With the nights drawing in and it being spooky season, it’s a great time to curl up on the sofa, grab a cushion to hide behind, and scare yourself silly with a horror film.
Recently, the horror genre has seen something of a resurgence, with many modern horror films winning awards and receiving critical acclaim – but there are also countless cult classics that are just as terrifying!
So, whether you like horror films that are truly petrifying, subtle scary films that are more of a slow burn, or slasher flicks that are packed with humour, there’s a horror movie for everyone!
If you need help deciding what to watch this Halloween, here are 16 of the best horror films…
1. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic needs no introduction. The Shining is such an effective film that images from the movie – whether it’s Jack Nicholson’s demonic grin leering through a door, the twin girls at the end of the corridor, or the blood-gushing elevator – have become iconic.
A masterclass in dread and claustrophobia, this film still terrifies people more than 40 years after its release.
The film tells the story of Jack Torrence, a writer who starts working as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Isolated in the Colorado mountains, Jack begins to lose his mind (or are ghostly forces to blame?), and his wife and young son find themselves in grave danger.
Stephen King, whose novel the film is based on, was famously not a fan – but The Shining has remained popular amongst audiences for over four decades!
2. Hereditary (2018)
One of the most critically acclaimed horror films in recent years, Ari Aster’s debut feature film Hereditary definitely deserves a place on this list.
Though like The Shining, it contains some truly terrifying moments, it’s essentially a story about grief, family trauma, and what dark secrets our loved ones may be hiding.
Toni Collete gives a mesmerising performance as Annie, an artist who begins the film about to bury her elderly mother. Then, after a terrible accident, Annie’s family is plunged into further heartbreak – but this time, things take a more disturbing turn. Viewers watch as the once-happy family sinks further into darkness and desperation in this deeply unsettling film.
Loaded with empathic and powerful performances, Hereditary is a must-see for horror fans.
3. The Exorcist (1973)
Arguably the most famous horror film of all time, The Exorcist has been scaring viewers for half a century.
Though it might not be as shocking today as it once was, and while some of the effects may look a bit dated, there’s no denying the brilliance of this film. Watching The Exorcist for the first time remains an experience you’ll remember…or want to forget!
This is a film of contrasts. Think noisy Iraqi bazaars and quiet streets of Georgetown, spine-chilling dream sequences, tender human drama, and ancient religious beliefs versus the cold precision of science. But above all, this is a horror film – the terrifying tale of a young girl possessed by a demon. Even today, there are few mainstream cinema scenes more disturbing than that crucifix scene…
And if you want to check out the The Exorcist: Believer – the terrifying 2023 sequel – it’s currently showing in cinemas UK wide.
4. 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle’s enormously influential zombie movie might have come out over 20 years ago, but it feels just as relevant today – perhaps even more so.
In this exhilaratingly terrifying film, the UK is infected by a rampant virus. As the disease spreads, people turn into manic zombies.
When courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakes from a month-long coma, he finds himself in an eerily quiet London. While the streets seem deserted, the zombies are never far away; neither are human survivors who pose even more of a threat.
With the rate of infection happening in a blink of an eye, and the infected running at lightning speeds, Boyle’s zombies revolutionised the zombie genre.
5. Let The Right One In (2008)
If you’re a fan of foreign films, then you’ll definitely want to watch Let The Right One In.
This classy Swedish film is more of a gothic fairytale than an out-and-out horror – though there’s still plenty of gore, bloodthirsty vampires, and sinister goings-on. It’s not really scary, it’s more unsettling, and the gloomy, nocturnal setting of snowy Stockholm makes it all the more evocative.
This is the story of 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), who forms a touching friendship with the new girl next door. But Eli (Lina Leandersson) is no ordinary girl: she’s a vampire.
Despite the strange situation, the relationship between the two children is genuinely moving, and their developing bond – as well as Eli’s violent and bloody feeding habits – makes for compelling viewing.
6. Midsommar (2019)
Midsommar is the second film in this list directed by Ari Aster, which isn’t surprising when you consider Aster is heralded as ‘the new master of horror’.
While Hereditary is more of a shadowy, dark-hued horror, Midsommar is all about colour and sunlight. Set in Sweden during midsummer, the nightmares of this movie unfold in bright daylight and make the events seem even more unsettling.
Florence Pugh gives an astounding performance as grief-stricken Dani, who, along with her boyfriend and his friends, travels to Sweden for a folk festival. Already at breaking point, Dani is pushed even further by hallucinogens, betrayal, and increasingly chilling events.
A brutal yet beautiful film, Midsommar might not scare you per se – but it will get under your skin and stay with you for days.
7. It (2017)
If you were a fan of the TV mini-series, you should definitely watch the 2017 remake of another Stephen King classic.
Andy Muschietti’s retelling of It is slicker and scarier than the 1990 adaptation, but still possesses the warmth and sentimentality of the original. Plus, the young actors do a great job, and you’ll be just as scared for their safety as you are of the clown!
Talking of clowns, Bill Skarsgård is a terrifying Pennywise; his monstrous grin, independently-moving eyes and deranged dancing are truly the stuff of nightmares.
While it’s seriously scary at times, it’s also touching and nostalgic, and the theme of friendship is at the heart of the film.
8. Don't Look Now (1973)
Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story was voted the best British film of all time in a 2010 Time Out, and it’s certainly a worthy winner.
At times terrifying, and at times desperately sad, this is the story of a bereaved couple (played by Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) who, after losing their young daughter, travel to Venice to try to move on with their life.
But in Venice, nothing is what it seems. From chilling shots of Venice in winter to two creepy psychic sisters and flashes of a red-coated figure, the story is beautifully filmed – and while it’s a true masterpiece of terror, it’s also incredibly moving.
As the film progresses, the feeling of dread continues to mount, leading to an ending that’s absolutely shattering.
9. Get Out (2017)
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is one of the most talked about horror films of the past decade – and for good reason.
This unique film isn’t just an Oscar winner (which is almost unheard of for horror movies), it’s become a cultural sensation. While Get Out provides plenty of horror, it also deftly explores themes of racism, and what it means to be black in modern America.
British actor Daniel Kaluuya is flawless as Chris, a young black American man who’s visiting his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. But things within this seemingly-liberal family are not what they seem, and Chris finds himself in unspeakable danger.
Combining searing social commentary, hypnotic set-pieces, exceptional performances, and crowd-pleasing humour, this film has it all.
10. The Omen (1976)
The Omen tells the troubling story of five-year-old Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor), a child who has the face of an angel but the soul of the devil. Literally. When people begin asking questions about Damien – from desperate priests and sceptical journalists to, eventually, the boy’s own father – things take a terrifying turn.
With an excellent lead performance from Gregory Peck, Richard Donner’s suspenseful classic is just as chilling today as it was in 1976.
Like The Exorcist, The Omen was plagued with on-set problems, from fires to accidents, and while this apparent ‘curse’ enhanced the film’s legendary status, the film itself is undoubtedly worth a watch.
11. A Quiet Place (2018)
So far we’ve featured films with vampires, ghosts, demons, and the literal antichrist – and now it’s time for a creature with a twist!
A Quiet Place isn’t your classic monster film: there’s a distinct lack of screaming and instead of intense action there’s stillness and suspense. That doesn’t mean you won’t get to see the monsters though…nor get scared witless!
The film follows a family as they attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Earth has been invaded by an alien species with extremely sensitive hearing – hearing they use to hunt humans. To survive, the parents and children must live in complete silence, but with the mother about to give birth, the danger is amped up even more.
A thrilling film with suspenseful scares and excellent performances by Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.
12. Halloween (1978)
Few films are more fitting to watch on Halloween than Halloween.
While director John Carpenter’s iconic slasher movie was made on a budget of $300,000, it saw profits of $70 million and changed the face of horror forever. This 1978 cult classic is known to be one of the most influential horror films ever.
Jamie Lee Curtis gives a career-making performance as Laurie Strode, a 17-year-old high school student who is stalked by a relentless psychopath. Michael Myers (Nick Castle) makes the perfect killer, and almost 45 years on, his ghastly white mask still gives audiences shivers.
From the gliding camera to the synth score, the influence of this film can be seen in many of the modern movies on this list.
13. The Babadook (2014)
Another modern horror film that has human experiences and grief at its centre is The Babadook, an Aussie movie that seemingly came out of nowhere to receive critical acclaim.
The sinister Babadook begins this film as a classic ghoul in a children’s book – but one that will have adults trembling.
This story is about more than just the Babadook. Grieving mother Amelia (Essie Davis) is at her wit’s end, pushed to the brink by her challenging young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). When Samuel becomes terrified of the creepy character in his book, Amelia is sceptical – until she begins to be haunted by it too.
Directed by Jennifer Kent, this is a powerful, moving, and scary film with an unexpectedly cathartic ending.
14. Scream (1996)
If you like horror films with plenty of scares and equal amounts of humour, Scream is still one of the best options. More than 25 years after this film’s release, Ghostface is still a cultural icon.
A crazed knife-wielding killer stalks a bunch of students (including Neve Campbell and Drew Barrymore) in suburban America, and the murderer could be any one of the joke-cracking characters.
Beginning with a Hitchcockian bait-and-switch, the film revitalised the slasher genre – and while Scream enjoys poking fun at itself and horror in general, there’s plenty of blood, tension, and scares to level it all out.
15. It Follows (2014)
If you’re looking for a horror film that’s unique, stylish, and deeply unsettling, you might want to check out It Follows.
This acclaimed film includes a few horror tropes – it’s set in suburbia and the protagonist is a high school student – though rather than being stalked by a psychopath with a knife, our heroine is terrorised by something far more sinister.
It Follows tells the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), a girl who’s stalked by a malevolent supernatural force. Able to take the form of strangers or people she knows, the force will follow Jay wherever she goes – and it may be slow, but it will eventually catch her…unless she can break the curse.
A seriously scary film that’s stylistically shot and brilliantly executed – you’ll be jumping out of your seat.
16. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Finishing off with a zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead is another film that changed the face of horror.
Director George Romero was initially reluctant to make a sequel to his celebrated 1969 film Night of the Living Dead, but thankfully he was persuaded – as Dawn of the Dead remains one of the most fun and exhilarating horror films of all time.
As a horde of zombies swarms the USA, terrified survivors (David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross) barricade themselves in a shopping mall.
What follows is wild excitement, adrenaline-pumping violence, and plenty of satirical humour and self-aware political commentary. This certainly isn’t your average zombie movie!
As this list hopefully shows, the horror genre is far more diverse than it often gets credit for. From fun, slasher flicks to disturbing films that get under your skin and stay there – and everything else in between – we believe there’s a horror film to suit everyone!
Just make sure to have a friend or family member beside you, and perhaps a cushion to hide behind…
Are you a horror fan? Is there a horror film you love that isn’t featured on our list? We’d love to hear some of your scary suggestions in the comments below.