Graveyard Shift

The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Horror Movies  

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319.2k votes 23.9k voters 636.6k 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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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. Fifteen years after Halloween night in 1963, Micheal Myers escapes from a psychiatric hospital, returns home, and stalks teenager Laurie Strode and her friends. ...more on Wikipedia

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

Released: 1978

Directed by: John Carpenter

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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 attacked in their dreams by Freddy Krueger. ...more on Wikipedia

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

Released: 1984

Directed by: Wes Craven

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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

Released: 1973

Directed by: William Friedkin

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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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