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The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Horror Movies

Updated January 19, 2021 464.0k votes 30.8k voters 785.3k views25 items

List RulesVote 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 the top 25 scariest horror films ever made do far 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 votes for the best horror film of them all! 

 

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  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
    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 attacked in their dreams by Freddy Krueger....  more
    • Actors: Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Lin Shaye
    • Released: 1984
    • Directed by: Wes Craven
    22,175
    2,255
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  • Halloween
    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. 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
    • Actors: Jamie Lee Curtis, Kyle Richards, Donald Pleasence, Sandy Johnson, Charles Cyphers
    • Released: 1978
    • Directed by: John Carpenter
    22,116
    2,257
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  • The Exorcist
    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
    • Actors: Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, William Peter Blatty
    • Released: 1973
    • Directed by: William Friedkin
    20,924
    2,336
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  • The Silence of the Lambs
    Video: YouTube
    The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American thriller film that blends elements of the crime and horror genres. Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn, the film is based on Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name, his second to feature Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer, known only as "Buffalo Bill". The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide against its $19 million budget. It was only the third film, the other...  more
    • Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Isaak, George A. Romero, Roger Corman
    • Released: 1991
    • Directed by: Jonathan Demme
    19,579
    2,404
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