The 10 greatest ghost movies ever, ranked

The posters for The Innocents, The Shining and Beetlejuice
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros)

There isn’t much that’s more universal than the fear of death. As a result, ghosts have been a staple of horror films for as long as the genre’s existed, with countless directors using our inherent survival instincts and aversion to the unknown to give us a fright. Metal Hammer has listed the 10 most compelling examples of this below, from horror comedies to bona fide shit-yourself chillers. The Shining, Ghostbusters, Poltergeist… – these are the best ghost films ever made, ranked in reverse-order of excellence.

Metal Hammer line break

10. The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980)

After Halloween, writer/director John Carpenter sought to make something… bigger. The Master Of Horror courted a much higher budget to create a supernatural chiller, where the ghosts of pirates seek revenge on a small town while shrouded in ominous fog. Tense yet gorgeous, The Fog started Carpenter’s collaboration with effects maestro Rob Bottin, who returned for 1982’s groundbreaking The Thing.

9. Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998)

Does any country boast more truly disturbing horror films per capita than Japan? Ju-On: The Grudge, Audition and Dark Water are all fucked-up masterpieces but, when it comes to international impact, none beat Ring. The image of a ghost crawling from your TV to kill you tapped into nascent fears and ignited a craze of J-horror remakes throughout the 2000s.

8. The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007)

J.A. Bayona may be best known for directing Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, but The Orphanage will always be his masterpiece. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, this Spanish-language horror about a woman buying and renovating the orphanage she grew up in is as gripping as it is depressing. It’s a truly bleak watch, but still a masterpiece of world cinema all the same.

7. Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988)

Tim Burton’s breakthrough smartly subverted the haunted house fable. It empathises not with the living, but with the dead, as they try to scare the annoying occupants of their house away. This scheme requires the help of “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice, who steals every second thanks to Michael Keaton’s chaotic performance. The star and director would mine more cinematic gold together with Batman in 1989.

6. Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)

Directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper and produced by Jaws’ Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist didn’t disappoint as a meeting of two horror masterminds. This classic about spectres haunting a wholesome nuclear family comes packaged with scares tailored to every demographic, from adults (your child going missing) to kids (your toys trying to kill you). It’s still scary nowadays as a result.

5. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House is one of the essential ghost stories, and Robert Wise’s adaptation does the claustrophobic classic justice. The oft-overlooked master auteur (also responsible for The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain) wisely doubles down on the dubious sanity of the novel’s protagonist, making for a suspenseful masterpiece that toys with reality itself.

4. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)

Without hyperbole, The Sixth Sense changed cinema. For years after M. Night Shyamalan’s magnum opus came out, every filmmaker was trying to replicate the impact and ingenuity of its twist ending (including the writer/director himself). None of them could, of course, and this ghostly horror-drama continues to stand alongside The Empire Strikes Back and Psycho in the pantheon of legendary reveals.

3. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

Who you gonna call?! Countless comedies (including its own lacklustre sequels) have tried to replicate Ghostbusters, but there’s still only one. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis ostensibly lead this masterpiece as a team that hilariously treat ghost-hunting like it’s a pest control job. However, they actually star moreover as simply themselves, shooting one-liners back and forth with inimitable wit. It’s a chemistry that (clearly) is impossible to recapture.

2. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)

Call this a hot take if you like, but The Innocents is the scariest black-and-white film ever made. Deborah Kerr stars as a Victorian governess assigned to look after two children in their uncle’s enormous mansion and, naturally, quickly experiences supernatural phenomena. What puts Jack Clayton’s unsung classic above other films with similar setups, however, is its twisted psychology and near-unbearable quietness. That silence turns every ghost’s slow movement towards the camera into a goosebump-inducing fight or flight moment.

1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

The Shining’s not just the greatest ghost film of all time, but one of the best horrors ever made, full stop. Stanley Kubrick’s disorientating nightmare haunts on multiple levels, most directly as an inexplicable ghost story riddled with iconic, violent imagery. Beneath the bonnet, though, this is also a chilling meditation on the nature of genocide, how it’s intrinsic to American society and how it never seems to stop happening.

Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and even a six-year-old Danny Lloyd all bring their most deranged and expressive performances, while former photographer Kubrick truly gets to stretch his muscles when it comes to stunning cinematography. The Shining is rightly considered a stone-cold classic nowadays, and it seems the only person who doesn’t adore it is Stephen King: the man who wrote the book it’s based on.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.