The Atlantic

25 of the Best Horror Films You Can Watch, Ranked by Scariness

This list should have something for everyone, no matter your fear-tolerance level.
Source: Warner Brothers / Everett Collection

Horror means something different to everyone. One of my most traumatic movie memories remains the execution of a cartoon shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a comedy made for children. I’ve also yawned through many an R-rated slasher flick, untroubled as the death and viscera piled up. So in curating a list of horror films to watch this month, I tried to pull from every corner of the genre, bringing in supernatural mind-trips, knowing satires, spectacular gore-fests, and quiet dramas. Though many viewers are automatically put off by horror, so many underseen masterpieces are worth discovering, all within various comfort zones.

I ranked these 25 films according to how scary I think they are, starting with titles that are mildly unsettling and ramping up to those I’d deem intensely disturbing. But scariness is in the eye of the beholder—sometimes it’s not depictions of violence that frighten people, but the emotional tenor of a story, the resonance of the themes, or the power of certain visuals. Still, there should be something for everyone here, whether you’re into vampires, werewolves, serial killers, cannibals, witches, or bug-monsters, or if you’re more in the mood for existential dread, paranoia, grief, or the pitiless fear of the unknown.


Vanilla Sky (2001, directed by Cameron Crowe)

A tale about a millionaire (played by Tom Cruise) who is disfigured in a car accident and comes to question the reality of his circumstances, isn’t scary so much as it is eerie. The film moves between genres—from romantic comedy to erotic drama to sci-fi thriller—while always seeming a little ... off. The Spanish film it’s based on, Alejandro Amenábar’s , is a more coherent and complete work. But Cameron Crowe’s movie also has its bizarre highs, like in which Cruise runs through an abandoned Times Square. feels like a definitive piece of pre-9/11 filmmaking, suffused with angst over America’s post–Cold War aimlessness. It’s an excellent starting point on this list, for viewers who might balk at traditional horror.

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