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What movies are the scariest?

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

After looking at 26 different lists of top, scariest, and Best horror Movies I have determined what movies are actually the scariest, or rather which movies show up on the most "Top Horror" lists--click here to skip the Introduction and go straight to the top ten ranking. My research notes and a corresponding spreadsheet are available here.

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Most horror fans seem to have a few horror movies or even a franchise that ignited their love for the genre and one of mine is The Ring (2002). Specifically, watching The Ring in the middle of the night next to giant, uncovered windows overlooking the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

A black and white photo of the forest

The feeling of fascinated satisfaction and silent ‘wow’ after a good horror movie settled into me like a kitten settles next to a winter fire for the very first time. The plot captivated me but more so than that the concept of enjoying horror movies and what even made a movie scary--something I’ve been digging deeper into this fall.

Originally, I wanted to get just a rough idea of what horror movies are actually the scariest from a handful of lists and review sites. After determining which movies appeared on the most lists of the 14 I looked at the 1-11 ranking didn’t feel right. It wasn’t completely wrong but it bugged me and made me say “really?“ every time I thought back to it.

Now, I have compiled the contents of 26 lists, A-Z, and counted how many times a movie appeared in more than one list. I also tracked how many times popular movie titles appeared in different lists and how high up on those lists they appeared.

The shortest list I included is 20 movie titles and the longest is 200 movie titles and all are from a wide range of sources including blogs, magazines, newspapers, and review sites.

Prior to starting a hobby-website-thing a few years ago I enjoyed horror in my past-time like any other person. All seemed normal; I always had people willing to go to the movies with me to see new horror releases and often chatted about those releases during pop culture small talk without any issue.

Motivational slogan

Lately though it’s become apparent that I hadn’t often heard the feedback that loving horror is abnormal because I didn’t talk about it much. It’s not that it didn’t exist. I noticed a pattern--others took my interest in horror as a free pass to tell me all the reasons they dislike the genre and don’t relate to people who do like it. A few years ago it didn’t seem that deep but now, I have a better understanding of what horror means to me.

Horror is fantastical and realistic, it’s entertaining and confusing, it’s glass-half-empty and an optimist, it’s funny and sad, it can be shallower than the shallow end and deeper than a supernatural well-portal made specifically for a demon creature that sprouted out of a cursed cinnamon roll to cross-over into the mortal realm. Horror has been my go-to, my sleep sounds, my secret, my best friend, my enemy, my hobby, and my passion in so many ways I wouldn’t have imagined possible.

Horror and horror mega-fans helped me accept being weird and how to be myself unapologetically. All of that allowed me to decide to put time towards personal hobbies like Red Rose Horror and rose stem media--things that make the day-to-day a little less boring and provide an excuse to do the things I love.

Thank You shop window

All of that aside, I really did want to know what the scariest movies are and what makes a movie scary, so stay tuned if you want to know what I found.

Using a collection of 26 lists, in my notes those lists are titled A-Z, I counted how many times a movie appeared in more than one list and how many times it appeared in different lists. The shortest list is 20 movie titles and the longest is 200 movie titles from a wide range of sources including blogs, magazine publications, and review sites.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Exorcist (1973) both got placed on 23 of the 26 lists after adjusting to exclude franchise movies not the original titles which would have put The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at 25 list placements. Due to Texas Chain Saw placing on the most overall lists when all franchise titles are included it moved up to first over The Exorcist this round.

The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre covers together


The Exorcist (1973) - 23/26 Lists

Hereditary (2018) - 22/26 Lists

Scream (1996) - 21/26 Lists

Halloween (1978) - 20/26 Lists

The Shining (1980) - 20/26 Lists

Get Out (2017) - 20/26 Lists

Alien (1979) - 19/26 Lists


#1 Texas Chainsaw Massacre on 23/26 lists (franchise-25/26)

Chainsaw with wood chips

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has a chokehold on horror and often got placed on lists with the additional info that it’s a classic and trailblazer with heavy emphasis on first watches and nostalgia.

What makes Texas Chain Saw Massacre scary to me is the family dynamic and casual approach to cannibalism. The scenes of characters being treated like animals rather than humans are so unsettling they are hard to watch even today despite effects that don’t always hold up.

When rewatching in 2023 Pam being put on the meat hook is particularly scary, visually and conceptually. I appreciated the brother, feeling it’s an extremely good and well acted character that makes up for Leatherface’s lack of speech.

#2 The Exorcist (1973) on 23/26 lists
Bible with open pages

Watching The Exorcist for the first time from today’s perspective is extremely uncomfortable, partially because the scares still hold up and partially because it’s hard to believe an actual child actor performed the stunts and lines, no matter how gnarly.

Blair and MacNeil are phenomenal and despite some obvious special effects the visuals are still unsettling, almost more-so than today’s CGI. I can understand why this is on so many lists but I’m not sure how high up on the scariest movies list it would place if it came out as a new movie today.

Since The Exorcist created a lot of the tropes now common in possession movies it isn’t as shocking to witness them for the first time today, rather it’s the norm and the formula we expect.

#3 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) on 22/26 lists
Suburban street

The 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street is another movie that seems to be a favorite and go-to on almost every list, typically quite high up.

The chase scenes are a little silly but everything else withstood the test of time and is fairly scary to this day. From the ominous warning from Nancy to Glen to not fall asleep to Tina being drug up the walls and onto the ceiling while the then invisible Freddy Krueger delivers the final, bloody blow, imagining trying to defend yourself against Krueger is scary.

It seems bizarre that Nancy has zero idea at all about this prolific murderer prior to him haunting her dreams but even today the scares make up for some plot confusion.

#4 Hereditary (2018) on 22/26 lists
Grey window with rain and a hand

Hereditary took horror by a storm combining uncomfortable visuals, shrill violin music, and sudden, unexpected scares. It’s still scary on each rewatch and because of this I am not surprised that it placed on so many of the 26 lists.

Upon a recent rewatch I was in awe with the attention to detail and intricate story telling in even the scenery of each major plot point. The choice to have the ceilings in many of the shots still puts me on edge.

While I think this movie is scary in it’s own, unique way, and an all around great film I don’t think it’s necessarily what I would consider the scariest. I’d put this one in my top 25 but it probably wouldn’t make the top 10.

#5 Scream (1996) on 21/26 lists (franchise-26/26)
Long time exposure screaming

Scream is a Wes Craven masterpiece, and while I’d definitely consider it a personal favorite and amazing horror it is not exactly scary in the traditional sense.

Something I consider crucial to a movie being scary is asking the question, “could this happen to me?” to gauge how much I even need to worry in the first place. The story of Scream is very much so tied to the characters in the movie and doesn’t or hasn’t existed outside of that universe.

The way the movies comment on themselves is a treat to see but isn’t exactly scary or unsettling. I consider Scream to be funny, entertaining, and smart but only kinda scary. It’s scary because it reminds us that the worst monsters can hide amongst us.

#5 Halloween (1978) on 20/26 (franchise-22/26)
Pumpkin with light inside on a wooden crate

Due to this movie being on 22 out of 26 lists when taking the other franchise installments into consideration I placed it above the other three 20/26 movies.

Halloween (1978) and Michael Meyers are scary in their own rights. Meyers’ ability to focus solely on seeking revenge on Haddonfield, Illinois is astonishing. No matter how many times, no matter how many ways he finds himself back trying to kill Laurie Strode.

Meyers being one of the most iconic horror figures of all time makes the spoiler impossible to miss nowadays. He’s known for his slow walk towards his terrified victims and the 1978 original is stocked full of them.

The almost supernatural way Meyers survives at the end of the film, after Loomis shoots him and he falls, is still spooky now even with the knowledge of the following twelve installments of the franchise all featuring the character.

#7 The Shining (1980) on 20/26 Lists
Snow covered forest aerial shot

This movie notably ranked high on many of the lists it appeared on and for this reason I placed it above the other two 20/26 movies but below Halloween due to that movie ranking higher and technically appearing on more than 20 lists.

The Shining is discontenting, and scary from start to finish. We are informed of key scary details very early on like the murder suicide of the previous caretaker and the “shine” left on a place like the Overlook Hotel that many bad things have happened at. The tension between Wendy and Jack is visibly thick, layered atop the scary circumstances to put you on edge from the start.

One of the most widely well regarded horror movies of all time, The Shining introduced audiences to iconic scare scenes and performances from Duvall and Nicholson leave no question why that is. This movie is in my personal top ten scariest movies.

#8 The Blair Witch Project (1999) on 20/26 Lists Tied with #9
Tent on a starry night

No big distinguishing factors, like installments placing on lists or placing really high, between this movie and Get Out exist so the movies tie at number 8/9.

The Blair Witch Project should not be as scary as it is for a 1999 found footage horror movie that never shows the monster or even actual attacks on the main characters. What is scariest about this is the tension it is able to build that puts you into fight or flight mode up until the “big” ending.

No matter how many times I watch this movie I still get weirded out and scared towards the end, especially when I remember how unsatisfying it is. In the end the door is left wide open to every possibility, the movie ending curtly after the biggest moment of action.

#9 Get Out (2017) on 20/26 Lists Tied with #8

Get Out placed number 8/9 in the ranking with The Blair Witch Project, both movies are single installments that placed on 20 lists and relatively varied in placement on those lists.

Get Out has proven itself every time I rewatch to be a movie that lives up to the hype and manages to give me the creeps. The subtext and humor run so deep that I notice something new during most watches even this long after it’s release in 2017.

The scary parts of Get Out are more psychological and fantastical than a standard horror movie. I wouldn't say it's scary in the sense that the word is commonly used but I would say it's a good horror movie and an important watch to understand modern horror trends.

#10 Alien (1979) on 19/26 Lists (franchise-21/26)
Space light moving towards you

Other movies placed on 19 lists but I decided to place this one in 10 due to other movies in the franchise appearing on 21 total lists.

The way Alien is able to build a universe seamlessly is still a work of art. A new layer of scary exists upon rewatching-how much closer we are to commercialized space than when the movie came out only 44 years ago. Attention to detail is in every aspect and the care put into world building and pulling the audience onto the spaceship with the crew still comes across beautifully.

A story of when you first lost your marbles watching some of the iconic jump scares in Alien is not uncommon but I believe the isolation horror aspects add enough fear even if the jump scares don’t get you.

I always find alien horror gives off the vibe of action movie and Alien is no different. The special effects and monster costume are stellar, having you so sucked in you’re making your own plan of survival on the spacecraft


After it all I came to one total, whole conclusion about what movies are generally regarded as the scariest: I don't really agree. I felt puzzled by more than a few that had placed on over 15 lists and even more surprised about some that didn't. Some movies I had no doubt would be popular on scariest movies lists but ended up on a total of three to four.

Rather than being excited to write about the movies that ranked high I found myself more excited about the ones that I had hoped would rank high and didn't, my personal favorites and ones I would recommend as the scariest. This winter I'll be posting about my own ranking of scariest horror movies after looking more into this.

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