It’s that feeling you get when you even think about a confined space. All you want to do is break free, and yet you’re stuck. That claustrophobic feeling is all-encompassing — a horror truly of its own. Sometimes it’s not even a literal confined space, but instead an intense feeling of being trapped in a situation.
For movies that make you feel claustrophobic, it isn’t just about being buried alive or stuck in a cave. Even a small town can feel claustrophobic if the characters can’t leave. If you’re in the mood to feel stuck, closed-off, confined, check out our list of the best claustrophobic movies. There are classic horror films like The Descent (2006) and 1408 (2007), along with genre-benders like The Lighthouse (2019) and The Abyss (1989).
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Top Claustrophobic Movies
An iconic made for television drama film about a teenage boy, Tod Lubitch (John Travolta), who has grown up without a functioning immune system and is forced to live his life in a “bubble”, a plastic incubator meant to protect him from the outside world. Although Tod is given a space suit so that he can attend high school classes, his loneliness is palpable. Tod develops a friendship and romantic feelings for his neighbor Gina (Glynnis O’Connor) and begins to think about leaving the safety of his bubble.
The seclusion of John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing is both a blessing and a curse. It keeps the alien bacteria lifeform contained in the research station at Antarctic — but it also means the researchers living there can’t really get away either. They’re just surrounded by a cold wasteland as they suspect everyone around them as an alien shapeshifter. This is one of the best sci-fi horror movies, and a must-watch for those looking for that claustrophobic feeling.
A young Dutch couple stops at a rest area area during their road trip vacation to France. Unfortunately Rex’s girlfriend Saskia goes missing during the stop, totally without a trace. This spurs his three-year search for his missing girlfriend. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere until he starts receiving letters from her potential abductor. I don’t want to give too much of The Vanishing away, but the claustrophobic feeling comes from a classic trope when it comes to confined spaces. This oft-forgotten Dutch film is a can’t-miss classic.
There’s trouble at the bottom of the ocean, and a SEAL team is headed down in a submarine to help save the underwater drilling team stuck there. But things quickly turn chaotic when an unknown entity enters their submarine, shaped like a pillar of water. While there are plenty of claustrophobic submarine movies out there, The Abyss has the perfect mix of oppressive confinement and alien sci-fi thrills.
Cozy cabins and fluffy beds aren’t claustrophobic on their own, but they are when you’re being forced to stay there by someone who will take any means to keep you there. In Misery, author Paul Sheldon gets rescued by a nurse named Annie Wilkes, but it isn’t the rescue he was hoping for. It turns out she’s a rabid fan of his novels and keeps him injured so he can write another novel. Annie’s an expert at making him bed-bound. It’s horrifying as only author Stephen King can pull off.
A space movie that dramatizes the real events of the Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970. The crew aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft learn that an explosion has limited their supply of oxygen and electrical power. Aborting the crew’s mission to land on the moon, NASA works to bring the three men (an all star cast of Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon) home safely.
People start waking up in a weird cubic room with no memory of how they got there. There are hatches on every wall, floor, and ceiling, but they aren’t the escape they hoped for. Instead, they lead to a seemingly unending series of cubes — some creatively deadly — giving a poignant false feeling of escape. Ask any horror lover for a list of their forgotten gems, and Cube will likely be on the list.
A sci-fi film set in a futuristic 2020 where the first manned mission to Mars is taking place. Five crew members end up stranded in their spacecraft on Mars. It will take over two years for a rescue mission to reach the astronauts and there is only enough food and supplies for two of the five survivors.
While being in the relative safety of a state-of-the-art panic room might feel like a boon during a home invasion, it starts feeling tiny very quickly. And when Meg’s daughter Sarah (played by Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, respectively) starts to go into a diabetic coma, she wants to be anywhere but in that panic room. Too bad robbers are in the house and closing in fast.
A group of women go on a spelunking trip in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s just supposed to be an active and adventurous girls’ trip, but things quickly descend into terror and madness. The Descent will get you rethinking any desire you had to explore vast cave systems. Because even the most cavernous cave systems could mean getting lost, or worse: stalked by creepy cave-dwellers.
You don’t need to be buried alive or stuck in a tiny room to feel claustrophobic. In the winter horror film 30 Days of Night, it’s an entire secluded Alaskan small town that feels closed-in and cut off from the world. When vampires roll into to this Alaskan town during their 30 days of perpetual night, the townsfolk have nowhere to run. It’s a cool (no pun intended) take on the vampire genre, and includes a stellar performance from The Faculty’s Josh Hartnett.
Imagine being stuck in a haunted hotel room and no matter what you do, you can’t get out. That’s what John Cusack’s character is faced with in 1408. He was just there to write about the visit for his book of haunted hotels, but perhaps he should have listened to the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson) when he said this would be a deadly idea. Based on a Stephen King short story of the same name, 1408 is the perfect example of a useless pursuit in the face of confinement.
The epitome of claustrophobic themes is the idea of being buried alive. It’s a top fear for most people, and for good reason. You’re trapped in an incredibly small space with seemingly no way to get out. Filmed in Barcelona, Buried follows Ryan Reynold’s Paul Conroy as he wakes up inside a coffin. The minimalist story takes place entirely in the coffin as it gradually fills with sand and dirt. Your heart rate will climb as you watch him try to survive with just a lighter and his cell phone.
An oft-forgotten M. Night Shyamalan thriller, Devil takes place almost entirely on an elevator that has gotten stuck between floors. Now the five people stuck onboard need to wait it out— that is until an evil force starts picking them off one by one. It’s one thing to run from a killer when you actually have someplace to run. If you’re in an elevator there’s nowhere to get away. Devil was surprisingly good considering it was forgotten almost as soon as it came out in theaters.
A hiker decides to trek the canyons of Moab when one wrong step launches him into a tight crevice. If that wasn’t bad enough, his arm gets stuck between a boulder and the canyon wall. If he wants to survive, he’ll have to take his destiny into his own hands. What makes this movie even more intense and claustrophobic is that it’s based on the real life story of Aron Ralston. You’re sure to be flinching away from the screen while watching this one.
A team of TV reality show ghost hunters enter an abandoned insane asylum in hopes of capturing footage of a real spirit. While found footage horror movie Grave Encounters feels closed-in as soon as they enter the asylum, it gets so much worse when they can’t seem to leave. Hallways are never-ending, they can never seem to find the door. It’s like a spooky labyrinth that no one can leave — and it makes for a very entertaining movie.
An adventure horror movie following an environmental lawyer and a crew of coal miners who are trapped 600 feet underground when the mine shaft collapses. When oxygen begins to run out, the group turns on each other. Haunting the survivors is the story of a group of 19 miners who were buried alive and left for dead in the same mine in the 1920s.
In this surprisingly spooky and entertaining found footage film, Scarlett and her ex-boyfriend George head to the catacombs under Paris in search of the philosopher’s stone. They not only quickly get lost, but they start to see haunting visions from their past. What makes As Above, So Below extra scary is the fact that they’re wandering around the real Paris catacombs, something anyone can do in real life. It makes tourists wonder “what if?”
A woman and her son live their lives in one tiny room in this apt-named crime drama starring Brie Larson. Her son was born in the room where she’d been held captive after a kidnapping, and she’s told him his whole life that this room is the only thing that exists. Watching her try to convince him of the real truth is both claustrophobic and heartbreaking.
As Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) drives off from a bad breakup, her car is struck by a truck. When she wakes up, she’s held captive in an underground bunker. Her captor insists that things are much worse outside of the bunker than in it. Nearly the entirety of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the second film in the Cloverfield universe, takes place in the bunker. This is a must-watch for John Goodman’s performance alone.
While the survivors in this Korean zombie film do have the opportunity to leave their Busan-bound train a few times, they quickly realize that the safest place for them is on the tracks. Well, if they can keep their train car safe, anyway. Train to Busan is an emotional masterpiece with plenty of scares from zombies, other survivors, and that claustrophobic feeling alike.
What happens when you’re tasked to live in a lighthouse with just one person for the foreseeable future while keeping the light burning bright? For Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, it’s a slow descent into madness. This gritty A24 film takes all the romance out of lighthouses and promptly turns these gorgeous structures into seaside nightmares.
A sci-fi thriller about a woman (Mélanie Laurent) who wakes up in a cryogenic chamber with her memory wiped. As her limited oxygen runs out, she desperately tries to figure out where she is and how she can get help. Her only source of information is the chamber’s AI interface named MILO (Mathieu Amalric).
More Claustrophobic Movies
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) though it only takes up a few minutes of this classic’s runtime, few scenes in cinema history give claustrophobics the heebie-jeebies like Augustus Gloop getting stuck in a tube after falling in a river of chocolate.
- Creepshow (1982) it’s just one of many segments from this horror anthology, yet “Something to Tide You Over” finds Ted Danson buried up to his neck in the sand. It’d be a terrible way to go.
- The Vanishing (1993) you’re not seeing double — this is the American remake of the Dutch classic listed above. While most find the original much better than the remake, there’s no denying the creep-factor of Jeff Bridges as the thriller’s villain.
- Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) though it ultimately spells her transformation from a typical woman to a total badass, the Bride’s time buried alive will make anyone shiver in fear.
- Frozen (2010) no, not the Disney movie. In this Frozen, a trio gets trapped as the ski lift they’re riding shuts down before they’ve made it to the top. You’d think it’d be as simple as jumping off, but not with the pack of hungry wolves hanging out below.
- Snowpiercer (2014) it’s one thing to be stuck on a train, but quite another when it seems like the entirety of the human race are stuck surviving on a train continually circumnavigating the iced-over globe.
- 47 Meters Down (2017) a pair of sisters go down in a shark cage on their adventurous vacation, but when the line breaks and they sink 47 meters down, surrounded by bloodthirsty sharks, they’ll have to find a way to survive.
- Gerald’s Game (2017) a wife and husband decide to get a little freaky as he ties her to their bed. But when he unexpectedly dies before he’s able to untie her, she has to spend days trying to break free. Yet another claustrophobic Stephen King adaptation.
- Escape Room (2019) since escape rooms have become so popular in real life, it’s no surprise that there has been a surge of horror movies on the theme, but this was one of the first one to actually call it an escape room. Check out our list of escape room movies if you want more.
- Parasite (2019) a down-on-their-luck family manipulates their way into working for a rich Korean family — but things go all wrong when they find what’s hidden in the house.
- Underwater (2020) stars Kristen Stewart working in an underwater research station. But something is out in the depths, and the entire station is stuck with no way out.
- Barbarian (2022) involves several scenes that take place underground and that invoke a terrible sense of being trapped and claustrophobic.