This isn’t recency bias talking: The 21st century has given us some pretty great horror films.
Sure, the last millennium was rather awesome, too, with the Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein and friends); villains like Jason Voorhees and Leatherface; Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal “Psycho” shower scene; and every dread-filled minute of “The Exorcist.” All helped create and elevate an entire genre of neato scary movies.
But horror flicks since 2001 have been revolutionary in their own way, using technology and modern issues to examine the darker sides of humanity. The internet gives us opportunity to be exposed to noteworthy terrors from other countries more than ever, depending on the Wi-Fi connection. And especially recently, there’s been an artful bent to horror that allows newer filmmakers such as Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) and Ari Aster (“Hereditary”) to make vital and important films that may also leave you in a fetal position.
Best horror movies:10 thrilling, chilling films to watch for Halloween 2021
Because Halloween is upon us and you might be in the need of a good freakout, here are the 75 best horror films of this century, definitively ranked. (And if you don’t see your favorite here, just assume it’s No. 76.)
75. ‘The Babysitter’ (2017)
Samara Weaving is the cool babysitter who always has a bullied tween boy’s back. That is, until he accidentally witnesses her demonic cult of high schoolers engage in a blood sacrifice in his living room in the Netflix horror comedy.
74. ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ (2015)
Osgood Perkins (the son of “Psycho” horror icon Anthony Perkins) crafts this dark and twisty narrative revolving around two boarding school girls (Lucy Boynton and Kiernan Shipka), an escapee (Emma Roberts) from a mental asylum and the murderous demon that connects them all.
73. ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (2012)
If you love blood-curdling screams, this is your movie! This ’70s-set slow-burn descent into madness stars Toby Jones as a quiet British sound engineer hired to work on a violent Italian giallo horror film that veers out of control, as does his sanity.
72. ‘Honeydew’ (2021)
In his film debut, Sawyer Spielberg (director Steven Spielberg’s son) plays one half of a couple taken in by a very weird old lady when their car breaks down in a rural area in this crazy combo of “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”
71. ‘I Trapped the Devil’ (2019)
A Christmas visit between two brothers turns dark and surreal when one says he’s got a man locked in his basement and claims the dude is the devil. (Fun fact: “This Is Us” star Chris Sullivan is the voice of the guy downstairs in this moody creep show.)
70. ‘The Guest’ (2014)
In this thriller with a rad ’80s vibe, Dan Stevens plays a charismatic soldier who shows up on a family’s doorstep claiming to be the best friend of their son who died in Afghanistan, and Maika Monroe is the grieving sister who has reason to be skeptical.
69. ‘Come True’ (2021)
Get ready for some truly weird dreams after immersing yourself in the clever sci-fi flick about a troubled teen (Julia Sarah Stone) whose dark subconscious invades reality when she enlists in a sleep-disorder study.
68. ‘The Mist’ (2007)
How do you make a Stephen King novella even more bleak? Put it in the hands of director Frank Darabont, who adapts the story of small-town Maine folks stuck in a supermarket thanks to a mysterious mist and monstrous hidden creatures.
67. ‘The Lighthouse’ (2019)
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play a pair of 19th-century New England lighthouse keepers stranded on a remote island due to a storm. Come for the unraveling of manly sanities, stay for Dafoe’s farts and a scene-stealing seagull.
66. ‘It Comes at Night’ (2017)
The pitch-black psychological thriller centers on survivalists hunkered down in the woods to avoid a deadly virus. They take in a family needing help and that uneasy alliance devolves. Just have “Ted Lasso” on hand for a pick-me-up afterward.
65. ‘Color Out of Space’ (2020)
Nicolas Cage goes crazy – not a stretch for him – as a man living an ordinary existence with his wife and two kids when a meteorite lands in his front yard and their minds and bodies are taken over by an alien presence.
64. ‘Hush’ (2016)
In this mix of home-invasion terror and slasher picture, Kate Siegel puts a different spin on the usual horror heroine as an author unable to hear or speak but who has plenty of gumption when she’s stalked in her home by a masked killer.
63. ‘Deathgasm’ (2015)
This one definitely goes to 11: Two teenage rocker dudes – who yearn to add some excitement to their lives – delve into black magic and accidentally conjure a demonic entity known as The Blind One. Which is a very metal thing to do.
62. ‘Titane’ (2021)
More bonkers French drama than true fright fest, but Agathe Rousselle having “sex” with a car, being impregnated and then having oil ooze out of her definitely counts as some seriously out-there body horror.
61. ‘The Purge’ (2013)
In the franchise that’s become way too timely for comfort, the first film is tops, with Ethan Hawke trying to keep his family safe from masked maniacs during an all-night legal crime spree.
60. ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ (2007)
This Halloween treasure features four intertwining tales of mischief and menace. The common thread in the anthology? An enigmatic kid named Sam, wearing pajamas and a sack on his head, who punishes those who break holiday tradition.
59. ‘The Lodge’ (2020)
Prepare for despair in this literal chiller, which stars Riley Keough as a woman still haunted by her childhood being the only survivor of a religious death cult who gets snowed in and trapped with her fiancé’s kids in a remote house.
58. ‘Paranormal Activity’ (2009)
The found-footage and haunted house subgenres went together like peanut butter and jelly in this low-budget chiller that chronicles the demonic threat to a young couple through the always-watchful lens of a home video camera.
57. ‘May’ (2003)
One of the more criminally underrated films of the genre, this Frankenstein-esque tale stars Angela Bettis as the title woman, a lonely sort whose sole friend is a doll made by her mom. As May starts to look for more personal connection, and struggles to find it, she decides to craft her own human pal, piece by piece.
56. ‘The Ring’ (2002)
A cursed videotape that kills anyone who views it seven days later falls into the hands of Naomi Watts for a neat spook show. (Guys, ghost girl Samara is STILL freaking us out.) More importantly, it sparked an American interest in the original “Ringu” and other outstanding Asian horror of the time.
55. ‘Saint Maud’ (2021)
A deeply devout hospice nurse (Morfydd Clark) tries to save her lesbian client’s soul and wrestles with her own dark backstory in director Rose Glass’ unholy and twisted film. Worth it for one absolutely fiery finale.
54. ‘Donnie Darko’ (2001)
Is this crazy psychological thriller a horror movie? Jake Gyllenhaal dealing with an aircraft engine falling into his bedroom and interacting with a giant rabbit named Frank – who tells him doomsday’s afoot in 28 days – is all the answer you really need.
53. ‘The Loved Ones’ (2009)
There are both intriguing character relationships and super-gnarly home medical procedures (lobotomy by electric drill!) to be had when an Australian teenager (Xavier Samuel) turns down the prom proposal of a classmate (Robin McLeavy) and gets an unexpected night to remember.
52. ‘Werewolves Within’ (2021)
In a bloody good mix of horror comedy and murder mystery, Sam Richardson plays a naive but goodhearted forest ranger new to a small Vermont town out to catch a killer (who may or may not be a werewolf) among the various kooky residents.
51. ‘Halloween’ (2018)
The 11th film featuring machete-wielding masked man Michael Myers rids itself of unneeded previous canon and acts as a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original, pitting the villain vs. the woman (Jamie Lee Curtis) who’s waited four decades for a rematch.
50. ‘Drag Me to Hell’ (2009)
Sam Raimi’s flick starred Alison Lohman as a loan officer who, wanting to impress her boss, refuses to extend an old gypsy woman’s mortgage. Suffice it to say, not the best decision, considering the three nightmarish days that follow. And that title? That’s some real truth in advertising.
49. ‘REC’ (2007)
Got claustrophobia? Then maybe ease gently into this Spanish found-footage chiller. A night news crew enters a building with firefighters called in to help an old woman trapped in her apartment, she gets a little too bitey and, before you know it, zombies everywhere.
48. ‘The Boy Behind the Door’ (2021)
Those holding out for a young hero will find one in Lonnie Chavis’ terrorized kid, who has to rescue his best pal (Ezra Dewey) after they’re kidnapped and taken to a strange country house in a survival thriller with a welcome twist.
47. ‘V/H/S’ (2012)
Using a found-footage framing device, the anthology unleashes a bevy of shorts revolving around a second honeymoon gone wrong, a freaky sci-fi story told through video chats, and some pervy dudes who make a deadly mistake recruiting a mysterious young woman for their amateur porn.
46. ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’ (2004)
No, not the Sarah Michelle Gellar version. (Come on now.) The original Japanese flick featured a social worker (Megumi Okina) seeing all manner of freaky ghost children in her house. And there’s a timeless quality, too, because, well, ghastly kids are always ghastly.
45. ‘We Are Still Here’ (2015)
Set in 1970s New England, the spin on the haunted house template centers on a couple who moves to a sleepy hamlet following the death of their college-age son and into a place that still contains the dark, ashen souls of the Dagmar family that lived there and a supernatural force that awakens every 30 years.
44. ‘Annihilation’ (2018)
This is one heck of a WrestleMania main event: Natalie Portman vs. a mutant bear with a skull head. The nightmarish sci-fi thriller features Portman as part of a science group that investigates a Florida swamp where the fauna has been otherworldly transformed.
43. ‘Fear Street’ trilogy (2021)
The teen slasher’s reinvented yet again, with an eye toward diversity and mythology. A bunch of 1990s kids look into a witch’s curse that’s affected their town since the 17th century while also trying to stay alive.
42. ‘The Conjuring’ (2013)
The fact that paranormal experts Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are folks who dealt with horrors in real life adds to the fear factor of James Wan’s franchise starter, which focused on a Rhode Island family, their rundown farmhouse and some witchiness.
41. ‘Sinister’ (2012)
Before writer/director Scott Derrickson did a Marvel-ous “Doctor Strange,” he went full-on creepy video. Ethan Hawke’s true-crime writer finds a box of Super 8 home movies in his attic, playing them and consequently putting his family in grave danger thanks to the appearance of a Babylonian deity named Bughuul.
40. ‘The House of the Devil’ (2009)
Director Ti West’s ode to 1970s and ’80s horror is slow-burn dread. A college student (Jocelin Donahue) gets a baby-sitting offer she can’t refuse, which leads to utter satanic insanity for the last 25 minutes. Fun fact: Greta Gerwig shows up in one of her early roles.
39. ‘Split’ (2017)
While it was ultimately revealed as a secret sequel to “Unbreakable,” M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller stands on its own, thanks to James McAvoy’s troubled Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has more than 20 distinct personalities and kidnaps a girl (Anya Taylor-Joy) who’s just as damaged as he is.
38. ‘Ready or Not’ (2019)
This movie’s just so darn enjoyable, and that’s maybe not something you expect with buckets of blood, servants getting shot in the head, a catchily kooky Victrola tune and a newlywed bride (Samara Weaving) trying to literally survive a night with her evil in-laws.
37. ‘Inside’ (2007)
The French fright fest features a very pregnant widow (Alysson Paradis) who sees her home invaded on Christmas Eve by a mysterious woman in black (Beatrice Dalle) dead set on cutting her baby out with some scissors. Buckle up for fiery mayhem and a “birthing” scene that’s hard to even fathom.
36. ‘The Invitation’ (2016)
Karyn Kusama’s cult horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body” was ahead of its time, but the director returned with this twisty treat, which makes the boring dinner party anything but. Logan Marshall-Green stars as a man invited to a shindig by his ex-wife, the revelry goes awry and you’re left with jaw on the floor by a whopper of a last scene.
35. ‘Goodnight Mommy’ (2015)
Full of dread and melancholy, the Austrian import flips the creepy-kid script a bit by centering on two boys (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) who wonder whether their mom (Susanne Wuest), whose head is wrapped in bandages after facial surgery, is actually their mom.
34. ‘Happy Death Day’ (2017)
So what if it’s a slasher-movie “Groundhog Day”? The enchanting time-hopper puts a sorority girl (Jessica Rothe) through her paces as she’s forced to re-live the same day of getting murdered by a serial killer in a baby mask until she figures out whodunit.
33. ‘Don’t Breathe’ (2016)
Another intriguing take on the home-invasion trope has three young robbers wanting fast cash and breaking into the house of a blind Gulf War vet (Stephen Lang) harboring some seriously dark secrets of his own. (You’ll never look at a turkey baster the same way ever again. Promise.)
32. ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ (2020)
A woman believes she’s going to die tomorrow, a doom-ridden viral thought that metastasizes among family and friends in this absurdist, unnerving and trippy film. And you thought COVID was contagious!
31. ‘A Quiet Place’ (2018)
Jim from “The Office” (aka John Krasinski) scared the pants off pop culture with his dystopian directorial debut, where a family (including Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt) has to stay as quiet as possible in order to avoid being gobbled up by blind alien monsters that target their prey though sound.
30. ‘You’re Next’ (2013)
This funny and vicious tweak of the “final girl” trope is an underrated gem starring Sharni Vinson as Erin, an Aussie woman visiting her boyfriend’s family reunion. Soon enough, the house is surrounded by dangerous folks in animal masks, but it turns out Erin is more than ready and able for a fight.
29. ‘Train to Busan’ (2016)
Was the title “Zombies on a Train” already taken? An undead apocalypse emerges outside as well as inside a Korean bullet train headed for – you guessed it – Busan, and avoiding infection is a bigger problem for passengers than travel delays. Like “World War Z” meets “Speed,” in the best way possible.
28. ‘Us’ (2019)
Jordan Peele weaves in Bible references, metaphorical rabbits and Hands Across America with the story of a family fending off their relentless killer doppelgangers. And look out, Freddy Krueger, because Lupita Nyong’o’s Red makes a strong case for sharpest horror villain.
27. ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (2014)
There’s wonderful originality, a Western bent and style to spare in Ana Lily Amirpour’s super-cool black-and-white piece about an Iranian vampire (Sheila Vand) who skateboards around Bad City and attacks men who mistreat women.
26. ‘Insidious’ (2011)
For those who never got into James Wan’s gory “Saw” extravaganzas, the first outing in the haunted house series makes use of old-school scare tactics, plus introduces an interesting interdimensional mythology and Lin Shaye as a kind but determined demonologist.
25. ‘Starry Eyes’ (2014)
The deal-with-the-devil nature of Hollywood gets the scary-movie treatment with Alexandra Essoe as a waitress and struggling actress who will do whatever it takes to be a film star. She later realizes the wicked sacrifices, physical and otherwise, that need to be made in the intriguing exploration of power and celebrity.
24. ‘Mandy’ (2018)
A wacked-out, crazily emotional Nicolas Cage wields axes and a chain saw in heavy-metal fashion as a logger who goes on a fantastical revenge quest against the religious cult that killed his main squeeze. The best part is it’s just as awesome watching that all unfold onscreen as it is typing that sentence.
23. ‘The Conjuring 2’ (2016)
As good as the original film is, the sequel manages to outdo it with a religious theme and possessed girl a la “The Exorcist,” mining a couple of the Warrens’ real cases (the Amityville Horror and the Enfield poltergeist) and unleashing some extra ghoulish delights.
22. ‘Raw’ (2017)
Youngsters navigating growing up and social anxiety have long been horror staples, though this French coming-of-age drama is a cannibalistic one. Garance Marillier stars as a strict vegetarian and vet-school student forced to eat a rabbit kidney, which unlocks a whole new appetite not kosher in most circles.
21. ‘Suspiria’ (2018)
A rare remake that surpasses the original – in this case, Dario Argento’s 1977 classic – in story if not style. The witchy tale of a young rookie (Dakota Johnson) learning a coven secretly runs her famous dance company is one of feminine strength and schlocky carnage.
20. ‘A Dark Song’ (2017)
A grieving mom (Catherine Walker) mourning her murdered son rents a Welsh house for a black magic ritual and recruits an oddball occultist (Steve Oram) to summon a guardian angel for a mission of revenge. Sure, it’s weird and spiteful but also beautiful, thoughtful and surprising.
19. ‘What We Do in the Shadows’
The lesson of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s blood-sucking mockumentary? Life’s hard out there for a vampire. Hilarity ensues when ancient fanged friends struggle with the hazards of modern living, such as chores and problematic roommates. They’re just like us!
18. ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020)
A classic Universal monster is reinvented in a thoroughly modern manner (with gaslighting!). Elisabeth Moss stars as the abused ex of a wealthy scientist who killed himself, and no one believes her desperate claims that he’s haunting her from beyond the grave.
17. ‘Midsommar’ (2019)
After a tragedy, a young woman (Florence Pugh) goes with her boyfriend and his pals to a Swedish summer solstice festival that turns into a kaleidoscope of kooky rituals and isolating dread. The most disturbing acts of folk horror occur in the broad daylight in a film that’s honestly the most unsettling breakup movie ever.
16. ‘The Vigil’ (2021)
A lapsed Jewish New Yorker (Dave Davis) is hired by his old rabbi to watch the body of a recently deceased community member overnight. Doing a favor for some extra cash turns into a night of demonic torment in a fright fest steeped in lore and historical connections.
15. ‘It’ (2017)
The first chapter adapting Stephen King’s epic tome introduced cinema to the Losers’ Club, a bunch of outcast Maine kids who find acceptance in friendship and, oh, yeah, have to deal with a demonic clown. Bill Skarsgard’s creeptastic Pennywise is just the cherry on top of the rich coming-of-age sundae.
14. ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004)
From LPs being used as zombie-killing weapons to the best Queen needle drop in movies (sorry, “Wayne’s World”), Edgar Wright’s horror comedy sent up the undead just as they were starting to lumber all over pop culture. Its real secret sauce, though: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as lovable best friends.
13. ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)
Name a horror trope and it’s referenced in this genre-deconstructing wonder. Heck, there’s even a whiteboard that names them all in the clever thriller, which starts with teens venturing to a cabin in the woods before revealing a whole other conceit underneath, metaphorically and literally.
12. ‘Let the Right One In’ (2008)
There is an insightful sweetness to the Swedish love story of sorts between a bullied 12-year-old boy and his new friend, a protective female vampire. When she states simply, “I am not a girl,” there’s a weight and sadness but also understanding behind it.
11. ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2001)
Guillermo del Toro has risen to the annals of horror mastery in recent years, but there’s a little bit of a Spielbergian nature to his ghostly tale set in the Spanish Civil War, about an orphan boy seeking the secrets of his school and the dead kid he frequently sees.
10. ‘Black Swan’ (2010)
If “Suspiria” didn’t already prove artistry was hell, the insane world of ballet does the job here. Natalie Portman’s main character cracks under the psychological and physical pressures of being a prima ballerina in “Swan Lake” and goes dancing on the dark side.
9. ‘His House’ (2020)
Your mind will be spooked and your heart shattered by this politically relevant take on the haunted-house film. Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku are a couple who escape war-torn South Sudan and seek asylum in Britain. But they find weirdness in the walls of their new suburban digs and have to face very personal nightmares.
8. ‘It Follows’ (2015)
Maika Monroe stars as a young woman who just can’t shake a shape-shifting menace who takes different human forms and is a source of constant stress. This isn’t an ordinary antagonist, though – in fact, she’s hounded by a sexually transmitted curse, a high concept that gives the eerie thriller extraordinary, infectious life.
7. ‘The Babadook’ (2014)
Things aren’t great in the emotionally fraught household of a single mother and a young boy. And it’s hard to say what makes things worse: Mom’s deteriorating mental state or the appearance of Mr. Babadook, an expressionistic storybook monster with a top hat and intimidating chompers.
6. ‘Hereditary’ (2018)
Ari Aster’s disturbing debut would be impressive if you just stop at the spectacular implosion of a loving family and Toni Collette’s heartbreaking performance. It rises to all-time status when you factor in all the occult leanings, horrifying imagery and a demon king thrown in for good measure.
5. ‘Get Out’ (2017)
Daniel Kaluuya’s teary, wide-eyed shocked face, as his character enters the abominable Sunken Place courtesy of his white girlfriend’s totally evil parents, is one of the most indelible horror-film sights this millennium. And filmmaker Jordan Peele earns instant-classic status with his socially relevant (and totally rousing) tackling of modern racism.
4. ‘The Witch’ (2016)
The unnerving look at 17th-century paranoia is seen through the eyes of a young New England teenager (Anya Taylor-Joy). Her baby brother goes mysteriously missing on her watch and she’s suspected of witchcraft. Come for the downward spiral of hellish despair, stay for macabre goat Black Phillip and the ominous climax.
3. ‘The Wailing’ (2016)
Ghosts? Check. The undead? Check. Hair-raising possessed kids? Check and check. Over the course of 2½ hours, the Korean masterpiece goes a lot of different places following a bumbling cop worried about his family when a dangerous infection turns his neighbors into monsters.
2. ’28 Days Later’ (2003)
The best zombie movie that didn’t involve George Romero, period. From the harrowing shot of Cillian Murphy waking from a coma to find a bizarrely deserted London to the rage-filled creatures who run instead of lumber, it bleakly captures post-apocalyptic life in a brutally realistic fashion that other films strive to but just can’t.
1. ‘Kill List’ (2012)
In Ben Wheatley’s brilliant and blistering work, a British soldier returns home and embarks on a career as a hit man, finding strange little details while on his various jobs. Totally sounds like a normal ol’ crime thriller, right? Hoo boy, by the end it is not at all, and to reveal anything else would be downright felonious.Internet Explorer Channel Network