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The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Horror Movies 

Ranker Film
Updated March 10, 2020 348.9k votes 26.4k voters 686.4k 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! 

 

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The Shining is a 1980 British-American psychological horror film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, and starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers. The film is based on Stephen King's 1977 novel of the same name, although the film and novel differ in significant ways. In the film, Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, takes a job as an off-season caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel. His young son possesses psychic abilities and is able to see things from the past and future, such as the ghosts who inhabit the hotel. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Barry Dennen, Barry Nelson, + more

Released: 1980

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

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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 taken out 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. ...more on Wikipedia

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

Released: 1980

Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham

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Poltergeist is a 1982 American supernatural thriller film, directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg. It is the first and most successful entry in the Poltergeist film series. Set in a California suburb, the plot focuses on a family whose home is invaded by malevolent ghosts that take the family's younger daughter. The film was ranked as #80 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th scariest film ever made. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Beatrice Straight, + more

Released: 1982

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

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It
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It (also known as It: Chapter One) is a 2017 American supernatural horror film directed by Andy Muschietti, based on the 1986 novel by Stephen King. In the summer of 1989, a group of bullied kids band together to destroy a shapeshifting monster (Bill Skarsgård), which disguises itself as a clown and preys on the children of Derry, their small Maine town. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, + more

Released: 2017

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

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