The Scariest Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated

Richard Evans
·13 min read

Fear is subjective: A movie that scared the pants off of you may have made one of your friends fall asleep. But we can at least form a general consensus around which movies are the scariest—whether for the time they were made, or for all time. These are the movies that have made us keep the lights on, that we maybe kind of regret watching, that we're still thinking about even years later. We went through the past several decades to come up with our list of the scariest movie that came out every year, from 1960 to 2019. Keep reading to see if your personal pick made the cut, and for more films we're still losing sleep over, revisit The Scariest Movies '90s Kids Can't Forget.

1960: Psycho

still from psycho
still from psycho

While some black-and-white horror classics have lost their punch over the years, Psycho remains as terrifying now as it was 60 years ago—even when you know the big twist. And to see how the critics felt about the Master of Suspense throughout his career, check out our Ranking of Every Alfred Hitchcock Movie, From Worst Reviewed to Best.

1961: The Innocents

the innocents
the innocents

Henry James' The Turn of the Screw has been adapted again and again, most recently as the Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor, but the most effective version will always be the deeply unsettling The Innocents.

1962: Carnival of Souls

carnival of souls
carnival of souls

The influential horror of Carnival of Souls likely inspired David Lynch and George A. Romero, as Roger Ebert once noted. And for more fun content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

1963: The Haunting

the haunting
the haunting

Forget the deeply disappointing 1999 remake—or the much scarier The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix—because nothing can compete with the chills of the first adaptation of Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel.

1964: The Masque of the Red Death

the masque of the red death
the masque of the red death

The combination of director Roger Corman, star Vincent Price, and source material by Edgar Allan Poe was scary enough in 1964, although a plot centered around a deadly plague feels especially frightening in 2020.

1965: Repulsion

still from repulsion
still from repulsion

Psychological horror may not have you leaping from your seat like jump scares in more contemporary films, but the nightmarish vision depicted in Repulsion is terrifying in a way that lingers. And if you are looking for more recent movies, choose from The Best Horror Films of 2020, According to Critics.

1966: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

dracula prince of darkness
dracula prince of darkness

By the time Hammer Films made Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the studio had learned how to make a truly scary Dracula movie, and Christopher Lee had learned how to master the title role. And for more on where Dracula still scares folks, check out This Is the Horror Villain Who Probably Still Haunts You, Research Shows.

1967: Quartermass and the Pit

quartermass and the pit
quartermass and the pit

Another Hammer Films Production—which you may have first encountered as Five Million Years to EarthQuartermass and the Pit is a freaky time capsule of '60s sci-fi scares.

1968: Night of the Living Dead

night of the living dead
night of the living dead

There's no telling where modern zombie movies and TV series would be without George A. Romero's 1968 classic, which remains as harrowing and subversive as ever. And for more of the all-time greats, these are The Best Horror Films of All Time, According to Critics.

1969: The Haunted House of Horror

the haunted house of horror
the haunted house of horror

Swinging late '60s England mostly looked like a fun time, but not when there's a murderer on the loose, as in The Haunted House of Horror.

1970: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

the bird with the crystal plumage
the bird with the crystal plumage

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage helped establish the Italian giallo genre in the U.S., and introduced Dario Argento as an exciting horror filmmaker, thanks in large part to the splashy, highly stylized violence.

1971: Let's Scare Jessica to Death

let's scare jessica to death
let's scare jessica to death

Let's Scare Jessica to Death has been compared to The Haunting and The Innocents—it may also have been inspired by The Turn of the Screw—and it's just as frightening as either.

1972: The Last House on the Left

the last house on the left
the last house on the left

Though certainly not for everyone, Wes Craven's shocking The Last House on the Left is considered a horror classic for a reason, and its scares are so disturbing that it was promoted with the tagline, "To avoid fainting, keep repeating, 'It's only a movie.'"

1973: The Exorcist

the exorcist
the exorcist

When The Exorcist was released in 1973, it made some audience members faint and cry—and while it might not provoke the same reaction in modern viewers, it's likely to induce some nightmares.

1974: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

the texas chain saw massacre
the texas chain saw massacre

There's a raw, unrestrained quality to Tobe Hooper's classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that makes it feel like anything can happen, but that doesn't adequately prepare you for what's to come.

1975: Jaws

richard dreyfuss and robert shaw seeing the shark in jaws
richard dreyfuss and robert shaw seeing the shark in jaws

At this point, Jaws is such a mainstream cinematic classic that it might be hard to conceive of it as the scariest movie of its time. Keep in mind, though, that the film is a big reason so many of us are still afraid of sharks.

1976: The Omen

the omen
the omen

There's just something unnerving about a bad kid, and they don't get much badder than young Damien in The Omen.

1977: The Hills Have Eyes

the hills have eyes
the hills have eyes

Another early Wes Craven classic, The Hills Have Eyes is just as gritty, brutal, and relentless as the director's other films from the era.

1978: Halloween

still from halloween
still from halloween

Though not the first slasher film, Halloween popularized so many of the rules of the genre that it's sometimes easy to forget how genuinely frightening it is in its own right.

1979: Alien

still from alien
still from alien

While the sequel, Aliens, offers standout sci-fi action, the original Alien is fully a horror film, a haunted house movie set in space where the villain isn't a ghost but one of film history's most terrifying creature creations.

1980: The Shining

the shining
the shining

Whether or not Stephen King is a fan of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his novel, The Shining delivers an anxiety-inducing performance from Jack Nicholson and some visuals we wish we could forget.

1981: Friday the 13th Part 2

friday the 13th part 2
friday the 13th part 2

No offense to Mrs. Voorhees, but the Friday the 13th franchise really picked up when Jason took up the mantle as the killer in Friday the 13th Part 2, which also happens to be the scariest film of the bunch.

1982: The Thing

the thing
the thing

Sure, the body horror effects of John Carpenter's The Thing will creep you out, but the feeling of paranoia the film instills in you is what really makes it so scary.

1983: Cujo

cujo
cujo

Even dog lovers can agree that few movie monsters are as terrifying as Cujo, a rabid St. Bernard with his eye on a mother and son trapped in a hot car.

1984: A Nightmare on Elm Street

a nightmare on elm street
a nightmare on elm street

The '80s gave us plenty of slasher villains to remember, each with their own hit-or-miss franchises, but none can compete with Freddy Krueger, introduced in the iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street.

1985: Demons

still from demons
still from demons

Dario Argento produced but did not direct this Lamberto Bava-helmed screamer. And while it might be more of a cult favorite, it did earn a spot on Bravo's list of The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

1986: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

henry portrait of a serial killer
henry portrait of a serial killer

If the '80s slasher was all about creating new larger-than-life movie monsters, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer terrified audiences by portraying a killer grounded firmly in reality.

1987: Opera

still from opera
still from opera

Another gorgeously gory Argento film, Opera is a movie that forces you not to look away, with methods less violent than that of the killer who forces the heroine's eyes open.

1988: Dead Ringers

dead ringers
dead ringers

David Cronenberg's dark tale of twin gynecologists, very loosely based on a true story, continues to make Entertainment Weekly's updated list of the scariest movies of all time.

1989: Pet Sematary

pet sematary
pet sematary

It's hard to say what's scariest about Pet Sematary: the ghost of Victor Pascow, the memory of Rachel's sister Zelda, or—of course—the resurrected Gage Creed taking a scalpel to Jud. They'll all leave you screaming.

1990: Jacob's Ladder

jacob's ladder
jacob's ladder

Lots of horror movies have memorable nightmare sequences, but Jacob's Ladder is a nightmare that won't end—and that's why it's almost certain to keep you up at night.

1991: The Silence of the Lambs

the silence of the lambs
the silence of the lambs

You can debate whether or not Silence of the Lambs is truly a horror film or merely a very tense thriller, or you can just accept that it's unbearably frightening.

1992: Candyman

candyman
candyman

Tony Todd earned horror icon status when he took on the role of Candyman, and the film itself gave us something new to be scared of in the bathroom mirror.

1993: Cronos

cronos
cronos

The first feature film from Guillermo del Toro has come to be appreciated as one of the greatest horror films ever made. It still packs in ample scares amid the drama and fantasy that would become trademarks for the director.

1994: Wes Craven's New Nightmare

wes craven's new nightmare
wes craven's new nightmare

After a series of sequels that turned Freddy Krueger into something of a comedian, Wes Craven's New Nightmare made the character scary again by slashing right through the fourth wall and making him seem realer than ever.

1995: Lord of Illusions

lord of illusions
lord of illusions

Like Candyman, Lord of Illusions is based on a Clive Barker story, and perhaps that's why it has also left such a chilling impression on viewers.

1996: Scream

neve campbell and rose mcgowan in scream
neve campbell and rose mcgowan in scream

After three sequels—with Scream 5 on the horizon—the original Scream might not seem that scary. But think back to how you felt when you first watched Ghostface terrorize Drew Barrymore. Shudder.

1997: Event Horizon

event horizon
event horizon

Alien taught us that in space, no one can hear you scream, and Event Horizon gave us some horrifying visuals that tested that theory.

1998: The Faculty

still from the faculty
still from the faculty

You might have thought your teachers were evil in high school, but The Faculty took that concept and ran with it, resulting in a genuinely tense and unsettling sci-fi slasher.

1999: The Blair Witch Project

the blair witch project
the blair witch project

The found footage horror genre got a major boost with The Blair Witch Project, which seemed so real it didn't feel like a movie, and so scary that you were desperate to confirm it was.

2000: What Lies Beneath

what lies beneath
what lies beneath

Even if critics didn't take kindly to What Lies Beneath, the image of Michelle Pfeiffer slowly drowning in a bathtub has been terrifying viewers for the last 20 years.

2001: Jeepers Creepers

jeepers creepers
jeepers creepers

Though it does veer into some goofy territory, Jeepers Creepers got under people's skin in 2001: Even the Los Angeles Times praised it for "the scariest opening sequence of any horror picture in recent memory" in an otherwise mediocre review.

2002: The Ring

the ring
the ring

The Ring is the rare American remake of a Japanese horror film that manages to be just as scary as the original. Seeing it might not kill you in seven days, but it'll take you far longer to shake it.

2003: A Tale of Two Sisters

a tale of two sisters
a tale of two sisters

South Korean horror film A Tale of Two Sisters also got an American remake, but you should stick to the original, which is bold, ambitiously complex, and—oh, yes—really frightening.

2004: Saw

still from saw
still from saw

As the Saw sequels got increasingly convoluted, the gore went up and the scares went down. The first movie, however, is still a shocker, and the psychological horror of its protagonists' predicament is downright freaky.

2005: The Descent

the descent
the descent

The Descent is a great reminder that caves are terrifying, with or without monsters terrorizing you. Try to watch it without any involuntary screaming.

2006: The Hills Have Eyes

the hills have eyes
the hills have eyes

Alexandre Aja's take of Wes Craven's classic is the only remake of another movie on this list to also make the cut. That's because it pays loving homage to the original while being brutal and seriously distressing in its own right.

2007: Inside

still from inside
still from inside

Alexandre Aja's fellow French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo gave us this twisted home invasion thriller that reiterated how extreme the new wave of French horror could be.

2008: The Strangers

the strangers
the strangers

Home invasion movies are always pretty scary, it turns out, but rarely is the fear as visceral as it is in The Strangers, in which the killers' notable lack of motivation is the true nightmare fodder.

2009: The House of the Devil

the house of the devil
the house of the devil

A little bit haunted house movie, a little bit slasher flick, The House of the Devil is a stylish homage to '80s horror, and it can scare you just as much as the films that inspired it.

2010: Insidious

insidious
insidious

Director James Wan has become one of the leading horror filmmakers in recent years, but it doesn't get any scarier than the original Insidious, which could earn a spot on this list for that one shot of the demon standing behind Patrick Wilson alone.

2011: Absentia

absentia
absentia

Another contemporary horror filmmaker with an impressive resume, Mike Flanagan got his start with Absentia, a spooky indie that creeped people out and heralded the arrival of an exciting new talent.

2012: Sinister

ethan hawke in sinister movie still
ethan hawke in sinister movie still

How scary is Sinister? Well, based on what it is scientifically proven to do to your heart rate, some people consider it the scariest movie of all time.

2013: V/H/S/2

vhs 2
vhs 2

Horror in the 21st century has had several memorable entries into the found footage and anthology film genres, and they blended exceptionally well in V/H/S/2, a movie that gives you a front row seat to some real terror.

2014: It Follows

it follows
it follows

The relatively simple story of It Follows might not feel like reinventing the wheel, and while a supernatural killer slowly approaching isn't new either, it's never been more pulse-heightening than it is here.

2015: We Are Still Here

we are still here
we are still here

Another film that feels very much like a throwback, We Are Still Here earned a lot of great reviews for its traditional horror feel, and a lot of screams for its well executed jump scares.

2016: Don't Breathe

don't breathe
don't breathe

After his effective remake of Evil Dead, Fede Álvarez returned with a more original film, and some of the most stressful set pieces in any horror film in recent years.

2017: It

still from it
still from it

For kids who grew up in the '90s, there may have been nothing scarier than Tim Curry's Pennywise. Nevertheless, Bill Skarsgård's shape-shifting clown in this more adult take on the source material has caused his fare share of terror.

2018: Hereditary

hereditary
hereditary

One of the most jarring films of the past decade, Hereditary refuses to play by the rules, which makes it a viscerally terrifying experience to endure—in the best way possible!

2019: Us

still from us
still from us

While Jordan Peele's follow-up to Get Out might not be scary all the way through, the moment when the doppelgängers descend on the Wilson family is truly frightening, thanks in no small part to Lupita Nyong'o's dual performance.