14 Best Jump Scares in Horror

Jump scares rely on surprising the audience with something unexpected.

The nurses station scene in The Exorcist III (1990) is one of the best jump scares in horror movie history.

Jump scares are controversial among horror fans with some insisting it’s the mark of good horror to scare someone so much they have a physiological reaction to what’s on screen and others saying jump scares are a cheap tactic used when the filmmakers aren’t adept enough to create lasting fear in the audience. Jump scares rely on surprising the audience with something unexpected and can be as simple as a character shutting a cupboard to reveal someone standing close behind. Some movies, like Dashcam (2022), function like a collection of jumpscares while others, like Hereditary (2018), utilize jump scares to add to the overall feeling of fear the movie instills in the audience.

The bus scene in Cat People (1942) is said to be cinema’s first jump scare, though it’s subtle enough that modern audiences may no longer recognize it as startling.

Here are the best jump scares in horror history:

Table of Contents

The hand at the end of ‘Carrie’ (1976)

Sissy Spacek portrayed Carrie White.

Carrie White is a shy, sheltered high school student who is mercilessly teased by her classmates. As the prom approaches, one student, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels guilty for participating in the bullying and asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to prom. Another girl has more nefarious intent and schemes for a humiliating prank to take place after Carrie is elected prom queen. No one is ready for what is unleashed when Carrie is overcome with rage.

The jump scare:

Sissy Spacek says she used to sneak into theaters to watch the audience during the last five minutes of Carrie and they would “go crazy” at this scene.

At the end of the film, Sue Snell has a nightmare where she arrives at the ruins of the White’s house to offer a bouquet of flowers in remembrance of Carrie. The “For Sale” marking the site has been defaced to read “Carrie White burns in hell!”. Suddenly a bloody hand emerges from the ground and Sue wakes up screaming.

Jason returns in ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)

Pamela Voorhees was revealed as the killer in Friday the 13th (1980).

The original campground slasher movie where a group of young people arrive in the middle of nowhere to work at Camp Crystal Lake. The camp has recently been reopened after a double murder 20 years ago closed the camp down. The new counselors are stalked by an unseen presence, who is later revealed to be Pamela Voorhees, the mother of a boy who drowned due to the counselors negligence (she also murdered the counselors 20 years ago).

The jump scare:

Jason emerges from the water.

After decapitating Mrs. Voorhees, an exhausted Alice (Adrienne King) climbs into a canoe and falls asleep in the lake. Suddenly, Jason Voorhees emerges from the water (revealing himself to be alive) and tries to pull Alice into the water. Alice wakes up in the hospital where she realizes that no one has seen Jason and he is still alive and ready for a sequel.

The chest defibrillation scene in ‘The Thing’ (1982)

The Thing is widely considered one of the scariest horror movies ever made.

A team of American researchers in Antarctica discover an alien entity that can perfectly transform into other life forms. The team’s scientist, Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), predicts that in only a few years the entity could take over all life on Earth. In order to prevent catastrophe, the team seeks to kill any traces of the entity, including when the entity assimilates into their own team members.

The jump scare:

The most iconic defibrillation scene until Scream 4 (2011).

When one of the team members, Norris (Charles Hallahan), appears to have a heart attack, Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart), performs chest defibrillation on him. During this procedure, Norris’ chest suddenly opens and forms a gigantic, toothy mouth which bites down and severs Dr. Copper’s arms above the wrist. When MacReady torches the creature, Norris’ head jumps off and attempts to escape.

Leatherface emerges from the record vault in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ (1986)

Final girl Stretch (Caroline Williams) is terrorized by Leatherface and his dysfunctional family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

The first sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) took a wildly different approach, inserting camp, humor and gore into the franchise. After audio evidence of Leatherface murdering a pair of neanderthal high school students airs on a radio station, the Sawyer family sets out to murder the DJ responsible, Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). What follows is a fun mix of humor and horror, with at least three really great jump scares in this film.

The jump scare:

A back room is suddenly lit up and a chainsaw roars as Leatherface enters the scene.

When Stretch leaves the radio station after her late night shift, she discovers an unhinged Chop Top (Bill Moseley) waiting for her. He delivers an incredibly creepy monologue and all the focus is on Chop Top and Stretch, when Leatherface suddenly emerges from the record vault behind the two characters. His appearance is completely unexpected and results in a premium jump scare.

Nurses station scene in ‘The Exorcist III’ (1990)

Brad Dourif plays James Venamun, a serial killer known as the “Gemini Killer” who had been executed fifteen years before the events of the film.

The third installment of The Exorcist series follows Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) and Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (George C. Scott) fifteen years after the possession of Regan MacNeil. A new series of murders seem to be the work of the (deceased) Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif). The Lietenant investigates a psychiatric ward and finds that Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is now a patient there, possessed by the same entity that had possessed Regan.

The jump scare:

The sudden appearance of a killer in this scene is one of the scariest jump scares in horror.

During a night shift at the psychiatric hospital a nurse (Tracy Thorne) works alone on a quiet floor. After she shuts and locks a door, a figure suddenly appears behind her and she is murdered. Kinderman later discovers that the spirit that possessed Regan MacNeil is responsible.

The sloth victim in ‘Se7en’ (1995)

A police detective one week away from retirement, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), is partnered with a young, idealistic detective, David Mills (Brad Pitt), who is new to the city. The two are tasked with finding an attention-seeking serial killer who appears to be choosing his victims based on the seven deadly sins. The killer, “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey), claims he has been chosen by God to send people a message about apathy toward sin.

The jump scare:

A gruesome scene from Seven (1995).

A neo-noir crime thriller, Se7en isn’t the move you’d expect to find a big jump scare in, and director David Fincher didn’t even tell his actors he planned to do one, resulting in a very authentically scary moment for both the actors and the audience. In this scene, Somerset and Mills discover the “sloth” victim — a drug dealer and pedophile who the killer has restrained to a bed for one year. As the police investigate the scene, they are startled by sudden movement and discover the victim is still alive.

The bus scene in ‘Final Destination’ (2000)

Flight 180 explodes in the background as classmates bicker with Alex Browning for getting them kicked off the doomed flight.

A high school student, Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), cheats death when he and a group of his classmates leave a doomed flight to Paris after he has a premonition of the flight’s explosion. In the aftermath, everyone who left the flight is targeted in Rube Goldberg machine style deaths, ostensibly by Death itself. Only by figuring out the “rules” of cheating Death do the characters hope to survive and make use of their spared lives.

The jump scare:

The survivors convene outside of a cafe where a confrontation between jock Carter Horton (Kerr Smith) and Alex Browning occurs. Carter’s girlfriend Terry Chaney (Amanda Detmer) gets angry at the two for fighting. After passionately telling her boyfriend “I will not let this plane crash be the most important thing in my life. I’m moving on Carter, and if you wanna waste your life beating the shit out of Alex every time you see him, then you can just drop fucking dead” she is struck by a bus and killed instantly.

The closet reveal in ‘The Ring’ (2002)

The Ring is an American remake of the Japanese horror movie Ring (1998).

Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) is a Seattle-based journalist whose sister asks for help uncovering the details of her daughter’s mysterious death. Rachel discovers her niece died after viewing a supposedly cursed videotape and tries to track down the tape’s origins in the seven days urban legend surrounding the tape says she has to live. The search takes her to Moesko Island where she researches the history of a very dysfunctional family.

The jump scare:

After telling Becca about the urban legend of a cursed videotape that causes viewers to die in seven days, Katie becomes evidence that the legend is real.

At the beginning of the film Rachel’s niece Katie (Amber Tamblyn) discusses the cursed tape with her friend Becca (Rachael Bella) while the two are home alone. While Becca is out of the room, Katie is killed. Later, at Katie’s funeral Becca tells Rachel about Katie’s death and a flashback shows a shocking vision of Becca discovering Katie’s body.

Brazilian birthday party in ‘Signs’ (2002)

The moment the characters in Signs (2002) finally accept they are experiencing an alien invasion is immediately after the best jump scare in the movie.

Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a widow and former priest, lives on a farm with his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) and two children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin). When Graham discovers crop circles in his field, he assumes they were created by local vandals. However, worldwide events including other crop circles and alien sightings reach a fever pitch. When it becomes clear an alien invasion is taking place, the family does their best to secure their home and stay safe together.

The jump scare:

The news footage shows an alien caught on camera at a children’s birthday party.

While Graham is gone, Merrill and the children watch news coverage concerning an alien sighting at a children’s birthday party in Brazil. At first the footage appears typical, not really revealing anything other than scared children and some rustling bushes. However, the sudden appearance of a humanoid alien reveals not only their existence, but their ability to camouflage themselves in order to avoid detection. Joaquin Phoenix’ reaction (he gasps and stumbles away from the TV) is incredibly convincing and separates the beginning of the film (doubt) from the rest of the film (belief). As the film closes, Graham is shown returning to church.

First contact in ‘The Descent’ (2005)

Production built 21 cave sets for the film as it would be too dangerous and cumbersome to film inside an actual cave.

A British horror movie that follows six adventurous women on a spelunking trip. The women explore an unknown cave system when a sudden collapse traps them inside. With no hope of rescue, the group pushes forward hoping to find a new exit in the cave. Instead, they come across an incredibly creepy species of flesh-eating humanoid creatures living in the cave. The women frantically try to find a way out while being chased by the creatures.

The jump scare:

The creatures in The Descent were created to resemble Nosferatu (1922)

The first time the audience sees the cave creatures the group is just discovering how dire their situation is. No one will come to rescue them as they are in an unmapped cave instead of the cave they had planned to explore. Using the limited light of their headlamps, lighters and a camera they notice the floor littered with animal bones before their first spotting of a “crawler”.

The Darth Maul scene in ‘Insidious’ (2010)

Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is a young boy with the ability to astral project.

The Lambert family moves into a new home and son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has an encounter with an entity in the attic and then falls into a mysterious coma. Soon after the entire family begins to experience paranormal activity in their home causing the family to move. However, the activity continues in their new home and the family seeks help from  psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Rainier explains that Dalton’s “coma” is actually his ability to astral travel and he is now stuck in a purgatory dimension called “The Further”. The rest of the film deals with trying to rescue Dalton from The Further.

The jump scare:

A red-faced demon appears behind Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson).

As grandmother Lorraine Lambert (Barbara Hershey) recalls a creepy dream to her son Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and daughter-in-law Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne), they listens intently while seated around the family’s dining room table. Lorraine’s flashback turns into the present moment and we see a red-faced demon appear behind Josh.

The clap in ‘The Conjuring’ (2013)

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are characters based on real life paranormal investigators.

Two devoutly Catholic paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, arrive to help the Perron family who have recently moved into a house with a malevolent spirit. The family dog has mysteriously died and matriarch Carolyn (Lili Taylor) wakes up covered in bruises. The Warrens conclude that a dark entity has attached itself to the family and they work to gather evidence for the Catholic church to approve an exorcism.

The jump scare:

Based on a true story, the real Perron family visited the set while filming.

The Perron family likes to play a variation of hide and seek they call “hide and clap” where the seeker gets to ask the hiders for hints in the form of a clap. One night Carolyn hears a clapping sound and discovers a light on in the basement. While investigating, the door is forcefully shut in her face and she falls down the stairs into the basement where a ball is thrown to her from nowhere before the lightbulb explodes. Carolyn scrambles up the stairs but is unable to open the door. Hearing children laughing, Carolyn lights a match in an attempt to see what is going on. A pair of disembodied hands appear behind her and clap.

Car scene in ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (2018)

The five Crain children are said to represent different phases of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.

A Netflix miniseries created and directed by Mike Flanagan based on the novel by Shirley Jackson. This variation follows the Crain children and their estranged father who survived a terrifying ordeal twenty-six years ago while living in one of the most haunted homes in America. Told through flashbacks and the present day, the family is still dealing with their time at Hill House.

The jump scare:

Shirley’s character is named to honor Shirley Jackson.

Sisters Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) and Theodora (Kate Siegal) Crain are having a heated discussion in a car when they are suddenly interrupted by the ghost of their sister Nell Crain (Victoria Pedretti). Unlike most jump scares there is no suspenseful silence or eerie music leading up to this scare. The arguing misleads audiences into thinking this will be an emotional scene, not a scary one.

The beheading scene in ‘Hereditary’ (2018)

Ari Aster has said that Hereditary is “a film about suffering that takes suffering seriously”.

The Graham family; Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), are grieving the loss of Annie’s estranged mother Ellen. After another sudden loss, family dynamics are at a fever pitch. Supernatural events begin to take over the household and reflect the family’s psychic pain.

The jump scare:

Charlie’s death may not be the most disturbing part of Hereditary but it is the most shocking.

While there are a plethora of disturbing scenes in Hereditary, the first one is an incredibly unexpected and successful jump scare. Early in the film Annie asks Peter to take Charlie with him to a party. Peter smokes weed at the party but still rushes to drive Charlie to the hospital when she accidentally eats cake containing nuts despite having an allergy. On the drive, Charlie sticks her head out the window to breathe in fresh air and is decapitated by a telephone pole.

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Meet The Author

Chrissy is the co-founder of Creepy Catalog. She has over 10 years of experience writing about horror, a degree in philosophy and Reiki level II certification.

Chrissy Stockton