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The 10 Scariest Horror Movies Ever.

  • Sunday, 06 Nov, 2022
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The 10 Scariest Horror Movies Ever

If you were exploring RT around a fortnight and a half ago, you may have stumbled into a small poll we were doing to find the scariest movie of all time. We compiled 40 of the most terrifying films of all time, drawing inspiration from other lists and recommendations from the RT crew, and asked you to choose your favourite. The identical question was recently investigated by a British broadband provider comparison website, and the findings were... unexpected. How did the results fare with Rotten Tomatoes fans? Find out which films our readers voted to be the 10 scariest horror films of all time below.

1. THE EXORCIST (1973)

Even if you don't think The Exorcist is the scariest film of all time, its top spot on our list (with 19% of the vote) certainly doesn't come as much of a surprise to you. The film version of William Friedkin's eponymous book about a kid possessed by a demon and the efforts to remove the demon was the first R-rated horror film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated picture of all time (it earned nine other nominations and took home two trophies). The film is well-known not only for its critical and commercial success, but also for the widespread hysteria it sparked across the country, with reactions ranging from protests over the film's controversial subject matter to reports of audience members feeling nauseous and fainting during the screening. Even if the film's dramatic pace and antiquated effects may look quaint in comparison to other modern horror, it nevertheless has a powerful impact on audiences who are seeing it for the first time.

2. HEREDITARY (2018)

With his first feature picture, writer-director Ari Aster created waves with a grim family drama about the complexity of sorrow that was cloaked in the genre conventions of a supernatural horror thriller. Toni Collette's portrayal as the troubled mother Annie won her a place among the all-time great Oscar snubs, but the greatest surprise of the film was provided by... That's something we're not going to reveal, however. The success of Hereditary cemented Aster's status as a filmmaker to keep an eye on, and he moved up to second place on our list.


This inspired-by-true-events chiller is based on the experiences of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, and director James Wan has established himself as one of the current masters of horror with his previous flicks Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga gave convincing performances as Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life investigators whose work inspired the Amityville Horror films (which also featured in The Conjuring 2). Wan and his leading actors breathed new life into tired genre conventions, resulting in an ever-expanding film franchise.

4. THE SHINING (1980)

Carrie, Misery, and Pet Sematary are just a few of the many Stephen King adaptations that have become modern horror staples; and that's without even including King's non-horror works, such The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. The Shining, adapted by Stanley Kubrick, is the granddaddy of these films. The Shining is a masterpiece of set and production design, offering a unique spin on the standard haunted house scenario and including a number of unforgettable imagery in addition to a legendary performance from Jack Nicholson. The film's genuine impact resides in the way it gets under your skin and lets you feel Jack Torrance's gradual spiral into lunacy, rather than in its comparatively few jump scares, which are nevertheless wonderfully scary. It's one of the best horror movies of all time, and it came in at number four on our list.


The top four films on this list received 42% of the total votes cast, while the next six films on the list each received less than 3% of the vote. Therefore, no more than 60 votes separated these final six films. The first is Tobe Hooper's low-budget slasher film, which he directed and co-wrote, and which is only tangentially based on Ed Gein's murders. The film's dirty look gave it an air of realism, making it more terrifying ("This could possibly happen, you guys!"), while Gunnar Hansen's portrayal of Leatherface paved the way for other hulking, threatening villains like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. The series has been rebooted many times, and another one is on the way, but none of them have matched the original's level of extreme, tool-based fear.

6. THE RING (2002)

It's never easy to attempt to adapt a concept that has proven effective in one culture to another, but Gore Verbinski did it with The Ring. Based on the work of Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata, Verbinski's version of the horror film about a cursed videotape retained the striking visual imagery of the original film, including the ghost of a young girl in a white dress with long black hair covering her face, and found that it scared the hell out of audiences all over the world. Despite the film's worse critical reception compared to its forerunner, it introduced many viewers to East Asian horror films and featured a dedicated performance by a young Naomi Watts.

7. HALLOWEEN (1978)

The picture that launched the careers of John Carpenter and all-time scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is number seven in our countdown. Despite not having the same level of realistic gore as modern instances of the slasher genre, Halloween manages to cram a lot of suspense and some imaginative thrills into a very small-scale package, and is thus sometimes recognised as an early example of the slasher genre as we know it today. The film has left an indelible mark on popular culture; the iconic "final girl" and "huge, unstoppable murderer" are now staples of the horror canon, and Michael Myers' iconic mask lives on. There must be something about the franchise that keeps it running for so long.

8. SINISTER (2012)

Finally, we've reached the film that was deemed the scariest in that "scientific research" we mentioned up above. Scott Derrickson entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a director on Doctor Strange in 2016, but he had already amassed a body of work in the horror genre, some of which has gained a cult following. One of them was a low-budget horror film about a true-crime author (Ethan Hawke) and his family who move into a home where a murder occurred, only to realise that the property may already be occupied by a very malevolent spirit. According to legend, writer C. Robert Cargill was motivated to develop the screenplay by a nightmare he had after viewing The Ring; indeed, with its horrific snuff video aspect, the plot does have some resemblance to the aforementioned film. However, many viewers felt that the film's dramatic revelations and eerie set pieces more than made up for any rehashed genre cliches. What's more, there's at least one article out there claiming it's the scariest movie ever filmed, so that has to count for something.

9. INSIDIOUS (2010)

Before James Wan and Patrick Wilson filmed The Conjuring, they collaborated on this spooky thriller about a young child who slips into a coma and learns to channel a demonic spirit. The story's skeleton wasn't very original, but Leigh Whannell, a regular Wan collaborator, gave it a fascinating enough mythos that it generated three sequels. Wan has remarked that Insidious was designed to be a corrective to the sheer brutality of Saw, compelling him to build something on a more spiritual level, and the final result is an excellent chiller including what is often considered as one of the finest jump scares ever placed on film.

10. IT (2017)

Even if it's become usual to reveal that people are afraid of clowns, this is still a very genuine issue. As if you needed any more proof, 2017's IT, based on the same-name Stephen King book, broke The Exorcist's 44-year record as the highest-grossing horror picture ever at the box office. Oh, and of course it was ranked tenth here. Bill Skarsgard's portrayal of Pennywise the wicked, shapeshifting clown was weird and scary in all the right ways, and Andy Muschietti's lavish adaptation leaned on nostalgia to convey its narrative of youngsters damaged by tragedy. Throw in some effective scare tactics, a few eye-popping set pieces, and some cutting-edge CGI, and you've got yourself a horror movie that's entertaining as well as terrifying.

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