The 100 best horror films: the list

The best horror films, as voted for by more than 100 experts including Simon Pegg and Roger Corman

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By Derek Adams, Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, Sarah Cohen, Nigel Floyd and Tom Huddleston, with the generous support of everyone at FrightFest and Cine-Excess. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.

1

The Exorcist

Dir William Friedkin (Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow)

'Forty years of sucking cocks in hell.'

By the ’70s, horror had divided into two camps: on one hand, there were the ‘real life’ terrors of ‘Psycho’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead’, films that brought horror into the realm of the everyday, making it all the more shocking. On the other, there were the more outrageous dream-horrors popular in Europe, the work of Hammer Studios in the UK and Mario Bava and Dario Argento in Italy, films that prized artistry, oddity and explicit gore over narrative logic. The first film to attempt to bring the two together was ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, but Polanski’s heart clearly belonged to the surreal. The first to achieve that blend with absolute certainty was ‘The Exorcist’ – which perhaps explains its position as the unassailable winner of this poll.

In cutting from the clanging bazaars of Iraq to the quiet streets of Georgetown, in blending dizzying dream sequences with starkly believable human drama, Friedkin created a horror movie like no other – both brutal and beautiful, artful and exploitative, exploring wacked-out religious concepts with the clinical precision of an agnostic scientist. And make no mistake: ‘The Exorcist’ is most definitely a horror film: though it may be filled with rigorously examined ideas and wonderfully observed character moments, its primary concern is with shocking, scaring and, yes, horrifying its audience out of their wits – does mainstream cinema contain a more upsetting image than the crucifix scene? That it still succeeds, almost four decades later, is testament to Friedkin’s remarkable vision.

Read our interview with William Friedkin, director of 'The Exorcist'


What the experts said

‘Still the best exorcism movie ever made. It's still hard to believe that a mainstream Hollywood film could get away with depicting the deeply sexual and disturbing possession of a barely pubescent girl in such graphic detail.’


Bruce LaBruce


‘They captured something shooting this film that just wasn't right.’


Eduardo Sanchez


‘The Catholic religion has always been a source of inspiration for horror and this is one the finest examples... It’s a fascinating and powerful horror one cannot escape from.’


Coffin Joe


‘I have fond memories of seeing it on the day of its release, with priests walking the queue handing out flyers with details of ‘after care’ for those disturbed by the film...’


Billy Chainsaw


Users say

160 comments
Henry d
Henry d

Whilst I do regard this as a good film, I agree with King that it missed the point. A pity really.

Henry d
Henry d

Alien, a great movie on many levels, spoilt only by the advent of Hollywood PC...

Henry d
Henry d

Newton once said "If I have seen far it is because I stand on shoulders of giants", and whilst I agree with the rating of Carpenter's "The Thing", to applaud it without a nod and a wink to the original movie and the author of the story (John Campbell Jr.) is, at least, careless.

Martin K
Martin K

I've never thought The Exorcist scary because it requires a religious belief I don't have. I do, however, accept crazed, evil people and zombies.

72trailsofsmoke
72trailsofsmoke

do you have to use the tired old myth about the cast of 'Alien' not knowing what was going to happen to John Hurt? How do you think they filmed it? -  With Hurt in a body cast with fx crew there to perform the effect. Oh and the scene used in the film was a retake so the cast had seen it all before anyway... You don't have to know any of this for common sense to tell you that the alien didn't just burst out of his chest without some serious preparation. Lazy, poorly-researched journalism really hacks me off...

Rhiannon H
Rhiannon H

"Dawn of the Dead", came out in 1978, not 1974. That is my all time favorite horror film.

mjer90
mjer90

i  dont understand all the genre nuts losing their minds over certain "non-horror" films on the list.  horror is horror.  if you want to fine-tooth comb the genre and only accept "strict" definition films aka ghost stories, monsters, gore, etc, then you're missing out on a whole range of disturbing material that elicit the same emotional responses.  kudos to time out for listing films like come and see and jacob's ladder, that are just as horrifying (probably more so, even) than most horror films.  


this is a great list - very comprehensive, both in terms of eras and sub-genres.  i personally would have liked to have seen capenter's prince of darkness and burial ground: nights of terror.  though, the former definitely gets a mixed reaction from the masses as far as john carpenter films go.  and the latter, totally niche and terrible in a lot of respects.  but i still see it as the ultimate atmospheric zombie flick.  


dont look now almost breaking the top 10?  awesome.

Fil M
Fil M

Session 9, very underrated but creepy as hell, made in a real haunted asylum called Danvers (unfortunately not standing anymore)

Michael S
Michael S

Although I respect this list and all of its original choices, I believe the following three films must be included:

(1) The Eclipse (2009)

(2) Sinister (2012)

(3) The Conjuring (2013)

Terminator
Terminator

Personally I believe people saying all old horror movies are bad and likewise those claiming all new horror movies are bad are wrong. I did like many older titles on this list including The Thing, Alien, Jaws etc and I am delighted it has at least one new good horror movie The Descent(2005).


Since An American Werewolf movies was mentioned in this list I have 3 werewolf movies that I like much better. The Howling(1981) the original the rest of Howling movies are more or less B budget movies. Ginger Snaps(2000) was great and I also like the Action/Horror movie Dog Soldiers(2002). The classic Action/Horror movie for me is Aliens(1986).

Matt
Matt

One of the best horror lists I have ever seen. Tired of seeing movies considered "horror" and scary when they don't belong. There is a strong difference between disturbing and scary ( if disturbing was accounted for then you would see Saw on this list probably,The Girl Next Door, and Wicker Man , which I love, would be higher). I do have to agree with a previous post. Insidious should have a spot. Even more so for Conjuring. Otherwise the list was perfect.

Hugh
Hugh

Halloween in my opinion is the granddaddy of them all, a true masterpiece. I appreciate slow burn horror films as much as the next person but sometimes I want a horror movie to punch me in the gut from the opening frame and not let up. Martyrs is that type of movie.

Jay
Jay

Oops, just reviewed the list again REC is included, my bad still The Stepfather should have been included even if at 100 also the series of Eye films by the Pang Brothers were not too shabby, especially the first.

Jay
Jay

What no Stepfather (1987)? Also where is REC (2007)?.. now there's a horror film.

tom
tom

Good list, I found alot of new films here, but the last 5 were actually in a good order of how scary, finishing on the exorcist which is in my opinion the most scariest film ever created. So 5 stars from me. :)

Lars
Lars

Rosemary's Baby. One of the worst horror films of all-time. Boring as it gets. No suspense or scares whatsoever. The Exorcist yes, great film. The Shining as well. Overall a good list.

Buggs
Buggs

no insidious? no sinister or paranormal activity? they may not be for everyone but one cannot deny the impact they have had on the modern horror genre, look at the conjuring, fantastic movie. where is the changeling from 1981? or 1982, not sure of the year, and how does dont look now, a drama with a slightly shocking ending make it into this list when the prince of darkness doesnt? that film made me feel dirty all over with its literally unrelenting feel of oppression, forcing you deeper into your seat with each passing moment, forcing you to wonder if anyone will actually make it out alive, some poor decisions on what made this list, especially as ive always found movies like the ring(both countries versions) literally knock-me-to-sleep boring and the original grudge i found awful too, although i like the american remakes, which is unusual

Thomas
Thomas

You really had to put the last 10 as single items? I found they took just as long to load as the 10 per page ones. I had to stop at 6. The loading is unbearable and there seems to be many script errors on this site. I'd rather deal with those sites that make you click the link 5-10 times than this. At least they load fast.

William
William

Scream isn't scary enough to be in the top 100 scary horror movies. The movie was based off of suspense and drama based on the massacres and not enough fear by the audience.

john
john

considering this film is based on a true story, i think its pretty frightening , those of you who think its not frightening . i suggest you work your tiny little brains into action and think ,,,,, this scenario actually took place !!

SimpleFacts
SimpleFacts

I agree with AshS. What a lame, p'whipped list of crap. The title is Horror movies, and few of these elicit any feelings of ill ease, much less horror. Listing the Exorcist as No. 1? Are you kidding or just a limp-wristed theater critic?

AshS
AshS

Trash list, don't put movies if you think they are not actually scary movies. So many explanations like that are in so many of the movies you put. Useless.

Jay
Jay

First thing where is scream?? it may not be a top 10 contender but come on to not make the top 100 Is silly. Also hellraiser 3 has got to be in any top 100 list. I also think Woman in black and the strangers deserve a place in this list. Overall not that impressed with this list I mean A nightmare on Elm Street number 30 ish pffft

João Paulo Calvet
João Paulo Calvet

To the reviewer of "The Tenant" Did you even saw the movie or just searched in the web like a kid today would have in this wikipedia generation? Adjani played the character of Simone Choule??? You must have seen some other Tenant other than the one i saw... Really guys, and you are paid to do this job. Its scary the ignorance of a Time Out employee... If you don't know about something don't write about it, or just give it to someone who does.

marko
marko

Is it just me who thinks Ju-on needs to be on this list...?

craig
craig

not really impressed with this list, silence of the lambs 59??? come on, its not even a horror movie, its a psychological thriller.

Keegan Cahoon
Keegan Cahoon

Anybody who puts The Exorcist higher on their list than The Shining doesn't deserve to review horror movies. Kubrick is God. Remember that. Kubrick is God.

Rehcal Parker
Rehcal Parker

I didn't actually watch the film.. But I think its sounds like it could be quite a good film. Merry Christmas everyone ! Rechal

exo
exo

Rec should been higher. Ending in rec 5mins is more intense than watching 1hour shitty oldies in top10.

Matt
Matt

Where the flip is ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. nearly every horror critic would have this in the top 5 horror let alone the top 100?? sixth sense??? thats not horror. thats kids stuff. also evil dead one is so much better than number 2. 2 is lost between comedy and being serious, plus is mega over produced and doesnt have the orignal atomosphere, not even close. But thats me, but then i do rate hellraiser a lot higher than 80. top ten at the very very least, so i think i know a lot more than this list. you cant be serious. WHERES HELLRAISER 3??????:?

Emma
Emma

I really don't see how 'The Exorcist' ALWAYS makes the top choice?! I didn't find it scary whatsoever, more like funny, and that's coming from someone who always hides behind a pillow watching horrors. There are sooo many other movies that should really replace that film in the top rank.

max
max

no one will like this lis everyone has there own opinion u dum peop

max
max

no one will like this lis everyone has there own opinion u dum peop

max
max

no one will like this lis everyone has there own opinion u dum peop

jed
jed

This is the WORST top 100 list on the internet. Some of these titles are not even Horror. Aweful.

jed
jed

This is the WORST 100 list on the internet. Poorly ranked.

max
max

what a fail.......

max
max

i see nothing wrong with this movie at all... its a good movie.

billy
billy

this movie fucken sux

Cole
Cole

The fact that Evil Dead isn't in the top 3 discredits this entire list

cipher
cipher

Same old, same old. I sometimes think the voters are not even trying. Check imdb, pick up some mainstream titles, randomize it as you wish and voila, you got another brand new list. It's just boring, guys.

John Felix Koziol
John Felix Koziol

This is easily, by far, the best of the series! This movie is the only horror movie that ever kept me up at night.

Nai
Nai

I was going through the list, surprised by how many movies that I have always felt deserved more recognition (I Walked With A Zombie, Vampyr, etc) were put here... Yes, there was some dreck as well, but for the most part I was happier than I usually am with these lists (I am so sick of some many horror lists only featuring crummy slasher movies)... Then I came to the final 10... This is where I was most let down. Why are Halloween and The Exorcist among others always at the top of lists like these? It always annoys me that everyone seems to be choosing the same films to put in the very top. Clearly the hype is having an effect on their minds. People need to think for themselves and not always be so hugely persuaded by critics. I am not saying that the top ten here are all bad movies, but some of them are massively, ridiculously overrated (Texas Chainsaw Massacre... Seriously?!).

_Monkey_Boy_
_Monkey_Boy_

Except that's not a myth, it's true. The shot of Veronica Cartwright falling over is a real. They knew that SOMETHING was going to happen, just not WHAT or WHEN. Stop calling it a myth when it isn't.

Henry d
Henry d

@mjer90 There is a difference between horror and horrible

Terminator
Terminator

@Matt  Yeah this is my intake on this list. First of all I am NOT young. However I do eat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnosine

and everyone believes I am like 10 year younger when they meet me. I also tested online dating and if I put myself 10 years younger they believe me. In addition I do like NEW horror movies. I am happy that The Descent made it to top 100 it really deserves its place. I do like many of the old movies in this list like Alien, The Thing, Jaws the first of these were all good. That said this list represent taste of old people voting what are the best movies. Many youngsters say horror fans 20-25 years old would laugh at this list at least some titles. Personally I think those people who laugh saying all old horror movies are bad and likewise those who say all new horror movies are bad are very wrong or they are stuck in their own subjective timeline what is best.


I am not saying all new horror movies are good. That said 2000+ era has brought great horror movies. 3 Werewolf movies that I like more then then An American Werewolf in London. The Howling(1981 the original the first of them rest are low budget B movies) and YES I do like Ginger Snaps(2000) and Dog Soldiers(2002). Ok Dog Soldiers(2002) is more like Action/Horror, but Aliens(1986) the second Alien movie was also a great Action Horror movie.

Phil D
Phil D

@jed  Gee, Jed. You call this list "the worst... list on the internet." So, tell us (we're all listening): where is *your* own top 100 list? Not the one you like the best, but one you personally put together. Point us to it, on the internet, and we'll go see. We won't be any more critical of it than we can help. Honest.