The 50 greatest horror movies of all time

Horror movies
(Image credit: Alamy)

For over a century, horror has continued to terrify, confuse and inspire cinema goers, challenging us to face our darkest fears and indulging in the kind of taboos that no other film genre dare touch. From early masterpieces of German silent cinema like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to modern classics such as Get Out, Midsommar and The Witch, horror has continued to be at the forefront of innovation in film, creating countless icons and unforgettable, pant-wettingly scary moments along the way.

With that in mind, here are the 50 greatest horror movies in history, as picked and dissected by our panel of writers and horror fanatics. Only one rule was put in place: only one entry per franchise allowed. We had to give ourselves a fighting chance, after all...

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50. Mandy (2018)

Nicolas Cage chews scenery like bubblegum, beginning his comeback in earnest. Produced by Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision, helmed by psychedelic filmmaker Panos Cosmatos and packing the gimpiest bad guys since Black Veil Brides, Mandy trades story for atmospheric heft and lunacy. Forget plot – Cage is out for revenge with a weapon inspired by Celtic Frost’s logo. That’s it. Visually flawless and, for all its mental grindhouse gore and spaced-out dialogue, emotional. AC

49. Deathgasm (2015)

Deathgasm brings a whole new meaning to ‘face-melting riffs’. Jason Lei Howden made the film as a homage to metal culture — and it shows. After accidentally unleashing a demonic entity, best friends Brodie and Zakk must play a Black Hymn backwards to save all humanity. Aside from all the in-jokes created just for metalheads, Deathgasm is loaded with gory SFX, including a demonic dildo fight. It’s the ultimate metalsploitation film. EC

48. Saw (2004)

Its endless, diminishing-quality sequels may have exhausted Saw as a franchise, but you can’t argue with the impact of the first film. Far more than an endless gore-fest, Saw asked questions of the viewer, both in acts of literal escapology and more suggestive, moral conundrums, all while placing us in a unique but simple setting. It gave us one of the most surprising end twists in cinema history and introduced us to a brand-new horror icon in Tobin Bell’s sadistic Jigsaw. SH

47. Braindead (1992)

Long before he was playing with orcs and billion-dollar budgets, Peter Jackson was happily creating schlocky splat-fests in his native New Zealand. His magnum opus came in 1992 with the zombie horror-comedy Braindead (or Dead Alive, if you’re American), a movie as likely to turn your guts as tickle them, packed with endlessly quotable one liners (“I kick arse for the lord”, “your mother ate my dog!” etc.), spectacularly gory set-pieces and more cheesy overacting than a complete boxset of Neighbours. RH

46. Candyman (1992)

Pinhead wasn’t the only horror icon spawned from the mind of Clive Barker, Tony Todd helping cement Candyman in the horror pantheon in his stunning 1992 debut as the titular character. The Bernard Rose-directed movie drew a thread between macabre folklore and socio-political commentary amidst an unsettling ghost story with gothic romance overtures that would do Dracula proud, loaded with stunning imagery and cerebral themes that remain insightful 30 years after release. RH

45. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity relaunched the stagnant ‘found footage’ genre with a demonic vengeance. The low-budget, DIY format makes this tale of domestic haunting feel eerily real — from casual home video footage to prolonged shots of the main characters sleeping in bed. The stillness and silence weigh heavy as you frantically scan the screen for anything out of place. Paranormal Activity was so terrifying that it spawned six sequels. ‘Intense’ doesn’t do it justice. EC

44. Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Sam Raimi returned to the horror stylings on which he made his name with this spiritual successor to his Evil Dead trilogy, following the plight of doomed banker Christine as she tries to shake off the curse of an elderly Roma woman. Drag Me To Hell packs scares, laughs and creeping terror in equal measure - not to mention one of the most enjoyably shocking rug-pulls of a finale in modern cinema. MA

43. Raw (2016)

A collision of coming-of-age teen drama, classic cannibalism horror and a study of society’s hierarchical structures, Raw is a brilliantly shocking, unique piece of cinema. The story of vegetarian veterinary student Justine being peer-pressured into trying meat for the first time and it inspiring an insatiable bloodlust in her, Raw is a movie packed with the kind of stomach-churning images that will sear themselves into your psyche long after the credits roll. SH

42. Bride Of Frankenstein (1936)

It’s often noted that James Whale’s gothic masterpiece is one of cinema’s greatest sequels, outdoing Universal’s original 1931 Frankenstein with heightened pathos, classier visuals and sharper scares. It’s often noted that Elsa Lanchester’s brief title role provided horror aesthetics with one of the most abidingly iconic and imitated appearances of any female character ever. Less often noted is the delightfully zany comedy sequence featuring a miniature Henry VIII in a jar. CC

41. Rec (2007)

For many, the found footage horror boom peaked with Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s terrifying Spanish flick documenting a reporter and her cameraman stuck in an apartment block as a zombie plague wreaks havoc. Rec’s visceral scares were effective enough, but it was the awe-inspiring twist in the film’s final arc that truly elevated it, adding a horrifying supernatural element to proceedings that turned the nature of the outbreak on its head. MA

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He is also probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.