no-nonsense exterminator. Arachnophobia is certainly not for the squeamish, but if you can handle seeing lots and lots of real spiders, then it’s an incredibly fun movie.
Ten years after Wes Craven brought his new vision of fantasy horror to the screen with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the writer/director finally returned to bring new life to the characters he created. New Nightmare (1994) isn’t a typical sequel. The franchise’s stars (including Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund) play versions of their real-life selves in this meta story that sees Freddy Krueger attempting to escape out of the movies and into the real world. The movie eschews the comedy of many of the previous Elm Street entries, going back to its darker roots for a more menacing tone. The movie effectively blends truth with fiction, and it even features cameos from people behind the scenes including Wes Craven himself.
Scream made a huge splash in 1996, and I Know What You Did Last Summer was arguably the most prominent movie to ride the wave of renewed interest in teen horror. Written by Kevin Williamson (who also wrote Scream), the movie is about four friends who cover up their accidental killing of a stranger just before they all go their separate ways after graduating high school. One year later, someone knows what they did and is out for revenge. I Know What You Did Last Summer is classic 90s teen horror, complete with popular TV stars from the time Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
It can be a daunting task trying to make a sequel to a beloved movie, especially by the time you get to part three of a series. Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a classic zombie comedy, and Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) features more of the same comedic zombie action that worked so well in the first film. Part three of the series took a different approach, focusing on a romantic tragedy with its limited amount of comedy coming into the movie organically through the plot’s situations and effects.
When Julie (Melinda Clarke) is killed in a motorcycle accident, her boyfriend Curt (J. Trevor Edmund) revives her with a dose of Trioxin, the military chemical seen throughout the series. Julie begins to have cravings that can only be satiated with either human brains or physical pain, and she indulges in both in copious amounts. This movie earns a spot on the list thanks to its incredibly memorable gore effects, its reinvention of the franchise, and its charismatic performance from Melinda Clarke.
Keanu Reeves stars as Kevin Lomax, a brilliant Florida defense lawyer who is able to win difficult cases even when he knows his client is guilty. Lomax is offered a high-paying job as at a Manhattan law firm led by John Milton (Al Pacino), but Lomax begins to fall towards temptation while his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) starts having disturbing visions. There’s something wrong in John Milton’s law firm, and it all starts with Milton himself. The premise of a lawyer actually being evil sounds like the start of a bad joke, but The Devil’s Advocate is a highly entertaining supernatural horror movie that builds and builds towards a memorable finish.
Tim Robbins stars as Jacob, a Vietnam veteran who is mourning his dead child. Jacob begins to suspect that he and other soldiers were the victims of a mind-control experiment while on the battlefield, and he—and the film’s viewers—have trouble distinguishing reality from hallucinations. Jacob’s Ladder is a powerful and emotional horror movie that has inspired many works of psychological horror including the Silent Hill video game series and the works of Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story).
Jennifer Tilly stars in the fourth entry in the Child’s Play series as Tiffany, a ditzy blonde who lives in a trailer park and is deeply in love with Chucky (or rather, the serial killer Charles Lee Ray whose soul was transferred into the Chucky doll). After murdering a policeman, Tiffany grabs her copy of Voodoo for Dummies and resurrects Chucky (once again voiced by Brad Dourif) from the dead, only to find that her dreams of marriage were based on an incorrect assumption. Chucky then kills Tiffany, transferring her body into a female doll, then the two of them go on a cross-country rampage of murder and gross doll-sex.
Bride of Chucky reinvigorated the Child’s Play franchise, fully embracing the inherent comedy of its killer doll premise. The film was directed by Ronny Yu, a director whose visual style as a Hong Kong film director helped the film stand out in the best possible way. Ronny Yu would go on to direct Freddy vs. Jason (2003), making a lasting impression on the world of horror.
30. Cronos (1993)
A golden, insect-like device that resembles an ancient Egyptian scarab beetle that had been invented by a Spanish alchemist in the 1300s is able to unfold its claws and inject users with a potion that gives them immortality. Four centuries later, a Mexican earthquake sends a building crumbling to the ground—only to reveal that the same alchemist is still alive in the rubble. Guillermo Del Toro wrote and directed Cronos, the visionary filmmaker’s first feature film. Like many of Del Toro’s films, Cronos is a beautifully dark tale that wonderfully lends horror and drama.
In the film that launched the subsequent popular TV show that ran from 1997 to 2003, a vapid blonde Valley Girl cheerleader (Kristy Swanson) is suddenly informed by a mysterious older man in a trench coat (Donald Sutherland) that she must put down her pompoms because she has been selected as her generation’s vampire slayer. Rutger Hauer and Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens are also featured in memorable roles as vampires, and 90s heartthrob Luke Perry co-stars as Pike, Buffy’s eventual romantic interest. The movie is much more silly than the TV series, but it’s still a very fun relic of the 1990s.
In this cinematic treatment of the wildly popular TV series that ran for two seasons in 1990 and 1991, the last week of Laura Palmer’s life is shown one year after Teresa Banks, a resident of a town adjoining Twin Peaks, was slain. After the cancellation of the Twin Peaks television series, the plan was to make a trilogy of films to wrap up the story. Poor box office performance led to the sequels never happening, but the story was continued in 2017 with season three of the TV series. Though people tend to be divided on David Lynch’s dark and surreal vision Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is one of the more interesting movies that came from the 90s.
27. Ravenous (1999)
During the Mexican-American War, Lieutenant John Boyd (Guy Pearce) manages to capture a Mexican command post despite an act of cowardice that led to the deaths of the men in his unit. Boyd is promoted to Captain, but he is also exiled to a remote post in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Boyd must find courage in his new post though, as a mysterious stranger with a history of cannibalism arrives and causes havoc. Ravenous is a perpetually underrated cannibal movie with a cold and dark tone.
George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead from 1968 set the standard for all zombie films that would follow, and the 1990 remake of Romero’s classic is a worthy successor for such an important film. Directed by Tom Savini, Night of the Living Dead (1990) updates some of the original’s themes and ideas. Most prominently, Barbara (Patricia Tallman) is a much stronger character in the 1990 version, fighting back against the dead and the living rather than collapsing into shock like Judith O’Dea’s Barbara did in 1968. The 1990 version also features twists on some of the character moments, much more blood and violence, and even a slightly different ending. Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remains one of the great horror remakes that honors the original while feeling fresh and new.
The basic plot of Interview with the Vampire involves a decades-old vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt), telling his life story to a reporter. Louis’s story focuses on his time with Lestat (Tom Cruise), the vampire who sired him, and Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), a ten-year-old girl also sired by Lestat. The film was a hit thanks not only to the elegant portrayal of vampires from its leads, but also thanks to its strong emphasis on gothic horror.
Although the movie was based on a bestselling Anne Rice novel of the same name, Rice was initially appalled at the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. It wasn’t until after the film was completed, when a studio exec sent her a VHS copy, that she watched it and was so pleased with Cruise’s performance that she personally apologized to him.
Following the success of Scream (1996), teen horror was in high demand. In the scramble to find the next horror hit, Miramax bough a script about an alien invasion on a high school campus. They brought in Kevin Williamson (writer of Scream) to rewrite the script so the kids would enjoy it, and they hired popular (and skilled) genre-film auteur Robert Rodriguez to direct. The result was The Faculty, an extremely fun sci-fi teen horror movie that managed to stand out from the crowd.
The Faculty is the ultimate 90s teen horror movie. The ensemble cast was full of 90s stars including teen heartthrobs from the era such as Josh Hartnett and Usher. The cast promoted the movie with a series of Tommy Hilfiger commercials. You cannot get more 90s than this:
Michael J. Fox stars as Frank, the survivor of a car wreck that killed his wife and gave him the ability to see ghosts. Frank starts a new life as a con man, using the ghosts he befriends to haunt houses just so he can charge the occupants to “exorcise” them. Frank is forced to fight against ghosts for real when he encounters a spirit of a serial killer. Director Peter Jackson uses his great knack for comedy and striking visuals to make The Frighteners one of the more entertaining and underrated horror comedies of the 1990s.
Lost Highway is a surreal neo-noir film that starts off as a story about a man (Bill Pullman) being put on death row for killing his wife (Patricia Arquette). The movie takes multiple twists and turns, making a concise summary difficult and quite unnecessary. The film often feels like trying to remember a dream. Characters change, timelines feel fluid, and the movie is unnerving in a mesmerizing way. Lost Highway delves into some dark psychological territory, and its constant tension pushes it into what could be considered horror.
21. Audition (1999)
While Japanese ghost films like Ringu (1998) were exploding in popularity around the world, genre-film master Takashi Miike shocked the world with a different style of Japanese horror. Audition begins in what could be a setup for a romantic comedy or drama, but it ends in torture and death. A man is convinced by a friend to hold a fake casting call to “audition” women for the part of his new wife. The man, Aoyama, becomes infatuated with Asami, but things take a dark turn very quickly when Aoyama slowly uncovers Asami’s secret life. Audition is famous for its blunt depiction of cruelty, particularly its climactic encounter between Aoyama and Asami.
20. Wild Zero (1999)
Wild Zero is a rock ‘n’ roll movie, but it’s also a romance. It’s a zombie movie, but it’s also about an alien invasion. It’s a crazy-fun assault on the senses, but it also has a surprising amount of heart. Wild Zero is one of the best pure exercises in genre filmmaking to come out of Japan. The story centers on Ace, a huge fan of the band Guitar Wolf. After saving the band from a club owner, Guitar Wolf gives Ace a whistle to blow if he ever needs help. Ace then falls in love, but his romantic plans are put on hold when Japan is attacked by alien-led zombies. Now Guitar Wolf has to save the day through the power of love and rock (along with lots of blood and explosions).
Starting in the 1976 and continuing throughout the 1980s, many great movies based on Stephen King’s stories found their way to theaters. Television, on the other hand, seemed like a tough format to adapt to given King’s often mature subject matter. King himself wasn’t very interested in attempting horror on TV, but it’s a good thing ABC decided to go ahead and make It.
The two-part miniseries adapts the story of a group of misfits, the Losers Club, who come together as kids and adults to fight against a mysterious supernatural presence killing children in their hometown. The limits of what could be shown on television forced filmmakers to scale back some of the more gruesome aspects of Stephen King’s novel, thereby increasing the story’s focus on character development psychological horror. While the limited budget caused some of the more elaborate special effects to miss their mark, but Tim Curry’s effectively terrifying portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown scarred legions of kids and adults alike.
18. Tremors (1990)
In a film that many critics viewed as an homage to 1950s nuclear-era movies with giant monsters such as Them! (1954), Beginning of the End (1957), and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as handymen in a small desert community who team together to fight some unknown giant creature that lives underground and kills residents one at a time. Tremors performed below expectations at the box office while still being financially successful, but it found a great following after its release on home video. The strength of this first film inspired an enduring franchise including a television series and multiple sequels in the following decades.
Picking up precisely where Evil Dead II (1987) ended, Army of Darkness sees Bruce Campbell return as Ash, a wisecracking department-store clerk who finds himself transported through time to medieval England. Ash’s experiences in the secluded cabin in the woods (as well as his boom stick and chainsaw hand) make him a prime candidate to heroically fight back against a new (or rather, old) Deadite scourge, but Ash is only interested in getting back home. Bruce Campbell in peak anti-hero form in Army of Darkness, making the movie one of the most fun and eminently quotable horror comedies of all time.
Though The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) is widely considered a supremely inferior sequel to the original, The Exorcist III (1990) is the terrifying movie worthy of following up The Exorcist (1973). The third film in the series focuses on Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott), a police officer attempting to solve a series of murders that fit the descriptions of murders committed by the Gemini Killer. The only problem is, the Gemini Killer was executed years ago. Kinderman’s investigation leads him to an old friend who is being held in a psychiatric ward who might be possessed by the long-dead killer. The Exorcist III features amazing performances from its strong cast, has relevant connections to the original Exorcist film, and contains at least one of the most frightening scares in horror film history.
The first of two feature films based on the popular Tales from the Crypt television series, Demon Knight is a gory and wacky horror comedy that features one of Billy Zane’s most memorable performances. Zane is The Collector, a demonic entity chasing after Frank Brayker (William Sadler), a mysterious drifter who has made his way to an isolated boarding house. Brayker is reluctant to divulge too much about who he is and what he does, but, as the night goes on, Brayer and The Collector engage in a standoff with the battle between Heaven and Hell in the balance. In addition to watching Billy Zane be brilliant, Demon Knight includes a strong supporting cast who end up battling hordes of demons with blood and gore flying.
The Blair Witch Project was catapulted to the forefront of mainstream horror in 1999 thanks to its unique style, clever marketing, and word of mouth. The movie is about three film students who get hopelessly lost in the forests of Maryland while attempting to document a local legend, the titular Blair Witch.
The film popularized the “found footage” style, and its innovative online marketing played up the idea that the movie was supposedly pieced together from actual footage of three missing people. A buzz was created, and the film became a surprise hit. While The Blair Witch Project could earn its spot on this list based on innovation alone, the movie is great just by itself. The style makes the movie feel real, tension is built slowly, and the finale is restrained enough to feel believable without going overboard like many future found footage movies would do.
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gorgeous work of gothic horror that is mostly faithful to the original novel. Bram Stoker’s Dracula tells the story of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) as he searches for Mina (Winona Ryder) who he believes is the reincarnation of his long-dead wife. The cast is top-notch, also including Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, and Tom Waits as Renfield. As good as the acting is though, the most memorable aspect of the movie has to be its incredible visual style which won Academy Awards for makeup and costume design.
In the year 2047, a crew is sent to investigate the reappearance of the Event Horizon, a spaceship that was thought to be lost beyond our solar system seven years prior. Now in orbit around the planet Neptune, the Event Horizon is a ghost ship that holds dark secrets which the rescue crew should have left uncovered. Event Horizon bears more than a passing resemblance to other outer-space horror movies such as Alien (1979), but the monsters in Event Horizon are mostly internal. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (of the Resident Evil film franchise), Event Horizon is an outstanding psychological horror and space horror movie that became something of a cult classic thanks to its strong premise and memorable scenes of body horror.
11. The Crow (1994)
In his final film appearance, Brandon Lee, son of legendary cinematic martial artist Bruce Lee, stars as Eric Draven, a young musician who is murdered along with his fiancé on Devil’s Night, the night before Halloween. Eric rises from the dead one year later and goes on a determined campaign of vengeance not for himself, but for the love of his life. Though it is more of a vigilante film, The Crow has enough darkness and gothic influences to qualify as a horror film as well.
10. Misery (1990)
Before the internet, reviews of a movie mostly traveled by word of mouth. While a great horror movie as a whole, Misery was talked about mostly in terms of “that scene“. Famed novelist Paul Sheldon is taken in by his superfan, Annie Wilkes, after a chance rescue when he gets into a car accident during a blizzard. After he attempts to escape her remote cabin, she hobbles him with a sledgehammer to the ankles. The power of Misery lies in the performance of Kathy Bates who gracefully blends dark humor and terrifying madness into Annie Wilkes while still making her feel as if someone like her could actually exist in the real world.
In this horror-comedy directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson, a man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey, causing her to die—but only temporarily. She is resurrected and begins eating every animal and human within biting distance. Her son tries to hide the fact that she’s undead, but his efforts only exacerbate the situation, creating an ever-growing cadre of zombies he attempts to hide in the basement of his mother’s house. Dead Alive (released as Braindead outside of North America) it often touted as the goriest film of all time, and it’s certainly one of the funniest as well.
Based on a Clive Barker short story and adapted to take place in early 90s Chicago, Candyman is about an urban legend of a man with a hook for a hand who appears if you say his name five times in front of a mirror. Genre-film icon Tony Todd plays the titular Candyman, bringing a smart and scary horror villain to the screen in a time when many horror villains were kind of goofy. Candyman is an intelligent horror film that touches on timeless social issues while delivering visceral thrills, and that is a big reason why it is so fondly remembered by fans decades after its release.
In this grimly beautiful horror-comedy, director Michele Soavi crafts a wonderful tale of love, death, and love after death. Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker at a small cemetery in Italy. Dellamorte not only digs the graves and tends to the grounds, but he also ends the second life of the cemetery’s residents who tend to come back to life as flesh-hungry zombies. One day Dellamorte falls in love with a gorgeous young widow, but theirs is a tragic love that is tested by forces from beyond the grave. Cemetery Man is often dream-like in its approach to plot and story, and its pitch-black sense of humor is something that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
The Sixth Sense is the movie that made a name of writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Bruce Willis and Hayley Joel Osment as a child psychologist and his patient, respectively, the two work through the boy’s issues, not the least of which being that he sees ghosts everywhere he goes. If you lived through the 90s, you’ll remember Osment’s famous line “I see dead people.” The juxtaposition of everyday life interjected with brief moments of disturbing supernatural images makes The Sixth Sense one of the most memorable movies of the 90s, and its finale is widely regarded as one of the best twist endings of all time.
From Dusk Till Dawn is one of the greatest genre mash-ups of all time. The film starts out as a stylish crime thriller that you would probably expect from Robert Rodriguez, writer/director of Desperado (1995), and Quentin Tarantino, writer/director of Pulp Fiction (1994). Partway through the movie though, the crime story reaches a dead end in a dingy strip club in Mexico where, seemingly out of nowhere, audiences are blindsided by the fact that they’re now watching an incredibly gory vampire film. From Dusk Till Dawn pays loving tribute to two very different genres of film, and it does it in an incredibly fun way with plenty of laughs, gore, nudity, and violence.
4. Ringu (1998)
Ringu (1998) is the film that kicked off the J-horror frenzy that dominated international cinema in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. The film is about a reporter who investigates a VHS tape that is rumored to curse viewers with a horrible death exactly seven days after they watch it. The story was originally told in the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki and adapted first in a 1995 television movie, but the 1998 adaptation of the story is the one that exploded on the worldwide horror scene. Ringu (1998) became an international franchise that includes multiple timelines in the Japanese series, a South Korean remake, and an American remake spawning its own sequels. While many of the subsequent Ring movies are good, the restrained terror of 1998’s Ringu can’t be beat.
3. Se7en (1995)
Morgan Freeman stars as a grizzled and cynical veteran detective teamed up with a hotheaded new partner played by Brad Pitt. The two of them hunt for a serial killer who they quickly realize is selecting his victims for committing the Seven Deadly Sins—envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath. The film is essentially a crime thriller, but director David Fincher’s unrelentingly dark tone and suitably horrific finale helps edge it over into the horror genre. Se7en also contains some of the best scares seen in any mainstream movie from the 1990s.
In 1992, The Silence of the Lambs did the unthinkable for horror and horror-adjacent movies: it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film, directed by Jonathan Demme, also snagged a Best Actor Oscar for Anthony Hopkins and a Best Actress award for Jodie Foster. Hopkins and Foster, as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and FBI Academy student Clarice Starling, develop a strange friendship based on their roles as outsiders—Lecter is a depraved serial killer, and Starling is an FBI cadet who faces endless misogyny from her male cohorts. Together they search for a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill” whose M.O. is that he skins his victims alive. The Silence of the Lambs is a fantastic movie, and its a highly accessible entry point for thriller fans who may not typically be interested in horror.
In the early 1990s, the American slasher movie was dying an undignified death. Sequels to franchises started in the 1980s were decreasing in quality, and new slasher movies tended to rely on gimmicky killers and comedic plots to grab the public’s waning attention. Then Scream came along and made the aging slasher formula feel fresh and exciting.
Scream is a postmodern, self-referential horror movie that plays on the fact that its audience knows the “rules” of slasher films. Rather than being a parody of the slasher genre though, Scream honors the format while creating a new, modern interpretation of it. The influence of Scream was felt across the entirety of horror for years (decades even), and that’s a huge reason why it is the best horror movie from the 90s. That, plus the fact that it’s a highly entertaining movie by one of the masters of horror, Wes Craven.
More Great 90s Horror Movies
Making a list like this is hard, and great movies are always going to be left out. Here are just a few more 90s horror movies that you don’t want to miss out on.
- Bride of Re-Animator (1990) is the second film in the wonderfully bizarre Re-Animator series inspired by a short story from H.P. Lovecraft.
- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992) Those creepy kids from Nebraska are back and ready to cause chaos.
- Child’s Play 2 (1990) feels more like a straightforward slasher flick than the 1988 original does, but Brad Dourif’s portrayal of killer doll Chucky is always entertaining.
- Flatliners (1990) boasts a stellar cast as medical students who are terrorized by visions while experimenting with ways to experience life after death.
- Graveyard Shift (1990) is based on a Stephen King short story of the same name taking pace in a rat-infested textile mill.
- Predator 2 (1990) is maybe more action that horror, but transposing the action/horror from a jungle to a city helps make this highly entertaining sequel feel fresh.
- Troll 2 (1990) will never earn a spot on any “best of” list, but it deserves mentioning here as possibly the best of the worst movies released in the 1990s.
- Castle Freak (1995) Some might argue this should be one of the best horror movies of the 90s, and for how low-budget it feels, it’s amazing how fun this gothic tale is.
- Night of the Scarecrow (1995) is a solid, though perhaps cheesy, B monster movie. If you’re into scarecrow movies, this super fun low-budget horror flick is for you.
- Tesis (1996) is a tense Spanish film about a film student who begins to investigate what appears to be a snuff film.
- Bio-Zombie (1998) is a hilarious Hong Kong horror comedy featuring a zombie outbreak in a mall and a group of survivors led by two inept small-time criminals.
- Urban Legend (1998) is a decent slasher film with murders inspired by urban legends. Jared Leto stars, and the movie features cameos by horror icons Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, and Robert Englund.
- Idle Hands (1999) is a blast of a teen horror comedy about a possessed hand that goes on a killing spree. Seth Green and Jessica Alba co-star with Devon Sawa.
- The Haunting (1999) takes many liberties with Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, and its great cast do their best to create a scary atmosphere among all of the film’s haunted house special effects.
- House on Haunted Hill (1999) is campy fun as a group of strangers are tasked with staying overnight in a deadly haunted house for a $1 million dollar prize.
- Stigmata (1999) features Patricia Arquette as an atheist who mysteriously begins to suffer stigmata, wounds consistent with those suffered during crucifixion.