The best thing about Halloween isn’t the candy. It’s cozying up to your pillow (or bae or your pup or your BFF) with candy to watch a scary movie, be it a bloody extravaganza or an animated classic from your childhood. But let’s face it: The list of excellent, high-quality Halloween movies out there can be a tad overwhelming. (Without cheating, do you know how many Paranormal Activity films exist?) Below, in no particular order, a list of some of the best scare fests to ever grace the silver screen:
1. The Shining (1980)
When you think of Halloween, do you immediately see Jack Nicholson’s face from The Shining? Same, along with other images from the 1980 film based on Stephen King’s classic: the Grady daughters, the river of blood spilling out of the elevator doors, and little Danny’s tricycle, to name a few. If you have time and energy to spare after watching this Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, do check out Room 237, the 2012 documentary about different interpretations of The Shining. It’s basically a master class on the film with all your pals and—*pushes glasses up*—theories.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
There’s nothing scarier than a horror film from the ’70s, and The Exorcist is a prime example of the type of scare that makes you sleep with the lights on for at least two weeks. Fun fact: The Exorcist was the first horror movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1974 but lost out to the heist film The Sting. To date, only one horror film has won Best Picture: The Silence of the Lambs.
3. Halloween (1978)
In 1978, Jamie Lee Curtis made her feature-film debut as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s slasher flick about an asylum escapee who was originally committed for the murder of his sister. Turns out, Laurie, a young woman he stalks, is his other sister. And turns out, this film is just as scary even if you’ve seen it 30 times. Good luck trying to get Carpenter’s theme song out of your head.
4. Poltergeist (1982)
The most important lesson you’ll get from watching Poltergeist is to turn off your TV and run as soon as the screen fills with static. That, and always, always check if the land you live on used to be a cemetery.
5. Psycho (1960)
Long before Jamie Lee Curtis met Michael Myers, her mother, Janet Leigh, was the face of horror after starring in the Alfred Hitchcock movie that probably inspired folks to skip taking showers in 1960s.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This Wes Craven classic is a winner for several reasons: It makes you never want to hit the dream phase of sleep; you’ll be glad to have a cell phone in 2018; Johnny Depp is in it for a hot minute (it was his first film).
7. Hocus Pocus (1993)
Halloween movies need not be dark, bloody, and nightmare-inducing. Leading the comedy horror pack are the Sanderson sisters, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, who are resurrected by a virgin in present-day Salem, unleashing all sorts of mayhem and one of the earliest appearances by actor Doug Jones (as Winnie’s sewed-up ex), who most recently appeared as the fish man in The Shape of Water.
8. Beetlejuice (1988)
Raise your hand if you’ve ever worn a Beetlejuice-inspired costume for Halloween or, more important, dressed up as Winona Ryder’s Lydia, aka the goth girl, from the film.
9. Scream (1996)
This movie had everything: the genius of Wes Craven, the words of Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson, and a young Skeet Ulrich licking “pig’s blood” while Neve Campbell looked on in disgust. The film, which also starred Drew Barrymore and then-married couple Courtney Cox and David Arquette, spawned three more sequels along with the spoof franchise, Scary Movie.
10. Scary Movie (2000)
The scary films of the mid to late ’90s, namely the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises, inspired Keenan Ivory Wayans to make Scary Movie, starring Anna Faris in one of her first films. The kills are over the top while the jokes are dirty and wrong, but the film still grossed $278 million worldwide. FWIW, that’s more than Scream’s box office performance ($173 million worldwide).
11. Practical Magic (1998)
Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are sisters Sally and Gillian who try to use their powers (yes, they’re witches) to undo a family curse that results in any significant other who comes into their lives to drop dead. Come for all the magic, stay for Stockard Channing’s commanding screen presence.
12. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Not long after the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town concludes he’s simply bored with the annual celebrations related to the blessed day that is Halloween, he stumbles into Christmas Town and immediately becomes infatuated—so much that he tries to recreate the holiday at home.
13. The Addams Family (1991)
This dark comedy is satisfying for several reasons, including the fact that Angelica Huston was born to play Addams family matriarch Morticia Addams. (Seriously, can you picture anyone else in Morticia’s long black dress, blood-red lipstick, and deadly stare-downs?) The film is extra fun if you do any of the following: clap along to the theme song; wear braids like Christina Ricci’s Wednesday; impersonate Cousin Itt.
14. Halloweentown (1998)
With the recent discovery that Marnie Piper and Kal (from Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge) are dating IRL, it’s imperative that you (re)watch the first Halloweentown, which made us all question what we’d do if we suddenly found out we were related to witches. This film is best enjoyed with a plate full of cookies—that you’re allowed to have, of course.
15. The Others (2001)
It’s hard to look away from Nicole Kidman’s powerhouse performance as Grace, a loving and religious mother who tries to protect her children from a photosensitivity disease that keeps them indoors. Who still gets chills upon hearing her daughter Anne say, “Are you mad? I am your daughter”?
16. Friday the 13th (1980)
Before Jason and his hockey mask haunted your dreams, it was his mother, Mrs. Voorhees, who caused havoc at Camp Crystal Lake in the first installment of the Friday the 13th franchise. Yes, this is the film with a young Kevin Bacon, and no, he doesn’t have much screen time.
17. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
Much like the other Charlie Brown specials of our youth, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was short, sweet, and full of hope. While Charlie Brown and the other kids head to Violet’s Halloween party in full costume (Charlie’s a ghost, Lucy’s a witch), Linus stays behind to wait for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. If you watched this as a kid and feared that you, too, would end up with rocks while trick-or-treating, you’re not alone.
18. The Craft (1996)
The thing to do in 1996 after watching Neve Campbell and company in The Craft was get together with your friends to chant “Light as a feather, stiff as a board,” only to find out witchcraft does not run in your blood. Or does it?
19. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Even if you watch this film in broad daylight with lots of people, snacks, and the volume turned down at its lowest, you’ll still flinch and scream so many times you’ll (1) never want to move houses/apartments, (2) never sleep, (3) never look at baby powder the same way. If you ever have literally nothing else to do and want to have a Paranormal Activity marathon, there are a total of six films in the franchise, including 2015’s Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.
20. The Host (2006)
You know what’s scarier than a regular monster? A sea monster in South Korea possibly created by toxic waste dumped by the U.S. military. Such is the creature lurking in The Host, which picks up the second a local snack bar owner’s daughter is abducted by the monster. Warning: you’ll want to avoid any river after watching the film and think twice about dumping mystery chemicals down your sink.
21. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The film was revolutionary for its time, as it was made of “recovered footage” from three student filmmakers who disappeared while making a documentary about a local legend (the Blair Witch) in the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland. It also left a lot of audience members in a state of motion sickness (blame the “recovered footage”) and pure shock (blame the final shot of the film).
22. A Quiet Place (2018)
John Krasinski and Emily Blunt put their real-life relationship to the test when he directed himself and Emily in this post-apocalyptic horror film about a family living in silence while monsters with super sensitive hearing hunt humans. The film is so good a sequel has already been ordered for 2020.
23. Carrie (1976)
Stephen King’s first-ever novel was such a hit that it was made into a film starring Sissy Spacek just two years after the book’s release. Spacek played Carrie White, the 17-year-old telekinetic power possessing outcast who puts an end to a long reign of bullying by her classmates after a bucket of pigs’ blood is dumped on her at prom.
24. Train to Busan (2016)
South Korean heartthrob Gong Yoo plays a divorced fund manager who tries to survive a zombie apocalypse while on a high-speed train with his young daughter and hundreds of other passengers, including a heroic man and his pregnant wife, a high school baseball team, and a homeless man with a big heart.
25. Get Out (2017)
A young man goes and his girlfriend go on a weekend getaway to her parents’ house, only to find out the family’s dirty, horrifying secret. Jordan Peele won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his directorial debut, which starred Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, and Lakeith Stanfield.
26. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Tim Burton’s imagination blessed the world with the heart of Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp), who’s taken in by an Avon-selling suburban mom after she discovers him in an abandoned mansion. Edward immediately falls for the woman’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), and the rest is Kim’s story to tell.
27. Casper (1995)
Two words: Devon Sawa. If you fell in love with him in the mid-1990s, it was likely due to his ever-so-brief appearance in Casper, in which he melted hearts with the words, “Can I keep you?” Christina Ricci was excellent as Kat as well.
28. The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring franchise, which most recently spawned The Nun, began in 2013 with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life paranormal investigators whose reports led to The Amityville Horror book and related films.
29. The Ring (2002)
The good thing about watching this film in 2019 is that videotapes pretty much don’t exist anymore. The bad thing is The Ring is still creepy AF and you bet you’ll think twice about answering any phone calls while watching the movie for the 13th time.
30. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Haley Joel Osment told you he could see dead people, but who would’ve expected to see Kyra the ghost show up as Marissa Cooper on The O.C. just four years later? Bravo to everyone in this film, but especially Mischa Barton, who still gets “Halloween vibes” from her Sixth Sense character.
31. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
This underrated vampire Western (yep) from director Ana Lily Amirpour is a satisfying black-and-white film for anyone who loves cats, hates men who disrespects women, and has an ear for good music.
32. Coraline (2009)
Dakota Fanning is the voice of Coraline, a young girl who discovers a secret door to an alternate, darker world after moving with her family from Michigan to Oregon.
33. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
This Japanese horror film (which was technically the third installment of the franchise but the first to be released in theaters) inspired multiple sequels and the American remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. But let’s face it, you only have time for one horror film from the franchise, so why not spend an afternoon with the ghost of Kayako (because watching it at night is just not recommended).
34. Hereditary (2018)
Toni Collette and her on-screen family must deal with the aftermath of her mother’s death. The premise sounds simple, that is until more awful stuff starts happening and you as the viewer begin to question what’s real and what’s imagined. If you find yourself thinking about Hereditary and Toni Collette’s brilliant acting days after seeing the film, don’t worry: this is normal. Probably.
35. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
More over-the-top entertaining than scary, this cult classic stars Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a scientist who lives in a castle and creates a living man with muscles named—you guessed it—Rocky.
36. American Psycho (2000)
What makes someone kill? Such is the million dollar question of Mary Harron’s film, adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel and starring Christian Bale as the wealthy investment banker slash serial killer Patrick Bateman. In case you’ve forgotten, the movie also stars Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, and Justin Theroux’s giant cellphone.
37. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Mia Farrow is Rosemary Woodhouse, a young woman who becomes mysteriously pregnant not long after moving to an apartment with her husband. Their neighbors are definitely, maybe part of a cult. Her pregnancy is anything but a walk in the park. And far too many uninvited players are convinced they know what’s best for the unborn child. Sound familiar?
38. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Leatherface’s kills in this film are not for the faint of heart, but if you think about it, they’re all pretty ridiculous—and not all of them are executed with his famed chainsaw. The group of friends who stumble upon this family of cannibals really shouldn’t have picked up that hitchhiker in the first place. It’s basically the first rule of horror!
39. Alien (1979)
There aren’t a lot of alien-themed titles in this list, but Sigourney Weaver’s first film as Warrant Officer Ripley is arguably the best in the franchise. Maybe it’s her badass attitude, how she makes holding a gun look effortless, or that cute cat who somehow makes it to the very end.
40. Twilight (2008)
Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s acting has greatly improved since the release of Twilight, but you can’t help but be charmed by everything else this film offered: teen love, hot vampires, and the beginnings of the whole Edward vs Jacob debate.
41. Us (2019)
If you think your family vacations are the stuff of nightmares, Us follows a family vacation where evil, murderous doppelgangers start appearing. Us is Jordan Peele's second feature film and it stars Lupita Nyong'o, so you know you're in good hands.
42. The Babadook (2014)
Years after the violent death of her husband, things take a turn for the scary when Amelia's son Sam asks her to read him a book called Mister Babadook (side note: creepiest children's book ever). Sam becomes convinced that the monster is real. Amelia doesn't believe him. One of them is very wrong. Also, the Babadook inexplicably became an LGBTQ icon in 2017 — so there's that.
43. Teeth (2007)
You might know Teeth as "that weird movie where a woman has teeth in her vagina," but it's actually one of the most underrated feminist films of the aughts. Teeth follows high schooler Dawn as she attempts to make a vow of purity in the face of rampant sexual assault — critiquing both purity culture and male entitlement along the way.
44. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
The mock-umentary that inspired the FX series of the same name, What We Do In The Shadows follows a house of vampires trying to get along in the modern world. Perfect for if you prefer crying with laughter over crying with fear on Halloween.
45. Raw (2016)
This French-Belgian film follows a vegetarian freshman taste raw meet for the first time during a veterinary school hazing that leaves her with a taste for flesh. On the one hand, this is a brilliant coming-of-age flick that boldly tackles female sexuality. On the other hand, it's so gross that people literally passed out watching it in movie theaters — so approach with caution.
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