There are few genres that are as malleable as horror. The last decade has yielded some especially great horror movies that have come in many different shapes and sizes, from a variety of voices. The movies on this list feature scenes that have since become iconic, with each film being unmissable whether you follow the horror genre closely or not.
Here’s a selection of 15 spooky delights to scare and thrill you.
There’s plenty to chew on – both literally and figuratively – in Julia Ducournau’s 2016 debut. The French-Belgian horror sees lifelong vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) quickly develop carnivorous cravings when she’s forced to consume meat. The creepiness comes in scenes where Justine chews on her own lopped off finger to quench her appetite. The more cerebral nourishment lies in Raw’s themes of female competition, sisterhood, female taboos, and sexuality. Disturbing yet satisfying, with a memorable ending to boot.
14. Ready or Not
At first glance, Ready or Not’s premise – which sees Samara Weaving’s young bride play a deadly game of hide and seek with her new husband’s family – is as simple as it is absurd, but over the course of a hugely entertaining 90 minutes it quickly reveals itself to have a lot of brains beneath the gore. In addition to smart twists and turns you won’t see coming, the darkly funny screenplay works as a sharp satire, with perceptive commentary on power and privilege for those willing to delve deeper, and it’s all anchored by Weaving’s terrific central performance. Seek it out immediately.
13. IT: Chapter One
Stephen King’s work has had a big screen renaissance in recent years, and It: Chapter One was the first movie to start the trend in 2017. Part coming-of-age story, part horror, Bill Skarsgård’s terrifying clown Pennywise brings the fears of seven children – all of whom are likably unique and have great chemistry – to deliciously creepy life. There’s a winning balance of scares, laughs, and emotion in Andy Muschietti’s film, and the deserved box office success that followed birthed an enjoyable-enough sequel.
12. The Conjuring
You don’t get to make a ton of sequels and spin-offs unless the first movie is something that really strikes a chord with viewers, and that’s exactly what The Conjuring did in 2013. James Wan’s haunted house horror – in which paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) come up against a powerful entity – is impeccably crafted and executed, and even though the plot is more traditional than many of the films on this list it still keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Revenge is a dish best served while wielding a huge gun in French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat’s action-horror. While on a desert break with her wealthy (and married) boyfriend, Jen (Miranda Lutz) is raped by his two sleazy friends and left for dead in the desert. They don’t finish the job, though, and what follows is a visceral, stylishly filmed and gory fight for survival that features one scene so gruesome that one member of the ‘Midnight Madness’ audience who saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival fainted.
10. The Cabin in the Woods
Easily the most self-aware horror movie on this list, The Cabin in the Woods owes much to the clever screenplay of director Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. It sees a group of five youngsters head to the titular cabin for a wild weekend, only to get far more than they bargained for reasons that are too ingenious to spoil. Not only is it a perfect horror movie to introduce newbies to the genre, but it also works as a deconstruction of the genre as a whole. No mean feat.
9. Don’t Breathe
There are some horror movies which have inherently innovative concepts, and other horror movies which find innovation within ideas we’ve seen before. Don’t Breathe is in the latter camp. Writer-director Fede Álvarez uses sublime visual storytelling to set up his premise, which sees a group of teens looking to rob the home of a blind combat veteran (a menacing Stephen Lang), and then ramps up the intensity once they become trapped inside. Over a gripping and tense 89 minutes it earns its title, and then some.
8. Train to Busan
Zombies are a tried and true breadwinner for the horror genre, and zombie movies don’t come much better than Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan. An entertaining mashup of Snowpiercer and World War Z, the simple premise – which sees Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his estranged young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) fight their way through a speeding train during a zombie outbreak – leads to some superb action sequences with some memorable secondary characters, as well as some touching father-kid moments.
7. Gerald's Game
Carla Gugino is an actor who has been very good for a very long time, and she gives one of her best performances in Gerald’s Game. Mike Flanagan’s Stephen King adaptation sees her star as Jessie, who plays a sex game with her husband (Bruce Greenwood) only for him to die via heart attack while she’s still handcuffed to the bed. What follows is by turns sharp, emotional, and gruesome as Jessie tries to escape her bonds while confronting her personal demons.
6. The Invisible Man
How do you make a 123-year-old story feel fresh again? Writer-director Leigh Whannell’s update on The Invisible Man – in which Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) begins to suspect that she’s being hunted by her abusive ex – is a scary and timely example of how to do just that. In addition to making gaslighting terrifyingly visceral, Moss more than compensates for the absence of another actor to bounce off of and makes the danger feel real at all times, even when it isn’t. It all leads to the most shocking moment from any movie in 2020. If you know, you know.
5. A Quiet Place
What if the only way the monsters can hunt you is if they hear you? Writer, director, and star John Krasinski takes this simple concept and makes it almost unbearably tense over a taut 91 minutes as a family deals with the drama of a pregnancy, a deaf child, and a tragedy while living in silent seclusion. It leads to cleverly crafted set-pieces that are augmented by some pitch-perfect performances, most notably from Emily Blunt. You won’t be forgetting that bathtub scene any time soon.
After the death of her overbearing mother, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family are beset by supernatural events that only get more disturbing as the film progresses. It all amounts to an extremely scary debut from writer-director Ari Aster that gets just as much mileage out of a cluck of a tongue as it does a candle-lit séance. It helps that Collette is on career-best form as she tries to keep her family from falling apart to no avail. Not far the faint of heart.
Jordan Peele’s ambitious sophomore film offers up even more cerebral scares, as Earth’s doppelgängers – who have been living underground – begin to exact their revenge. Both Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are excellent in their dual roles, and the screenplay is loaded with subtext that is worthy of repeat watches. Add this to a suitably creepy score from Michael Abels – his remix of Luniz’s ‘I got 5 on it’ is especially clever – and it’s clear that Get Out was no fluke.
2. It Follows
It Follows has one of the more clever concepts the horror genre has seen: Jay (Maika Monroe) is a sweet high school girl who, after she sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time, contracts a STD in the form of a ghoulish apparition that follows her wherever she goes. If she doesn’t pass it on to someone else, it will kill her. That setup allows writer-director David Robert Mitchell to pile on the dread as Jay (and the audience) constantly looks over her shoulder for any sign of her boogeyman.
1. Get Out
Get Out is that rarest of things – a horror movie told from the Black perspective. There are few films that have infiltrated the public consciousness quite like the story of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, who's brilliant), a Black photographer who discovers some terrifying secrets while he visits his white girlfriend’s parents. It’s a film worth revisiting time and time again, not only for pure entertainment purposes but for its biting and layered examination of racial relations.