The 50 greatest horror movies of all time

20. 28 Days Later (2002)

The 80s and 90s murdered the zombie’s credibility, as the monster tumbled from George A. Romero masterpieces to languishing in cash-ins, ripoffs and lowbrow parodies. Then 28 Days Later made them cool again. Danny Boyle’s most freakish film updated the undead for the 2000s by making them faster and more contagious. Its scenes of widespread desolation and endless missing person flyers also evoked very real post-9/11 horrors. MM

19. The Witch (2015)

Robert Eggers announced himself as one of horror’s most exciting new auteurs with this stunning directorial debut, which stitched together authentic 17th century gloom and doom with supernatural scares and an earthy, visceral terror that lurked just underneath the surface. It provided a breakout role for Hollywood star-in-waiting Anya Taylor Joy, and even introduced horror’s unlikeliest new icon in the form of a big, badass goat called Black Phillip. Delicious. MA

18. The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee always insisted that The Wicker Man was the best film he ever had a hand in making. The metal-as-fuck former Nazi-hunter plays shadowy antagonist Lord Summerisle, who leads a cult on a Scottish island that antagonises policeman Neil Howie before sacrificing him to their Pagan gods. Its depictions of orgies and heathenism shocked the early 70s establishment, while today the acting and central mystery maintain it as essential viewing. MM

17. Nosferatu (1922) 

For pilfering Dracula’s plot without authorisation, Bram Stoker’s widow wanted all copies of this German silent classic destroyed. Thankfully, the evil Count Orlok survived – 100 years and counting – to provide horror cinema with its first great iconic antagonist (despite barely nine minutes of screentime). There are no jump scares or gory thrills, but the distinctive, pioneering visuals, genre trope innovations and haunting atmosphere of sinister unease remain powerful a century on. CC

16. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

How could you not love An American Werewolf in London? Zombie SS officers, one of the greatest fake-out jump scares in history, some brilliantly gory prosthetics and even a young Rik Mayall: John Landis’ horror-comedy is a phenomenally dizzy thrill from start to finish. It also features the finest monster transformation scene in cinema history, deservedly picking up the first ever Academy Award for Best Makeup in the process, and kickstarted the horror and comedy mash-up that gave us everything from Evil Dead 2 to Shaun Of The Dead and beyond. SH

15. Hellraiser (1987)

Visually arresting, darkly subversive and horny as fuck, Hellraiser isn’t just one of the best British horror movies ever - it’s an alternative culture cornerstone whose influence runs through film, music, fashion and more. Clive Barker did a fine job of bringing his gruesome visions to life, but it was an imperious performance by Doug Bradley as the Lead Cenobite (soon to be known as Pinhead) that helped birth one of horror’s most enduring franchises. MA

14. Psycho (1960)

Even though you know it’s coming, the lurch from Marion Crane’s story of petty embezzlement to her motel shower slashing by deviant taxidermist Norman Bates still feels masterfully disorientating. Although Alfred Hitchcock’s careful, discreet sequence of shots comprising the infamous murder might not alarm many audiences today, the swivel-chair reveal of the dead mum’s skeletal face can still send popcorn flying, while Anthony Perkins’ chillingly plausible performance remains deeply unnerving. CC

13. Jaws (1975)

Never let it be forgotten that one of the first summer blockbusters was a horror. Jaws was the moment Steven Spielberg truly broke through as a director, balancing bloody spectacle with scenes that could be lifted directly from a tense socio-political thriller were they not nestled in a larger-than-life creature feature. From its iconic soundtrack to its starkly terrifying opening scene that traumatised generations from going in the sea, Jaws remains the high watermark for the changes horror can enact on cinema as a whole. RH

12. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

George A. Romero’s wicked upheaval of consumerism follows four survivors holed up in a shopping mall, battling through undead hordes, mental musical cues and Tom Savini’s sinewy practical effects. Each character is fully fleshed-out – watch the 2004 remake to see how right Romero got it – which makes the frantic final act all the more harrowing. Often imitated, rarely bested, cinema’s most ripped-off zombie export still bites over forty years later. AC

11. Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster’s second effort shunned the claustrophobic, supernatural mania of Hereditary in favour of an expansive, trippy, folk horror epic. Instantly iconic and sprinkling just enough visceral scares over its ever-heightening sense of creeping dread, Midsommar was far more than Wicker Man for a new generation: it was a brooding, layered genre masterpiece, hung around an emotionally devastating performance by Florence Pugh and filled with hidden terrors that would take repeat viewings to fully unwrap. 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 has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site. 

With contributions from