34 Scariest Movies of All Time

This list compiles horror movies that top every “scariest” list as well as some lesser known films that scared the crap out of us.

While Longlegs (2024) was marketed as the scariest movie of the decade, it has a more modest placement on our ranking.

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The litmus test for a good horror movie is whether it succeeds in scaring the audience. Every horror fan seems to have a memory of a movie that still lurks in their imagination, making some prosaic part of their life full of fear. Jaws (1975) made people afraid to go in the water, The Exorcist (1973) sparked a worldwide fascination with demonic possession and The Ring (2002) made our ordinary television sets terrifying. Fear derived from horror movies can also be compounded by social contagion where audience members experience physical symptoms like heart palpitations, miscarriages and even copycat murders.

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is an example of a movie that made audiences experience fear in real life. Long after they viewed the film, people who have seen Jaws report being afraid to swim in the ocean, no matter how unlikely a shark attack really is.

Famed film critic Robin Wood defined horror as “normality is threatened by the monster.” Well-crafted horror movies can make any topic scary. In 2016 Jordan Peele made a white family and their idyllic country home terrifying in Get Out. The Child’s Play franchise made a children’s doll scary. Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) takes place almost entirely in broad daylight.

One scientific study measured audience heart rates while watching horror movies and determined that Sinister (2012) was the scariest movie of all time. Another study said the scariest movie ever made is Host (2020). This list compiles horror movies that top every “scariest” list as well as some lesser known films that scared the crap out of us. These films are genuinely terrifying and should be viewed with caution. Here are the scariest horror movies ever made, ranked from least to most scary.

Scariest Movies Ever

34. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)

Be My Cat is Romania’s first found footage horror film.

Be My Cat is an unhinged Romanian found footage horror movie about a man, Adrian, who is desperate to convince Anne Hathaway to star in his movie after seeing her as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). He hires local actresses to shoot demos that he hopes will convince Hathaway to come to Romania and work with him. It’s like watching a bizarro Borat that is a scary horror movie instead of a comedy.

Adrian Țofei wrote, directed, produced and starred in this indie movie, which is considered one of the best low-budget horror movies ever made.

Scariest scene: Initially viewers may get the impression Be My Cat is a comical and sad film about a delusional man. But it’s hard to identify the line between what Adrian presents as fiction and reality. In one scene he tortures an actress by performing surgery on her to make her thinner. When his neighbors investigate, he explains away the actress’ screams by telling them he is filming a horror movie. Which, technically, he is. Then, upon returning later to find Flory dead, Adrian is unsure if he is playing a character anymore, or if he is the character.

33. When a Stranger Calls (1979)

The opening scene of Scream (1996) is an homage to this classic horror movie about babysitting.

This is the original “the call is coming from inside the house” horror movie. Carol Kane stars as Jill Johnson, a teen babysitting for unseen children when she begins receiving menacing phone calls. The caller asks her if she has checked on the children. Jill calls the police and they tell her to keep the caller on the line for as long as possible so that they can trace the call. The made-for-television sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), is also really scary.

When a Stranger Calls is a great argument for never answering the phone.

Scariest scene: The first 20 minutes of this film are among the most terrifying in horror. The scariest moment is when Jill is informed that the calls are coming from inside the house. It’s then that she sees the intruder’s shadow at the top of the stairs.

32. Longlegs (2024)

Maika Monroe as an FBI agent on the hunt for a serial killer in Longlegs (2024).

While Longlegs was marketed as “the scariest movie of the decade”, it has a more modest position on our ranking. The film sees Maika Monroe as new FBI Agent Lee Harker who joins a team investigating a decades-long series of familicides in which a cryptic, Satanic letter is found at each crime scene. Nic Cage plays the serial killer Longlegs, and his performance borders on comical in a deeply upsetting way.

Scariest scene: There is a heart-pounding scene early in the film where Harker is at her home in a secluded, wooded area late at night. The curtains are open and we know the house looks like a fishbowl from the outside: easy to see in, harder to see out. Someone bangs on the door and Harker draws her gun and even goes outside to investigate the strange noise. When she comes back there is a coded letter from Longlegs sitting on her desk.

31. The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting still stands up as one of the scariest old horror movies.

Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), a paranormal investigator, invites a small group of people to the notoriously haunted Hill House. Theodora (Claire Bloom) was invited because she has psychic abilities and Eleanor (Julie Harris) because she experienced a poltergeist as a child. Both women hear strange noises in Hill House that escalate the longer they stay.

Eleanor cries “God! God! Whose hand was I holding?”

Scariest scene: A terrified Eleanor is in bed hearing ghostly noises. She is comforted by Theo as the two hold hands. However, Eleanor then realizes that Theo is actually across the room.

30. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Zohra Lampert stars as the title character in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971).

A forgotten independent horror movie from the 70s, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a creepy film about a haunted house, vampires and mental illness. Recently released from a psychiatric institution into the care (and authority) of her husband, Jessica is focused on proving that she is sane. She then begins to hear voices and experience strange things in the old dilapidated farmhouse they’ve moved into.

Emily descends the stairs in the wedding dress.

Scariest scene: There are two dreamlike sequences where the couple’s guest, a strange drifter named Emily, appears wearing the wedding dress of a local woman who drowned 100 years ago right before her wedding. The implication is that Emily is a 100 year old vampire who has always lived in the home the couple has recently bought. Jessica has to choose between her freedom and the risk that her husband will have her institutionalized again if she confides in him.

29. Funny Games (2007)

Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt) are two sadistic home invaders in Funny Games.

A shot-for-shot remake of the Austrian original, Funny Games is a psychological horror movie about two amoral young men who break into a wealthy family’s home to torture them to death for fun. At first using their put-together appearance to appear non-threatening and gain entry into the Farber family’s home, the two men then calmly explain that they’d like to play some games with the family. One game involves the family matriarch Ann (Naomi Watts) searching for their dog, which one of the men has beaten to death with a golf club. The level of stone-cold psychopathy the men display is forever unnerving.

When Ann (Naomi Watts) finally kills one of the men, he simply goes back in time and prevents her from grabbing the gun.

Scariest scene: The film’s one supernatural/absurd element is also the scariest as it demonstrates the complete control the killers have over the family. At one point Ann manages to wrestle the shotgun away and kills one of the men. The other finds the TV remote and “rewinds” the events so he is able to prevent Ann from grabbing the gun in the first place.

28. The Vanishing (1988)

Stanley Kubrick said The Vanishing was the most terrifying film he’d ever seen.

While there are no jump scares in The Vanishing, the film will leave you with an enduring sense of unease. Dutch couple Rex and Saskia are on vacation in France when they stop for gas. Saskia goes inside the gas station and is never seen again. A desperate Rex spends years searching for her while flashbacks show Saskia’s abductor, Raymond, practicing his plan of kidnapping a woman.

Raymond practices abducting a woman.

Scariest scene: In one especially chilling scene, we see Raymond doing a “dry run” of his abduction. He practices letting an imaginary woman into his car and attacking her with chloroform. A later flashback explains that after Raymond saved a girl from drowning, he vowed to commit “the worst crime he could think of” since he felt he deserved to take a life after saving one.

27. The Conjuring (2013)

Ed stands in front of a malevolent spirit only his wife Lorraine, a clairvoyant, can see.

In 1971, the Perron family moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse and discovered it was haunted by a witch named Bathsheba Sherman who once gave her baby to the Devil as a sacrificial offering. The family is terrorized by the spirit, and it begins to possess matriarch Carolyn (Lili Taylor). Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are called in (fresh from working on the Annabelle case) to help the family de-ghost their house. The real life story is cataloged in a book called The Demonologist. Vera Farmiga said she read the book for research and it scared her so much she would only read it on planes.

Carolyn attempts to see who is in the basement with her.

Scariest scene: The Perron women play a game called “hide and clap,” which is like hide and seek but the hiders have to clap to give the seeker clues about their location. An epic jump scare occurs when Carolyn hears claps coming from a newly discovered basement staircase. After being pushed down the stairs and locked in, she lights a match in an attempt to see her assailant. Instead, we see hands clap directly behind Carolyn’s head.

26. The Eye (2002)

The Eye is based on a real story the Pang brother saw in the newspaper.

A Hong Kong-Singaporean horror movie about a blind violinist, Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee), who is able to see after getting an eye cornea transplant surgery. Almost immediately Mun begins seeing ghostly figures that seem to predict the deaths of people around her. Traveling to meet the family of her eye donor, she discovers that they were known to have psychic abilities. An American remake with Jessica Alba was made in 2008.

The ghost sequences in The Eye are very scary.

Scariest scene: While waiting for an elevator, Mun notices a man inside, facing the wall. The man does not appear on the nearby security camera of the elevator, and when a couple arrives and enter the elevator they don’t seem to see the man either. Eventually Mun gets in the elevator, but the man appears again as she rides up to her floor.

25. The Entity (1981)

Worst of all, The Entity is based on a true story.

Carla (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living in Los Angeles and struggling to make ends meet when she is violently attacked and raped by an invisible entity in her home. The terror of the attack is complicated by how hard to believe it is, and pretty much everyone thinks that Carla is making it up. Two parapsychologists eventually agree to help and create an elaborate trap for the entity.

The jarring final scene of The Entity.

Scariest scene: One reason The Entity is so scary is because it mirrors real life abusive relationships. People who experience abuse are treated the same way as Carla. They are not believed and left alone to manage against ill-intentioned people who know how to use plausible deniability to continue isolating their victims from anyone who could help. The final scene of The Entity confirms this tragic fate for Carla as she returns home only to hear the entity tell her “Welcome home, c*nt.” A closing title card confirms that Carla continues to be terrorized even though she has moved across the country.

24. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

When it was released, A Tale of Two Sisters became the highest grossing Korean film of all time.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a South Korean psychological horror movie about two sisters, Su-Mi (Im Soo-jung) and Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), who return home to live with their father and step-mother (whom they detest) so Su-Mi can recover from a nervous breakdown. The girls try to make the best of their situation in the wake of a tragedy that is revealed as the story unfolds, but Su-Mi suspects her stepmother of abusing Su-yeon. The girls’ father seems unusually detached from their plight, and to make matters worse, strange noises and ghost sightings become more and more noticeable within the house.

The crooked-neck ghost.

Scariest scene: The scariest scenes in A Tale of Two Sisters takes place early in the morning as Su-Mi wakes up next to her sister. Distracted by nightmares, Su-Mi noticing a figure in black slowly crawling across the floor of her room. The figure notices Su-Mi as well, turning towards the terrified girl and climbing onto her bed.

23. Salem’s Lot (1979)

A still from the creepy movie
The window scene is one of the most famous scenes in Salem’s Lot and in horror history.

This television miniseries based on the Stephen King novel was directed by Tobe Hooper and created many of the enduring images of vampires we have in the public consciousness. The story follows a writer named Ben Mears as he returns to his hometown (the fictional Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine) to write a book about the supposedly haunted Marsten House he has been fascinated with since his youth. He discovers that vampires are taking over the town and attempts to stop them.

The “look at me teacher” scene.

Scariest scene: Ben Mears’ beloved high school teacher, Jason Burke, is visited by a newly-turned vampire, local gravedigger Mike Ryerson. Burke encounters Ryerson rocking in a chair in his dark home. He goads Burke to “Look at me, Teacher!” in the film’s creepiest moment.

22. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

For this low budget film, Bosco Chocolate Syrup was used as blood.

While modern audiences are used to blood, gore and zombies, George A. Romero shocked audiences with how explicitly grotesque his independent horror movie Night of the Living Dead was. When siblings Johnny and Barbara take a road trip to visit their father’s grave, they spot a ghoulish looking man. Johnny, while teasing Barbara for being skittish in a cemetery, is attacked and killed by the man. Barbara flees and finds refuge at a remote farmhouse with a small group of survivors. As the night goes on, more of the zombies (though that word is never used) appear and attempt to break into the home. Without spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it, Night of the Living Dead also has one of the most brutal endings of any horror movie ever made (in competition with Frank Darabont’s The Mist).

Helen discovers her daughter, Karen (Kyra Schon), eating her father’s corpse.

Scariest scene: Down in the “death trap” cellar of the farmhouse, a mother discovers her reanimated daughter eating her father’s corpse. Paralyzed with fear, she does not move as her daughter approaches and kills her with a trowel.

21. Candyman (1992)

Tony Todd gave an iconic performance as the Candyman, making the character possibly the scariest person from any movie.

A Chicago grad student named Helen (Virginia Madsen) is researching urban legends and stumbles across the local legend of the “Candyman,” an entity who is said to appear if you say his name in front of a mirror five times. Residents of the Cabrini-Green housing project report sightings of the Candyman, and when Helen investigates she learns that gangs use the legend as a way to intimidate people. When Helen discredits the Candyman myth, the real Candyman appears to her and says he now needs to kill again in order to keep the legend alive.

Candyman comes through the bathroom mirror.

Scariest scene: While investigating at Cabrini-Green, Helen and her best friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) discover the very non-supernatural way “Candyman” killed his victims. The medicine cabinets in the Cabrini-Green apartments connect one unit’s bathroom to another (an architectural reality of many old buildings). By crawling through the mirror, anyone can gain access to their neighbor’s home. Later, Helen checks her own bathroom mirror to ensure it is safely secured to the wall. After confirming that it is, she relaxes only to have Candyman’s hook arm suddenly burst through the wall.

20. Wolf Creek (2005)

John Jarratt stars as Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek (2005).

Wolf Creek is a horrifying story about meeting a bad dude in the middle of nowhere. In the isolation of the Australian Outback, three tourists on a road trip have car trouble and are “saved” by a local named Mick Taylor. When they wake up after being drugged, the trio discovers Mick plans to torture them at his leisure so far from civilization no one can hear them scream.

Mick explains what “head on a stick” means.

Scariest scene: After he catches one woman after she tries to escape, Mick delivers a chilling monologue about a torture technique he learned in the Vietnam war. He explains that by stabbing her in the back, he has severed her spinal cord and she will be paralyzed. His victim will be alive and able to experience terror and pain, just completely unable to escape.

19. Terrifier 2 (2022)

Writer/director Damien Leone has talked about what the (officially greenlit!) Terrifier 3 could be about here.

Terrifier 2 is so scary that people were literally throwing up in the theaters. This slasher sequel follows Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) as he is resurrected and stalks Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera) and her brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) on Halloween night.

Allie (Casey Hartnett) is in for the worst surprise of her life when Art the Clown shows up at her house.

Scariest scene: The infamous “bed scene” in Terrifier 2 was so bloody, violent and scary that we’re only sharing the “before” photo here. This is a sick, sad scene that will stick with you long after the screen goes dark.

18. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The group’s early conversations in the van mirror the plot of the rest of the film.

One of the most influential horror movies ever made, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an independent horror movie about Sally Hardesty, her brother Franklin, and their friends Jerry, Kirk, and Pam. The group road-trips in a van to investigate reports of grave-robbing near where their grandfather was laid to rest. Unfortunately, while visiting the old Hardesty family home, the group runs into Leatherface and his family of amoral ex-slaughterhouse employees.

The family dynamic was inspired by a news report the film’s co-writer, Kim Henkel, saw in which a local murderer displayed a bizarre sense of morality when talking about his killings: “I saw some news report where Elmer Wayne [Henley] … said, ‘I did these crimes, and I’m gonna stand up and take it like a man.’ Well, that struck me as interesting, that he had this conventional morality at that point. He wanted it known that, now that he was caught, he would do the right thing. So this kind of moral schizophrenia is something I tried to build into the characters.”

Scariest scene: The dinner table scene is by far the most unsettling part of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While it’s surprisingly light on blood and gore, it is deeply disturbing. The family’s decrepit grandfather sucks blood from Sally’s finger and feebly attempts to kill her with a hammer to the head, but is too weak to do so.

17. Halloween (1978)

Halloween helped establish the horror trope of putting the audience in the point-of-view of the killer while he stalks his victims.

One of the most influential films in horror history, many scenes and techniques from Halloween are repeated and parodied throughout the genre. While John Carpenter did not originate the idea of shooting scenes from the killer’s POV (that is considered to be Peeping Tom from 1960), it did popularize the technique and use of Steadicams and Panaglides to achieve these shots. The simple, low-budget slasher follows an evil man named Michael Myers who returns to his hometown of Haddonfield fifteen years after killing his sister as a 6-year-old boy. After seeing her drop a key off at his now-abandoned childhood home, Myers stalks babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends on Halloween night.

One of the scariest and most remembered scenes from Halloween (1978).

Scariest scene: While fleeing from Michael Myers, Laurie Strode makes the mistake of hiding in a closet. Myers hears her breathing and begins to break through the closet door while Laurie whimpers and cowers on the floor. In an epic final girl moment, Laurie fashions a weapon out of a wire hanger and escapes at the last minute.

16. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist was voted the scariest movie by Rotten Tomatoes user ratings.

One of the most well-known horror movies of all time is the story of an actress (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), who becomes the victim of demonic possession at the hands of a demon named Pazuzu. Priest Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is struggling with his faith and is joined by Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) to perform an exorcism and free Regan from the demonic entity. The Exorcist was the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time from its release in 1973 until 2017 when it was overtaken by It.

The Exorcist Facts
This scene was achieved by using a duplicate body and head.

Scariest scene: In Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments special, horror director Wes Craven shared the scene from The Exorcist that scared him the most, saying “That was the one time that I fully felt like ‘this filmmaker has no system of morality or ethics about what he’s going to show,’ and that’s scary.” The scene was when Regan’s head spins fully around as a result of the possession. Craven was so scared that he considered leaving the theater.

15. The Others (2001)

The Others was executive produced by Tom Cruise and was the last collaboration between Cruise and Kidman after their divorce.

In one of the best haunted house movies ever made, Nicole Kidman stars as Grace, a mother who has been left alone in a large mansion with her two children while waiting for her husband to return from World War II. Her children require special care as they both have a disease that causes extreme photosensitivity and need to avoid sunlight, even inside their home. After hiring three new servants, Grace begins to notice strange occurrences in the home ranging from a piano playing by itself to ghostly apparitions.

Grace discovers and old woman dressed in her daughter’s clothing.

Scariest scene: In an extremely creepy scene Grace sees an old woman dressed in her daughter’s communion veil. The old woman says “I am your daughter” and Grace attacks her until she suddenly realizes the figure really is her daughter. The children talk to each other and say that their mother has “gone mad.”

14. The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982) is the best horror movie of the 1980s.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterclass in suspense and paranoia. The movie, about a group of researchers in Antarctica who discover a shapeshifting thing that could look like any one of them, is a partial remake of the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World and an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? by author John W. Campbell. The crew desperately tries to find and destroy the thing before it is able to assimilate them all and go back to civilization to infect the rest of the planet.

Norris’ chest opens up.

Scariest scene: The Thing‘s scariest scene is one of the best jump scares in cinema history. Norris (Charles Hallahan) collapses, apparently due to a heart attack. While defibrillating him, his chest suddenly opens and the doctor’s (Richard Dysart) arms are severed by Norris’ chest teeth.

13. Scream (1996)

Sidney receives a phone call from the killer.

One of the scariest slasher movies ever made, Scream is a bloody murder mystery expertly paired with comic relief. In the small California town of Woodsboro, a masked killer taunts teens over the phone before murdering them. At the center of the mystery is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a student whose mother was murdered one year ago and whose boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) becomes the prime suspect.

At the time, viewers were shocked that a big star like Drew Barrymore was killed off right away.

Scariest scene: Scream‘s cold open where Drew Barrymore is terrorized by the killer while home alone was so scary the MPAA almost didn’t allow it in the film without an ‘X’ rating. Wes Craven trimmed the gore as much as possible and executive producer Bob Weinstein was finally able to secure an ‘R’ rating for the film by telling people it was a parody.

12. High Tension (2003)

High Tension is a gruesome home invasion movie from the New French Extremity movement.

This French horror movie is notoriously violent. It follows best friends Alex and Marie as they drive to Alex’s parent’s farmhouse for a break from school in the French countryside. Shortly after their nighttime arrival, Alex’s family is slaughtered by an intruder. Marie attempts to save her best friend. While some viewers say the twist-ending falls apart if you think about it too much, taken on a more dreamy/metaphorical level it’s a perfectly satisfying ending to a very scary film.

Marie hides while the killer checks her bedroom.

Scariest scene: When Marie settles down to sleep in the home’s attic room, she happens to have a bird’s eye view of a visitor attacking her friend’s father at the front door. She realizes the home is being invaded and hides her belongings so that the killer will be unaware a guest is in the home. She hides under the bed while he takes a few painstaking minutes to check her room.

11. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs is one of only six horror movies to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, and the only film to win.

A Quantico trainee, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), is asked to interview an incarcerated cannibal and serial killer, Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), in hopes of gaining insight as to the identity of an active serial killer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Lector reluctantly helps Starling find clues about Buffalo Bill’s identity and subsequently escapes from custody.

Clarice Starling is plunged into darkness while trapped in the killer’s basement.

Scariest scene: Following Lector’s advice, Starling travels to Ohio to dig deep into Buffalo Bill’s first victim. While going door-to-door and interviewing the first victim’s friends, Starling realizes she is in the home of the killer. The chase takes them both to the home’s basement where Buffalo Bill turns off the lights and uses night vision goggles to hunt Starling down.

10. The Host (2006)

Another scary part of The Host is that the story was inspired by a true event.

Academy Award winning director Bong Joon-ho made this creature feature about a South Korean family whose lives are disrupted by the sudden appearance of a monster from the Han river. The monster kidnaps Park Hyun-seo, the pre-teen daughter of Park Gang-du, a vendor who runs a snack bar with his father. The Park family search for Hyun-seo as the government disseminates misinformation via the media.

Half of the crowd is still relaxing and enjoying leisure time near the river, the other half is reacting the sudden appearance of a monster (far center).

Scariest scene: The first appearance of the monster and the area’s descent into pandemonium is truly a chilling scene and a demonstration of monster-movie excellence. Our protagonist Park Gang-du is delivering food from his snack bar to customers when our attention turns towards chaotic movement down the pier. A sea-monster has emerged from the river and is running towards the crowd of people.

9. REC (2007)

Ángela begins her night of doom.

An intense Spanish found-footage horror movie about a reporter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso), who get quarantined inside an apartment building where an outbreak is occurring. The residents of the apartment building panic, and the infected become violent. Investigators believe one resident’s dog started a bizarre kind of rabies outbreak that spreads extremely fast, but, throughout the terrifying night, the bigger truth is eventually revealed.

Ángela looks very different as the night goes on.

Scariest scene: Desperate to escape the apartment building, Ángela, Pablo and a firefighter search for a key to leave through the basement into the city’s sewer system. Pablo records Ángela as she frantically searches for the key in one of the apartments. When they exit, the stairwell is full of infected people coming to get them.

8. Sinister (2012)

The first Sinister movie is the scariest in the series.

Sinister is a suspenseful supernatural horror movie about a true crime writer, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who moves his unwitting family into a murder house in order to research his next book. Unfortunately he uncovers a supernatural element to the murders, a demonic entity named Bughuul. Bughuul grooms children to murder their families and then allow him to consume their souls. Ellison races to piece together the series of family murders and Bughuul’s motive while living in the haunted murder scene.

The home movie of the family’s death by hanging is grotesquely labelled “Hanging Out ’11.”

Scariest scene: While there are plenty of well-crafted jump scares in Sinister, the scariest scenes might be the contents of the Super 8 footage Ellison finds in the home’s attic that depict gruesome family murders. The footage shows one family being hung from a tree in their yard. Another shows a family chained inside their car, which is then set aflame. A third reel shows a family having a fun day at the pool and then cuts to family members being tied to lawn chairs and pulled underwater to drown, after which Bughuul is visible in the pool. Ellison burns the reels and moves his family out of the murder house. However, in his new home’s attic Ellison discovers a projector and the Super 8 reels, this time with “Extended Cut Endings” that reveal the shocking truth of who killed each of the murdered families.

7. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

Gonjiam is a real psychiatric hospital that was one of the most haunted places in South Korea.

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a South Korean found-footage ghost movie about a web series crew who do a live broadcast from a haunted psychiatric hospital hoping to gain views. At the asylum, they begin filming and notice a doll moving on its own. Things get stranger and scarier as they find coffins, footage they didn’t film, and one of the crew becomes catatonic.

One of the crew becomes possessed.

Scariest scene: The scariest scene involves the catatonic crew member. She suddenly opens her eyes and they appear to be all black. At the same time a demonic voice erupts from her body.

6. Stephen King’s It (1990)

Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played by Tim Curry, is quite possible the scariest movie monster ever.

Originally a television miniseries, It terrorized many people’s childhoods as they thought “how scary can a movie about a clown be?” Years later those same people still feel uneasy when they walk by a sewer drain. It is about a group of outcast kids (“The Loser’s Club”) in Derry, Maine in 1960 who connect a string of missing children to an evil entity who surfaces in the town every 27 years to feed. After the kids manage defeat It as children, the entity reemerges when they are adults, and they must return to Derry to fight again.

Beverly’s father is unable to see the blood that covers his bathroom.

Scariest scene: The Loser’s Club’s only female member, Beverly Marsh, lives alone with her abusive father. When she is getting ready for bed one night, she hears the voices of the abducted children coming from the drain in her bathroom sink. Isolated from anyone who can help her, Beverly has no choice but to endure the terror alone. Eventually a red balloon appears in the drain and covers her bathroom in blood that her father cannot see. A heartwarming scene follows in which the rest of the Losers show up and help her clean up her blood-soaked bathroom.

5. Cure (1997)

Detective Takabe (Kōji Yakusho) and forensic psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) interrogate suspect Kunio Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara).

This deeply unsettling Japanese psychological horror movie follows Detective Takabe (Kōji Yakusho) as he investigates a series of murders in which the individual culprits are easy to find, but seemingly have no motive other than a sudden urge to murder. The crimes are also connected by the murderers carving an ‘X’ into their victims. Unable to make sense of the crimes through reason, Takabe’s investigation leads him to the occult. Martin Scorsese said of the film: “There are startling images and moments in this picture that will haunt you for a long time to come, and I suppose I should say that it’s not for the faint of heart. But be brave, because it’s worth it.”

Mamiya hypnotizes a doctor at a psychiatric hospital.

Scariest scene: There are so many individually frightening scenes in Cure it is hard to pick just one. The opening scene is scary, the abandoned barn scene is scary, the face peeling scene (yup) is scary and every one of the murders is shocking and scary. The scariest scene of them all is probably the second time we see Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) explicitly hypnotize someone. The first time, Mamiya uses a lighter so viewers feel a sense of confidence that they could avoid staring at a flickering flame and not be hypnotized themselves. The second time, Mamiya uses the sound of water falling as he fills and spills a cup, which makes the viewer realize how powerful he is and how unlikely it is that they would be able to avoid the fate of the characters in the film.

4. The Shining (1980)

In one scary scene, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) discovers the ghostly woman he is embracing has gone from a beautiful young girl to a decaying elderly woman.

Beginning in 1975, Stanley Kubrick began looking to make a horror movie that would be both terrifying and artistic. After reviewing dozens of horror novels he settled on Stephen King’s The Shining which had not even gone into print yet. While Kubrick deviated from the novel, his film is still about a family of three (Jack, Wendy and Danny) who settle into a remote hotel, The Overlook, for winter where the family’s fledgling patriarch has found a job as the offseason caretaker. The hotel’s evil history, ghosts, Jack’s struggle with alcohol addiction, generational family abuse, and Danny’s psychic talent (his “shining”) converge to create a story that is incredibly scary for both supernatural and real-life reasons.

The moment when Jack reveals himself as fully possessed by the hotel by telling his wife he wants to “bash her brains in.”

Scariest scene: “The bat scene” is infamous for director Kubrick terrorizing actress Shelley Duvall offscreen, culminating in a grueling 127 takes of the scene. While her performance was poorly received when the film came out (she was nominated for a Razzie award along with Kubrick for Worst Director), the scene is now considered one of the best in the genre. The scene starts with Wendy (Duvall) discovering that the “manuscript” Jack (Nicholson) has been working on is simply hundreds of pages with “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed on them. Jack taunts, then openly threatens Wendy resulting in her knocking him out with a baseball bat.

3. The Strangers (2008)

James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) are attacked by strangers in masks late at night.

After a failed engagement at a friend’s wedding, couple James and Kristen plan to spend the night at James’ isolated family summer home. Despite being exceptionally late, the doorbell rings shortly after their arrival, and a young girl asks for someone the couple is unfamiliar with (“Is Tamara home?”). Through a series of jump scares, the couple realizes that they are being stalked by three masked assailants with seemingly no purpose other than to terrorize them.

Unmasked killers Pin-up Girl (Laura Margolis ) and Dollface (Gemma Ward) torture their prey.

Scariest scene: One of the reasons The Strangers is so scary comes from the penultimate scene when the strangers are asked “why?” and respond simply “because you were there.” The killers stalking and torturing their victims with no motive at all leaves the audience uneasy about the idea that the events of the film could easily happen to them.

2. The Ring (2002)

The scariness of the original Japanese version of Ring is based on atmosphere and psychology, while the American version is more direct with its scares.

A remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ring, The Ring started the J-horror craze in America. The movie follows a single mother, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), who works as a journalist. Rachel investigates the death of her niece and her niece’s friends, who all died at 10pm the same night. She discovers an urban legend about a cursed videotape in which viewers die seven days after watching.

Katie and Becca were played by Amber Tamblyn and Rachael Bella.

Scariest scene: In a rarity for horror movies, the scariest scene in The Ring might just be the cold open. Friends Katie Embry (Rachel’s niece) and Becca Kotler hang out and watch TV seven days after Katie watched the cursed videotape with her boyfriend and friends at Shelter Mountain Inn. In the scene’s climactic moment, Becca discovers the body of her friend in the closet, her face twisted into a lingering expression of horror.

1. Hereditary (2018)

Annie (Toni Collette) watches her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) burst into flames.

Hereditary is director Ari Aster’s feature debut, and he started off with a literal bang. Early in the film the character the audience presumes will be a main character is suddenly — and gruesomely — beheaded in an extremely upsetting accident that leaves the Graham family suffocating in the wake of trauma. The trauma fractures the family unit, leaving them vulnerable for a demon king named Paimon.

Peter (Alex Wolff) watches in terror as his mother levitates while decapitating herself.

Scariest scene: While Hereditary is chock full of disturbing scenes, the most terrifying is when a teen discovers his mother in the attic, decapitating herself with piano wire. The attic scene takes place in the middle of a relentless finale in which there are no breaks from disturbing scene after disturbing scene. When the credits roll, there is a tremendous sense of relief that viewers feel as they are finally allowed to catch their breath and process what they have just witnessed.

More Scary Movies to Watch

  • Jaws (1975) this thriller about a killer shark made generations of movie-goers afraid of the water, and it is probably the most-viewed horror movie ever.
  • The Changeling (1980) one of the scariest haunted house movies ever made.
  • Poltergeist (1982) a suburban family is terrorized by malevolent ghosts.
  • Angst (1983) a psychopath released from prison goes on the hunt for his next victims.
  • Audition (1999) a Japanese horror movie about a wealthy widower who holds auditions for his new wife.
  • August Underground (2001) a hard-to-find found footage horror movie that is extremely violent. The film seems so amateurish that it looks and feels like it could be real.
  • The Descent (2005) a group of women on a caving trip stumble onto a race of humanoid creatures who live underground.
  • Inside (2007) a very gory French horror movie about a pregnant woman who experiences a violent home invasion the night before she is set to be induced.
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) a faux documentary exploring a serial killer’s interviews and snuff films.
  • Lake Mungo (2008) an Australian psychological horror film about a family who experiences supernatural events after the death of daughter Alice.
  • Martyrs (2008) from the New French Extremity movement, the story of two childhood friends, Lucie and Anna, whose quest for revenge takes an unexpected turn.
  • Dogtooth (2009) a profoundly disturbing psychological drama about three children raised in total isolation from the outside world.
  • The Fourth Kind (2009) a faux documentary about alien abductions said to take place in Nome, Alaska.
  • Megan is Missing (2011) a found footage horror movie about a teenager named Megan who goes missing and her best friend’s quest to find her. The final act of this movie is extremely disturbing.
  • The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) a documentary crew making a film about the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease discover something they were entirely unprepared for.
  • My house walk-through (2016) a short horror film available on YouTube which is essentially just an unidentified narrator taking viewers on a house tour.
  • The Haunting of Hill House (2018) a Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan and inspired by the Shirley Jackson novel.
  • Possum (2018) A British psychological horror movie about a disgraced children’s puppeteer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most traumatizing horror movie?

Traumatizing is different than scary, as movies that inflict trauma tend to stick with you for years. They don’t just frighten you, they leave a wound. A Serbian Film (2001) by Srđan Spasojević is considered by many to one of the most graphic and disturbing films ever. French New Extremity movies also are very traumatizing, particularly movies like Twentynine Palms (2003) and Irreversible (2002).

What is scientifically the scariest movie?

There are a lot of different ways to answer this question. However, one study showed the movie that caused viewers to have the highest elevated heart beat — a good indicator of fear — was Sinister (2012), a movie about a pagan god. Studies like this should be taken with a grain of salt because what invokes fear in us can vary widely.

What movie has the most jumpscares ever?

According to Mental Floss, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013) has 32 jump scares, making it the most jumpscare-filled horror movie of all time. Is it scary though? Debatable.

What is the number 1 rated scariest movie?

While everyone will have their own ideas about what makes a movie scary and no film will every receive a majority of votes for scariest ever, The Exorcist (1973) is generally regarded as the scariest.

What is the #1 scariest movie on Netflix?

Netflix is constantly changing what movies they have in their library. As of 2023, the scariest movie on Netflix right now is probably The Conjuring (2013). To keep up with all the scary movies on Netflix reference this list.

Further Reading

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