Graveyard Shift

The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Horror Movies  

Ranker Film
334.5k votes 25.2k voters 664k 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! 

 

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 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

Is this a great movie?

More A Nightmare on Elm Street

#49 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #113 of 630 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Moviesfeaturing Ranking Freddy Krueger's Best Kills from A Nightmare on Elm Street

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. 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

Is this a great movie?

More Halloween

#60 of 258 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time #2 of 769 The Best Horror Movies of All Timefeaturing Stories About Jamie Lee Curtis From Behind The Scenes Of The Original ‘Halloween’ 

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

Released: 1973

Directed by: William Friedkin

Is this a great movie?

More The Exorcist

#24 of 258 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Timefeaturing Did A Malevolent Spirit Actually Curse 'The Exorcist' From The Get-Go?listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

Ranker Video
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 two ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Isaak, George A. Romero, Roger Corman, + more

Released: 1991

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Is this a great movie?

More The Silence of the Lambs

#1 of 258 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Timefeaturing The True Stories That Inspired Buffalo Bill Will Change The Way You See 'The Silence of the Lambs'listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever