Horror The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Horror Movies  

Ranker Film
191.5k votes 13.3k voters 343k views 25 items

List Rules Vote up the horror movies that define the genre and should be required viewing for beginners in an Intro to Horror Class.

Any film can momentarily frighten you with jump scares, special effects, and scary costumes. It isn't hard to make your audience gasp at cheap tricks and loud noises, but horror films essential to the genre must do more than that. These must-see horror movies explored something deeper through ghosts, killers, and demons, allowing them to have staying power over the years. Consider this horror for beginners! Here, you'll find quintessential scary stories that tell a horrifying saga while exploring complex topics. 

Some of the most famous horror movies of all time have a lot going on beneath the surface. Horror is a genre that allows popular films to sneak in subtle symbolism and commentary via metaphor. While The Exorcist is the story of demonic possession, it's also about the fear a loved will get sick and be beyond help. What lengths would you turn to, in that case, to save them? The Shining is a multifaceted film that tackles topics like historical oppression and how violence manifests across time and culture. A Nightmare on Elm Street plays on parental fears that there are evils you simply cannot shield your children from and Jaws speaks to humanity's terror of being overtaken by something in nature too big and strong to contain. Given the thematic complexity of these films, these are horror movies everyone should watch.  

Watch a few of these introduction to horror films below. Then, cast your vote for the best horror film of them all! 

 

1 9,527 VOTES

Halloween


Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

Halloween is a 1978 American independent slasher horror film directed and scored by John Carpenter, co-written with producer Debra Hill, and starring Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut. The film was the first installment in what has become the Halloween franchise. The plot is set in the fictional Midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois. On Halloween night in 1963, a six-year-old Michael Myers murders his older sister by stabbing her with a kitchen knife. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a psychiatric hospital, returns home, and stalks teenager Laurie Strode and her friends. Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis suspects Michael's intentions, and follows him to ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jamie Lee Curtis, Kyle Richards, Donald Pleasence, Sandy Johnson, Charles Cyphers, + more

Initial Release: 1978

Directed by: John Carpenter

Also Ranked

#92 on The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

#53 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#1 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#15 on The Best Intelligent Horror Movies

8,790 737
Is this a must-see?
see more on Halloween

Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 American supernatural slasher horror film written and directed by Wes Craven, and the first film of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The film stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Robert Englund, and Johnny Depp in his feature film debut. Set in the fictional Midwestern town of Springwood, Ohio, the plot revolves around several teenagers who are stalked and killed in their dreams by Freddy Krueger. The teenagers are unaware of the cause of this strange phenomenon, but their parents hold a dark secret from long ago. Craven produced A Nightmare on Elm Street on an estimated budget of just $1.8 million, a sum the ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Lin Shaye, + more

Initial Release: 1984

Directed by: Wes Craven

Also Ranked

#4 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#22 on "Old" Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime

#51 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked

#8 on The Best Movies of 1984

8,570 717
Is this a must-see?
see more on A Nightmare on Elm Street
3 9,114 VOTES

The Exorcist


Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, adapted by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother's desperate attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests. The film features Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, and Mercedes McCambridge. It is one of a cycle of "demonic child" films produced from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, including Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. The Exorcist was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, William Peter Blatty, + more

Initial Release: 1973

Directed by: William Friedkin

Also Ranked

#36 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#50 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

#3 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#9 on The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

8,344 770
Is this a must-see?
see more on The Exorcist
4 8,730 VOTES

Friday the 13th


Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

Friday the 13th is a 1980 American slasher film directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller. The film concerns a group of teenagers who are murdered one by one while attempting to re-open an abandoned campground, and stars Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Kevin Bacon, Jeannine Taylor, Mark Nelson and Robbi Morgan. It is considered one of the first "true" slasher movies. Prompted by the success of John Carpenter's Halloween, the film was made on an estimated budget of $550,000 and released by Paramount Pictures in the United States and by Warner Bros. in Europe. When originally released, the film received negative reviews from film critics. It grossed ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Kevin Bacon, Tom Savini, Betsy Palmer, Irwin Keyes, Laurie Bartram, + more

Initial Release: 1980

Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham

Also Ranked

#8 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#81 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked

#7 on The Best Movies of 1980

#11 on The Goriest Movies Ever Made

7,918 812
Is this a must-see?
see more on Friday the 13th